Helping her older sister Autumn lose 100 pounds jump-started Amber’s career as a trainer and coach.
My sister always had it together. In my eyes, Autumn had all the answers and — at 11 years my senior — she was the one I always ran to when I broke up with a boyfriend, started my period or didn’t know what to do about a situation in school.
Autumn taught me to always put lotion on after the shower and how to wear mascara, and she was there to walk me through memorizing my first Bible verse at 12. I still recite it daily: “Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” If that’s not the perfect quote for what we constantly face in life and in training, I don’t know what is!
As Autumn and I got older, I grew out of that little girl who used to eat cookies on her couch crying about boys and became a woman focused on relentless training to be the best in sports. I was athletic, muscular and driven. She was curvy, easygoing and focused on becoming a mom to a big family. In passing, she used to say things like, “Whatever, you got all the good genes, all I got is boobs and a sense of humor.” It was hard knowing that my big sister might resent me for our body-type differences. I’m sure it was hard for her to see her kid sister grow up, too.
Frustration From Afar
When I moved away to Los Angeles to escape the small town we were raised in, I started noticing that the weight she had gained from creating a beautiful family of five kids wasn’t going away. In pictures, she started carrying a look of defeat, and it weighed on me knowing the implications of obesity on her health — but even more, this was the happiest woman on earth looking sad. I remember running on the treadmill each morning thinking of her, praying actually: “God, please let Autumn find help. I know it probably won’t be me who helps her, but if you could just bring change somehow, I want to see her healthy.” I kept up this routine for about a year.
An Answer to Her Prayers
One sunny Los Angeles day, while on my treadmill, a text came in from my sister: “Help me, I’m fat.” I couldn’t believe my eyes. This was my chance to finally repay all the help she had given me and to make a real difference in her life. But her request came with a few stipulations:
- I can’t afford to go to a gym.
- I have five savages (what we have lovingly named her kids), so workouts need to be short.
- I only have a couple of pairs of dumbbells.
- You have to tell me exactly what to do because I’m clueless.
Lending a Helping Hand
So I created a program specifically for Autumn. It was an at-home training program that I later named the “4-Week Foundation.” She didn’t have equipment, so I had her climb the stairs in her home, lift her youngest son and complete bodyweight exercises to build strength. The goal was to burn fat and get her life back under control.
She needed to lose 100 pounds — and I needed this plan to work. Autumn called me shortly after starting the routine and told me about her training session that day. She had done sprint intervals outside, in upstate New York, with several feet of snow on the ground. “I just collapsed and bawled because it was so hard and I’m so big. How did I let this happen?” she wondered.
That was her breaking point and the last time she would ever feel that way again. A year later, not only did she lose the weight, but she also came to LA and we ran my favorite canyon together. It’s a run I’ll never forget, because where there was once resentment for being the “skinny sister,” there had been such an immense healing, her confidence soared and all that was left between us was an unbreakable bond as sisters.
A Career Was Born
I knew I was onto something, so I took that training program and turned it into a business. The thought of other women being out there like Autumn with no gym, no hope and no guidance was just too much for me not to do something. I knew nothing about being an entrepreneur, but I knew a lot about how to love, support and encourage people to become better.
Today, I own and run a business called Built for Her, an online women’s athletic training club that connects women from all over the world through at-home athletic training downloads. I provide a range of programs for women of all fitness levels focused on bringing them closer to a life they love through gaining control over their health. I feel so full of purpose knowing that other women are finding freedom through my creations and that even without sending me a “help” text message, I’m their sister, too — picking them up out of the snow when they’ve fallen and letting them know they have what it takes.
The chance now to be a coach is such a huge gift. No magazine cover or personal accomplishment could ever compare to the feeling of helping someone else achieve their “impossible.” So thanks to my entire team for their trust and to my sister for being the start of it all.
Now in its fifth year, The Oxygen Challenge has helped thousands of participants all over the world transform their bodies and their lives. This summer, we are bringing you two of the most badass coaches of all time: lifetime athlete and CrossFit Games champion Camille Leblanc-Bazinet and All-American track competitor and body-positive trainer Amber Dodzweit Riposta.
So what are you waiting for? Start transforming your life and body now with this 90-day training and nutrition program designed exclusively for Oxygen — it’s guaranteed to awaken your inner athlete, buoy your spirit and empower your life! Join the Challenge today.
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Want to try intermittent fasting? Here are a few things to note before diving in.
The fitness crowd tends to throw shade at the idea of skipping meals and snacks to slim down, believing this will eat away at your hard-earned muscle, grind your metabolism to a halt and spur diet-derailing hunger pangs. These days, however, the idea of occasionally shuttering your kitchen is the guiding principle of an increasingly popular — and increasingly researched — dieting approach with a lot of weight-loss buzz: intermittent fasting.
Believe it or not, fasting wasn’t invented by Instagram hashtags — in fact, people have been fasting for thousands of years: Our ancestors did it (usually because they didn’t have a constant supply of food stashed in the fridge), and a number of religious events such as Ramadan revolve around some form of dietary fast.
As the name implies, intermittent fasting (IF) is a system during which you alternate between periods of restricted calorie intake and periods of normal eating. To be clear, IF does not restrict the kinds of foods you can eat — as do diets like Paleo or keto — just how much you can eat on certain days of the week. Many swear by IF because it’s easy to implement, requires nothing draconian like a horrible juice cleanse, and it has been proved to be one of the speediest and sustainable ways to torch fat stores and promote a lean physique.
Research says fasting has been a favorite research topic as of late, and a number of studies have found intermittent energy restriction — in which people ate fewer than 800 calories at least once per week — to be a valid weight-loss strategy, at least in the short term. In one study, weight loss was similar among participants following either a heart-healthy diet or a high-protein, reduced-calorie IF regimen for three months. However, the IF diet won out for minimizing weight regain after one year. Another investigation showed that IF was just as good at stripping body fat as simple calorie cutting. However, IF did a better job at preserving lean body mass.
