Core training | 5 moves for a stronger midsection

After taking nearly nine weeks away from regular and consistent exercise, I’m proud of myself for recognizing that I needed some accountability and support to make fitness a priority again in my life.

I’m three weeks into a strength and conditioning program at a gym where nobody knows my story. I’m a participant, not a trainer, and as such welcome getting feedback on form from the three coaches that lead the workouts.

While my overall strength and cardiovascular conditioning are already starting to improve (thanks to a lot of agility drills with hurdles, cones and ladders and speed work on the Bosu), I’m noticing that certain exercises and lifts are still weak.

During Saturday’s class, coach Mark commented on my execution of three exercises; tricep pushups, Romanian dead lifts and bent-over rows. My lower back started to curve after only three pushups (pushups should look like planks), my knees were bending too much during the dead lifts (bending the knees transfers the work from the hamstrings to the quads) and I was ‘bouncing’ at the bottom of my rows (in effective, using momentum instead of muscle to pull the weight back up).

We talked for a minute about what these three exercises had in common and came to the conclusion that my core was weak. Not only had I not been training it during my hiatus from exercise, I had also spent a lot of those nine weeks sitting around, hunched over my knitting and slouched in front of the television and computer keyboard.

He asked me what I was going to do about it (note to self: this is a great coaching question).

Although my three-times-a-week workouts do include some core work, he suggested that I needed to do a bit more, both to improve my core strength and to ensure that I kept progressing on my other lifts (it’s hard to squat, push, pull and lift more weight when your core is weak).

Knowing that he was right, I’ve decided to add two more days of core training to my week. I’ll be focusing on the important core exercises; the ones that are functional and relevant to training for daily life (i.e., NOT crunches, which is why you won’t see ‘flexion’ in the list below).

Core training: 5 moves for a stronger midsection
  • static stability; basic plank and side plank holds require isometric contraction of the entire core (as well as the shoulders, upper back, glutes and hamstrings). I’ll be working up to 3 sets of 60 s in each position, focusing on keeping the abs and glutes tight and shoulders drawn back and down.
  • dynamic stability; adding movement to basic planks and side planks forces the muscles of the core to work a bit harder to remain stable in the face of external forces. Side planks with cable and pulley rows and front planks on the ball while either pushing the ball slightly away from the body or ‘drawing circles’ with it are all examples of dynamic stabilization exercises. I’ll be combining one front plank static exercise with one side plank dynamic exercise on my first day of core training then switching to the opposite combo (side plank static, front plank dynamic) on the second day.
  • rotation; rotational exercises typically target the external obliques. The muscles that cut across the front and back of your body, from hip to rib and enable you to rotate your torso without damaging your spine. My favourite rotational exercises are wood choppers (kneeling or standing, with a weight or a medicine ball or the cable and pulley machine) and Russian twists (on the floor or on the ball). Focus on slow, controlled movements over as large a range of motion as you’re capable of.
  • anti-rotation; the ability to keep your torso (and spine) from twisting in response to an unexpected external force (for example, catching a heavy object, slipping on a wet surface, lifting a bag that was much heavier than you though it would be) requires strengthening of the inner obliques. Anti-rotation exercises are frequently absent from workouts shared on Facebook and Pinterest. My favourites include variations of the Paloff press, plank rows and kneeling cross-body lifts with either a medicine ball or the cable and pulley machine. (If you’re new to strength training and the names of these exercises are unfamiliar to you, check out the website BodyBuilding.com. They have high quality, good-form video demonstrations of almost every exercise known to man :-) ).
  • extension; most core workouts focus primarily on the muscles of the front side of the body (the ‘six-pack’ muscles and the obliques), ignoring the importance of strengthening their back-side-of-the-body counterparts. Anterior and posterior muscle groups work together to keep the body in front-to-back balance and alignment. In my case, a weak lower back is contributing significantly to my poor dead lift range of motion and my ability to perform more than four good-form tricep pushups. Lower back extension exercises don’t require any fancy equipment; yoga poses including cobra and sphinx can be performed anywhere, as can ‘super mans’ (on the floor or the ball, if you have one) and weighted hip thrusts.
Need a few more core exercise options? Here are two of my favourite core training videos:

Note that while there IS a crunch variation in the video below, elevating the feet and keeping the lower back firmly on the mat will ensure that flexion is minimized and the risk to the lower back is minimal. If you suffer from osteoporosis or osteopenia (or your doctor has told your NOT to perform any version of a crunch, skip it; the other 4 exercises are workout enough).

