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Want to Lose Weight? Honor Your Hormones. Here's Why.

"Gosh, I'm so fat. I need to lose weight!"

How many of you have muttered this phrase, either to yourself or someone else?

Over my years in the fitness industry, I've heard many people, men and women alike, wishing and working hard to "lose weight". These folks go on all kinds of calorie-reducing diets, from low-carb to the South Beach Diet to Atkins to low-fat to some celebrity-endorsed gobbledygook, while excitedly signing up for various fitness memberships, in the hope of losing that weight.

I know you've likely read many an article explaining how weight loss is dependent on preserving lean muscle mass through proper training and nutrition and paying attention to overall caloric intake, as well as the type of nutrients consumed. Yes, this works brilliantly for many people, and I've been down that path before as well, with great success. HOWEVER, as soon as one's life situation changes- be it a change of job, loss of a loved one, birth of a baby, family and relationship issues, relocation, a birthday, or health problems- weight loss using this simple approach has a way of... stopping completely. 

 

When I began my own fitness journey using this method to get in shape, I initially saw good results and was able to repeat those results consistently, as needed. Now that I'm in my 30s, however, I have to admit that my body is responding in quite a different manner than when I was in my 20s. Who can relate to this? Hello, 30s! The old "exercise more/eat less" and "train hard/eat clean" model no longer works for me as effectively. I instead observed that I more easily gained fat, specifically in the famous women's "trouble" spots: lower tummy, love handles, abdominal, thighs, back, and arms- in that order.

This sparked my natural curiosity to search for the truth behind what was going on with my body, despite following the calorie counting model. I eventually came to realize that after all these years, I'd been looking at weight loss from a faulty lens. 

The epiphany: Our hormones play a massive role in our body shape, and losing weight is different from losing fat! The latter is actually the ultimate aim of what most of us actually want, but we tend to overlook the difference. 

To lose fat, we have to first understand the impact that hormones have, and work towards keeping the hormonal system in harmony. When we keep our hormones in balance, the fat and weight loss journey becomes a breeze. Ok, maybe not a breeze, but you catch my drift!

Losing body fat, especially for women, is tricky. We have our menstrual cycle to consider. And, for some of us, we take the life-changing 9-month path of carrying another human being in pregnancy. Our bodies are constantly changing with our hormonal cycle. 

So what exactly is fat loss- what's the difference? And what do hormones have to do with it?

Weight loss is simply losing kilos measured on the weighing scale. However, that does not necessarily indicate a change in body shape and more importantly, body fat percentage. I hate to be crude, but it's like going from a bigger marshmallow to a smaller one- the weight may have dropped a bit, but the shape and contents are still pretty much the same. 

Fat loss, on the other hand, is a reduction in total body fat percentage. Some machines are able to measure the differences in visceral fat (fat near the organs which you cannot pinch) and subcutaneous fat  (fat under the skin which you can pinch). This is a healthier approach than just focusing on weight loss. However, sometimes you may notice that despite losing fat, you feel moody, lethargic, cranky, hungry and crave sweets all the time.

Hormonal fat loss, on the other hand, takes into account finding a unique plan that works specifically for your body, with the aim of balancing your hormones first, so that when a nutrition and training program come into play, the results you're dying to have actually happen for you.

How many times have you attempted to go on a diet, only to gain back what you've lost later, as it was not sustainable to maintain for life?

That is because these traditional programs are primarily looking at calorie-counting. Calories impact hormones, and hormones affect our mood, sleep, hunger, energy and cravings- and thus may take us off the track of a diet. 

The truth is, you do not have to feel trapped into counting exact calories or chasing a number on the scale in order to lose body fat. You can lose weight and still feel healthy and vibrant and free, instead of miserable. When your energy is at its peak and you're seeing your shape change, that is a good sign that your hormones are in harmony. This is when you've found an individualized lifestyle regimen that works for you to keep fat loss sustainable, long-lasting, and manageable.

A hormonally-based fat loss approach may take a bit of trial and error at first, like a crime detective at work, but when you look at the overall big picture and the "why" behind your goals, you have a far greater chance of sticking with your commitment.  Remember, when you treat your health right, the aesthetics will follow. It just takes time! 