As to how exactly IF helps sculpt your physique, theories abound: Some propose that IF flips a metabolic switch that encourages your body to burn more fat. Others state that since IF restricts your window of eating, you’re likely to eat fewer calories during the course of a week, helping trim the waistline with less risk of losing muscle. Even more studies propose that IF might help people get in touch with their true feelings of satiety and fullness on food-restricted days, which can put the brakes on overeating during times of normal food intake.
On another front, IF may have other positive effects on your body, such as reducing memory loss, improving cholesterol and blood pressure, and helping prevent diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity. And contrary to logic, IF could actually help — not hurt — your physical performance at the gym: A 2018 study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that athletes who participated in an every-other-day fasting protocol (eating 33 percent of their normal calorie intake on fasting days) for six weeks became more energy-efficient during exercise, reported less fatigue and experienced reduced body-fat levels. Researchers theorize that occasional energy restriction might spur changes in hormones and mitochondrial function, helping you get more out of your workouts.
Fit Girl Fasting
Want to give intermittent fasting a whirl? Try this 5:2 eating plan: You eat normally for five days and reduce your calorie intake to about 25 percent of normal for two days. Drink all the calorie-free liquids you want on both days to stay hydrated and healthy, and focus on whole, nutrient-rich foods for all seven days.
5 Days a Week
½ cup rolled oats (cooked) + 1/3 cup low-fat milk + 1 scoop protein powder (Top with 2 tbsp chopped nuts + ½ cup blueberries.)
2/3 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt + ½ cup berries
4 oz cooked salmon + 1 cup cooked quinoa + 2 cups mixed greens + drizzle of olive oil vinaigrette
1/3 cup hummus + ½ cup sliced red bell peppers
1 cup milk + 1 scoop protein powder + ½ frozen chopped banana
4 oz pan-seared boneless pork loin chop + 2 cups roasted baby potatoes + 1 cup steamed asparagus + 1 tsp olive oil
Nutrition Facts (per day): 1,953 calories, fat 93 g, protein 146 g, carbs 201 g
2 Days a Week
½ cup cottage cheese + ½ cup chopped pineapple + 2 tbsp unsalted roasted sunflower seeds
½ cup baby carrots + 1 string cheese + 1 oz almonds
1 oz jerky
Nutrition Facts (per day): 586 calories, fat 36 g, protein 39 g, carbs 34 g
Fasting Cheat Sheet
Want to try intermittent fasting? Here are a few things to note before diving in.
High, low and start slow
There are different ways to put IF into practice, and since the jury is out as to which style yields the biggest benefits, choose the one that best fits your lifestyle.
The most common method of IF is 16:8. Here, you eat during an eight-hour window, say between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., and fast the remaining 16 hours in that day. There is also the eat-stop-eat method during which you do a 24-hour fast twice a week and eat normally five days a week, and the 5:2 method during which you eat normally for five days, then reduce your food intake to about 25 percent of normal (which usually totals about 500 to 700 calories) on two nonconsecutive days per week.
If you’re new to IF and aren’t sure you can hang, ease into it so you have a better chance of sticking with it long term: A JAMA Internal Medicine study found that while people on an alternate-day fasting regimen (25 percent of energy needs on fasting days) experienced weight- loss benefits, about a third of the participants failed to make it to the end. To increase your chances of follow-through, consider the 12:12 method: Here, you fast for 12 hours per day and eat within a 12-hour window — which probably isn’t that far off from how you’re eating now. This method also could increase your chances for fat loss: A 2018 British investigation found that people who simply delayed their breakfast by 90 minutes and ate their dinner 90 minutes earlier than normal — with no imposed restrictions on what they could eat — lost twice as much body fat over a 10-week period than those who ate their meals at their normal times. Experts theorize this is owed to a decrease in both appetite and overall calorie intake.
Food for thought
If you choose a routine such as the 5:2 method during which on fasting days you simply eat less, don’t waste an entire day of calories on a couple of slices of gooey pizza. Make those calories count, and focus on nutrient-dense, satiating foods such as legumes, vegetables, fruits and fish — items that deliver plenty of nutrients relative to the number of calories they contain.
Also, beware of the feeding-day binge: Since IF doesn’t dictate the types of foods you should eat, you might be tempted to reward yourself with less-than-healthful foods during normal eating periods. But IF only works for fat loss if you focus on nutrition, not just calories, so on non-fasting days, fall back into a normal diet full of whole, clean foods, and stick to your regular eating schedule of several meals and snacks per day.
Dehydration can exacerbate hunger and leave you in a candy-worshipping hangry rage. Keep plenty of calorie-free liquids like water and tea nearby when fasting to promote satiety and replace some of the liquid you’re missing by cutting out much of your food. Not sure you’re getting enough H2O? Keep track of your urine color: The darker the color, the more water you need. As for caffeine — don’t worry about it. Recent research proved that it does not dehydrate people as much as it was once thought, especially if you’re a regular coffee drinker.
Train to gain
The days you train and the days you feed or fast should align properly. If your goal is to nail a personal-record 1-mile run or improve on your strength with heavier lifts, train during non-fasting periods when you have more available energy. If your goal is fat loss, exercise on a fasting day to create a metabolic environment that favors fat burning as your carbohydrate stores become depleted. That being said, however, if you feel exhausted and lightheaded when exercising on a fasting day, either call it quits or eat some food. Your workout will be half-assed, and you’ll increase your risk of injury.
Pop a pill
On fasting days, consider taking a multivitamin to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy: A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition also found that women following a weight-loss diet reported less hunger when supplementing with a multivitamin. Make sure your multi also includes the B vitamins that help turn food into energy and control appetite. To reduce muscle breakdown, think about branched-chain amino acids or including a protein powder supplement to your regimen, if it works into your fasted calorie allotment.
It may not work
Like many diets, the success of IF will vary from person to person. Some may rave about their success with fat loss and their clearer mind, while others may experience nothing but prolonged fatigue and irresistible cravings.
It often takes a couple of weeks for your body to adjust to IF, and side effects of fasting like raging hunger, brain fog, grumpiness or low energy will likely subside with time. If you’re still miserable after three weeks, IF is probably not right for you.
