Right, so you've got saddle bags and a flabby tummy. Those bulging bits are signs that excess body fat has been distributed to specific areas of your body.
Research shows that the right combination of diet and exercise will help you lose weight faster and lose centimetres in the right places.
Here are four strategies that will prove useful in your battle against the bulge.
Experts agree that regular physical activity will help you lose weight and keep it off. It may also improve your energy levels and mood, and may even lower your risk for developing chronic diseases of lifestyle such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
If you want to reduce body fat in certain areas, the first step is simple: start doing exercise that gets your heart rate up.
"It's the cardio training, like cycling, running, stepping, aerobics and walking, that's most helpful in losing weight," writes Health24's FitnessDoc Dr Ross Tucker in his forum.
If you're overweight or obese, you need to do 60 to 90 minutes of moderate activity (less, if the activity is vigorous) on most days of the week, according to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and an international consensus statement. Of course, you should take things very slowly at first if you haven't been exercising for a long time.
"The intensity at which you train is also very important," says Dr Tucker. "Often people train a little too easy. I'm not saying you should go out and push super hard and exhaust yourself every day, but stepping up the intensity once or twice a week is certainly a good thing."
He adds that you should finish each session feeling tired, but not exhausted.
2. Follow a balanced diet
Of course, burning fat can never be just about exercising. To achieve optimal results, your diet and exercise regime should go hand in hand.
"I can't emphasise strongly enough how important diet is," says Dr Tucker. "You can train all you want, but if you don't also eat well, you won't lose weight. I encourage you to see a dietician or find a good diet if you're serious."
In general, the rules for a healthy, balanced diet are simple, and can be based on the South African Food-Based Dietary Guidelines:
- Enjoy a variety of foods
- Drink lots of water
- Make starchy foods the basis of most meals (opt for wholegrain and low-GI options where you can)
- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit every day (aim for at least five portions a day)
- Eat dry beans, split peas, lentils and soy regularly
- Chicken, fish, meat, milk or eggs can be eaten daily (go for lean cuts whenever possible)
- Eat fats sparingly (always choose healthy fats such as canola, olive and avocado oil)
- Use salt sparingly
- Use food and drinks containing sugar sparingly and not between meals
- If you drink alcohol, drink sensibly (one drink for women and two drinks for men per day is currently recommended)
When implementing these guidelines, the Nutrition Information Centre of the University of Stellenbosch (NICUS) notes that you should try to use healthy cooking methods such as boiling, steaming, baking, grilling or "braaing" over the coals as often as possible. Also try not to add fats such as margarine, oil, butter, lard, mayonnaise, cream and cheese during food preparation.
3. Do some weight training
If you want the fat to stay off in the long term, cardiovascular exercise and a good diet shouldn't be your only considerations. It's also important to do some weight (strength) training.
"Weight training helps you to increase your muscle mass, and that means that your body's metabolic rate is lifted," says Dr Tucker. "The effect of this is that once you begin to lose weight, you keep it off more than you would by simply dieting."
The resistance you need for these exercises can be supplied by your body weight, free weights such as dumbbells, therabands, or specialised gym equipment. Tucker notes that one or two sessions of weight training per week should be enough to assist long-term weight management.
Just make sure you continue to do cardiovascular exercise too. The increase you get in metabolic rate during a 30-minute cardio routine, and for the few hours thereafter, far outweighs that of weight training in terms of initial fat burning, Dr Tucker says. But once you've lost some of the weight, the weight training becomes paramount in sustaining weight loss.
Weight training can also lighten your heart's workload, boost levels of good cholesterol, help prevent and treat diabetes, ease stiffness from arthritis and improve your mobility.
4. Target the problem areas
One of the primary problem areas for most people is the tummy area, and Dr Tucker admits that the question of how to get a flat stomach is one of the most frequently asked.
"Our genes determine where fat is deposited, which is why some people battle with the stomach, while others battle with arms or thighs," he explains. "But regardless of the location, the key remains a combination of proper exercise and a careful diet."
Dr Tucker points out that while toning your abdominals might be your focus, it's important to realise that you can't "spot reduce". "There's a perception that you can target specific areas for fat loss by doing very specific exercises. Unfortunately, a million sit-ups a day isn't the sole solution."
He does note, however, that doing targeted exercises like sit-ups have beneficial effects. While it isn't a solution on its own, it will make a difference if you regularly incorporate it into your cardiovascular and weight-training routine.
(Amy Henderson & Carine Visagie, Health24, updated April 2011)
- "Exercise: A program you can live with." Prepared by the editors of Harvard Health Publications in consultation with L. Howard Hartley, M.D., Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School; and I-Min Lee, M.B., B.S., Sc.D., Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and Associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. (2007) Web reference: https://www.health.harvard.edu/special_health_reports/Exercise.htm
- "Strength and Power Training: A guide for adults of all ages." Prepared by the editors of Harvard Health Publications in consultation with Walter Frontera, M.D., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Harvard Medical School , and Jonathan Bean, M.D., M.S., Assistant Professor, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Harvard Medical School. (2007) Web reference: https://www.health.harvard.edu/special_health_reports/strength_and_power_training