Battling body fat – exercise and diet tips

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S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
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11 December 2019

How do you measure body fat?

Body fat most often accumulates around the stomach and is generally caused by eating too much and not exercising enough.

We can measure body fat using scales, a simple tape measure or by taking a Body Mass Index (BMI) measurement. This is a person's weight (in kilograms) divided by their height, which is then squared. The higher this figure, the more at risk of health problems you are.

That being said, this measurement isn't so accurate for those who are very muscular as it doesn't distinguish between muscle and fat. It also doesn't take into account age or gender, which can also influence body fat.

To get an idea of your own BMI, the NHS website has a handy calculator you can use. If your BMI looks healthy then it suggests your diet and lifestyle don't need much correction. If it is high, however, then the following exercise and diet tips could be helpful for you.

What exercise burns the most body fat?

Research shows that exercising is effective in reducing body fat all over the body, and not just in the area being 'worked out'.1 So, this suggests that the old saying, any exercise is good exercise, is very much true.

If you do relatively little exercise, then start with small activities that you can fit around your daily routine, such walking more often, doing breathing exercises and stretching. This is less challenging than beginning a new sport or exercise class and should be easier to stick to long-term.

When this is fixed into your routine, then you can try to up the intensity of your exercise plan by doing a mixture of strength and aerobic activities.

In total, we should be aiming for about 150 minutes of activity each week, plus some strength work. Don't forget, however, that activities like walking the dog and running up and down the stairs all add in extra active minutes!

Strength exercises

Strength work builds up muscles, encouraging them to become stronger and more toned.

Squats, lunges, hamstring curls and leg presses are good strength activities you can do from home. For guidance on how to do these safely, follow some of our exercise videos.

Resistance bands are another fun strength activity. Check out our blog '4 easy exercises you can do with resistance bands' for some top tips!

Aerobic exercises

Running, cycling, swimming and dancing are great examples of aerobic activities. These get the heart and breathing rate up, and can reduce body fat.

One study has found that sprint running for short intervals reduced body fat in women. Women who ran sprints 3 times a week for 6 weeks reduced their body fat by 8%.2

If you aren't used to doing aerobic sports, you could do them in short intervals until you build up some stamina. For example, try a 10-minute walk, followed by a 10-minute run, then another 10-minute walk. This adds up to an easy 30-minute workout.

What is the best diet to lose body fat?

Although exercise is a really important factor in managing body weight, we must also think about diet. A balanced, healthy lifestyle is key to managing weight, rather than restrictive diets.

Nutritionist Emma Thornton says: "Crash diets may show good weight loss results initially, but these aren't normally sustainable. When we return to our regular eating habits, the weight is likely to pile back on again.

Ensuring your diet is healthy and balanced all the time, rather than focusing on a short-term diet, should provide more long-lasting weight loss results. Try introducing dietary changes slowly, too, as this should be easier to stick to."

Portion sizes

Eating more calories than you are burning contributes to weight gain. Below, I've included a list that gives you an idea of how much food makes up a portion. Knowing this can help you avoid eating too much.

Another top tip is to use a small plate so you aren't able to pile on as much food.

It is also important to be aware of what you're eating when doing sedentary activities like watching the television. We are more likely to reach for chocolates or biscuits at this time. Emma says: "Keeping a little box of nuts and seeds in the living room offers a healthier alternative to a box of chocolates."

A good alternative to sitting in front of the TV and snacking is to get out and be more active. Remember, you can do activities at home, if you don't want to venture out.

1 serving of...

Food Quantity
MEAT 60g cooked meat
VEGETABLES 4 tbsp lentils/beans
4 tbsp peas, sweetcorn, carrots
NUTS Handful of nuts
DAIRY 200ml milk
125ml yoghurt
30g cheese
EGGS 2 eggs
WHOLEGRAINS 40g cereal
2 slices of bread/1 roll
75g uncooked rice/pasta
1 baked potato/5 new potatoes
FISH 140g cooked fish
FRUIT 1 piece of medium fruit (banana, apple, orange, pear)
2 pieces of small fruit (kiwis, plums)
Handful of grapes or berries
30g dried fruit
3 slices of pineapple, melon, mango
150ml fruit juice/smoothie (1 serving per day)

Healthy snacks

Eating regularly can help with weight management, but you do have to ensure you are getting the right foods.

Dried fruit and nuts are a handy healthy snack to keep in your bag. Alternatively, try making some heathy breakfast bars!

Fruit and vegetables

Fruit and vegetables are nutritious and low-calorie. These should make up just over 1/3 of what you eat each day.

Planning meals ahead of time can ensure you reach the daily recommended intake for fruit and vegetables, plus it ensures you don't end up opting for convenience foods like ready-meals which contain more fat, sugar and additives.

Unsurprisingly, some of the world's healthiest diets include lots of fruit and vegetables. To read more on this topic, have a look at Emma's blog 'What are the world's healthiest diets?'.


Noticed that your stomach looks bigger after eating? This could be a result of bloating.

Improving digestion helps tackle bloating - some top tips from Emma include:

  • Chew food thoroughly
  • Drink plenty of water (in sips and not gulped down with meals)
  • Eat a larger lunch and smaller dinner
  • Sit down to eat.

For more on the topic of bloating and other digestive issues, see our information book on Digestion.

Eat more fibrous foods

High fibre foods can help with weight loss. These take a while to digest so can make you feel fuller for longer.

Emma says: "Fibrous foods should make the basis of your meal and should equate to about 1/3 of what you eat in total."

Fibrous foods include bread, rice, pasta and potatoes. Opt for brown or wholegrain varieties as they are more nutritious.

Cut down on saturated fats

Saturated fats like pizza and fried foods contribute to weight gain, however, if you simply don't buy these kinds of foods, then you won't be tempted to eat them!

As an alternative, swap saturated for healthy fats which are found in avocadoes, nuts, seeds and fish.

Consider what you drink

Fizzy juice is quite calorific so opt for plain water instead. This is much better for your waistline and will keep your body hydrated when doing more exercise, too.

Alcohol also contains lots of calories. Drinking alcohol in excess may also cause you to make poor dietary choices, such as over-eating, or eating unhealthily. So, try to manage your intake by having a few more alcohol-free days each month.

With all these diet and exercise tips, you will be battling any undesired body fat in no time at all!



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