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Bill Phillips Talks Fat Loss

Bill Phillips

Q: Bill, I need help getting lean! I’ve been unable to overcome cravings for junk food or carbohydrates at night. Each day I promise myself I’m not going to binge or overeat. But I end up blowing it several times a week, which is so frustrating. How can I get away from my cravings for high-sugar and high-fat foods and finally lose the fat?

A: This question deserves a complete answer, so here it is…

First of all, it’s important to remember, especially during the first month of making a change, that our bodies crave what they’re used to, not necessarily what they need. And this is how eating patterns work. Very often, these patterns go back years, even decades; they’re well engrained within our neural network (brain circuitry), and it does take some time before we can rewire the system. Realigning our biological or neural pathways is one of the most powerful things people experience when they go through a transformation process. And it happens, of course, whether you know about it or not. I believe that being consciously aware of the process can be an advantage, especially in terms of relapse prevention. In this context, I’ll say “relapse” means completely falling back into old and unhealthy eating habits. Think of it this way: The old circuitry in our brains is like a riverbed. It’s always there, and as long as you’re consciously diverting the energy flow in a new direction, it’ll remain inactive. However, if you drift back into your old style of thinking, coping, and behaving, it will be like a dam bursting and water will go rushing through the riverbed again. When this happens, the pull of those cravings and thoughts may even be stronger than they were before. Anyone who’s yo-yo dieted, losing weight for a few months only to fall back into unhealthy eating habits and subsequently gaining all the weight back and more, has firsthand experience of this.

Here’s what works for me: I use high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to help me control my cravings, which is key for me to get lean. HIIT workouts help transform the brain and calm those crazy cravings.

“The more intensely I exercise, the more I feel like eating right. The more I eat right, the more I feel like exercising intensely.” 

When I work with people who are seemingly stuck in any unhealthy pattern, one of my first recommendations is to get moving with HIIT. An example of this type of exercise would be climbing up a steep trail for one minute, then walking down, then climbing back up, walking down, then climbing again, completing about five intervals. The 20-Minute Aerobic Solution, which I featured years ago in Body-for-LIFE, is another highly effective interval training method. And my new system called 5-25 Training, in which I teach both intense interval aerobics and high intensity interval strength training (HIIST), is also very effective.

Interval Training

Intense interval training has been scientifically shown to double—even triple—the amount of fat the body burns, compared to longer durations (an hour or more) of moderate-intensity exercise. It does this by boosting mitochondria size and number within cells, and that can dramatically increase the oxidation and metabolism of stored body fat for many hours after your workout is over. That means the “calories burned” reading on exercise equipment is very underreported. What we really want is to burn more fat calories all day long, not just while we’re working out.

Another powerful benefit of intense interval training is that it releases healthy amounts of neurotransmitters called catecholamines (specifically, dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine), which satisfy the primary reward centers of the brain, boost energy, and further accelerate fat loss. These reward centers all too often become chemically depleted by our modern way of life (inactivity, high stress levels, and all-work-no-play lifestyles). When neurotransmitter levels burn out, it can make us vulnerable to bad habits such as binge eating.

More good news: Intense training also increases endorphin and serotonin levels (which help brighten mood and energy), so much so that over a period of a few months, it’s more effective in treating depression than the most widely prescribed antidepressant drugs (for which 212 million prescriptions were written last year). And what do you know? Intense exercise has no side effects, which can’t be said for prescription drugs.

“It’s what you do most of the time, not some of the time, that shapes you.”

Moderate exercise such as a good, steady three-mile walk doesn’t completely produce this profound cascade of feel-good neurotransmitters; it doesn’t produce the level of new energy and healing that the high-intensity work does. I can tell you from direct experience that the days when I get in 25 minutes of intense training are far and away my most productive, energetic days. They’re also the days when I just naturally, without much effort, feed my body the right way. After my workout, there’s nothing I crave more than a protein- and vitamin-rich nutrition shake. And two to three hours after that, I’m craving a healthy meal, not junk food. And that’s a good sign. In fact, my intense interval workouts put me in a completely different state of mind. On the days when I don’t work out intensely, well…it requires much more conscious effort to eat healthfully and stay on top of my game and in line with my plan. All that being said, sometimes even I give in and overeat at dinner or late at night. Remember this: It’s all about progress, not perfection! Don’t be too hard on yourself if you slip now and then. It’s what you do most of the time, not some of the time, that shapes you when it comes to nutrition and eating right.

So here’s my recommendation: If you want to lose fat and get lean, you’re going to have to be able to control your appetite. I flip the switch from an unhealthy appetite to a healthy one with high-intensity interval training. If you struggle at all with cravings for high-carb, high calorie foods while you’re dieting or trying to get lean, make sure you’re training intensely in the gym. It will help you break free from old patterns and crazy cravings. It will also help you create new ones. And that, in turn, will help you enjoy improved fat-loss results. It will help you get— and stay—lean and strong!

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