Creating a more toned, defined and ripped look is the pinnacle of fitness. Companies have created pills, creams and even electro-shocking ab belts to help you reach your potential. Burning fat to create a better looking body is easy and involves proper diet and exercise. Stop wasting money on solutions that don’t work and start using methods that are effective.

Step 1: Force Your Body to Burn Fat. The basic principle of burning fat is to eat less and move more. Eating less and exercising more will leave your body with no choice but to start using stored fat for energy. Body fat buildup happens because you’re eating too much in relation to how much you burn.

Energy balance is the relationship between how many calories you eat and how many you burn. A positive energy balance (also known as a calorie surplus) happens when you eat more than you burn. This extra energy (without any extra exercise) is stored as body fat for later use. A negative calorie balance (also known as a calorie deficit) happens when you burn more calories than you eat. This forces your body to use sources other than food for energy causing weight loss.

First, you need to figure out how many calories your body burns each day. This calorie calculator will give you an estimate based on your size, gender, age and physical activity level. Play around with the physical activity level to see how many calories you could be burning with more exercise. Once you get an estimate of how much you burn, eat 500 calories less each day. If you burn 2,500 calories per day, eat 2,000 to start the fat burning process. The calculator is based on an estimate. Make sure you weigh yourself on a weekly basis to ensure you’re eating the appropriate amount.

Step 2: Start Good Nutrition Habits. While energy balance is the most important step, the types of food you eat can also help you burn fat. Follow these nutrition guidelines to nudge your body into a fat burning mode:

Eat Small Frequent Meals and Snacks. Eating smaller but more frequent meals will help your body better utilize energy. Eating a big meals gives your body a huge amount of calories in a small period of time. Your body burns what it needs and stores the rest as fat. Giving your body only what it needs will result in less fat storage. Rather than eating three large meals, eat 4-6 smaller meals that are evenly spaced throughout the day. Eating more frequent meals will also keep you from getting hungry. Hunger leads to cravings which results in binging on unhealthy foods.

Eat a lot of Fiber/Complex Carbs While Avoiding Simple Carbs. Digestion time plays a big role in fat storage. Foods that are digested quickly give your body too much energy to use right away. Foods that are digested slowly give your body a more manageable amount of energy. Fiber and complex carbs help to slow the digestion process down while simple/refined carbs and sugar do the opposite. Foods high in fiber/complex carbs include: vegetables, fruit, beans, 100% whole wheat bread & pasta, brown rice, oatmeal and legumes. Foods high in simple carbs/sugars (should be avoided) include: soda, candy, sweets (doughnuts, muffins, cookies) and refined white flour (white bread & pasta).

Eat Breakfast. Breakfast has always been known as the most important meal of the day and it is. Though skipping breakfast can be convenient, those who don’t eat breakfast end up eating more throughout the day. Eating breakfast helps keep you energized, gives your body the proper nutrients that it needs to recover from an 8-10 hour (depending on when your last meal before bed was) fast and keeps you satisfied so that you don’t get hungry and binge on junk food. Breakfast doesn’t need to be elaborate. Even a small snack is better than nothing. Examples of good breakfasts include: fruit, oatmeal, protein shakes or granola bars.

Step 3: Build Muscle. An often overlooked step in burning fat is building muscle. Muscle tissue burns calories all day long, even during rest. The more muscle tissue you have, the more energy your body uses to maintain it. Focusing all of your energy on cardio while ignoring strength training will not lead to the best results.

Step 4: High Intensity Cardio. Cardio is also a very important part of burning fat. Unfortunately, proper cardio exercise is rare. The popular ‘fat burning zone’ on most cardio equipment keeps your heart rate low in an effort to force your body to burn more fat during exercise. While lower intensity exercise does burn more fat, higher intensity exercise will burn more total calories. The goal when trying to get rid of body fat is to burn as many total calories as possible. At the end of the day, it’s the size of your overall calorie deficit that will force your body to burn fat, not a low intensity walk on a treadmill.

Step 5: Don’t Waste Your Time With Sit Ups. Your genetics largely determines where your body stores fat. For some it’s on the thighs and for others it’s on the stomach. Regardless of where your body likes to put excess fat, the solution is the same: eat less and move more. Spot reducing (getting rid of fat from a specific place on the body), though a popular strategy, doesn’t work. There’s no way to force your body to burn fat from a specific area. Doing sit ups might strengthen your abdominal muscles, but they won’t do anything to address the reason that you have excess body fat. The same goes for doing tricep extensions to burn arm fat or leg curls to burn thigh fat.

The Bottom Line

Burning fat is dependent on creating a negative calorie balance; burning more calories than you eat. When you enter a negative calorie balance, your body is forced to get its energy needs from sources other than food which causes weight loss. Starting a healthy diet will help you cut your calories because healthy foods are typically lower in calories than junk. Exercise (both cardio and strength training) also plays an important role in burning fat. Bottom line: eat less, move more.

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