WARNING: Certain medical conditions can be worsened by fasting. Consult with your doctor if you’re diabetic, have low blood pressure, take medications, are underweight, are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant, or are breast-feeding before beginning any sort of intermittent fasting.
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Scared you might fail? Read on for simple ways to keep a positive mindset during your weight-loss journey.
When you first made the decision to get leaner and healthier, you were probably excited, possibly even a little giddy. The idea that you don’t have to be satisfied with the proverbial hand you were dealt is certainly empowering, and that rush of motivation may have caused you to jump headfirst into an intense diet and exercise plan.
But as the weeks went on and your results started to lag, your enthusiasm for your plan and your confidence in your willpower likely dwindled, as well. Kick your doubts to the curb with these gentle reminders that your fat-loss journey is in the hands of one person: you!
- Remind yourself it’s not impossible. Losing weight may seem similar to climbing a mountain in the beginning, but keep in mind that many people have overcome obstacles similar to or larger than yours – and are happier for it. Check out our Success Stories and prepare to be inspired!
- Don’t walk into temptation. It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, but that’s because it rings true: “When you go to the supermarket, stay in the periphery and don’t go down the aisles,” advises Barry Sears, PhD, a prominent weight-loss author and expert in the science of anti-inflammatory nutrition. There’s one caveat, however: food manufacturers know that people head to the produce section and meat counter to find healthy food, so they often strategically place packaged foods they want you to believe are good for you near these areas. Don’t fall for their hype.
- Every little bit does help! “People hate too much change; it’s stressful,” says Sears. The number-one thing he recommends for those looking to lose weight is taking a high-quality fish oil supplement. Not only have omega-3 fatty acids been linked to increased weight loss, evidence suggests it may play a roll in reducing heart disease, stroke, diabetes and asthma.
- Go back to basics. You’ve probably seen the newly revamped United States Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate, the replacement for the beloved (but carb-heavy) USDA’s food pyramid. While it’s a good reference, Sears points out, “The USDA has one political purpose: to support American agriculture.” He goes on to note that the best way to ensure you are getting a balanced diet is to not put anything on your plate that “did not exist 10,000 years ago.” That basically means lean meats, vegetables and fruits, healthy fats and scant grains (which, coincidentally enough, we did not start farming until – you guessed it – 10,000 years ago).
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Body composition is important not only for physical aesthetic but also for performance and longevity. Here’s what you need to know to swing the percentages in your favor.
No group of women fears this word more than those in the fitness industry. Body fat is the target of nearly all workout programming, and all efforts are directed toward burning it, cutting it and losing it. Not that wanting to haul around less body fat is bad — quite the contrary: Obesity is the scourge of both the individual and society at large, and losing a ton of fat would literally do a world of good.
Yet for some, fat loss becomes a slippery slope, and often women push it a little too far when chasing that lean ideal. Because in the end, body fat is still a vital part of our physiology and too little can be just as dangerous as too much.
What the F…
First, let’s get this straight: Bodyweight and body composition are not the same thing. Your bodyweight is simply the number you see on the scale and is really only a measure of how hard gravity is pulling you toward the earth’s center. It measures the total weight of your body — muscle, bones, skin, organs, water weight, hair — even lunch — and what you weigh can fluctuate from day to day depending on what you ate, the time of the month (for women), how much sodium you’re ingesting and stress levels.
Knowing your weight is useful as a gauge of health in some ways, and several studies have shown that people who weigh themselves every day are more likely to stick to a health program than those who don’t because the scale keeps them accountable for their actions. However, it does not take into account the composition of your body — the ratio of fat to lean mass in your person — and is not really a good indicator of health.
Your body composition is the breakdown of what exactly you’re made of: muscles, bones, organs and of course fat. It is often described as the ratio of your fat mass vs. your fat-free mass. However, this is somewhat misleading: A certain percentage of your body fat is actually found within your organs, nervous system and hormones, as well as on the surface of every one of the 37 trillion cells in your body. This “essential fat” accounts for about 8 to 12 percent of total fat for women. The remainder of your fat mass is that bothersome layer we all want to shed — adipose tissue — which lies beneath your skin and is in essence a cache of fatty acids stored in cells as energy reserves and insulation.
Although it may be aesthetically displeasing, some adipose tissue is necessary for normal physiology and plays an important role in the production of sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone. It also facilitates the transport and storage of fat-soluble vitamins and, strangely, plays a role in satiety: The brain takes note of how much fat is stored in adipose cells and can increase hunger signals or reduce your activity level when it feels stores are too low.
Because it’s essentially stored energy, adipose tissue has a very low metabolic cost — in other words, it requires very few calories to maintain. Lean mass is quite the opposite, requiring more calories just to exist, and gaining muscle weight is a good thing for fat loss in the long term because it will cause the body to burn more calories throughout the day. Gaining lean mass will also change your resting metabolic rate (RMR), the calories you burn at rest. Your RMR is highly influenced by body composition, which is why two people of the exact same height and weight can look very different physically and will require very different amounts of food to fuel their physique: The one with more lean mass requires more calories, even if they’re not active that day.
How Low Should You Go?
Women by nature have more essential body fat than men, and a healthy range of total body-fat percentage can swing anywhere from 18 to 30 percent for women. While we all want to see our abs, dropping below the norm can have some negative side effects, ranging from the innocuous — temperature sensitivity and decreased energy — to the more dangerous — loss of muscle mass, depression, reproductive and endocrine dysfunction, heart arrhythmia and kidney damage.
Athletes and fitness pros can often maintain a leaner physique based on their activity level and the amount of muscle they carry. For these women, a year-round 15 to 19 percent body-fat level is not uncommon and can still be healthy. However, the effort required to maintain this level demands more attention to exercise, nutrition, sleep, stress management and mindset. Many athletes who compete in bikini, fitness and figure drop below that number to hit their peak for a competition, but most rebound back to normal once the show is over since it is unhealthy and difficult to maintain such low levels of body fat. This subnorm loss should be done slowly over the course of several months because fluctuating quickly in a larger range — alternating with drastic cuts and rapid gains — can wreak havoc on your endocrine, digestive and immune systems.