Tough love Tuesday | motivation doesn’t grow on trees

I’m not the kind of instructor, trainer or coach who yells at or belittles her clients. I believe in setting a positive example and providing education, encouragement and a little ‘reality check’ when it’s needed. The following post is about the closest that I ever get to a ‘rant’. Know that it was written with love, in the hopes that it will help you move forward towards your health and fitness goals ~ Tamara

Lately, I’ve been blessed with a large number of new subscribers to this website. (Thank you all for deeming my content worthy of your time :-) If you’re not subscribed, you can do it now!).

Many of them have emailed me to tell me about their biggest challenges with fitness and healthy living (I ask for and welcome these interactions as they give me a better idea of the topics that readers are most interested in hearing about).

While I typically respond to as many of these emails as I can, I will admit to having failed to answer a single respondent citing ‘lack of motivation’ as their biggest hurdle to exercising regularly and making healthier choices in the kitchen.

Why?

Because motivation isn’t something I can give them. (Or you.)

 

Neither money nor motivation grow on trees…

 

Motivation doesn’t grow on trees. It won’t magically appear on your doorstep. It won’t reveal itself to you in a dream. You won’t wake up one morning and suddenly feel motivated to go for a run.

Sharing the things that motivate me won’t necessarily help you find what motivates you. It’s personal. It requires some insight, some self-reflection, a mindset shift and some thinking about the future. Some good, old-fashioned hard work.

If journalling helps you think and reflect, go for it!

 

Finding your motivation isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s down-right difficult. You might think you’ve figured it out only to realize you’ve ventured down a blind alley and need to back-track a bit to get back on course. But it’s always worth the effort. Always.

Those of us who know WHY we want to be healthy and fit find it easier to start and stick with the behaviours required to be healthy and fit. (Need some help with finding your ‘why’? Here’s a little how-to book I’ve written on the subject, with step-by-step instructions > 5 Steps to Finding Your Exercise Why)

Perhaps my new readers’ biggest obstacle isn’t really “I’m not motivated enough to exercise and eat better” but rather, “I haven’t yet figured out what will motivate me to make healthier choices”. 

Cancer is hard. Divorce is hard. Losing a loved one is hard.

Exercising and eating well so that you have more energy, sleep better, a stronger immune system, balanced hormones, are able to keep up with your kids and continue enjoying the activities you love for many years to come isn’t. 

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It’s all about perspective.

Valuing yourself, wanting to be the best version of ‘you’ possible and desiring to live a full, adventure-filled life.

In the wise words of a friend:

“Yesterday, I was at an event where several of the 50+ aged women there don’t exercise regularly and most were not fit but were talking about knee surgeries, bad health issues… it made me realize the #1 reason I excercise is so that I can continue to be fit and healthy in my later years! There’s your motivation…”

I’d love to hear what motivates YOU! Perhaps your unique motivators will help another reader figure out hers.

Tips for automating exercise and eating

Yesterday, I was texting with a friend and mentioned that I was on my way out to get a hair cut (and colour, truth be told). She commented on how impressed she was that I “was still prioritizing the small self care stuff that makes us feel better” even though my life’s been recently turned upside down.

I hadn’t really thought of what I was doing as self-care (of course it is) or something that was going to make me feel better (it certainly did). I scheduled this appointment at the end of my last appointment and was simply doing what my calendar told me I had to do today.

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Losing those greys always makes me feel better…

I like to think of this way of going about the day as ‘auto-piloting’ and apply the same strategy to many areas of my life, including exercising and nutrition.

While living on ‘auto-pilot’ might seem to be in direct opposition to the ‘live in the moment’ and ‘be present’ advice we see daily on social media, when used correctly, it can free us from wasting time and mental energy on trivial decisions.

Like what to wear. Which route to take to work. When and where to workout. Which exercises to include. What and when to eat. How best to load the dishwasher…

A little Google-searching tells me that ‘decision fatigue’ is a real and recognized psychological condition in which a person’s productivity (and ability to make future decisions) suffers as a result of becoming mentally exhausted from making so many irrelevant decisions.

The simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make more decisions.

