5 Ways to Lean Out That Have Nothing to Do with Food

I strongly dislike the term “losing* weight.” “Losing weight” can mean anything: clothes? bones? brain matter?? When people say they want to “lose weight” what they typically mean is that they want to lose fat, or what many refer to as “leaning out.”

[*As much as I dislike the term “losing weight,” “loosing weight” is even worse.]

Most professionals would agree that your body composition is largely due to your diet. Those percentages can range anywhere from 80-95%, but what about the other 5-20% of your life? There are other factors we need to think about if we are looking to lean out.

1. SLEEP
Your diet can be full of leafy green vegetables, grass-fed protein, and good fats, but if you’re sleeping 4 hours a night, you’re probably still not in great shape. Sleep is your body’s chance to reset. Lack of sleep means that appetite hormones such as leptin and ghrelin are thrown off, your stress hormone cortisol is sky-high, and your brain won’t make great decisions during the day, especially when it comes to food. For people working the night shift, it’s even worse news. Even if you’re getting 8+ hours of sleep during the day, your circadian rhythm is thrown off and you experience similar effects of only getting a few hours sleep. In an ideal world, you’re getting 8+ uninterrupted hours of sleep in a cool, dark room at night.

2. RELAX
Whatever that means for you, relax and have fun. Spend time with friends, go for a walk with your family, listen to your favorite music, get a massage, etc. The goal here is to lower stress. Lowering stress lowers cortisol and lowering chronic cortisol is a good thing. Cortisol is not inherently a bad thing – it’s part of the fight-or-flight response to danger. But if we are consistently stressed out, this hormone will tend to store fat along the midsection and mess with other non-essential functions including our memory and immune system.

3. STRENGTH TRAIN
One of the best ways to lean out is to strength train and build muscle. The goal here is not to burn calories WHILE exercising (a common misconception), but to build an engine that will burn fat throughout the day. Muscle is very expensive tissue – it takes a lot of calories to maintain muscle compared to fat, so let’s take advantage of this fact. This goes for men and women alike – put those 5 lb. dumbbells down and pick up a barbell. Compound movements such as the back squat, deadlift, and push press are all great muscle builders. Women: that “toning” that you want? This is the best way to get it. Bulking up like a professional body builder won’t happen the way you think it might. As an initial goal, men should be able to squat 1.5x bodyweight and women should be able to squat 1x bodyweight.

4. SPRINT
Sprinting can be in the traditional sense of running, but it can also be any acute, high-intensity exercise. The benefits are almost too many to list: fat loss, better insulin sensitivity, increased growth hormone to build muscle, better circulation and heart health, etc. Sprinting is efficient, easy to do (no equipment needed!) and has a myriad of benefits that I’ve already listed and that you can Google. Only once or twice a week is needed – that’s how potent these things are. Do a hill sprint every 2 minutes for 14 minutes and you’ll know what I mean.

5. GET VITAMIN D
Vitamin D is actually not even a vitamin, it’s a hormone and it’s essential. It’s incredibly good at countering stress (cortisol), increasing bone density, increasing testosterone, boosting the immune system, and reducing inflammation – all things related to leaning out. The best way to get vitamin D is directly from the sun. It only takes 15 minutes to get the best exposure from the sun, but in winter months or cloudy days, you may want to grab some Vitamin D3 from a store. You should do some research on how much to take – I find that most brands will recommend far less than is actually optimal. You might find recommended doses of 400 IU on the bottle, but I’ve read about people taking upwards of 20-40,000 IU. Personally if it’s winter or dark out, I’ll take 8-12,000 IU and don’t experience any negative side effects. Depending on your skin tone and other factors, your mileage may vary, so do your own research.

What you put through your pie hole absolutely matters when it comes to health and body composition. But there are a few other factors to keep in mind that aren’t related to food. Getting quality sleep, reducing your stress, strength training, sprinting, and getting adequate Vitamin D are all going to help you lean out. Instead of trying to do all things at once, pick one that you think is achievable and set a goal of being consistent with that for two weeks. If you can do that, add another element and continue in this fashion until you hit all five.

