Calories have a bad rap. We immediately equate cals with fat, but it’s not so simple. Calories are the units we use to measure the energy we use as fuel. All input—aka food—is energy, and we need it to function. Not just voluntary functions either, but involuntary ones too, like breathing, or our heart beat.
However, there is such a thing as too many calories. When we consume more calories than we need to burn in order to function, we store that extra energy in the form of fat. And that doesn’t get so easily burned in the reserves as we might think.
Our body tends to burn stored glucose and other things before it goes straight to that extra reserve in your upper arms, for example. So being strategic about your calorie-burning tactics is the best way to lose weight—and that does not include starving yourself. Here are five no-nos and their solutions to heed when you’re in a hurry to stoke that inner fire.
Don’t lose sleep
We might feel like the more we do, the more calories we burn. But staying up later to fit in that extra workout or cram in more self-care is actually detrimental to our well-being, including our weight-loss efforts.
Instead: aim to get eight solid hours of sleep per night, which requires you to get in bed closer to nine hours before your wake-up call. You’ll burn more cals while you snooze, and reap better benefits of your calorie-burning efforts in your waking hours.
Don’t skip meals
It’s easy to think of that hunger pang as an indication that you’re magically getting thinner in real time. But in actuality, your body is sending you an important signal that you’re choosing to ignore. Because our bodies use food for fuel, the lack of fuel when we require it signals our metabolism to slow down, which will affect how quickly we burn calories when we do decide to fuel up.
Instead: eat regular meals when you’re hungry. If you’re not starving first thing in the morning, it’s OK to hold off till you’re hungry closer to lunch time. Just plan to have a healthy, protein-rich snack later in the day and a dinner that will keep you full enough to sleep through the night. This will keep your metabolism quick and fiery.
Don’t sit all day
We get it, most of our jobs require us to be seated in front of a computer. But dieting won’t save you here.
Instead: make sure to get in a workout in the morning to keep your calories burning on high while you sit for the rest of the day. And don’t forget to get up and take walks periodically, even if it’s just around the office or around the block.
Don’t work out harder just to indulge more
If only it were so easy to burn off precisely what we want—that second slice of cake, that pitcher of margs at happy hour. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple, and working out harder doesn’t automatically mean we can indulge more and still lose weight.
Instead: work out smart and eat smarter. Get your heart rate up with some intense workouts here and there and squeeze in some cardio, but make sure to select workouts that are sustainable to your lifestyle and burn more calories while you’re resting, like strength training.
Don’t skip protein
While it may feel like the lightest choice is a fresh salad or steamed veggies, skipping protein will slow the rate at which your body burns calories and leave you feeling ravenous.
Instead: aim to get 15-20g of protein at every single meal to meet your daily intake, stay satiated, and reduce cravings. Protein encourages our cells to burn more calories—no need to overdo it, just don’t underdo it.
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