The solution? Make the decision once (and ahead of time) and use the ‘auto-pilot’ strategy to follow through.

I’ve found the following ‘auto-pilot’ strategies to help me (and many of my clients) commit to regular exercise and healthier eating.

Pick a couple that resonate with you and commit to trying them for a month.

Tips for automating exercise and eating
  • register for a group fitness program; perfect for those who need a bit more accountability and are unlikely to skip an activity that they’ve paid for in advance (with the added benefit of not having to figure out what you’re going to do when you get to the gym; your instructor or coach does all the planning, you just show up and follow their instructions). I’m currently using this auto-pilot strategy and it’s working for me.
  • pack your gym bag and organize your workout clothes in advance; remove the early morning (or after work) decision-making by having your workout clothes chosen and set out the night before, a clean towel and water bottle in your gym bag and you running shoes, wallet and keys waiting by the door
  • schedule your meals for the week; grab a notebook (paper or electronic), create a list of breakfast, lunch and dinner menus and FOLLOW IT (here’s a free meal planning tool you can download, print out and fill in with your menu ideas)
  • simplify your diet; let go of the idea that a food needs to entertain and that a limited diet is boring; create two or three simple ‘go-to’ breakfast, lunch and dinner menus that are nutritious and complete. Tack them to the fridge door (or someplace else in the kitchen where you’ll see them). No more standing in front of the pantry wondering what you should eat and whether it will ‘fit your macros’.
  • create a grocery shopping ‘check-list’; create an electronic check-list of the foods you eat regularly, ordered according to the route you take through the grocery store. Print out a copy, stick it on your fridge and tick off items as you run out of them. This one simple task allows me to do my bi-weekly $300 Superstore shop in less than an hour.
  • cook once, dine twice; double the size of your dinners with the goal of incorporating left-overs into the next day’s lunch. Not only does this save you cooking and lunch-prep time, it also removes one more decision during your weekly meal planning task.
  • pack tomorrow’s lunch and snacks after dinner; super easy if you’re packing left-overs (they have to be put back in the fridge anyways) and you’ll be more likely to make healthy choices with a full tummy (and when you’re not in a rush)

These are just a few of the ‘auto-pilot’ strategies that I’ve tried and found useful.

What are your favourite tips for automating exercise and eating? 

 

 

You are your client | why trainers need trainers too

Recently, I’ve been re-watching a favourite television show of mine from the early 2000’s; Being Erica.

It’s the story of a 30-something, Toronto-dwelling woman named Erica and her relationship with a non-traditional psychotherapist, Dr. Tom.

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Dr. Tom has the power of time-travel (if I were to have a super-power, this would be it). Erica’s ‘sessions’ consist of re-visiting pivotal moments in her past, seeing them through a different lens and applying the lesson learned to current-day challenges.

In one of my favourite episodes, Dr. Tom attempts to teach Erica about compassion for others.

He quotes the line ‘you are your patient’ and illustrates how, in order to truly help a patient, the therapist must recognize that they share the same challenges, obstacles, hurts and regrets as their patient does.

And letting the patient see how they’ve dealt with these hurdles in a non-pedagogical way is not a sign of weakness, but rather instrumental in their patient’s healing.

While re-watching this episode, I was struck by the similarities between the therapy-patient relationship and the relationships I share with my fitness coaching clients. And reminded of the importance of sharing my own struggles with them, and by extension, with readers of my blog.

Trainers need trainers too

Like many of my clients, when they first come to me, I am currently struggling with motivation.

Since the recent death of my daughter, I can’t seem to find my ‘why’.

While I know that regular exercise and good nutrition will give me the energy I so often lack, my usual strategies just aren’t working.

I head to the gym, quasi-regularly. But instead of mindfully executing a pre-planned program, I hop on the treadmill for a while, head on over to a weight bench and half-heartedly perform several sets of three or four random exercises.

I spend too much time chatting with friends and colleagues (often recounting the story of my daughter’s death to those who don’t know or are seeing me for the first time since that day) and leave feeling deflated and sad.

What I need is exactly what my clients need from me.

  • Someone to plan a program for them.
  • Someone to cheer them on and keep them accountable.
  • Someone to give a little ‘tough love’ when need be.
  • Someone to suggest solutions to obstacles and help them move forward.
I am my clients and I need a coach too.