For non-stage athletes who want long-term results, slow, steady fat loss is always better because it gives your brain a chance to reset its conservation tactics and learn to accept a lower overall body-fat level. You’ll also want to maintain a body-fat level that allows you to excel at your sport, allowing you to get stronger and keep your hormones and other internal systems in top shape.
Where the F…
Where you store adipose tissue is equally as important as how much you have. Fat stored subcutaneously (beneath the skin) can be deposited anywhere on the body but may be genetically and hormonally influenced to settle in a particular location, like the hips, thighs or belly. And though you might hate your saddlebags, research has found that women who store fat around their butts, hips and thighs have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure than women who store fat in their abdomens and midsections.
Although genetics primarily control where you store your fat, you do have some control, and actually the type of exercise you do may influence how and where your body will store energy in the future.
For example, fat has been found stored in between muscle fibers in endurance athletes, making for easy energy access during long-distance events. External factors such as hormonal birth control methods also can alter where you store your fat because they trick your body into fake pregnancy every month, causing it to hang on to more fat — particularly around the hips. And bad news for masters athletes: Fat storage increases as you age, and the location shifts more to the midsection since fat storage is highly influenced by reproductive hormones, which wane during menopause.
Why the F…
No two bodies look or function exactly the same, even at similar body-fat levels. Some of us look, feel and function better with slightly higher or lower levels, and the healthy ranges prescribed leave a lot of room for individuality.
Numerous factors dictate your body-fat needs. If you’re trying to get pregnant, for example, you’ll need to carry a little more fat for proper hormone production. And while some athletes still have healthy cycles when relatively lean, others may lose their cycle completely if they drop below 18 to 20 percent. Athletes will also need to carry different amounts of fat depending on what their sport requires for fuel, momentum, comfort and mental focus. Even physique competitors rarely rely on body composition alone to prep for competition. The target “look” that is required for their performance has more to do with overall appearance than reaching an arbitrary number alone.
Unfortunately, when you do trim down, you won’t always lose body fat exactly where you want, nor is that loss evenly distributed across your body. Often, the place you want to lose it the most will be the last to leave, and if you’re wondering at what percent body fat your abs will magically appear — keep wondering: Some people can see visible abdominal definition at higher body-fat levels, while others can get dangerously lean and only see a ghost of a six-pack.
The Other F-Word
Fat composition is just one of many ways we attempt to measure the other, more important F-word — fitness. However, being fit is about way more than being lean: It includes strength, power, speed, agility, endurance, balance, flexibility and much, much more. If you’re an athlete, you’re better off training for the components of your sport that will improve your chances of success, and this often has little to do with how lean or shredded you are. The most important thing is to determine what body-fat level will best support your lifestyle and/or sport. Life is too short, too important and frankly too fun to stress over achieving someone else’s “ideal” number at the expense of your own well-being. Your fat should support your fit.
How the F…
If you want to know your body composition, whether you’re planning to compete or are just curious, there are several methods to consider. But no matter which you choose, none of them is 100 percent accurate (no matter what the salesperson tells you), and the readings can be off as much as 1 to 4 percent in either direction. In other words, if you measure 20 percent body fat in a test, you have just as much chance of being 16 percent as you do of being 24 percent.
Of all the tests, the dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry scan (DEXA) is considered the gold standard, providing you with an X-ray scan of your body showing where you store your body fat. This has a +1 to 2 percent margin of error, which is on the low end of the variability.
No matter which method you choose, you’re better off completely ignoring the resultant percentages since their accuracy is dubious. Instead, use those numbers as a baseline measurement to track change and ensure maintenance over time, making sure your fat mass is going down and/or your lean mass is going up.
When testing, use the same method, test at the same time of day under similar physical conditions, and use the same trainer or technician whenever possible. Also, minimize the room for error with the following steps:
- Avoid alcohol and excess sodium at least 48 hours before the test.
- Don’t consume diuretics (caffeine, tea or soft drinks) for 24 hours before the test.
- Don’t exercise for 12 hours before the test.
- Avoid eating large meals a few hours before the test.
- Maintain normal hydration.
- Empty your bladder at least 30 minutes before as well as right before the test.
Research has shown that carrying excess adipose tissue around your midsection is an indicator of increased risk for disease, but this goes beyond — or rather below — the muffin top. Visceral fat is adipose tissue that is deposited inside the abdomen — not on top of it — and that surrounds and sort of chokes up your internal organs. This kind of fat has been shown to increase the risk for chronic disease more so than the subcutaneous version because it is hormonally active, decreasing your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and increasing the risk of high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease. It also produces inflammatory substances and disrupts the hormones that regulate appetite, mood, weight and brain function.
Prevent the deposit of visceral fat by avoiding refined carbs and processed foods, which cause a spike in blood sugar, as well as high-fat and high-calorie foods, which inevitably get stored as fat. Research has also shown that eating trans fats may be associated with increases in visceral fat, and a study in The Journal of Clinical Investigation also uncovered an association with high-fructose corn syrup and the deposit of visceral fat. But make sure you replace your regular soda with water, tea or coffee rather than diet soda: A study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that artificially sweetened soda was associated with an increase in waist circumference, which is an indicator of increased visceral fat.
Fun Fat Fact
Fat tissue comes in a range of colors — white, brown and beige. White fat cells are those that are most obvious and that contain the highest concentration of fat globules. Brown and beige fat cells, however, are smaller, hold fewer fat globules and contain mitochondria, giving them their brown color. This kind of fat actually burns calories to generate heat, and research has shown that as little as 2 ounces of brown fat can burn several hundred calories per day! It has also been shown to positively affect insulin sensitivity and metabolism, reducing your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Exercise – specifically aerobic exercise — can actually lead to the “browning” of white fat cells, turning dormant, inactive tissue into more metabolically expensive tissue that burns rather than stores calories.
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Here’s everything you need to know about the set point weight theory and what it means for your fitness goals.
