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At the heart of our efforts to transform lie signals.
These signals (or behaviors) are what make our mind and body what they are.
When we lose fat or gain muscle, it is because not only did we send the signal(s) that corresponds to that outcome but we allowed our body the opportunity to process that signal (by cutting out other noise, confusion, and competing signals).
There is a formula for this process: Stimulus (signal) + Recovery = Adaptation
Worded a different way, it looks like this:
EXERCISE + (SLEEP + NUTRITION) = BODY COMPOSITION
Let’s break it down.
Starting with the end product, body composition refers to the proportion of muscle and fat we carry. For most people, improving their body composition means adding more muscle while subtracting fat.
The signal that our body listens to for that to happen is exercise. With this, there are essentially 2 different forms: One that sends a signal to our body to build (ie maintain or grow muscle mass) and one that sends a signal to break down (both fat and muscle).
In order for our body to hear that signal, however, we need to cut out outside noise (other stressors) and provide the means for our body to recover. During sleep is when our body gets to work repairing damaged tissue and making the hormones needed for us to thrive (both in fat loss and muscle growth) and food/nutrients is what our body uses as its building blocks to do that with.
So, as you can see, it’s pretty simple:
- Send the signal.
- Cut out outside noise so body can hear signal (through proper nutrition and recovery).
- Then reap the adaptation.
Let’s get more specific.
SENDING THE FAT LOSS SIGNAL
Now I am NOT talking about weight loss (this is easy: just go to the bathroom). What we really want is not to see the number on the scale move, but for the fat in the mirror to disappear, right? So how do we that?
We have 3 variables to work with: Exercise, Sleep, and Nutrition.
A + ( B + C) = Fat Loss
We can improve all 3 for optimal fat loss, but we don’t have to.
Here are the options:
OPTION A: MOVE MORE
So before I was talking about the 2 forms of exercise: One that builds and one that destroys.
Well, cardio and aerobic activities are the destroyers. Biking, running, walking, and swimming all fall into this group.
They send a signal to our body that in order to survive and become better at these activities, we have to get smaller. To do this (and depending on the intensity and length of the activity) they will break down both fat AND MUSCLE for fuel.
Most aerobic activities are not body-friendly for this reason, but they can still be used correctly.
Here is a guideline:
- The less intense they are, the more we can do them and the more likely that a large % of the breakdown will be fat. An excellent example of this is walking.
- The more intense they are, the more we should limit them as they will target a lot of our muscle for fuel as well. An example of this is training for a marathon or running 5+ times a week.
Another side effect of high-intensity aerobics is that they give us cravings in an effort to replace lost fuel. So this is why running to lose weight will literally leave us running in circles (as we run long distances and then gorge on food).
A better alternative is walking every or every other day and doing 1-2 runs a week (if you must).
OPTION B: SLEEP MORE
If you are sleeping less than 6 – 7 hrs a night on average, by increasing sleep to 8 – 9 hrs, your cravings will decrease, your energy will improve, and other aspects of health (such as digestion) will significantly improve. This will all lead to fat loss.
Note: If sleep needs are not met, then exercise is out of the question.
OPTION C: BETTER FOOD
Dieting is the typical approach to fat loss. This is hard to do right as far too many people feel that if they are going to diet than they got to do it hardcore. What’s hardcore? Taking what you used to eat and dropping it by 500 or more calories a day.
This sucks because:
In chronic calorie deficits, our body is going to eat up fat AND MUSCLE for fuel, positive hormones are not going to be made in sufficient amounts, and our metabolism is going in the toilet. In short, life (and your energy) will suck.
A smarter approach is to just eat better foods. With this, we will be getting the right nutrients so cravings will naturally diminish. Fat loss will be slower but so will be muscle loss.
OPTION D (BEST): RESISTANCE + ENOUGH SLEEP + GOOD FOOD
A big problem with losing weight is the chance that a large % of that could be muscle.
We care about this because it is muscle that gives us our shape and curves.
If we lose 50 lbs of total weight (25 of that is fat and 25 of that is muscle), we are just going to become a smaller version of ourselves. But if we can manage to make that 40 lbs of fat and 10 lbs of muscle, we are going to come out with a sleeker, trimmer, tonier look.
So how do we tell our body to lose more fat while keeping the muscle?
- =>> Lift weights
- =>> Sleep 8 hrs
- =>> Eat Better (and slightly less) food
For the first one, we do not have to do anything extreme. Simply lifting weights 2x a week for a full body workout will be enough. Keep the reps relatively low (2-15) and keep the workout short (within 50 min) and the signal will be sent.
We also want to tell to our body to lose fat. For this to happen, we need to create a teeny-weeny caloric deficit. To create this, try focusing less on numbers and more on eating better food (of course) and going to bed slightly hungry.
Lastly, SLEEP. This is obviously crucial for any positive goal.
Now some pro advice: If your goal is fat loss, then focus on fat loss only. Trying to build muscle or train for a marathon will be competing signals that will only confuse your body (and take you further away from fat loss).
There is a reason runners don’t look like body builders and body builders do not look like athletes.
That reason is signals.
[When you have lost all the fat you wanted to lose, it will be time for building muscle (shape and curves). Read Part 2 of this series to find out how.]