That’s why I’ve signed up for a 6-week Kickstarter Strength and Conditioning program at a fitness facility other than the one I work at.

A place where nobody knows me and there’ll be no distractions from the task at hand. A place where I can get back to a regular and consistent routine of strength training at a intensity level that makes me feel confident, strong and capable of handling the challenges that life has thrown at me. A place where I’m expected to show up, cheer members of my group on and get the job done.

Stay tuned, I’ll be sharing updates on my progress. And would love to hear updates on yours.

What are you doing to make 2016 your happiest, healthiest, strongest and most capable year yet?

 

 

 

Why wait until the new year? Register for the 40+ Fitness Winter Session today

Registration for the 2016 Winter Session is now closed. Wishing you a peaceful and joy-filled holiday season with family and friends.

January is just around the corner.

If you’re like many of my clients and group fitness participants, you view the beginning of the year as the natural time to re-define your fitness goals and re-commit to an exercise plan.

While I’m not a huge believer in there being a ‘best’ time to start making healthy changes in your life (the best time is always today….), reality is, January 1st offers a ‘clean slate’, so to speak, and a time of higher motivation and commitment that’s worth capitalizing on.

Rather than go it alone, I invite you to join my 40+ fitness online community. A fitness and healthy living program for women 40 and older; women dealing with challenging schedules, changing hormones and often, ‘rear-view mirror’ mindsets about what constitutes health and fitness at this stage of their life.

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It’s a 3-month subscription program that includes
  • monthly workouts (with modifications for multiple fitness levels)
  • exercise demonstration videos (available only to participants of this program)
  • weekly coaching emails
  • and membership in a private Facebook group full of honest, intelligent, funny, motivating and inspiring women just like you (perhaps the best perk of the program)

You can read more details about the program (and answers to FAQ’s) here >> #40plusfitness Group Training

Registration is open until Sunday, December 20th at 6 pm PT. After that, I’ll be on hiatus over the holidays. Trying to find some peace and creating new traditions with my husband and boys.

I’d love it if you’d join us.

 

Returning to fitness as a beginner

For the past week, I’ve been trying to decide what to focus on as I return to fitness after the loss of my daughter.

I know that I need to get back to regular strength training (I can already see muscle loss and a quick push-up test confirmed that I’ve lost strength as well).

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I know that I need to challenge my heart and lungs (while daily walks are a great way to add movement and reduce stress, they aren’t quite intense enough to stave off cardiovascular de-conditioning).

I know that I need to stretch more (my lower back has been bothering me from too much sitting and my achilles tendonitis has been flaring up despite having been away from step class for a month).

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I know that I need to return to a more balanced way of eating (the past month has been fuelled primarily by comfort foods; breads, pasta, baking and way too much wine).

I know that I’m not drinking enough water (it’s easy to tell; just check the colour of your urine).

I’ve been looking over past programs that I’ve written for myself and I have to say, my heart just isn’t into body-part splits or HIIT or pre-exhaust supersets. Not to mention that I’ve de-conditioned enough to make those inappropriate until I’m stronger and have more energy.

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I’ve come to the conclusion that the best place to start is back at the beginning.

Returning to fitness as a beginner. Following a program that’s short in duration and doesn’t require more than two or three days a week. Focusing on simple nutritional swaps and being more mindful of my body’s need for water and whole foods. Re-creating the exercise and eating habits that have kept me healthy and happy for many years. One step at a time. Day by day.

Rather than look elsewhere for the ‘perfect’ program, I’m following my own 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp.

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Three week of ‘easy entry’ workouts, daily coaching emails, health-promoting recipes and information to keep you motivated and sticking with your healthy habit goals.

(You can read all about it here >> 21-Day ‘Re’-Bootcamp; just make sure you use the form below to register or you’ll miss my gift of a price reduction..).

Not too short, not too long and exactly what I need during the three weeks leading up to Christmas (our first without Clara). I’ll admit that it will be a bit odd getting daily emails from myself,  but it’s been a while since I wrote them, so I’m sure they’ll see fresh enough 😉 .

All proceeds from this week’s registrations will be donated to B.C. Children’s Hospital in Clara’s name. We are so grateful for the loving and compassionate care they’ve provided us with, from her first visit to cardiology as a 4-month old baby right through to her final days in I.C.U.