 In love, health and wellness,

- Yan

 

Yan Huang is Tangram's Hormonal Nutrition Consultant and Metabolic Personal Trainer. Read more about Yan on our About page, or book an appointment with Yan through our Contact page. Do you have a question for Yan? Leave your thoughts in the comments section or reach out to us! Did you like this article? Please share the love!

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What's Your Word for 2016?

If you were to summarize your 2015 experiences in one word, what would that word be?

Without a doubt, mine would be “Shift." Quite serendipitously, the Tangram team expanded by two this year, allowing me to begin building the mission-driven wellness business I’d dreamed about as I stepped into my coaching and advocacy shoes full-time while handing over the administrative and fitness side of things to two awesome women, Vanessa and Anna. Finally, I could stop juggling ten different hats- big news for a small business owner! This shift arrived just as I came to realize- after many months of resistance- that I would have to make adjustments in the way I was living in order to support my own physical and emotional health. This meant: 

- More intuitive listening, less “to do” checklists.
- More yoga and meditation, less weightlifting.
- More nature walks, less sprinting through city streets.
- More naps, less meetings.
- More creativity, less rigidity.
- More saying “No,” less people pleasing.
- MORE THRIVING, LESS STRIVING. 

From all of this “shift,” new dreams have been seeded- dreams anchored not in achievement, but in feeling and experience. So, if you were going to give 2016 a one word theme, what would that be? After much internal debate and sitting with discomfort, I’m going to go with “fun.” FUN- yikes- the very thought of dedicating a year to fun makes this recovering perfectionist cringe! But, I’m going to roll with that anyway. After all, out of shift and discomfort comes growth!

For those of you who are ready to put some fuel and focus behind your dreams, I will be leading a half day Intention Board workshop on the morning of Saturday, January 16th. During this workshop, we’ll create individualized mind maps of what you’d like to achieve and how you want to feel in the Year of the Monkey, as well as a tangible action plan to get you on your way. And, of course, you'll have some treasured time to dip into your creativity and playfulness as you build a powerful Intention Board- otherwise known as a Vision Board- to keep you motivated and inspired. This workshop is perfect for career changers, seekers, dreamers, new expats, artists and entrepreneurs. Three of my prior Vision Board workshops have been sell-outs and space is limited, so be sure to secure your seat early. For more information and tickets: http://beginwithintention.peatix.com/

Since Anna came on board with Tangram Wellness a few months ago as our Health & Fitness Specialist, I’ve rarely had the chance to see her! She’s been incredibly busy with getting her clients prepared for their various fitness goals, which include:

· Running first marathons and 10k's;
· Becoming a fit and fabulous bride;
· Gaining overall strength and flexibility;
· Improving cardiovascular health and well-being;
· And, losing weight sustainably

Anna has this to share: 
Merry Christmas! I've thoroughly enjoyed my first few months as part of the Tangram Wellness team and I'm really excited for all that's to come in the New Year. I've been working with some fantastic ladies and am so proud of what they've achieved so far- we've seen some amazing transformations in overall fitness, body composition and dietary habits and all have been able to finish the year on a positive note. More fitness milestones and achievements are on their way for 2016. Finally, I'm super excited to be launching Tangram's Pre- and Post-Natal Small Group Training and Educational Programmes as well for new and expectant mothers. Here are the initial details: 

The Tangram Team is getting ready to sign off for the holidays, so just a bit of housekeeping: I am taking coaching appointments for current clients between the 18th-22nd of December, and will be away from Dec. 23rd to Jan. 2nd. Coaching will resume on January 3rd. Anna will be on leave from Dec. 18th to Jan. 5th. To schedule appointments with either of us in the new year, contact Vanessa@tangramwellness.com

Myself and the Tangram Team wish you a peaceful and joyous holiday season! And, if you have a minute, send me a note to let me know what your theme word for 2016 is- I'd love to hear from you! 

