Weight Loss - Basic Lessons for Sustained Success
Weight loss is a goal for many people today, but cutting through all the hype and getting quality information can be difficult. This article will give you information on your metabolism, nutrition, and exercise that you can use to evaluate weight loss programs that you may be considering, or to create your own. For healthy, effective, and sustained weight loss, you need to learn some basics about how your body's metabolism works.
Your Body Does Basic Math
One of the most important factors that directly impacts weight loss is a concept called "energy balance." Quite simply, this is a measure of whether a person has eaten more calories than they burned that day, or vice versa. Because of all the scientific jargon, it can be baffling to read detailed descriptions of how your body and metabolism work. But when it comes to weight loss, all you need to know is that your metabolism does basic math - addition and subtraction; calories eaten and calories burned.
Neutral energy balance - eating the same number of calories as you burn every day Positive energy balance - eating more calories than you burn every day Negative energy balance - eating fewer calories than you burn every day
In order to begin healthy, effective weight loss, you need to achieve negative energy balance. There are two primary ways to do this - daily diet and exercise. We'll take a closer look at each very shortly.
However, it is important to note that most people who are aiming for moderate weight loss should not tip the scales too drastically into negative energy balance. For instance, if your daily activities result in 2000 calories burned per day, restricting your calorie intake to 800 calories per day would be excessive. You would lose weight, but probably not in the way you intended. Your body would see this drastic calorie restriction as starvation, and would begin hoarding body fat and burning muscle, in addition to losing valuable fluids and electrolytes, which is exactly the opposite of what you are hoping to achieve.
If you are at neutral energy balance and have moderate weight loss goals, then a calorie restriction of 500 calories per day will produce healthy, gradual weight loss. Be sure to consult your physician regarding appropriate levels of calorie restriction and activity if your weight loss goals are very aggressive.
There are two main factors that you should consider when evaluating your daily diet - total calories and composition. The term "total calories" is as simple as it sounds - the number of calories you have consumed in a given day. If you're already mindful of the total quantity of food you eat each day, and are good at estimating serving sizes, you're in a good position to determine where your current energy balance is, and monitor it as you progress. If not, it can be useful to purchase an inexpensive kitchen scale to get a better idea of how big a serving that you consider "average" really is. You need to know how many calories you're eating on a daily basis in order to know where you can make improvements.
The composition of your diet is also very important. With all the competing diet programs out there, it can be difficult to separate the science from the hype. The guidelines in the USDA's new food pyramid, called MyPyramid, are very helpful in identifying good food choices - whole grain carbohydrates instead of processed carbs (whole wheat bread rather than white), lean instead of high-fat protein sources (chicken instead of prime rib), and healthy sources of fat (olive oil instead of Crisco). These guidelines will serve you well in formulating a daily diet that will keep you well-nourished with sustained energy levels and feeling your best over the long term.
Again, if working all the specifics out on your own seems difficult, there are high-quality programs available that help you specify meal composition, serving size, timing of meals and snacks, and even provide you with a shopping list. These programs can be helpful and convenient, but they are not absolutely necessary to achieve your weight loss goals.
Exercise is a very important component of any well-balanced weight loss program. In its Guidelines for Healthy Aerobic Activity, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 30 to 45 minutes of moderate aerobic activity performed 3 to 5 times per week. This can be as simple as taking a brisk walk through your neighborhood.
With this as a "base" of aerobic activity, weight training can be an excellent way to burn more calories and encourage development of lean muscle tissue, which burns additional calories even when you're sleeping! However, it's important to get qualified instruction in how to perform weight training in order to ensure that you are performing the exercises correctly, and not putting yourself at risk of injury.
Another key element in the exercise equation is moderation. If you haven't worked out in a year, you should not set a goal of running for an hour a day, five days a week. Begin moderately and allow your body to become accustomed to this new routine. When you're used to walking briskly for 30 minutes three days per week, consider increasing to four days per week, and so forth.
Regardless of what specific kind of exercise you choose, if you perform it safely, moderately, and most important, regularly, you will be in a much better position to achieve your weight loss goals. Remember, the goal is negative energy balance and exercise is another tool to get you there. If your daily goal is a 500 calorie negative energy balance, it can be much more pleasant to exercise 200 calories away, and only have to restrict your diet by 300 calories.
Successfully combining a healthy diet and exercise program is the best way to achieve and sustain your weight-loss goals. A pound of fat represents approximately 3500 stored calories. Using the above example of a 500 calorie negative energy balance, over the course of a week you would lose approximately one pound, for a total of around 4 pounds per month. Experts agree that this is a healthy rate of weight loss. More importantly, by taking a gradual approach, you are teaching yourself something far more important, which is behavior modification.
Crash diets may promise that you will lose five pounds a week, but if you revert to the same patterns of behavior that you were accustomed to before you started your diet, you'll gain the weight right back. No one becomes overweight overnight, so you shouldn't expect to lose the weight overnight either. Allow your body to become accustomed to healthy new habits, so you can sustain your success over the long term.
Liz Smith writes about weight loss programs and diets for thedietchannel.com