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Not only will participating in this program help you to improve your own life, it’ll help another child and her family in their time of need.

UPDATE: I’d like to thank all of you who signed up for this program during the week of December 1 through 6. Altogether, we raised $880 dollars for the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation. I’ll be donating these monies in Clara’s name and attributing the donation to ‘Fitknitchick’s Friends and Followers’. 

 

 

 

A compassionate approach to exercise

The response to last week’s post, Returning to Fitness After Loss, was both comforting and overwhelming.

While I read every single comment and email and Facebook post, I found myself unable to respond to them, grief being still so very fresh. Sometimes all it takes is a sympathetic look or a gentle hug to start the tears flowing again.

Thank you all for taking the time to offer condolences, share experiences and suggest ways in which I might use exercise to help heal myself and move forwards, towards a ‘new normal’ with my family.

Some of you shared with me how running or yoga helped you through a period of loss.

Others suggested simply walking in nature as a soothing way to nourish both spirit and body.

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A few told stories of stopping exercise and abandoning healthy eating for as long as a year after the death of a loved one. And how they returned once again to fitness, when the time was right.

A close friend suggested an obvious solution to my anxiety about going back to a gym where I know everybody (and even in the absence of personal tragedy, can barely get through a workout without stopping to chat and acknowledge clients, class participants, colleagues and friends…); switch gyms for awhile. Brilliant!

Another friend suggested I just ‘do it’. (No offence, but Nike slogans don’t motivate me at the best of times 😉 ).

Many of you posted variations on the themes of ‘give yourself time’, ‘practice self-compassion’, ‘celebrate the small victories’ and ‘what you can, when you can’. Sound familiar?

Surprisingly, even though these themes focus prevalently in my fitness coaching practice, I’ve failed to apply them to myself. Sometimes the teacher needs to becomes the student.

I took all of your suggestions to heart, but in the end, realized that my biggest challenge right now is to reconcile the fact that what I need exercise for right now, is completely different for the reasons I needed it in the past.

Now is the time for finding joy in movement, feeling better in my body and minimizing the aches and pains that set in when I’m not exercising regularly. Bicep development, bench press PR’s and pull-up progress seem unimportant these days.

And that’s okay.

I need to take a compassionate approach to exercise.

I need to be gentle with myself and avoid comparisons of past progress and goals with where I am right now.

I need to plan a small number of short, weekly workouts and be willing to adjust my schedule depending on how I’m feeling on any particular day. Alas, I still can’t predict how I’ll feel by lunchtime, let alone tomorrow or the end of the week.

I need to keep up the daily walking routine my husband and I have created. Revisiting the paths and trails that Clara loved. These hand-in-hand outings provide the opportunity to talk about how we’re feeling and to shares thoughts and memories our beloved daughter. We recognize that tragedy can destabilize a marriage and are determined that ours remains strong.

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I need to let movement soothe me and still the blender of thoughts in my head.

I need to let members of my community share their condolences and sadness with me, knowing that even though it may move me to tears, others are hurting as well and only want to offer comfort and support.

I’m hopeful that by meeting myself where I am, doing less than I think I should and being present in the simple task of moving my body, I’ll be setting myself up for longterm healing and success. (This approach, coincidentally, is what I recommend for anyone just getting started with exercise, or returning to it after a hiatus…).

At least that’s the plan. A compassionate approach towards exercise.

And since it’s always worked for my fitness coaching clients, I’m hopeful that it will work for me, too.

 

 

 

 

Returning to fitness after loss

On Friday, November 6th the unimaginable happened. My beautiful, smart, funny, quick-witted, caring and joy-filled 13-year old daughter passed away.

Clara lived with pulmonary hypertension (you can read more about her story here); a disease that we always knew would shorten her life. What we didn’t expect was for it to happen at such a young age.

After being admitted to hospital Tuesday with a suspected case of appendicitis. Her condition deteriorated quickly and with each test, the news, and prognosis got worse. An asymptomatic, previously undiagnosed kidney tumour had ruptured and reduced her heart-lung function to the point that the only option the medical team had was to try and stabilize her long enough to remove the kidney. She suffered a cardiac arrest during the cardiac catheterization procedure and never recovered.

To say that my husband, two sons and I are devastated is an understatement. We are gutted and heart-broken and inconsolable, trying to reconcile what’s happened with the future we had envisaged for our family.