According to conventional weight-loss wisdom, dropping a few pounds is a matter of basic math: Burn more calories than you consume and watch the numbers on the scale plummet. But anyone who’s dealt with a stubborn plateau or struggled to maintain a loss knows that in practice, the equation isn’t that simple.
“The old ‘calories in, calories out’ idea is really only a very small piece of the puzzle,” says Lauren Antonucci, RD, CSSD, CDE, CDN, a board-certified sports nutritionist and director of Nutrition Energy in New York City. In addition to diet and exercise, a combination of factors works to regulate your body’s weight, keeping it at a number that’s biologically ideal, according to your genetics, your physiology and your environment. This phenomenon is known as the set point weight theory.
Set Point Weight Theory, Defined
Antonucci describes set point weight as the weight you would be if you weren’t concerned with how you looked in a bikini. “Let’s say you just walked around eating when you were hungry, stopping when you were full,” she says. “If you were eating mostly real foods, there’s a place where you would land, and not everyone lands in the same spot.”
While set point is still technically a theory that has yet to be scientifically proven, most experts agree that a person’s standard weight is determined by a combination of genetics, physiology and environment. Your environment includes what most weight-loss plans address: diet, exercise, lifestyle and level of daily activity. Physiology encompasses all bodily functions, including your metabolism, hormones and the genetic tendency of women to carry more body fat than men. And your genetics, as they relate to your set point, can be most easily understood by looking at your ancestors’ day-to-day lives — were their winters long and the food scarce? Then those with a high capacity for fat storage were most likely to survive and pass along their genes to you.
How Set Is Your Set Point?
While your genes are what they are, your body’s physiology can shift — or be shifted. Puberty, pregnancy, perimenopause and menopause can all cause a change — typically a gain — in weight. Some medications also can create long-lasting increases in the body’s fat supply. “That’s one that people in the United States tend to be more prone to because sometimes we’re giving medications such as antidepressants and people are on them for decades,” explains Holly Lofton, M.D., director of the Weight Management Program at NYU Langone Health in New York City. “[Those medications] can make our fat cells more stable, an environmental change that can lead to a physiological change. That can change one’s set point.”
Bariatric surgery, which removes part of the stomach or creates a bypass, also alters the body’s hormonal environment by removing the receptors that create hunger hormones. As a result, people who undergo this procedure typically see dramatic weight loss in the first two years. It’s fair to say that they experience a change in set point, but without consistent monitoring and maintenance, this new setting may not stick. “The body sees weight loss as an illness, so it will create hunger hormones from other pathways,” Lofton says. Over time, the weight may return.
If it seems like your set point is more likely to go up than down, that’s because it is. Of course, it is possible to lose weight through diet and exercise, but environmental changes are just one consideration. “It’s much easier to increase a set point than it is to decrease it,” Lofton says. “The body just doesn’t like to lose weight, it likes to gain weight.”
Metabolism Versus Set Point
But what if you “boost” your metabolism? Can that lower your set point?
It’s not uncommon to hear set point and metabolism used interchangeably, but they are two distinct concepts. While set point refers to your body’s standardized weight, your metabolism is the amount of energy you must expend to maintain that weight, and it can be broken down into a few categories:
Basal metabolic rate (BMR), or resting metabolic rate (RMR), is the amount of energy the body requires to support its basic functions — things like thought, heartbeat and breathing.
Non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) goes beyond the basic functions to include all non-planned exertional activities, such as walking to your car, going to the bathroom and cleaning your house.
Activity expenditure encompasses planned exercise, like a high-intensity interval training class or a run in the park.
Lofton explains that when we lose physical weight, our BMR also decreases. “In order to maintain that lower weight, we have to make up that change in metabolism by doing something, usually increasing our physical activity expenditure,” she says. In other words, you can increase your metabolism to maintain a new weight, but you’re not necessarily changing your body’s set point. “If we bring the activity back down, then the body will likely go back to the way it was,” she says.
Setting Goals and Managing Expectations
If it seems like your set point weight is at odds with your goal weight, don’t throw in the towel just yet. “It is not impossible to lose weight and keep it off,” says Natalie Digate Muth, M.D., a dual board-certified pediatrician and obesity medicine physician and registered dietitian based in Carlsbad, California. “But it’s probably not due to a change in set point but rather a continued and conscientious effort to increase energy expenditure through significant amounts of moderate to vigorous exercise and consumption of healthful, portion-controlled foods.”
To make a lasting change, start by upping your level of physical activity. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, Lofton says that able, active people should aim for around 240 minutes of exercise performed at an exertional rate — in other words, a leisurely gallop on the elliptical won’t cut it: You should be huffing and puffing. And don’t ignore strength training, which can improve your overall physique and change your body composition for the better, even if it doesn’t necessarily change the number on the scale.
“If you increase your muscle mass and simultaneously decrease your fat mass, your body is more metabolically active,” Lofton explains. “So you’re burning calories more efficiently even though your weight has not changed. But you’re still at the same weight because you have gained muscle and lost the same amount of fat.”
Theoretically, then, if you gain muscle and lose fat, you might not lose physical weight, but your body might be satisfied since you’re still at your set point and keep you there.
If meal planning is a source of confusion, it may be worth your time to schedule an appointment with a dietitian who can test your RMR and provide you with a recommendation for daily caloric intake. Interestingly, Antonucci sees many weight-loss patients who are chronically under-eating. “They keep getting better and better at the diet game and somehow end up eating less than they need for weight loss,” she says. “Their body gets confused and their metabolic rate goes down and they’re no longer losing. The only answer is to eat up to their metabolic rate. Then their metabolism will go up, and then they will stay there because their metabolism has changed.”
And remember that weight is just one of many available corporeal metrics. Considering body-fat percentage, waist circumference, how your clothes fit or simply how you look and feel is likely to give you a more accurate reading of your level of fitness. “You would be hard-pressed to find a person coming out of my office who can tell you we set a weight-loss goal for any time frame,” Antonucci says. “We set very specific, food-oriented, habit-changing behavior and exercise goals that, over time, are probably going to lead to weight loss if it’s desirable and healthy for people.”