Light & lifting,
Aimee



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Tangram Fitness News

Tangram Fitness has been receiving some great press lately- what an auspicious start to 2015! 
Check out The Asian Entrepreneur to read about the Tangram Fitness vision and my own transformation. I've also been named as one of the best at-home Personal Trainers in Singapore by Sassy Mama. A big thanks to The Asian Entrepreneur and Sassy Mama!


Needless to say, there's a lot of work to be done this year and so many new things to learn. I'm currently finishing my training as an Addiction Recovery Coach and will soon be launching a new program for women who are interested in exploring their relationship with alcohol, whether they're looking to cut back, quit, or just find more balance. This program is one of a kind, based on my personal learnings through the recovery process; my training as a life coach, health coach and addiction recovery coach; and some of the work that I'm doing currently with clients across the globe. 

There are a lot more health and fitness surprises in the pipeline this year and I'm working with some amazing coaches in the US to see them through. To be the best, it's best to work with the best! This also means that expansion, change and a little refurbishing is necessary. Change is growth! I'll keep everyone in the loop via the newsletter, so if you haven't signed up already, please do so at the sidebar of this blog or on the website homepage. 
 

How can Tangram Fitness best serve your wellness needs? What are you working to achieve this year? I'd love to hear from you! Send me an email at aimee@tangramfitness.com or leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Wishing everyone a peaceful and healthy Year of the Goat! 

Light & Lifting,

Aimee 
 

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Becoming a Lean, Mean Pull-Up Queen: How YOU (Yes, YOU!) Can Do a Pull-Up

Few exercises are more daunting than the common pull-up, especially for women, who've been led to believe that this particular domain has been reserved only for the manliest of dudes. In fact, you may even remember a recent statistic that caused a lot of controversy: a whopping fifty-five percent of US Marine female recruits could not pass a minimum three pull-up requirement, which led many a journalist to conclude that women could not do pull-ups at all (I kid you not- the New York Times headline that got tongues wagging was "Why Women Can't Do Pull-Ups.")

When this New York Times article was published, I'd advanced to being able to do three full unassisted wide grip pull-ups, and therefore felt simultaneously smug and enraged while reading it. We women have been grossly misled about what we should be focusing on in fitness, as well as where our abilities lie. Through my own experience in rebuilding my body, I've uncovered two massive truths that fly directly in the face of what we've been taught:
a) We ladies DO belong in the weight room, and we'll find what we're looking for by lifting the heavy stuff. 
b) We CAN and SHOULD hold our own with the boys. Screw "training like girls." 

That said, women are still avoiding one of the best exercises in the world for developing the arms, back and overall level of fitness, and when we first attempt a pull-up, we often find that our efforts are futile. Here are a few common reasons why:

1. Women have up to 40 percent less muscle mass in their upper bodies than men. Women also tend to have a higher proportion of slow twitch oxidative muscle fibers, which are recruited for endurance activities like higher repetitions of an exercise or a long run. However, these slow twitch Type I fibers produce less force than their Type II counterparts. Due to these factors, it's more challenging for women to move their bodies upward against gravity in comparison for men. "Tough" is by no means synonymous with "impossible"- it just means that we have to work a little harder! 
 
2. When starting out, both women and men have a tendency to rely on the muscles of their arms, rather than engaging the latissiumus (lats) muscle of their back, which should serve as the primary source of power. This is often confusing, because many of us have never even felt our lats and therefore struggle to activate them. You can become intimately acquainted with your lats by doing many sets of wide grip pulldowns and paying close attention to form. With that in mind, here are a few exercises I recommend incorporating into your training to strengthen the latissimus dorsi, as well as the infraspinatus, teres minor, and teres major muscles.

1. Wide Grip Pulldowns
2. Underhand Close Grip Pulldowns
3. Straight Arm Pulldowns
4. Seated Cable Rows

The Latissimus dorsi muscle: the quiet yet powerful type! 

The Latissimus dorsi muscle: the quiet yet powerful type! 

3. Women are unfortunately conditioned to believe that the pull-up (and many other feats of strength) is an unattainable goal for them. To increase your physical strength, you must rely on your mental muscles as well. If you don’t believe that you can do it, you very likely won’t!  

