I’m a big believer in the rule that a good article starts with a thorough introduction. This sets the tone for the article and gets the readers’ attention. But, like most rules, there are exceptions. This is one of them. The advice in this month’s column is so simple and basic, yet so important, it doesn’t need a fancy intro. I think something short and to the point will work just fine: if you want to lose fat, follow these tips!

Do your cardio first thing in the morning – The temptation to eat pancakes and drink orange juice may be overwhelming first thing in the morning. But, doing some sort of aerobic exercise for just 20 minutes, before breakfast on an empty stomach, is the most effective way to burn fat. You see, after an overnight fast, blood-sugar levels are low, as are carbohydrate reserves. Exercising before you eat breakfast causes the body to tap immediately into stored fat to come up with the energy required to make it through the workout. I’m not telling you to skip breakfast, simply eat after your cardio.

Don’t starve yourself – Reducing your calorie intake will not only make you feel bad, it will cause your metabolism to slow down. This reduces the rate at which your body burns calories. You will also be more likely to over-eat at subsequent meals if you’re starving.

Snack frequently but wisely – Studies have shown that spreading your caloric intake throughout the day by eating smaller, more frequent meals often increases your metabolism. Obviously, your choice of food during these “snacks,” is important. For example, a slice of skinless turkey breast is better than a hot fudge sundae.

Consume lots of water – Most people already know the positive benefits of consuming water. What people don’t realize is that if you don’t drink enough water, your body will actually retain water underneath the skin. This subcutaneous water retention looks like fat! To remedy this, you must drink enough water (.6 ounces per pound of bodyweight). This will help you to lose the layer of water from beneath your skin, as well as stay hydrated.

Build more muscle – Muscle has a two-fold cosmetic function. It not only helps you look leaner, it also makes your body more metabolically active. What this means is that muscle must burn calories just to maintain itself. Fat, on the other hand, is metabolically inactive. It basically just sits there. Hopefully this helps you to realize that individuals with a higher percentage of muscle will burn more fat and calories, even at rest, then their less muscular counterparts.

Eat protein and carbohydrates each meal – By combining protein and carbs in each meal, you’ll maintain more stable energy levels and provide your body with a constant supply of amino acids and glucose. This helps to build and maintain muscle tissue. For example, a healthy breakfast might include six egg whites and a small bowl of oatmeal with skim milk. Lunch and dinner might consist of a serving of chicken or fish and a small baked potato.

Prepare meals ahead of time – Most of us eat “bad,” when we are too busy to prepare healthy, low-fat foods. That’s the secret to the success of fast-food restaurants. The solution is to prepare your meals ahead of time so you don’t put yourself in these situations. One possible solution would be to prepare some low-fat meals on Sunday night or whenever you have some extra time and then freeze them.

Follow these steps and your ability to burn fat will increase tremendously.  And remember that the real secret to losing weight is that there is no secret.  Good old fashion healthy living is the only way to go about losing weight.