Lastly, don’t let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of good. Yes, in a perfect world you’re getting 9 hours of sleep in a cool dark room. If you are improving from 4 hours to 7 hours interrupted by a crying baby, is that failure? No way! (Am I speaking from personal experience? Maybe) We’re all on a journey and will have different priorities at different times in our lives. Do what’s best for you right now and don’t worry about everyone else. Do you.

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Fermented Cod Liver Oil: More Than Just EPA/DHA

By now you should know about the benefits of fish oil. Since that blog post I have switched from fish oil capsules to a liquid form of fermented cod liver oil (FCLO) from Green Pasture.  Why? Here are some things about FCLO that you should know. 
 
Why cod liver oil?
The fish oil industry has focused largely upon the omega-3s and benefits of EPA and DHA. While this is good especially for cardiovascular health, there are many more nutrients present in cod liver oil that may not be in regular fish oils. If you read my post on Liver: The Paleo Superfood You Should be Eating,  (yes I have been on a liver kick lately), then you know that liver is nutrient powerhouse and has a crazy benefit to endurance efforts. Most fish oils have nowhere near the vitamins and nutrients that FCLO has because they only focus on the o-3s. Think of FCLO more as a food than a supplement. The concentration of vitamins A and D alone make it a good idea to supplement with FCLO, especially in the winter when vitamin D from the sun is scarce.
What’s Up with the Fermentation?
Very few companies produce fermented cod liver oil (one of them being Green Pasture). Most others use a heating process, but as you know, fish oil should not be exposed to heat due to possible omega-3 fatty acid oxidation (this is why we store fish oils in a refrigerator or freezer). Fermentation allows the fish oil to be extracted in a cold process that can take 6 months up to a year!
Does it taste like fish? 
As you can see in the pictures, I have the peppermint and the ginger flavors. As much as you’d like to think that it’s like eating candy, it’s not. There is definitely a taste of fish with a strong sharp taste of peppermint or ginger, so if you can’t stand it, then I suggest getting the capsules of FCLO. I haven’t tried unflavored FCLO, but I imagine only the baddest of bad can handle the taste.
What about doses?
I take about a teaspoon a day. Most experts recommend a maintenance dose of 5-10ml, which is 1-2 tsp/day. Chris Kresser recommends women looking to get pregnant to take 10ml/day.
GEEK OUT ON MORE COD LIVER OIL:

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Supplement: Magnesium

Everyone talks about calcium, but what about the other side of the coin? Magnesium is the fourth most abundant mineral in the body and is involved in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body.* The problem as a paleo/primal/meat,veggies,nuts etc. eater is that good sources of magnesium are found in things we try to avoid: grains like cereal, bread, etc.** As a supplement, it will help relax the muscles and systems in your body, boost your immune system, maintain heart rhythms, and get better sleep. 

Although there are many magnesium supplements out there, I personally take Natural Calm. It is touted as an anti-stress powder, but I like it to help me sleep better. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a supplement is working, but when I take 1-2 tsp. of this powder mixed with water before bed, I am definitely more alert the next morning and sometimes even jump out of bed because of how well rested I am. Essentially, it makes my sleep more efficient

Be sure to read up on side effects, follow directions to ramp up the dosage over time, and of course talk to your doctor if you have any conditions to see if you can take this. Magnesium supplements can be found anywhere (CVS, Whole Foods, Vitamin Shoppe, etc). You will probably discover that there are Magnesium + Calcium supplements out there. I don’t see a reason not to get this if you want, but if you’re eating enough green veggies and getting Vitamin D, you should be fine in retaining calcium. 


*http://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/magnesium.asp
**http://www.healthyeatingclub.org/info/books-phds/books/foodfacts/html/data/data5d.html