So, now that you know IT IS POSSIBLE, what steps can YOU take to be able to execute a perfect pull-up? Here's the quick and dirty:

Step 1:  Low Bar Pull-Ups     

Begin on a low bar with your knees bent, heels planted into the ground. This will provide added support.  As you progress and are able to do 15-20 low bar pull-ups with bent knees, extend your legs straight.

Begin on a low bar with your knees bent, heels planted into the ground. This will provide added support.  As you progress and are able to do 15-20 low bar pull-ups with bent knees, extend your legs straight.

Begin practicing pull-ups on a low bar. Most playgrounds have one variation or another. In the initial phase, perform pull-up movements with your heels on the ground and knees bent, which will provide added support. Be sure to keep the back straight, chest upright and core tight. Avoid tensing your neck! Once you progress with the bent knee low bar pull-up and are able to complete 15-20 consecutive reps with proper form, you can then move on to practicing them with extended straight legs. When you can complete two sets of straight leg low bar pull ups at 15-20 reps, you're ready to move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Band Pull-Ups

Use a rubber band specifically made for pull-up training to help you advance toward the big goal... the UNASSISTED REAL DEAL PULL-UP!!!

Use a rubber band specifically made for pull-up training to help you advance toward the big goal... the UNASSISTED REAL DEAL PULL-UP!!!

Purchase a thick rubber band specifically made for pull-up training. I use the Functional Fitness band, available on Amazon.com, and you can also purchase bands through MovementFirst.sg, a fantastic online fitness supply store right here in Singapore. These bands come in different resistances, and are usually sold in a package of 3, so you can start off with the easiest one and eventually progress to the minimal resistance band.

Loop the band around a pull-up bar and "kneel" into the band as you're holding the bar, with both knees centered in the middle of the band. Palms should be facing forward. You can either use a wider grip or regular grip. Both grips target your lats, but wide grip pull-ups take a bit of strain off the shoulder while close grip pull-ups tend to target the lower back a bit more. Some fitness pros believe that a wide grip actually widens the back, but that's up for debate.

Pull your torso up, arching your back just slightly and pushing out your chest. Focus on squeezing the back muscles while keeping the torso stationary. The only thing that should be moving are your arms. The full pulling movement is completed once the bar touches your upper chest. Hold this contracted position for a second, and slowly lower yourself back down to starting position. Repeat! Once you are able to complete 15 pull-ups with a particular band, you can advance to the more difficult band. After you've been able to do 15-20 reps on the most difficult band, you're ready for the UNASSISTED REAL DEAL PULL-UP. WOOHOO! 

Proud Pull-Up Queen... but it wasn't always this way. In fact, last year I could do ZERO unassisted pull-ups!

Proud Pull-Up Queen... but it wasn't always this way. In fact, last year I could do ZERO unassisted pull-ups!

Step 3: Owning Your Status as a Lady Boss- the Real Deal Pull-Up

Jump your hands up to the bar, palms facing forward (away from you). Do not grip the bar too tightly, as this can add strain to the forearms. Employ the same form you used in Step 2, crossing one leg over the other, as shown in the photo. As a reminder, arch your back just slightly and puff out your chest, which will help activate the right muscles and take some pressure off the biceps and forearms. Pull upward until the bar touches the top of your chest, and hold this position for a second. Slowly lower yourself back down to starting position- a slow speed here is important, as this will boost muscle growth during the eccentric action of a movement. Don't just drop down, even if you're feeling fatigued. Repeat the full movement and begin setting some big goals for yourself!

I am currently up to being able to do three sets of 8 unassisted pull-ups on a good day, and I struggle through these once or twice a week. By the end of the year, I'd like to be able to do three sets of 12-15. Last year at this time, I was able to do.... ZERO!!!! I'm sharing this with you to highlight that we all start at the beginning. If you put your mind to what you wish to achieve, a world of possibility becomes yours for the taking. 

Have a question or comment on this post? Is there a topic that you'd like me to address? I love hearing from you- leave your thoughts below! 

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