The most effective ways to burn fat and how body shape affects weight loss

Fat gets a bad rap, but with 61% of women in the UK now overweight or obese, how much we carry is worth considering.
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  • Losing weight and burning fat is no easy feat, especially if you're not someone who loves exercise.

    But there are simpler ways you can alter your lifestyle to burn fat, such as changing your diet and making sure you’re eating the right kinds of food.

    ‘Excess body fat makes us vulnerable to preventable diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and kidney failure,’ says GP and obesity expert Dr Ian Campbell.

    ‘It also causes mobility problems, back, hip and knee pain, sleep apnoea, and significantly increases the risk of some forms of cancer. On average, an obese adult will die nine years too soon.’

    However, if you’re obese and are looking for advice on how to lose weight, it’s not as simple as trying an extreme weight loss plan. Or a short term solution like the metabolic confusion diet.

    Check out these better ways to burn fat in the long-run and learn how your unique body type is set up to lose weight.

    These are the most effective ways to burn fat…

    1. Remember that BMI is not always best

    Traditionally, body fat is gauged by BMI (body mass index), but, nutritionist and fitness expert Yvonne Wake says, it can be unreliable. BMI can’t distinguish between fat and muscle, nor detect visceral fat. The most accurate way to it is with a DEXA scan – a dual energy X-ray that’s used to measure bone density. ‘Skin callipers are another good way to estimate subcutaneous body fat,’ says Yvonne. ‘Also, look out for machines in gyms and clinics that can measure fat, skeletal, muscle and water mass, so will give an exact fat weight.’

    2. Note that not all fat is equal

    Did you know that there are different types of fat in the body, and some are better for our health than others?

    • Brown fat

    ‘Often called “good” fat, it’s found in the upper back and neck, and burns calories to generate heat and keep us warm,’ explains Dr Campbell. ‘Babies have plenty of it and it decreases as we age. Adults who have more brown fat tend to have naturally leaner bodies.’

    • White fat

    Most of our body is made up of large white cells that are stored under the skin and around organs — especially the belly, arms, buttocks and thighs. It’s not all bad, says Dr Campbell. ‘White fat stores energy and produces the hormones oestrogen, insulin and cortisol, as well as leptin — a hormone that helps to reduce appetite.’

    • Visceral fat

    When stored around the liver, stomach and intestines, this ‘bad fat’ causes damage. ‘Visceral fat can build up in the arteries, and increases the risk of many heart conditions, stroke and type 2 diabetes,’ explains Yvonne. Dr Campbell says weight loss will target dangerous belly fat stores to reduce the health risks significantly.

    • Subcutaneous fat

    This is the fat directly under the skin – what we can squeeze. ‘It’s a combination of brown, white and beige fat cells,’ says Yvonne. ‘It’s the majority of our fat that’s found in the buttocksand belly.’

    3. Know the fat burning formula

    Yvonne shares her secrets to long-term fat loss…

    • A strength-training programme, such as HIIT workouts
    • Do aerobic exercise such as running, walking or bicycling
    • Improve your sleep
    • Add apple cider vinegar to your diet — it can aid weight loss
    • Eat healthy fats, such as olive oil rather than butter
    • Quit drinking sugary drinks
    • Eat plenty of fibre, and cut down on refined carbohydrates
    • Follow a high-protein diet that includes seafood, eggs, legumes, meat and chicken. This will reduce the appetite and burn more fat. Studies have associated this with a lower risk of belly fat.
    ways to burn fat

    Credit: Getty Images

    4. Remember that body shape is a fat factor

    Your genes and body make-up determine how your body holds on to fat

    • Hourglass 

    Curvy, with a well-defined waistline, fuller hips, bust and thighs. Hourglass women often focus on shrinking fat from their waist — or muffin top.

    Eat more… Lean proteins such as chicken and turkey, as well as low glycaemic-index foods such as sweet potato and oatmeal. Reduce dairy and refined carbohydrates to avoid water retention and bloating.

    • Pear shape 

    Hips are wider than shoulders. Pear shapes tend to carry fat on thighs and hips.

    Focus on… A low-fat diet with plenty of protein and complex carbohydrates to burn excess fat.

    • Apple shape

    A softer, fuller middle with slim thighs and shapely legs.

    Cut down on… Sugar lays down visceral fat, and alcohol triggers the release of stress hormone cortisol, which causes fat storage around your middle.

