How to Burn Fat Faster

October 30, 2009

What’s the best way to burn fat?

Contrary to popular opinion, doing a long, slow workout is not the Holy Grail. Anaerobic and interval training are effective, but for different fitness levels. And then there’s the benefit of building lean body mass with weights.

For starters, it helps to understand how a combination of exercise, fitness levels, oxygen intake, and diet all affect our capacity to burn fat.

How fat gets burned

Fat is fueled by oxygen, which means that the more oxygen you take in, the more fat you burn. And the more conditioned your body is, the more oxygen it uses. (Think of how much easier you catch your breath when you’re in shape.) So, the more fit you are, the more fat you’ll burn when you exercise.

We asked Sue Matyas, M.S., the Fitness & Group Exercise Director at the Bellevue Club in Bellevue, Washington, to shed some light on how to burn fat most efficiently at different fitness levels.

If you’re someone who’s deconditioned, or getting back in shape—for example, you are doing 30 minutes of walking at 3.8 miles per hour—you have to start out on the long-slow side because it’s probably all you can tolerate.

“You need to take six weeks to get in shape before you can really work out hard,” Matyas says. She suggests a fitness plan of three days a week, doing 20 to 30 minutes of exercise that includes walking, doing the elliptical, or pedaling on a recumbent bike. “You want to get the joints, ligaments, tendons, and muscles in shape so they can eventually work harder.” And then you build up by 10 percent a week in intensity or time.

If you’re in good shape, for example, running 30 minutes at around seven miles per hour, you’re going to be able to sustain activity at an anaerobic level and do some interval training.

A conditioned person can lose more body fat by doing the same 10 percent increase a week and throwing in some interval work, like a 1:1 ratio of a 30-second hard run and a 30-second recovery. “Start to challenge your cardiovascular system so you can use oxygen at higher heart rates,” Matyas says. At this point you’re a bit like a car: the faster you go, the more fuel (fat) you’ll burn.

 Strength training—the money bite

Weight training builds lean body mass. And lean body mass is one of the key components to burning fat. “Women especially need to do strength training to build lean mass because it’s more fat-burning,” Matyas says.

 If you’re new to the weight room, meet with a trainer to learn how to use the machines. Matyas starts her clients on the machines, then moves them to free weights, and eventually mixes in apparatuses like balance boards and balls.

And don’t forget to mix things up. “Every three to six months, you need to change your program because your body becomes complacent,” she explains.

Diet and fat burning

If you’re eating our Chef by Request meals, you’ll be glad to know the 40-30-30 composition of the meals burns excess fat. Also, it’s good news that the CrossFit community has adopted the zone method as its diet of choice. The other fat-burning advantage with the zone program is the number of meals you get throughout the day. “If you’re not eating every couple of hours, your blood sugar drops and your body thinks it’s in a famine state,” Matyas says. “Once blood sugar drops too low, the body will store anything you eat thereafter as fat.” With the zone program, you eat three meals and two snacks a day.

Which means: The more often you eat, the more fat you burn.

Fat versus calories

Just for the record: You’re always burning a ratio of calories to fat. When you’re burning calories, you’re burning through carbohydrates, not fat. When you’re burning fat, you’re using oxygen. When you come to the end of your carb stores, that’s when you bonk, or hit the wall; burning fat stores is what helps you exercise longer.

Still, the more fit you are and the more lean body mass you have, the more of everything you’ll burn, both calories and fat—and the more efficiently you’re pull from your fat stores when exercising.

Don’t forget to have fun

An endless variety of activities will help you burn fat: swimming, biking, basketball, hiking, cross-country skiing, anything cardiovascular—and of course, strength training. Just moving is a start. Take the time to get in shape and see what you like to do.

“Do whatever your passion is,” Matyas stresses. “This is a journey, after all.”


Learn more about how the Chef by Request zone-inspired meals help burn fat.
Learn more about Chef by Request’s affiliation with the local CrossFit community.
Learn more about our Performance Paleo meals for athletes.


Good food that’s good for you just doesn’t get any better than this.

For starters, there’s the squash family—from pumpkins to golden nuggets to sweet pepper squash. Then there are mushrooms foraged fresh from the forest floor and apples crisp from the tree. Throw in hearty greens and lettuces, a sprinkling of nuts, and the succulence of the fattened Northwest salmon—and autumn eating is in full swing. 

