Shopping along the perimeter of a grocery store.
Shopping along the perimeter of a grocery store.
Image: Savenko

We’ve heard it a thousand times: abs are built in the kitchen. The reason we hear it so often is because it is true. But it intimidates people into quitting before they even start: losing weight by eating properly is clearly complicated, otherwise there wouldn’t be an entire industry and sub-industries dedicated to it, right? Wrong.

But before we get there, here’s another one: you can’t outrun a jam doughnut. Despite knowing that how one eats affects how one looks, when most people want to get a flatter tummy or even achieve defined abs, they spend hours doing exercise but little time radically changing the way they eat.

Whether one decides to review studies or take the word of an honest professional, exercise alone will only take fat, or weight, loss efforts so far. Don’t misread this — you must exercise for your health and fitness, but weight loss requires more.

According to Vox, mathematician Kevin Hall created a model to show why exercise won’t blow your socks off when it comes to weight-loss goals.

Quoting his model, Vox writes: “If a hypothetical 200-pound man added 60 minutes of medium-intensity running four days per week while keeping his calorie intake the same, and he did this for 30 days, he'd lose five pounds. If this person decided to increase food intake or relax more to recover from the added exercise, then even less weight would be lost,’ Hall added.”

Now, let’s put this into perspective. I — the author — carry more muscle than an average person because it has been an obsession since I was 20. Let’s pretend I am eating at the exact calorie maintenance level and was not absolutely ravenous after a massive weight-training session. According to the model, if I weighed in at 90-odd kg (that’s the 200 pounds that Hall references), I would lose about 5 pounds (2.2kg) in a month.

Of course, we also know that other factors play a role here. What type of food am I eating? Am I stressed or anxious and, as a result, are my hormones out of whack? What about the way I metabolise sugar? Do I eat too much sugar? How about alcohol... Am I partial to a few tots every week? The point is, these broad examples are inaccurate at a personal level, but they give a broad guideline, nonetheless. So, let’s run with it.

A person like me, in shape, losing 2.2kg of mostly fat (because I would be maintaining my strength training and eating enough protein to hold onto muscle tissue) would be a great result — as it would likely reveal six pack abs. However, if someone is 10kg or more overweight, it may well be underwhelming for them if they had not managed their expectations.

Shop for fresh fruits and vegetables.
Shop for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Slow weight loss, over a longer period of time, is far healthier and more sustainable than rapid weight loss that will yo-yo back as soon as things go back to normal, so the goal should never be massive single drops in weight.

Which all brings us back to how we started: abs are built in the kitchen, and you can’t outrun a jam doughnut. If the 200-pound man ran four times a week, but instead of eating well, started adding Burger King a few times a week in addition to the odd Snickers bar, he would achieve little or nothing.

So, how does one choose the correct food, which, as we know, is the main ingredient to what we weigh? It is not complicated, and it is not time consuming. Is it more expensive? Some people swear it is, but if you just consider the cost of fast and convenient food, I beg to differ.

The one trick that works time and time again is to shop on the perimeter of every grocery store you enter. Ignore the middle aisles. The retailer will hate you, but your gut will love you. It doesn’t matter whether you follow a Banting eating plan or swear by the traditional food pyramid, you simply must shop on the perimeter and spend as little time as possible in the middle aisles.

This simple trick will change the shape of your grocery cupboard, and your midsection. Why the perimeter? Fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables, fresh, unprocessed meat and fish, fresh, unprocessed carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes and even butternut, and dairy products.

Stay away from the pre-made sauces and the food that comes in boxes with bright colours and great branding. It’s not just the chocolates and sweets you’ll avoid by keeping wide in the store, it’s also the processed junk packed with sugar that you don’t see or taste.

Not only will the food taste better with a little practice, but over time your body will change as you fill yourself with fewer calories and better macronutrients, which will have a positive effect on your hormones and metabolism.

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