My best fat-burning advice

During my first Whole30 diet earlier this year, I discovered new limits of my energy.

At the time, I had just restarted CrossFit, and was taking 7:30 a.m. classes before work. Since I woke up at 6:15 a.m. – far too close to the workout to eat anything without causing some serious problems – I didn't have breakfast until around 8:45 a.m.

That, plus the fact that my body was adjusting to the serious lack of carbs the diet requires, meant showing up to the gym with the feeling that my stomach was eating itself.

Me getting my fitness on. | Photo: Marts Romero

Me getting my fitness on. | Photo: Marts Romero

But no matter how empty I felt on the inside (I'm not talking about my soul), once the workout finished, I was usually fine. I'm sure there's a more scientific explanation than I'm qualified to give, but my guess is that a little activity sent a signal to my body akin to the fight-or-flight reaction.

Suddenly, I was no longer hungry. At least not until after the workout finished and my heart rate came back down. At that time, though, I could finally eat. (And eat I did.)

The key, though, was forcing my body to rely on what it already had for energy, instead of providing it something new before the workout.

What it "already had," in fact, was fat. That's not to say I'm overweight. But we all have fat inside of us. And what better way to get toned – my primary goal at that point – than to force our body to burn off some fat instead of loading it with carbs.

Although my Whole30 suffering – during which I lost 11 pounds in 33 days – is months in the rearview mirror, I have retained many of the characteristics of the diet, and started experimenting with intermittent fasting as well.

Yesterday, for example, the last meal I had was around 5:30 p.m. It consisted of a roasted carrot and a couple broccoli heads. If my meal was that light every night, I would weigh 130 pounds in no time – definitely not my intention.

What it did for me was this: left my body craving something "heavier," like a meat or bread, for about 15 hours until I finished my workout this morning. (I took the 7:30 a.m. class again.)

It turns out, according to The Telegraph, if you don't eat four to six hours prior to working out, you can achieve a "fasted" state that will force your body to rely on stored fat for energy, instead of whatever you ate in your previous meal.

Again, this isn't something I could do on a regular basis, but it's a great reset for my body depriving it of any meat, keeping meals small, going extended periods of time without eating – and it really helps me get toned.

I think a more sustainable plan to lose fat (not just weight, but specifically fat) over the long-term would be:

  • A Whole30-modeled diet: No sugar or alcohol, and very limited grains and dairy (none of which are allowed on Whole30)
  • Intermittent fasting: Try not eat within five hours of going to bed (this also allows for much better sleep as your body isn't wasting energy digesting at night) and don't have breakfast, too early
    • Another way to think about it: Try to confine all of your eating to an eight-hour window that ends at least five hours before you go to bed
  • Don't eat within four hours of working out: This is much easier achieved if you workout in the morning, because you don't have to resist the temptation of food for a huge block of your day, and it also sets your metabolism into overdrive

Post-Whole30 was the most toned I have ever been, but even limiting my intake – and making very healthy choices with what I do eat – plus continuing intense workouts in the past 60 hours had made a huge difference.

If you're close to where you want to be, all you may need is a disciplined "reset" over a few days during which you endure occasional hunger pangs. (Hang in there – they come in waves, and will go away if you wait them out. Then over time, your body will adjust and you'll be hungry less often.)

If you're not close to where you want to be, I recommend easing into the more sustainable long-term plan above. Before long, your stomach will actually not be able to accommodate as much food, and you want even want those big, unhealthy meals that set you back in the first place.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or nutrition, and all my advice is based on personal experimentation as well as researching what actual experts have to say.