All of this bounty goes into seasonal dishes tailored to zone diet requirements—foods that support insulin-regulated and gluten-free eating habits, cooked fresh and delivered to you. Because we know that the fresher the food, the more vitamins and minerals you get, too.  

 What’s Cooking in Seattle and Portland

The Northwest’s record-hot summer yielded an amazing bounty of fruit and vegetables. We have even been blessed with a couple of surprises: a late crop of golden raspberries and an early arrival of blood oranges that are perfect for muffins, pancakes, and salads or cutting into wedges for breakfast. Seattle-based Chef by Request chef Patrick Fagan gets his food and produce from local farmers’ markets and area suppliers—the kind of folks who might show up at his kitchen with freshly-picked trumpet mushrooms in hand. Fagan says, “Grocery shopping? It’s all play to me.”

For many of us, October is the Season of the Squash. This veggie brings a lot of added natural sweetness without being high in sugars. Fagan likes to pair a sweet pepper squash with citrus—perhaps adding some orange zest or a hint of lime. Expect to see plenty of leafy green side dishes, like red kale, Swiss chard, and spinach. “I like roasting veggies this time of year, too,” he adds.

Then there’s the salmon. It’s the end of their run and they’re at their best. “The flesh has silkiness,” Fagan says, “a melt-in-the mouth quality that’s creamy and rich.” Plus, salmon is filled with those great Omega-3 oils.

Is your mouth watering yet? Check out this rundown of some of the seasonal dishes that Seattle and Portland Chef by Request customers are enjoying in October:

  • Roasted golden nugget squash with apples
  • Slow-roasted leg of lamb, with a hearty, rich gravy of wine, fresh thyme, and caramelized onions
  • Roasted chicken breast with toasted pecans, cranberries, and crumbled gorgonzola cheese, dressed with a sherry vinaigrette
  • Steak Marsala with black trumpet and chanterelle mushrooms
  • Cedar plank–roasted salmon with a dill sour cream sauce and served with crisp vegetables such as garlic-steamed broccoli or wax beans

What’s Cooking in San Francisco

Katia Sabbah grew up in Morocco, where French and African influences blended together in the kitchen. She brings an international flair to her Chef by Request meals, with Chinese, Indian, Moroccan, French, and Thai dishes. Sabbah offers culinary variety and diversity. “Because it’s a zone program, I try my best to come up with more exotic recipes,” she explains.  

Sabbah gets up at 5 a.m. and hits the local San Francisco area market, Berkeley Bowl. She does the shopping for all the meals, every single day. Her menus, though, read generically—like this: “Baked chicken with seasonal vegetables.” That’s because she never knows until that day which fruits and veggies she’ll use. “I pick vegetable by vegetable myself, gather salad by salad myself. I want to make sure it’s fresh and it’s in season.”

This fall, Sabbah will showcase seasonal squash, bell peppers, Brussels sprouts, green beans, sweet potatoes, and her favorite—shiitake and chanterelle mushrooms. She also works with the mood of the season—comfort food. Here are some of her meals, side dishes, and pairings for October:

  • Tuscan stew with sirloin, barley, lemon zest, and fresh vegetables
  • Tomato-based Moroccan stew, cooked with fresh vegetables, cumin, and spices, served with chicken, sirloin, or fish
  • Coq au vin with a good Burgundy wine and a dash of cinnamon
  • Coconut shrimp wrap with cabbage
  • Red squash with cinnamon
  • Salads with sprinkles of pomegranates, dates, and walnuts
  • Brussels sprouts sautéed with garlic and olive oil
  • Pumpkin mashed with cinnamon and almonds
  • Yams with caramelized onions and orange juice

And Now for Dessert

Dessert is very popular among San Francisco Chef by Request customers. To stay zone-compliant, Sabbah uses whole-wheat flour, Splenda, soy-based cream, and small portions. This season’s desserts include two tempting specialties: pumpkin pie and pralines and sweet potato pie.

Sabbah, who is eating the zone program these days, says she loves it because it’s balanced and gives her a ton of energy.  If it hadn’t been for her current job, she’d never be on it.

And what about now?  “I can’t stop saying how good it is,” she says.

Check out more sample menus.
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