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Needless to say, exercise and healthy eating have been the farthest thing from my mind.

While I know that movement and energy-giving food will help me to deal with grief, the fact of the matter is, my heart aches, my lungs hurt and my body is incredibly weary right now.

I have very little appetite and am thankful for the friends who’ve stepped up to provide us with hot meals for today and for the freezer. I’m not eating my greens. Or getting enough protein. Remembering to drink water is an issue too.

I had no idea that grief could cause such a rapid loss in weight, muscular strength or fitness.

This week, my husband and I have committed to daily walks around the neighbourhood. Right now, the hills are almost more than I can manage and I have a much better understanding of how Clara must have felt when she accompanied us on walks that were challenging to her heart and lungs.

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I’m sharing this here because I know that many of you will have experienced a similarly debilitating grief and have found your way back to fitness after loss.

I would love to hear what helped you regain your physical strength, not to mention your courage to go back into the gym and feel the gaze of people who know your story and may not know whether to approach you or to talk with you about it.

I know that grief has no map and that it may be awhile before I’m able to teach group fitness, blog regularly and support my clients.

But I’m anxious to get back to doing what I do best; motivating and inspiring others to live a life full of movement and health and joy.

And taking care of my boys. Making sure they feel loved and supported as they move through their own experiences with grief and the relatively rare experience of losing a sibling in childhood.

xo ~ Tamara

 

How to eat carbs and still lose weight {Guest Post}

Dear readers. Despite receiving offers from dozens of aspiring writers each week, I rarely accept guest posts. When I do they are always fellow fitness professionals, to ensure that you guys continue to get well-researched, factual information from somebody who knows their stuff.

That’s why I’m thrilled that the author of this week’s post reached out to me and asked if he could share his knowledge about carbohydrates and weight loss with us. What’s more, he’s a specialist in women’s health and fitness AND has much experience (both personally and professionally 😉 ) with helping perimenopausal women figure out their weight loss issues. Please welcome Howard Standring!

 

Good old carbohydrates get a real bad deal these days.

In every magazine or new diet book, we hear – ditch the carbs and eat the fats and all your weight loss prayers will be answered.

But is this necessary to lose weight? Are we all doomed to be eating low carb for the rest of our days?

Certainly, a carbohydrate-restricted diet can result in a loss of body fat.

However, as effective as lower carb diets are for losing weights there is a payback.

We miss eating them because they taste good.

Our moods may suffer – Eating carbs can lift up your mood because they help produce the feel good chemical serotonin.

Stress levels can increase Limiting carbs for long periods may elevate the stress hormone cortisol. Increased levels of cortisol can lead to inflammation, reduced muscle mass and hunger cravings.

Less energy – if you are active then low carb dieting can diminish energy levels and affect your workouts and motivation levels.

Therefore, I believe that maintaining a certain level of carbs in your diet is important for our overall well-being and if you manage them right you can still get the fat loss results you want.

Carbohydrates and Insulin

As you probably know when you eat a meal, your blood sugar levels increase in relation to the type of foods you have just consumed.

In response, insulin releases from the pancreas to remove the blood sugar (glucose) and use it immediately for energy to function or store it in your muscles or fat cells for later use.

Insulin also tells the body to stop burning fat and use the new energy source that is readily available.

So large spikes of insulin on a regular basis is not ideal when trying to lose body fat, because not only is your ability to burn fat decreased but there is a greater potential for fat storage from the excess glucose in your blood stream.

This is why carbohydrates get such a hard time, because they are responsible for increasing blood sugars the most when eaten therefore increasing the release of insulin. The more insulin you release over time the more chance you have of becoming resistant to it. The more insulin resistant you become, the harder it becomes to manage body fat levels.

Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is a whole other topic and out of the scope of this article but it´s a problem we need to address.

Insulin resistance occurs when the regular cells in the body stop responding to insulin and won´t allow glucose to be absorbed into the cells. This forces the body to produce even more insulin and we have a viscous cycle of high insulin and high blood sugar that if left untreated can lead to diabetes.

Along with diet there a whole host of factors that can contribute to insulin resistance such as genetics, obesity, reduced muscle mass through lack of exercise or natural aging and for women the onset and beginning of menopause.

