I recently asked friends on my Facebook fan page about their biggest fitness questions. While this one was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, I wanted to address it because I know it’s a big concern for a lot of people looking to lose weight.
Dan asks: How can I eat pizza and donuts and not get fat?
Very carefully, Dan.
In college, I lived with a roommate who is incidentally getting married this weekend (congrats, Roomie!).
During our freshman and sophomore years, neither of us had the greatest diet – I mean, what college kids do?
Frustratingly, my roommate could seemingly subsist of Lean Cuisine, Doritos, and Dr Pepper without gaining a pound. She was skinny and super flexible, all without eating “healthy” or working out. It drove me mad!
We all have friends like that – those lucky individuals who can eat whatever they want and not get fat. You may be wondering, “so how can I make this work for me… and still lose weight?”
Well, keep in mind two things: our friends who get away with eating whatever they want aren’t losing weight, they are maintaining their current body composition. That just means that they’ve found the right amount of food for their body to maintain homeostasis – neither gaining or losing weight in the process.
Secondly, it may appear on the surface that your friend eats whatever they want, but unless you’re with them 24/7, I’m sure there are some things you don’t realize about their diet. Likely, if they’re eating junk and not gaining weight, it’s because they only consume a small amount of food when they do eat, therefore limiting calorie consumption. They are probably pretty good at eating when they’re hungry and stopping when they’re full – listening to their hunger signals so they don’t overeat.
You can always “get away with” eating junk food as long as you don’t eat too many calories.
Does that mean that it’s okay to eat a diet of Lean Cuisine and Doritos, as long as you’re not going to eat “too much,” and you’ll stay the same weight? No.
That kind of diet (one that is high in “junk” calories and low in actual nutrition) isn’t sustainable over the long term. And – it doesn’t work for weight loss! Just maintenance.
If you want your body to stay the same as it is now, that’s fine. Keep your calories around maintenance level, and you won’t gain or lose a pound. You can eat all the junk you want.
BUT. If you’re trying to lose weight, you need to create a caloric deficit. This means eating less calories than your body requires for maintaining its current composition. And that makes it a lot harder to “get away with” eating junk food… because junk food tends to be high in calories.
How can you sneak some junk food into your diet, without sabotaging your weight loss efforts? Portion control, and strategic timing.
Obviously, eating an entire pizza and washing it down with a pint of ice cream is going to be a calorie-bomb. But a slice and a scoop? All good. Even better after an intense workout.
Allow me to explain.
High-intensity workouts create adaptations down to the cellular level. A study of HIIT training found that “high-intensity exercise sessions… is a powerful method to increase whole-body and skeletal muscle capacities to oxidize fat and carbohydrate in previously untrained individuals.”
This means HIIT workouts increase your body’s ability to burn fat and use carbohydrate as fuel. After a HIIT workout, your metabolism can remain elevated for up to 36 hours.
And these workouts don’t need to be long! The study above used four minutes of work, followed by two minutes of rest, but you can use any number of work to rest intervals.
The idea is to keep the workout short and intense. Most HIIT training is done at or below about 90% of your VO2 Max (the maximum oxygen you can consume during an all-out effort). That means you should give a 9-out-of-10 effort for a working interval.
Once you’re done with your HIIT workout, your metabolism remains elevated for up to 36 hours. This is a great time to properly fuel your body with nutrient-dense protein and carbohydrates (my recommendation)… but if you’re trying to sneak in a treat like a donut to an otherwise healthy diet, now would be the time to do it, while your body is in an elevated metabolic state.
Does this mean you should do intervals and eat donuts every day? Hell no.
That would be awesome, but I’d be lying if you could do that all the time and still lose weight.
Every so often? Sure. Enjoy that donut!
No need to be jealous of your friends who can eat whatever they want. You just need to figure out how much food your body can handle, control your portions of junk food by listening to your hungry/full signals, and throw in some strategic training sessions to maximize your metabolism.
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