Up the Ante
Holly Lofton, M.D., suggests performing 240 minutes of intense exercise per week. Increase your time under tension with this 20-minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible), which can be used as a finisher or as a quick, stand-alone workout.
In 20 minutes, complete as many rounds as possible of the following:
- 5 walkouts to plank push-ups
- 20 jumping floor-tap squats
- 15 knee-ins
- 20 mountain climbers
- 5 long jumps
- 10 burpees
- 20 alternating jumping lunges
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Sometimes you have to overcome your inner struggle to transform your outer self.
Queing Jones: Transformation Starts From Within
Chubby. Big-boned. Thick. These are the adjectives Queing Jones used to describe herself growing up, finally settling on “obese” as her ultimate physical descriptor as she entered her 30s and 40s. A steady diet of fast food and disappointment meant the slow creep of the scale, until Jones maxed out at 246 pounds.
“Eating was a way of coping for me, and I used food as a balm,” says Jones in retrospect. “I was trying to soothe the feelings of hopelessness because of the transitions that constantly plagued me — loss of a job, moving, my grandmother’s death, financial pressure and the elusive quest to lose weight.”
The final straw was a bad breakup. “I was so heartbroken, but as cliché as it sounds, I wanted to be better, not bitter,” she says. “I vowed to give myself the love that I had been longing to get from someone else and started by practicing compassion toward myself. I knew I needed that more than anything else because if my body was going to change, my thinking and feelings about myself had to change first.”
This is a typical cycle for many women, building up their friends and loved ones but then tearing themselves down. “I’d never tell my bestie, ‘You are so fat I can’t stand to look at you,’” Jones says. “Therefore, I could no longer tell myself things like that, either.”
Jones took a hard look at her diet — and didn’t like what she saw. A quick Google search of “clean eating” brought up endless info on nutrition, meal planning and food prep, all of which Jones absorbed as fast as she could scroll. She ditched her fast-food habit and began to track her macros. “The hardest part was developing discipline around eating every three hours,” Jones says. “I was so used to eating what I wanted when I wanted.”
Of course, the transition wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows. “Sometimes I’d sabotage my efforts and a cheat meal would turn into a cheat day,” she says. “That would lead to feelings of defeat, which would lead to emotional eating and so on. It was a roller-coaster ride at times, but every new day I tried again.”
Jones’ first exercise goal was simply to walk for an hour a day four days a week. She cruised around the lakefront of Chicago and spent some time on self-reflection, meditation and prayer, and she began to slowly drop some weight. She hired a personal trainer for a bit but did not resonate with the trainer’s drill-sergeant style and looked elsewhere for her ideal exercise outlet. Soon enough, she found her people: a fitness boutique specializing in strength training and boot camps.
“This was a culture of sisterhood and empowerment — exactly the type of motivation that I was missing — and I thrived on it,” Jones says.
Jones lost 13 pounds her first month at the studio and went on to lose 60 more, which shuttled her to her 100-pound weight-loss goal in the summer of 2016. She still trains there today with the intention of adding some lean muscle and lifting heavier weights, as well as getting her group fitness certification and possibly entering a figure competition.
It took Jones about two years to lose the weight, but she’d argue it was time well-spent. “My advice: Let go of the deadline of when you want to lose the weight,” she says. “Be aggressively compassionate with yourself, and celebrate your victories not by what the scale says but by whether or not you kept your word to yourself each week. Transformation starts from within. It’s absolutely a spiritual endeavor first.”
Old weight: 246
Current weight: 146
Occupation: Kindergarten teacher
Favorite mantra: “Commitment is not always convenient.” — Dr. Bill Winston
Favorite bodypart to train: “I love shoulders! My favorite move is upright rows with a straight bar.”
Weekly Training Split
Monday: Chest, Biceps
Tuesday: Cardio, Calves
Wednesday: Hamstrings, Abs
Thursday: Shoulders, Triceps
Friday: Cardio, Calves
Sarah Wallace: From Rock Bottom to Rock Star
The callousness of two unknown men at first plummeted Sarah Wallace to a critical low — but ultimately buoyed her to an all-time high.
rewind a year and a half: Sarah Wallace was in Europe for the trip of a lifetime, and although she had many amazing experiences, one dark time overshadowed them all. “I was walking down the street in Brussels when two men behind me started oinking and making cruel comments,” says Wallace, who at the time weighed 347 pounds. “This continued for two whole city blocks, and with every oink, more and more tears welled up in my eyes. Normally, I would have turned around and let them have it, since I am usually forward and outspoken, but in that moment, I was at my lowest. My emotional tank was officially empty.”
Wallace had always been overweight, and though she masked her unhappiness with a bubbly, goofy personality, inside she was hurting. “Like Fat Bastard in Austin Powers says, ‘I eat because I’m unhappy and I’m unhappy because I eat,’” she says. “I was slowly killing myself with food and I didn’t care.”
On the Upswing
But despite the malicious intent of those anonymous men, something in Wallace turned that day for the better. She decided to change her lifestyle and approach to eating, though in a rather unconventional way: She refused to count calories, weigh her food, track points or keep a food diary. “I knew that the habits I developed had to last a lifetime, so I kept it simple and only ate healthy, nutritious, unprocessed foods, and I ate only until I was satisfied — not full or stuffed,” she says. “Do not get me wrong, there were days when I would literally break down and cry over a Jujube! But no matter what, I refused to give in to my temptations.”
There’s an App for That
Next, she tackled exercise, beginning at first by walking 10,000 steps a day and tracking her progress with a Fitbit. As she dropped weight, Wallace was able to walk longer distances and worked up to a daily 5K. “I was also big on having dance parties in my living room either by myself or with my stepdaughter,” she says.
Wallace downloaded several workout apps for variety rather than joining a gym, and she created a fitness kit to keep in her car and take to various parks. “All I need is my kit, a little creativity and an app and I can work out anywhere,” she says. “I also use items in the park, and on any given day, you can find me hugging a big rock or using a children’s jungle gym for various bodyweight exercises.”
