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I bet you’re waiting for the secret recipe to being slim in the next five minutes, right?

Our body is designed to be efficient and to preserve energy. Often, this is why we feel it’s quite difficult to shed fat rather than gain it. I mean, more energy we have reserved, the better our chances of survival in the wilderness, right? That’s what our great ancestors believed. Being fat was even considered a symbol of status at one point in time. However, times changed and with it, our perspective did too with the revelations of the ill effects of obesity. In an increasingly health-conscious world, the pursuit for attaining physical fitness brings us to an often-pondered questions: What exercise burns the most belly fat?

Look no further..! I don’t have the answer you want, but I have the answer you need. The health experts and fitness enthusiasts around the world unanimously agree, that the most effective physical action you can do to burn belly fat is (drums roll) keeping your mouth closed when you have to. Now I know that many of you would be rolling your eyes on feeling misled, but just power through what I have to say.

Calories Avoided are Calories Burnt

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What I think is pretty simple: Every calorie you avoid consuming is equivalent to every calorie you burn off – “Calories avoided are calories burnt”. This not just takes a bit of physical restraint, but a whole lot of mental restraint too.

Think of it this way. After a long hard cardio, I hear individuals say that they ran for 20 minutes on the treadmill and burnt 150 calories. Good for them! But you know what? I saw this chocolate bar the other day, and though I craved for it, I didn’t touch it, and thus erased 500 calories which I could have potentially taken on. I think that’s a win.

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If you look at the above chart, it’s clear which requires less effort – avoiding junk instead of putting in the effort to burn off its calories.

Now, I am not recommending you to reduce your food intake. I just want you to rethink what you put in your mouth - ensure that the number of calories you intake is a healthy proportion to the nutrients your body needs. You can work out all you want, but if you end up eating junk food with low nutrition and too much calories, you’re not going to reach your weight goals.

Note: Also, spot reduction of fat is a myth. Which means, you can’t really just reduce fat from one part of your body, say the belly. This is the predominant conclusion of various studies (Source), although there have been a few which point to it not being a myth under special circumstances. Bottomline is, better focus on overall health and physique, rather than just the belly. It’s more efficient, rewarding, and better backed by science.

Weight loss: Nutrition vs Exercise

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Now, to disappoint all of you picking up your dumbbells and tying your running shoes: The generally agreed upon finding is that exercise only contribute to 10-30% of the total weight loss (Source 1/ Source 2). More than twice the amount is always attributed to good nutrition. Notice how I said ‘nutrition’? That’s right, you don’t necessarily have to go on a diet plan to achieve weight loss goals, although many of them can provide very good results if followed diligently. But again, hope you understand that your workouts although beneficial, is not the top contributor for weight loss. So, it’s time to improve the approach.

The math: Why exercise is not the best approach for weight loss

If you still believe that you can stick to a good training regimen alone to beat that belly fat, let me share the math behind why that’s going to be a tough, although not an impossible goal.

According to the publishing by the Journal of the American Medical Association, it is stated that one pound of fat (0.454 kg) is 3,500 calories (Source). So, for you to burn through it, you need to expend the said number of calories.

Now, let's take one of the most taxing compound exercises: The burpee! You burn around 10 calories for every minute of burpees performed (Source)

GoalDurationCalories to BurnBurpees Needed (Mins)
1 Pound FatPer Month3500350

Per Day11711.7
1 Kg FatPer Month7700770

Per Day25725.7

Note: Approximations have been made

Simply put, what the above chart says is, if you wish to get rid of one pound of fat in a month, you need to do 11.7 minutes of burpees each day. And remember, this duration does not include breaks, and you need to maintain top form throughout while performing it. Those of you who have tried burpees before would know just how challenging just one minute of it can be. Furthermore, the more you do a specific work out, the better you become at it, resulting in even lesser effort and fewer calories burnt in the long run.

And let’s be honest, would you really be satisfied with just burning a pound of fat each month? Of course not! You’ll be aiming for one kilo. And just check out from the table what the requirement for that is. The higher your goals, more the effort needed. But remember, I am not discouraging you to give up the workout. Rather, I want you to be informed on the realistic results it produces and be happy with it.