    5. Learn about the role that fat plays in our bodies

    It’s unhealthy to store too much, but fat has an important job to do in the body. ‘We get energy from our fat stores, and it’s what keeps us warm,’ says Yvonne. ‘The fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D and K are absorbed in body fat, and these are important vitamins for health.’ Fat – or adipose tissue as it’s medically called – also keeps the internal organs in place, and acts as a physical cushion, protecting the body from trauma.

    6. Remember that eating less isn’t enough

    ‘Dieting gets weight loss o to a good start, but evidence shows that women who diet and also increase their physical activity are more likely to shed fat and keep it off long term,’ explains Dr Campbell.

    ways to burn fat

    Credit: Getty Images

    A really good way to gauge obesity risk is with your waistline measurement, says Dr Campbell. ‘For women, if it’s greater than 80cm, you have a problem.’

    7. Get the good stuff


    Credit: Alamy

    Only a third of UK adults eat the NHS recommended five pieces of fruit and vegetables per day to stay healthy.

    Yvonne’s tip for fighting fat…

    • Eat healthy fats,such as olive oil rather than butter
    • Quit consuming drinks that are high in sugar
    • Eat plenty of fibre, and cut down on refined carbohydrates
    • Follow a high-protein diet that includes seafood, eggs, legumes, meat and chicken, to reduce the appetite and burn more fat. Studies have associated this with a lower risk of belly fat
    • Improve your sleep
    • Do aerobic exercise, such as running, walking or bicycling
    • Add a strength- training programme to improve your muscle and bone health

    During their lifetime, the average person will try a whopping 126 fad diets to avoid being overweight, according to a poll by Love Fresh Berries. But ‘quick results’ diets could be doing our bodies more harm than good, says Emily Rollason, nutritionist at Holland & Barrett. Here, she shares some healthy ways to win the battle against obesity.

    8. Look for fast food substitutes

    ‘While takeaway food can contain a lot of calories and unhealthy ingredients, there’s no need to cut it out completely,’ says Emily. ‘Many chains offer healthy alternatives with much lower calorie counts. Do your research, check ingredient lists andbe mindful of the calorie content.’

    9. Beware of ‘fake’ weight loss

    ‘Crash diets and quick weight loss isn’t always healthy, and can lure you into thinking you’ve lost more weight than you actually have,’ says Emily. This is because initially you lose ‘water weight’, which isn’t ideal long term. Glycogen is a fuel source for the body that is converted from carbohydrates and stored in your muscle. So while low-carb diets may show a weight decrease, as soon as you eat a carb-heavy meal, weight may take a sharp increase. ‘Set a plan that you can see yourself sustaining and enjoying long term,’ says Emily.

    10. Don’t miss meals

    ‘To sustain your weight, you have to reduce the amount of calories you consume and increase the calories you burn,’ says Emily. But skipping meals may cause you to miss out on essential nutrients. ‘This may then make you more likely to snack on high-energy, processed foods, resulting in weight gain,’ she warns.

    11. Not all carbs are bad

    Credit: Alamy

    ‘If carbohydrates are eaten as part of a balanced diet, they won’t mean automatic weight gain,’ explains Emily. Eat wholegrain and wholemeal carbohydrates such as brown rice and wholemeal bread, and potatoes with the skins on, to increase your intake of fibre. This will keep you feeling fullerfor longer and less likely to snack in between meals.

    12. Keep your gut healthy

    There are thousands of strains of gut bacteria, and we’re now discovering their roles in helping our health. ‘Having a poor-quality gut microbiome can be linked to a variety of diseases such as digestive disorders and obesity,’ says Emily. ‘Your healthy bacteria help you digest food, provide nutrients, enzymes and hormones, and strengthen your immune system.’

    How to measure body fat


    Body mass index is the traditional way of measuring body fat. According to the NHS, a person is obese if their BMI is above 30, or overweight if it is between 25 and 29.9. ‘It’s not always accurate though,’ says Yyvonne, as BMI can’t distinguish between fat and muscle.

    DEXA scan

    ‘This is a dual-energy X-ray that’s one of the most accurate ways of measuring body composition,’ says Yvonne. It gives a snapshot of muscle mass, fat percentage and bone density.

    Skin callipers

    ‘They measure the thickness of our subcutaneous fat, which is the fat under the skin, at up to seven different body locations,’ explains Yvonne.

    Smart scales

    ‘Look for the machines that measure fat, skeletal and muscle mass, as these give an exact fat weight,’ says Yvonne.