The other day my friend told me that she started doing cardio to “get fit.” After a moment, I realized that by “get fit” she meant “lose 10 pounds” and that was when I had to stop her. Everything about what she was saying was wrong. Getting fit isn’t about losing weight, and even if you want to lose weight, cardio isn’t a great way to do it. You’ll browse Instagram and see slim women running on the treadmill, and only scarfing down a fruit bowl, in order to get their figures. I want all of you to know that this is the least effective way to get in shape for multiple reasons, and I’ll explain why.
Me getting in shape without cardio!
- First, let’s talk about what fitness actually is! Fitness is not about losing weight. It’s about improving your endurance or increasing your strength or anything else that improves you physically. If you start lifting and put on a few pounds of muscle you’re still getting fit. You’ll feel more energetic, more confident, and happier, even if the number on the scale stays the same. There are times when I’ve put in the effort to lose a few pounds, and I’m glad I did it, but don’t think that weight loss is the same thing as getting in shape.
- If you do want to lose weight, cutting calories modestly is a good starting point. Figure out your TDEE (how many calories you burn each day) using something like mytdee.com and then aim for 300-500 calories below that number. But don’t overdo it! Your body needs food, ladies. It’s essential to recovery. When you cut calories, your body goes into “starvation mode” which means that it will burn fewer calories. This is a real thing! Scientists call it “adaptive thermogenesis.” So please don’t starve yourself. It’s not healthy and you will not get the results you want.
- Cardio can be a great way to get in shape. It’s not a great way to shed pounds. Let’s say you just hit the treadmill and ran 3 miles. If you’re about an average woman, that means you burned 350 calories. It takes 3500 calories to lose a pound, so you’ve only burned 1/10th of a pound. And that’s before you take into account that cardio increases your appetite. It’s awesome to go out there, improve your endurance, and run a 5k with your friend. But don’t think it’s a silver bullet for weight loss.
- Instead of cardio, remember this: muscle burns fat. So next time you go to the gym, start lifting weights. A common misconception for women who want a slim and toned figure is that weightlifting will make them “too bulky” or “too muscular.” I’m here to tell you this is not fact. It takes years of careful work (3+ hours a day) to obtain a female weightlifter body. There is no way going to the gym for an hour or so every day and lifting weight could turn you into the Hulk. It will actually slim your body and cut fat. You don’t have to lift crazy. If it’s your first time ever trying weight lifting, start with low weight and high reps. Tailor this to whatever fits you best over time
- While eating is absolutely essential for getting in shape, you still must eat as clean as possible. Healthy fats and carbs and anything high protein are your best friends. If you’re lifting weight, you must fuel your muscles with protein in order to recover. Grilled chicken is a great option. Add in some healthy carbs can include brown rice, whole wheat pasta, or lentils. You may have just looked at that list with disgust, but these carb options don’t taste any different than normal options, and they won’t spike your blood sugar (which just makes you hungry again later.)
- Fats. You see this word and immediately think unhealthy. This is also a common misconception. There are healthy fats, which your body needs to function. Avocado is an amazing option. Coat your whole wheat toast with some avocado and bacon on the side, and you have yourself a very healthy (and delicious) breakfast because you have your three essential macros in one. Follow that meal up with an enormous salad with lots of chicken (or other protein options) and you don’t have to be shy with the dressing. As long as you’re lifting, your body will thank you for these meals, and in return, lean up.
- This is definitely the most important topic to cover because most women think of it in a negative way: Gaining weight. When you begin to lift weights and eat more protein, you will start to gain weight. But stay with me because it’s a very good thing. Muscle weighs more than fat. What your body is doing is growing muscle (which is heavy) and cutting your fat. So don’t obsess over the number on the scale because it doesn’t mean anything. Instead, focus on your body’s change over time. Take a “before” picture and watch what happens when you lift weight and fuel your body. It’s absolutely amazing. You’ll feel better, be more energized, and look extremely fit.
There are a ton of benefits to getting in shape even if you don’t lose weight. But if you do want to lose a few pounds, don’t starve yourself and do endless cardio sessions. Instead, try a healthy, balanced diet with some weightlifting mixed in. It worked for me!