Sexy in Her Skin
Fast-forward to present day and Wallace is down 135 pounds — and counting. “The scale isn’t moving much lately because I increased my weight training — but I am still losing inches!” she says. Wallace has also taken up running and plans to do several 5Ks in 2017.
“I was at my lowest a year ago, and today I couldn’t be happier,” she says. “Coming from a place of morbid obesity to finally feeling confident, comfortable and even a little sexy in my skin is completely new to me. I hope this is a feeling that I will never take for granted.”
Hometown: Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Old weight: 347
Current weight: 212 (and counting!)
Goal weight: 180-190
Occupation: Training coordinator/analyst
Sarah’s Fitness Kit:
- Jump rope
- Resistance bands
- Pilates ball
- Yoga mat
- Ankle/wrist weights
Wallace’s Wise Words:
- Strike that horrible word “diet” from your vocabulary because it implies that this change is only temporary.
- You are not a dog. Do not reward yourself with food.
- Remove all toxicity from your life — food, alcohol and people who don’t respect your choices.
- Losing weight is hard. Being fat is harder. Choose your hard.
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Strengthen, sculpt and burn all at once with this ab-and-cardio combo workout.
Savvy exercisers know that achieving a six-pack requires a combination of ab-centric resistance training and an intensive cardio program (as well as a clean diet). But can you blend cardio and strength work together in the interest of efficiency? Samantha Carmean, CSCS, SFG, PN, a Tier X coach with Equinox in New York City, says yes. “I came up with an effective solution that allows for actual muscle growth while helping you attain that ‘six-pack’ look,” Carmean says.
Each move in this five-move circuit is done for a two-minute interval, which is parsed out into four rounds of 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest. “Two minutes is the zone where we begin to transition from the anaerobic energy system to aerobic metabolism,” Carmean says. “And the 20/10 [breakdown] allows just enough rest to perform the exercise repeatedly with good form.”
Move quickly from one exercise to the next and complete one to three rounds, depending on your fitness level. Rest two minutes between rounds. “As you build muscular endurance, gradually reduce the 10-second rest and aim to perform the full two minutes straight through,” Carmean says.
Start in plank with your hands under your shoulders and your head, hips and heels aligned. Keep your trunk stable and your hips square as you lower one arm at a time into a forearm plank. Reverse the steps to return to the top and continue, alternating arms.
Side Plank Knee to Elbow
Assume a full side plank, balancing on your left hand and left foot with your hips stacked. Reach your right arm overhead, then bring your right knee and right elbow together and tap them lightly. Extend both back to the start and repeat.
Gliding Mountain Climber
Assume a plank position with your hands underneath your shoulders and each foot on a gliding disc or small towel. Bend one knee and slide your foot toward your hands without lifting your hips or bending at the waist, then return to plank. Continue, alternating sides.
Anti-Rotational Band Hold
Anchor a resistance band at chest height to a stable object like a squat rack and stand sideways to the anchor point, moving far enough away that you feel a pull when you hold the band. Grasp the band handle in both hands, then extend your arms directly in front of your chest and hold, resisting the pull of the band.
Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes forward. Jump and turn your lower body side to side in a twisting action while keeping your shoulders square and your focus forward.
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Get your best body in 90 days! The first four weeks of our training program will have you burning fat and building muscle, all within the comfort of your own living room.
Best Body Training Plan: Month One
After a five-minute warm-up (walking, jogging in place or other cardio activity of your choice), begin the routine. You’ll do all of the exercises listed each day you train. Each set and extended set should be taken to the point of muscular failure, where you can’t complete another rep with good form.
Week 1: 3 days per week (1 day on, 1 day rest, 1 day on, 1 day rest, 1 day on, 2 days rest)
Week 2: 4 days per week (2 days on, 1 day rest, 2 days on, 2 days rest)
Week 3: 5 days per week (3 days on, 1 day rest, 2 days on, 1 day rest)
Week 4: 6 days per week (6 days on, 1 day rest)
We’ll get started with lower body exercises!
After holding the wall squat to failure, immediately start repping standard squats until you reach failure again. Rest 30 to 60 seconds, then begin your next set. Repeat with the wall squat + lunge combo.
Target Areas: quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings
Stand in front of a wall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and turn your toes outward. Lean back against the wall and bend your legs until your thighs come parallel to the floor. Keep your head neutral, abs tight and torso erect.
Hold this position, ensuring that your knees aren’t jutting past your toes, your abs remain braced and that your lower back is pressed against the wall. Squeeze your quads, hams and glutes throughout your set.
This move is angle-specific, meaning you only gain strength and tone at the angle you’re working. After you reach initial failure, fatigue your muscles at various angles outside of 90 degrees by moving your back a few inches up or down the wall, then holding that position.
Target Areas: quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings
Set Up: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Maintain a small bend in your knees and turn your toes out slightly.
Action: Keep your head neutral, abs tight and torso erect as you bend your knees and hips to slowly lower your body as if sitting down in a chair. Pause when your legs reach 90-degree angles, then forcefully drive through your feet to stand.
Helpful Hint: Focus on pressing down through your feet, as opposed to simply raising your upper body up and down. Don’t waste a second at the top, either; instead, squeeze the muscles of your legs and glutes for a second or two before lowering into your next repetition.
Target Areas: quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings
Set Up: Stand with your feet together, abs tight and eyes focused forward.
Action: Take a big step forward with one foot. Bend both legs, making sure your front knee doesn’t jut past the toes of your front foot, and stop just short of your rear knee touching the floor. Reverse, driving through both feet to return to the start. Alternate legs until failure.
Helpful Hint: You can reach failure faster by doing all your reps on one leg before switching to the other (instead of alternating sides). To prevent imbalances, when you perform your lunges during the next set, be sure to begin with the leg opposite of that with which you started your first round.
On to upper body exercises! Intermediate and beginners will want to skip decline push-ups and start with the standard. Do each version of the push-up to failure, rest for one minute and begin your next set.
Target Areas: upper chest, shoulders, triceps
Set Up: Get into a push-up position with your feet elevated on a stool, bench or couch. Space your hands wider than shoulder-width apart and keep your eyes focused on the floor.