What more can you do?

a) Diet Plans

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This is where I will take a backseat. Essentially, there are a lot of options at hand to improve your nutrition. There are various diet on offer like the Keto or the Paleo, which I shall not touch upon much owing to few reasons: primarily, I am not knowledgeable enough; And secondly, following a diet is a lifelong commitment. You need to avoid or limit many types of food. Sticking to it for a long-term duration is often quite hard to do, although there are numerous success stories. What’s important is to note a few key points from most diets: Avoid sugars, reduce simple carbohydrates, eat only when you’re hungry and to satisfy said hunger. If you do this, you’re well on your way to victory.

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Personally, I never tried out most diets, but I did however try out intermittent fasting (or IF) to realise great positive effect. In IF, one does not reduce the calorie intake, you just change the timing of your meals to create a period of fasting, i.e., not control what you eat, but when you eat. Most of my knowledge about intermittent fasting came from watching Dr. Eric Berg on his YouTube channel. He’s not a body builder, but he’s given me the best nutritional advice and the right guidance to pursue IF. If you feel too intimidated by the plan, don’t be. It’s not as hard as it sounds, and it’s a lifestyle which is very easy to adopt lifelong for people of all ages.

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Remember the above beloved actor, Terry Crews? He’s an avid follower of IF and often attributes it to maintaining his physique (Source). Thomas DeLauer is another beefcake who follows this plan whose videos are worth following.

Finding healthy food alternatives

I’d also recommend looking at the type of food you frequently intake. I used to have lots of ‘health drinks’ (not mentioning the brand) for many years, thinking it’s good for me. It’s much later that I realised just how much sugar is added to each of these drinks. You can read about these drinks yourself here. Did you know that your normal tomato ketchup has sugar in it too? Turns out, a lot of the tasty things which we love to eat, has sugar. Switching to a less sugary, more nutritive alternative can definitely help in the long run. I no longer have cornflakes with sweetened milk, but a low-sugar mixed-fruit muesli with unsweetened milk for an evening meal. Sure, it’s not the perfect solution, but it’s a small step in the right direction which will make a difference eventually. 

Source: The Fit Chase | LinkedIn

I love following The Fit Chase, especially their Instagram handle where they post very useful nuggets of wisdom like the above pictures. Here, they share few examples of healthier alternatives to achieve your calorie deficit goals.

Is exercising a waste of time?

Absolutely not! But remember that the primary reason we exercise is for fitness. Our body is a machine which gets rusty and cramps up if not put to good use. If you want flexibility, strength, endurance, or even avoid various aches and pains, you need to work out. Proper exercise even results in numerous other benefits like better mental performance and even slower ageing rate. Undoubtedly, sufficient exercise is essential for quality life and I do not recommend avoiding it.

However, when you are on a weight loss journey, it is essential to keep in mind all the factors you can control to promote weight loss: nutrition, sleep, and exercise.

Bottomline is, you can run all you want, but you can’t outrun a bad diet!

If you listen closely to any accomplished fitness enthusiast, you will realise that attention to nutrition was a huge part of their lifestyle as much as their workout routing. Lifting weights alone didn’t get them there. One of them who I really found inspirational and love following on YouTube include Jeff Cavaliere from AthleanX.

Furthermore, I’ve personally felt that you develop a more cautious mindset once you start working out. You become wary of everything you eat, and the potential it has to undo the hard work you put in the gym. So naturally, you become more mindful.

In Conclusion

Your mouth can get you in trouble not just with what you say, but also with what you eat. If you’re pursuing fitness, keep working out, but clean up your diet too. Make sure to get more knowledge about how your body works from multiple sources and also keep yourself motivated. Be patient, remember those fitness goals, and keep pushing forward champ!

And since you made it till here, I’ll leave you with some cookies.

Don’t eat them though! (Wink)

Suggested Fitness Channels

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  1. Menno Henselmans - New science: spot reduction is not a myth
  2. Vox - The science is in: exercise won’t help you lose much weight
  3. Times of India - Diet vs. exercise: What is better for weight loss?
  4. Healthline - How Many Calories Are in a Pound of Body Fat?
  5. Well+Good - How To Do A Burpee | The Right Way
  6. Healthline - How Many Calories Do Burpees Burn?
  7. Men’s Health - How Terry Crews Uses Intermittent Fasting and Training to Stay Ripped
  8. The Print - Health drinks like Bournvita, Horlicks give your kids more sugar & hardly any nutrition

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