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Robert Reames, the energetic fitness and nutrition expert on the Dr. Phil Show, is loaded with smart ideas and tangible tips for blasting body fat. His new book, Make Over Your Metabolism, teaches us how to rev our fat-burning engines through strength training, eating well, and other healthy habits. Reames, who's been hailed as a hip Richard Simmons, gives FitnessMagazine.com the skinny on his total body plan.
FitnessMagazine.com: Your plan for losing weight is unique because it really doesn't involve that much time in the gym. How does it work?
Robert Reames: I believe in getting the most out of your workout in the least amount of time. Just three hours of high-intensity exercise per week is enough to help you lose weight and keep it off for good, because of the metabolic effect, or "afterburn," of working out at your maximum level. The exercises in my plan -- all focused, multi-joint resistance training moves -- can prompt your body to continue to burn calories and fat even when you are not working out!
FM: Why are these moves so effective in boosting metabolism?
RR: My exercises pull in several muscle groups at once. They are designed this way because the more muscle you build, the faster your metabolism becomes. Sometimes I see people at the gym lazily doing biceps curls. This type of exercise won't get the best results because it isolates one muscle. Instead, a seated row works your torso, back, and shoulders all at the same time. Squats access quads, hamstrings, and glutes, and they mimic movements we do so often during the day -- think of sitting down in a chair. That's a squat!
FM: What about cardio? Should we abandon our 50 minutes on the elliptical trainer?
RR: Cardio is an effective component of a fat-loss strategy, but if your body depends on too much of it, then you have to maintain that commitment to avoid gaining weight. And if you go overboard trying to burn calories with cardio, your body won't produce important hormones that help shed fat and build muscle. Strength training is the focus of my plan because it increases your ability to burn fat.
FM: How does nutrition factor into the equation?
RR: My passion is to teach people how to control their weight for a lifetime by making smart nutritional choices. I'm a fan of water-based vegetables, like cucumber or broccoli, for extra hydration, and eating fish that are high in omega-3s. Having four to five small meals throughout the day will maximize your metabolism by stabilizing blood sugar levels and controlling your appetite. Protein should be a major component of at least four of those meals, because it will cut cravings and keep you satisfied longer.
FM: So, is your philosophy similar to the Atkins diet, where we load up on protein but cut out carbs?
RR: No. I encourage eating non-starchy carbs, because if you don't take in enough carbohydrates your body has to draw energy from somewhere else, and the first place it turns to is your lean muscle. Because muscle dictates your metabolism, burning energy from it depletes that muscle and puts the skids on your metabolism. You should avoid simple carbohydrates, like sweetened cereals, white bread, and chips, but I recommend rotating moderate amounts of complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, beans and legumes, and oatmeal, into your diet.
FM: But it's so easy to cheat with a few Doritos here, a bagel there; is the diet component of your plan the most likely to fail?
RR: Absolutely. If you miss a workout, you can make it up later. But eating is something we do every day and can therefore be the first thing to slip. Making bad choices one day turns into two, then a week, and then you lose motivation altogether. We all plan life down to the last second -- scheduling work meetings, picking up the kids -- but we don't plan what we are going to eat. That leaves us subject to whatever's available at the vending machine. We can't let our environments control us!
FM: Finally, you believe that lack of sleep and high amounts of stress can make us heavy. How?
RR: Researchers from Columbia University found that those who sleep only five hours per night are 50 percent more likely to be overweight than those who sleep seven to nine hours. Lack of sleep produces high amounts of cortisol, a stress hormone tied to weight gain. Also, if you are always tired, your ability to work out regularly will become jeopardized. And stress itself is a little-known culprit of weight gain, because of the excess cortisol produced when we are emotionally tense. My plan includes a series of stretches, much like a mini-yoga class, that help us stay balanced.
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, March 2006.