Approaching and going through menopause causes an imbalance of hormones and one result of this is less tolerance to carbohydrates. Many women complain about weight gain especially around the abdomen during this time and this resistance to carbohydrates is often the culprit.

The good news is controlling your carbohydrate intake can significantly help you overcome this issue.

How Many Carbs You Need To Eat

If you think that insulin resistance is a problem for you, then the first thing is to be tested. You can do this with your doctor or purchase a glucose testing kit.

You perform the test in a fasted state and an ideal reading is between 70-90mg/dl. If you are over 90 then you need work on improving your insulin sensitivity.

With regard to how many carbs to eat for improving insulin sensitivity and losing body fat I have put together a set of guidelines you can use.

These are by no means set in stone or backed up by some scientific research. These are just recommendations I make based on years of working with female clients.

Everybody is different with unique circumstances so I would recommend using this as a starting point then make adjustments based on result.

When talking about carbohydrates we often focus on the refined and starchy carbs such as breads, pasta, rice, potatoes, biscuits, cereals etc.

However, carbohydrates come in many different forms and they all count to your daily totals so it´s important to be aware of them.

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Vegetables – most vegetables are low carb in nature and do not need to be restricted. The only vegetables to moderate are those classed as root vegetables and peas.

Fruit – Fruit is a carbohydrate that many people consumed without any real control because it is healthy and pretty low in calories. But because of its sugar content (fructose) restrict the fruits you eat to the low-carb variety until insulin sensitivity has improved.

Starch based vegetables and grains are high in carbs so track them carefully and maybe avoid altogether.

All processed, packaged carbs , like breads, cakes, biscuits, crackers are be severely restricted or avoided completely when trying to improve insulin sensitivity and lose weight. Save them for an occasional treat if you need one.

Liquid Carbohydrates – Avoid all liquid carbohydrates such as soda´s fruit juice and energy drinks.

Ok, here are my guidelines for how to eat carbs and still lose weight based on your situation now.

Scenario A – You are doing little or no exercise and need to lose quite a bit of weight.

If you are just starting out with a lot of weight to lose then insulin resistance is probably high. At this stage, severely restrict carbs to allow insulin sensitivity to improve.

Aim for 50 g per day. The bulk of your carbs will come from vegetable sources. Restrict fruit and only eat those with a low GI rating such as berries. All other carbs are to be avoided or eaten in a cheat meal once a week.

Going this low is tough especially if your diet now is high in carbs. My advice is eliminate all the refined and processed carbs from your diet. Once you have achieved this focus on reducing daily totals until you hit 50 gram per day.

Scenario B – You are exercising regularly but still overweight.

At this stage insulin sensitivity is improved but carb intake should remain low. Increase carb intake to between 50 g-100 g per day. You want to find the point where you are losing fat consistently and have good energy levels.

Carbs to include:

  • All the leafy greens and low carb vegetables you want
  • Low-carb fruit within reason
  • Introduce a serving or two of starch-based carbs such as sweet potatoes or wild rice.

If you are, eating this amount of carbs and exercising but not losing much weight then reconsider your fitness program. A program based around weight training and some higher intensity cardio will not only accelerate your results but also greatly improve your insulin sensitivity. It also means you can introduce more carbs into your diet.

Scenario C – You are active and pretty lean – (between 24-18% body fat)

If you very active and following a fitness program that includes resistance training and some high intensity work then you should be eating more carbs. At this stage you should find it easy to maintain your weight on between 100-150 g per day. In fact depending on your how insulin sensitive you have become and other factors such as your size, muscle mass and training regime you can still be losing body fat if that is your goal.

Carbs to include:

  • 
All the vegetables you want.
 All the low-carb fruit you want plus 1-2 pieces of high carb fruits
  • Starchy foods but measured out
  • Refined carbs as an occasional treat or in a cheat meal.
In summary
  • Going low carb is effective for losing weight and improving insulin sensitivity and depending on your situation is the best choice for you to take.
  • However, if your goal is to build muscle, strength and fitness levels then you can and should be eating more carbs in your diet.
  • Remember when cutting carbs you need to increase protein and fats to compensate for the reduction in calories, keep you satisfied and maintain lean muscle mass.

 

Howard Standring is Personal Trainer and Nutrition Coach with over 10 years professional experience.

He runs the female fitness site ThinkFitNotThin, aimed at helping and encouraging women
over 35 to get strong, fit and healthy.