Beat Your Body's Fat Traps

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Before you launch into yet another New Year's slim-down plan, beware: Your workouts may be working against you. In a study from the United Kingdom, some new exercisers compensated for their workouts by eating as much as 270 extra calories a day -- negating more than half of the calories they burned. This self-sabotage has a ripple effect. As the number on the scale inches down at a painfully slow pace, many women give up altogether.

Don't be too hard on yourself, though -- it's not entirely your fault. Women's bodies are designed to stubbornly hang on to fat, possibly to maintain their ability to reproduce. A study in the journal Appetite found that for every pound of fat that women lost while dieting, their desire to eat increased about 2 percent. Exercise may trigger other defense mechanisms. When sedentary overweight women exercised for over an hour, four days in a row, levels of appetite hormones changed in ways that are likely to stimulate eating (the opposite was found in men), according to a University of Massachusetts study. And these studies don't take into account psychological saboteurs, like rewarding yourself with dessert after a tough workout.

But here's the good news: You're not destined to succumb to your body's stay-fat traps. While half of new exercisers in the UK study ate more, the rest showed no signs of feeling hungrier, ate 130 fewer calories a day, and lost more than 4 times as much weight during the 12-week study. The first step is to know what you're up against -- working out doesn't entitle you to eat whatever you want. Next, you need a smart exercise plan that curbs your hunger, coupled with an eating plan that fuels your workouts, not your appetite, so you don't take in calories you just burned off.

Easy-Does-It Exercise

When it comes to workouts that fight hunger, less may be better -- at least in the beginning. In a Louisiana State University study, researchers discovered that overweight women who did an average of 60 minutes of easy exercise three times a week lost less weight than expected based on their calorie burn, probably because they ate more, says Dr. Tim Church, director of the Laboratory of Preventive Medicine at Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Those who did an average of 25 or 45 minutes of exercise three times a week dropped more weight, showing that they did not compensate for their workouts.

That's why our 6-week plan (below) starts with short, moderate-intensity workouts. Then you'll build up to longer, more vigorous routines to help keep pounds off over the long haul. You'll also practice yoga, which has been shown to diminish binge eating by 51 percent. Experts suspect that yoga may help by increasing body awareness, so you're more sensitive to feeling full and less likely to mindlessly stuff yourself.

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Curb-Your-Appetite Workout Plan

Week 1

4 days: 15–20 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio (walking, cycling, or using an elliptical machine). You should be breathing a little heavier but able to carry on a conversation.

3 or more days: Yoga (see below)

Week 2

4 days: 20–25 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio

3 or more days: Yoga

Week 3

4 days: 25–30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio

3 or more days: Yoga

Week 4

4 days: 30–35 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio

3 or more days: Yoga

Week 5

2 days: 35–40 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio

2 days: 30 minutes of interval cardio, alternating 30–60 seconds of high-intensity activity (going faster or increasing resistance or incline so it's difficult to carry on a conversation) with 1- to 2-minute recovery bouts at a moderate intensity

3 or more days: Yoga

Week 6

2 days: 40–45 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio

3 days: 30 minutes of interval cardio

3 or more days: Yoga

After 6 weeks, you can maintain this level of activity if you're satisfied with your results. To lose more weight or bust a plateau, continue to increase your moderate workouts up to 60 minutes total and the interval workouts up to 45 minutes total.

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Curb Your Appetite Yoga

This flowing yoga routine was developed by Laura Madden, a yoga instructor and fitness director of the Scottsdale Resort and Athletic Club in Arizona. Hold each pose for 3 to 5 breaths, unless otherwise directed.

1. Warrior II

Stand tall with feet together. Take a large step to right. Bend right knee into a lunge, right knee over ankle and toes pointing to right; point left foot forward. Extend arms out to sides.

2. Side Reach

From Warrior II, rest right forearm on thigh and reach left arm overhead, lengthening spine.

3. Plank

From Side Reach, place hands on floor, one on either side of right foot. Move right foot back next to left one. Hands should be directly beneath shoulders; body in a straight line from head to heels.

4. Downward-Facing Dog

From Plank, reach hips upward, bending body into an upside-down V. Press heels toward floor.

5. Cobra

From Downward-Facing Dog, bend knees and lower body to floor. With hands under shoulders, lift chest off floor. Keep shoulders down. Press palms, hips, and tops of feet into floor.

Repeat moves 1 through 5: from cobra, press up onto knees, then feet. Roll up one vertebra at a time so head comes up last as you stand. Repeat series, lunging to left for moves 1 and 2. Once you've completed all 5 moves, finish with moves 6 and 7.

6. Tree Pose

Place left foot against right calf or inner thigh, not knee. Lift rib cage to elongate spine, and bring hands to prayer position. Hold, then repeat with opposite leg.

7. Goddess Pose

Lie with soles of feet together and as close to hips as comfortably possible, stretching inner thighs. If this is too intense, straighten legs. Breathe deeply in this pose for 2 to 5 minutes.

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Break the Work Out/Pig Out Cycle

Working out can make you work up an appetite, but don't think you can indulge in fettuccine Alfredo or have ice cream every night as a reward. You'll lose more weight and see faster results if you combine exercise with these smart eating strategies to curb your appetite. Here's how to avoid eating back all the calories you work off.

Eat Every 3 to 4 Hours

Giving your body a steady supply of calories keeps blood sugar normal during and after exercise, and it can prevent an excessively high insulin response the next time you eat that encourages excess body fat. To avoid taking in extra calories because you're eating more often, keep meals to 500 calories or less and snacks under 200, limiting total calories to about 1,600 to 1,800 a day.

Have Protein at Every Meal

Protein increases satiety and helps keep your appetite under control by stimulating gut hormones that help you feel full. Options include eggs, milk, soy milk, yogurt, and oatmeal for breakfast. Include nuts, beans, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fish, lean meats, and poultry at other meals and snacks to ensure you get enough protein.

Load Up on Fiber

Bulky foods will fill you up on fewer calories. Aim for 25 to 30 g of fiber per day. Include at least 5 g in every meal and snack. At meals, try 1/2 cup of black beans, 1 cup of split-pea soup, or 1 cup of steamed spinach with 1/2 cup of raw carrot sticks. For snacks, try an apple plus a handful of nuts, or a rye crispbread and a pear.

Quench Your Thirst with Water

Exercise is more likely to increase your thirst, but many people mistake thirst for hunger. Next time you have the munchies, especially postworkout, try to satisfy your desire with calorie-free H2O. Sipping sweetened drinks can quickly override any calorie deficit created by working out.

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More from Prevention:

10 Reasons to Get Off The Couch

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9 Easy Ways to De-Junk Your Diet

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