Losing weight is all well and good, but when you’re looking for the scale to drop, you are most likely wanting to lose fat, not muscle. So how do you make sure you’re shedding fat and also maintaining lean muscle mass? It takes a concentrated effort to dial in your nutrition, get moving (specifically, hitting the weight room), and doing other lifestyle factors such as sleep and managing stress.
We spoke to some experts who reveal what it takes for women to lose fat. Here are nine of their most helpful and actionable tips. Even if you just incorporate a few of these into your lifestyle, you’re bound to see results.
“You have to strength train,” Daniel Rosenthal, ISSA, personal trainer at Equinox, told POPSUGAR. “Think of strength training as your way of telling your body to preferentially burn body fat for fuel, keeping that precious lean muscle tissue and maintaining a high metabolism.”
He went on to explain that if you only do cardio, the weight loss you experience will be both fat and lean muscle. “Decreasing your lean muscle will slow your metabolism and make further fat loss super difficult,” he said.
Although he recommends strength training at least twice a week, Jillian Michaels urges women to strength train even more often at four days per week. Start with a couple times a week and work your way up until you find a routine that works for you. Here’s an example of what a week’s worth of strength training looks like.
Eat in a Calorie Deficit
You need to focus on consuming fewer calories than your body needs. Set your calorie range by multiplying your body weight by 10 to 12. Your caloric intake should fall somewhere within these numbers. Another way to calculate your calorie deficit is to figure out your TDEE (total energy expenditure, which is the number of calories your body burns each day) and subtract 500 calories. This will help you lose about a pound a week. However, make sure you’re always eating more than 1,200 calories each day, even more if you’re working out regularly.
Figuring out an appropriate calorie deficit will take some trial and error, so monitor your calorie intake for two to three weeks, and if you don’t see a change, decrease by five percent.
Track Your Food
To see if you’re eating your daily target of calories, track your food in a food journal or with a tracking app such as My Fitness Pal or your FitBit app.
Incorporate HIIT Training
“Do some HIIT cardio,” advised Daniel. “Most fitness classes at your local gym are exactly the kind of thing you need. Get in and get that heart rate pumping two or three times a week!”
Bursts of HIIT cardio will spike your heart rate and lead to the afterburn effect, where your body will continue to burn calories even after the workout is finished.
Eating Fat Won’t Make You Fat
“It’s important to know that eating fat will not make you fat, however it does have a lot of calories so you want to limit fat in your diet to no more than 30 percent of total calories,” Jamie Johnson, RDN, told POPSUGAR. Obviously this is for people who are trying to lose weight the traditional way, not with the popular high-fat, low-carb keto diet.
“Choosing the right fat is crucial,” she explained. “Stick to healthy fats found in fish, nuts, seeds, olive oil, avocados, etc., rather than saturated and trans fats found in butter, margarine, fatty meats, and fried foods that can lead to heart disease if consumed in excess.”
Get Plenty of Sleep
“The easiest thing women can do to lose body fat is get adequate sleep,” Dre Delos Santos, CSCS, told POPSUGAR. “Admittedly, it’s not a sexy answer, but lack of sleep is prevalent in women who struggle with fat loss.”
Not getting enough sleep can make you crave unhealthy food the next day and cause you to overeat. Adequate sleep also lets your body rest and recover, which is when you are more likely to put on all that muscle you’ve been working hard to build at the gym. Aim for at least seven hours a night.
Eat Lean Protein
“[Your] diet should consist of tons of fruits and vegetables while consuming enough protein to help with muscle building,” Jillian said. “Most women need protein to be 10-35 percent of their diet and should be a lean source like chicken, turkey, fish, beans, and low fat beef.”
To lose weight, Jim White, RDN, ACSM, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios, recommends a macro breakdown of 30 percent fat, 30 percent protein, and 40 percent carbs.
In times of stress, our bodies release cortisol, Dr. Charlie Seltzer, a physician board-certified in obesity medicine, told POPSUGAR. Cortisol is also known by its alter ego, the stress hormone. “By itself, cortisol does not cause weight gain,” he explained. “It is a catabolic hormone that causes weight loss by breaking down muscle and fat.” But that, unfortunately, doesn’t mean that more stress equals weight loss. Cortisol is actually an appetite stimulant, Dr. Seltzer said, which explains why when you’re stressed, you want to eat. And you can have a harder time saying no to carb-y, fatty junk foods.
Eat, Don’t Drink, Your Calories
“Eat your calories, don’t drink them,” registered dietitian Katherine Brooking, MS, told POPSUGAR. “Because the body doesn’t compensate for calories from liquids as well as it does from foods you chew, make a mental note of how much calorie-laden drinks you’re downing. Replace just eight ounces of soda a day with water or a calorie-free beverage and you’ll be several pounds lighter a year from now.”