Action: Keeping your abs tight and back straight, bend your arms to lower yourself towards the floor. When you’ve lowered as far as you can, press yourself back up to the fully extended position.
Helpful Hint: This is the most difficult push-up. It’s great for upper-body strength, as well as intra-abdominal (core) strength.
Standard and Modified Push-Up
Target Areas: chest, shoulders, triceps
Set Up: Get into a push-up position on your toes with your body in a straight line, hands wider than shoulder-width apart and your eyes focused on the floor.
Action: Keeping your abs tight and back straight, bend your arms to lower. When your face is an inch or so from the floor, extend your arms and squeeze your triceps, chest and shoulders. Once you’ve reached failure, simply rest your knees on the floor and continue doing as many reps as possible.
Helpful Hint: For more triceps involvement, bring your hands closer together on the floor. For more chest and shoulder recruitment, position your hands wide.
Target Areas: lower chest, shoulders, triceps
Set Up: Place your hands wider than shoulder-width apart against a sturdy end of a couch or flat bench. Extend your legs straight behind you, propping yourself up on your toes, and press up until your arms are fully extended.
Action: Bend your arms to slowly lower your chest towards the couch. When your torso is an inch or so away from the couch, press yourself up again and repeat.
Helpful Hint: If you’re a newbie, you can also perform the incline push-up described above on your knees.
Time to work your core! Once you’ve worked your way through each exercise, rest for 30 to 60 seconds before starting your next set.
Target Areas: upper abs, lower abs
Set Up: Lie on your back with your legs extended, and place your hands lightly behind your head (don’t interlock your fingers). Keep your legs straight as you raise your heels off the ground about six inches.
Action: In one smooth motion, bring your knees towards your torso while simultaneously bringing your elbows to your knees. Squeeze your abs at the peak contraction, then reverse the motion, extending your legs away from your torso and lowering your shoulder blades to the floor.
Helpful Hint: As you extend your legs, allow your head to rest on the floor for a brief second to alleviate neck strain. For increased intensity, don’t touch your heels to the floor between reps.
Bicycle Crossover Crunch
Target Areas: obliques, upper abs, lower abs
Set Up: Lie down on your back with your legs straight. Lightly place your hands behind your head, but don’t interlock your fingers.
Action: Flex your abs as you bring one knee towards your torso while simultaneously bringing the opposite elbow up and across your body to meet your knee in the middle. Reverse; when you reach the starting position, begin your next rep with the opposite arm and leg, and continue alternating until you reach failure.
Helpful Hint: Keep your chin lifted and away from your chest throughout your set to help facilitate proper breathing.
Target Area: upper abs
Set Up: Lie face up on the floor with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor. Place your hands behind your head with your fingertips touching to support your neck.
Action: Slowly curl your torso off the floor, raising your shoulder blades as you bring your chest and shoulders up (coming short of a full sit-up). Squeeze your abs at the top before slowly returning to the start.
Helpful Hint: Make the crunch a little harder by extending your arms over your head, so your biceps are beside your ears.
Target Area: lower abs
Set Up: Lie face up on the floor and place your hands halfway under your glutes, palms flat on the floor. (This will help unload your back and prevent discomfort.)
Action: Contract your abs to bring your knees towards your chest, allowing your glutes to gently lift off the floor. Squeeze your abs as you return your legs to the start.
Helpful Hint: To make this slightly more difficult, extend your legs straight as you lower them, keeping your heels a couple of inches off the floor.
Target Area: transverse abdominis (core)
Set Up: Lie face down on the floor with your legs extended behind you. Slowly lift your body off the floor, propping yourself up onto your forearms and toes.
Action: Keep your abs pulled in tight and your back flat while holding this position for as long as you can. Over successive workouts, strive to hold your planks for longer periods.
Helpful Hint: Avoid the tendency to look up.
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Jump to increase your fat-burning potential.
Do you remember jumping rope as a kid? Do you remember how much fun you had — not to mention how you could jump for what seemed like forever and never get tired? Fast-forward to today. Skipping is an inexpensive, super-effective, fat-burning exercise that most people can do just about anywhere. And we now have more options available to us — to take our “childhood love” to the next level.
For anyone who’s up for the challenge, you may want to consider Crossropes. These cool jump ropes come with adjustable weighted handles that allow you to increase your intensity as you get stronger, and they help you sculpt out a stronger, leaner and more athletic physique. You not only will get a great overall conditioning workout, but you also will improve your cardiovascular health. So go ahead, grab your ropes and jump on in!
Jump Rope Tip: Always try to skip on a padded surface and have proper shoes to protect your joints!
If you are a beginner or just getting back into skipping, start with a regular speed rope that is not weighted.
If you are at an intermediate level, you are comfortable with skipping. Allow yourself to grab a weighted rope such as Crossrope. Start off at the lowest weight to test out your ability and tolerance level as you are skipping.
If you are an advanced skipper, grab your weighted Crossrope and see what weight suits you best. Make sure you increase the weighted handles every three to six weeks to continue to challenge yourself and increase your strength.
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It’s time to embark on a new kind of fitness program with Oxygen Challenge coach Erin Stern.
You’ve decided to get into the best shape of your life. But what does that actually mean? Many of us, myself included, have had the idea of training to lean down or to lose weight. It’s a pretty common goal, and the media continues to perpetuate it through ads for weight-loss products and plans.
I see two issues with this fuzzy goal. First, it’s not a tangible goal. It’s more of a moving target. How much weight do you want to lose? What happens if you gain muscle and lose fat? Second, it’s a goal based in self-judgment. You end up beating yourself down before you even start!
Let’s talk about a way to set goals and track progress that will set your world on fire!
We take this approach in my 90-day challenge. We’ll work to build a solid foundation, then focus on sculpting physique. In the last 30 days, we’ll shred and reveal the work from the previous 60 days. We take it one goal at a time, and the results are truly incredible!
The Erin Stern Challenge will guide you through her essential fitness and nutrition regimen and help you develop a routine and mindset to make a lifetime of change.
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