First is the objective while the second is the most likely output once a person stops losing weight despite high-intensity exercises and fancy foods that promise ‘fat burning’.

While all these go on, the biggest loser turns out to be those who haven’t lost any fat, and the biggest gains come in the form of increased gym memberships, personal trainers, exercise outfits and fine foods. Yes, a veritable industry has come up to meet the (mostly unreasonable) demands whose numbers from the looks of it can only be held in check with something as unrelated as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jokes apart, Dr Asawari Page, Cardiac Rehab. Physiotherapist & Kinesiologist at Aloha Clinics has a rather simple yet powerful explanation for the same. That fat is harder to burn than carbs! Yes, you heard it right. Studies after studies have shown that despite our best and most strenuous efforts, we lose very little fat which ranges as high as 0.5 grams per minute in the case of athletes to as low as 0.1 grams for most sedentary folks. Seen from the perspective of an hour of exercise “under ideal conditions”, it means the loss is never more than a mere 30 grams! Equally, when you starve (read diet!), the last thing you lose is fat given that the body metabolizes everything else including carbs and proteins much faster than fats.

According to her own experience, studies and reading, the following could be the reasons (being a mix of many reasons, nothing can be said with 100% certainty and conviction!) behind people losing lesser fats than expected:

  1. Fats by composition need just the right metabolism to burn. What this translates into is that at less-than-optimum metabolism (which comes about when you burn energy when exercising), that takes place when very light exercises like leisure walks are attempted, the body does burn fat but rather slowly. Anything very intense like a sprint or excessive weight- training or cross-training, and the body resorts to using pure carbs that are easier to convert into energy.
  2. Fats being more complex than carbs need more from the body to burn. Fats are the body’s storehouse of energy for the long run and are almost like a camel’s hump which gets used very slowly. What is thus needed is a sustained exercise that causes moderate fatigue to be done over a longer duration. When losing fat, one cannot afford to get bored or tired (unless it’s a genuine need!) and need to be at it for the right duration. As for what constitutes duration and type of exercise, most experts don’t have a standard answer to it. Essentially it can be arrived at only by a method of trial and error which may change from person to person - and sometimes widely.
  3. Incorrect choice of exercises. As mentioned above, fats don’t burn when you do very tiring and high-intensity exercises! What you may burn instead are carbs that you eat which could be wheat, rice, bananas and potatoes- favourite to Indians for the longest of time. For the stuff to move from the midriff and other areas where they get lodged over the years, one needs to do exercises of moderate-intensity over longer durations- despite all of the body’s protestations!
  4. Incorrect choice of foods. The Indian subcontinent is a place of diverse foods and food habits of which carbs form a very important constituent. In earlier times with lots of physical activities and very few chances of going sedentary, all the carbs and foods being eaten was digested with very little being stored as fat on the body. Stored body fats (if any) could be attributed to the body’s response to the regular occurrence of famines, dry spells, drought and the likes and was used by the body in its normal course. Indian till the 60s consumed copious quantities of coarse grains, grams and other nutrients rich though lighter cereals. These days we consume a lot more carbs in every form which gets stores as fats in the body. To increase fat burning, we ought to go back to healthier eating.
  5. Individual body composition and responses to external stimulation. No two people can ever burn fat in almost the same way because no two individuals genetically are the same. We inherit our metabolism and digestion patterns and peculiarities from our parents who did from their and so on. Being of a huge genetic pool, our metabolism rates, their triggers and their characteristics can be unique and may need a fairly close inspection in the form of knowing what works and what doesn’t. Blindly following set ideas is the best recipe for disaster where people have been known to have undergone intense medical attention to get back to their original state, leave along fat burning.

What then is the perfect way to lose fat? There exists nothing like a ‘perfect way’. What works best for one person may not work for another at all.

Most solutions have to be perfected to suit individual needs while keeping the following in mind:

  1. Those genetically pre-dispossessed towards lower metabolism won’t lose fat fast.
  2. Change in food habits irrespective of genetics and metabolism helps lose fats. Good food habits, besides helping stay lean, is good for a whole load of other reasons
  3. Gauge what works for you best. All it takes is some observation to know which group of foods do what to your body.
  4. Get sleep (because losing sleep can result in losing your mind which reflects on your body). Metabolism increases in a well-rested body!
  5. Age may not be in your favour as with age metabolism becomes slower. It’s for this reason that the elderly find it difficult to lose weight.

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