So much has changed in the year or so since I first published The Calorie-Count.com Diet. This is meant as an update, and an addendum. Some things I've since changed my mind on. Some things that should have been addressed never were. Hopefully you all find this post helpful as you struggle to figure out how to lose weight in a healthful manner.
Table Of Contents
Chapter 0: Are you really overweight? (BMI and Fat Percentages)
Chapter 1: The Mighty Calorie (Calories and You)
Chapter 2: Nutrition in a Nutshell (Nutrition)
Section 2.1: Carbs are Cool (Carbohydrates)
Section 2.1.1: Functional Fiber (Fiber)
Section 2.2: Powerful Proteins (Protein)
Section 2.3: Fabulous Fats (Fat)
Section 2.3.1: Confusing Cholesterol (Cholesterol)
Section 2.4: Water You Talking About? (Water)
Section 2.5: They may be small, but they pack a huge whallop! (Micronutrients)
Section 2.5.1: Vital Vitamins (Vitamins)
Section 2.5.2: Mighty Minerals (Here they come to save the day!) (Minerals)
Section 2.5.3: Phreaky Phytochemicals (Phytochemicals)
Section 2.6: So, how much should I be eating then? (Percentages)
Chapter 3: Movin' Right Along - Exercise and Weight Loss (Fitness)
Section 3.1: Sweatin' off the Pounds - Aerobic Exercise (Aerobic Exercise)
Section 3.2: Bend Me, Shape Me, Any Way You Want Me (Flexibility Training)
Section 3.3: Govehnoh Ahnold Sent Me.. to PUMP YOU UP! (Strength Training)
Chapter 4: Putting It All Together - The Road to Fat Loss
Section 4.1: Deficit Spending (Deficits)
Section 4.2: Your Metabolism And You: A Love Story (Metabolism, BMR and AMR)
Section 4.3: Apples vs. Pears: I think you're all a little fruity (Body Shapes)
Section 4.4: Putting It All Together (Making a Weight Loss Plan)
Chapter 5: And If You've Got The Notion, I Second That Emotion (How emotions affect Weight Loss)
Section 5.1: I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends (Support System)
Section 5.2: Yes, I'm Positive (Maintaining Positivity)
Section 5.3: Don't Sweet the Small Stuff (Emotional Eating)
Section 5.4: Oh, Give Me A Break! (Taking a Break)
Section 5.5: The difference between Failure and a Lesson Learned
Chapter 6: Last Pieces of Advice
Section 6.1: Be Your Own Doctor - Get Some Patience (Being Patient With Yourself)
Section 6.2: Going for the Goal (How to Set Goals)
Chapter 7: Living with your lifestyle change
Section 7.1: A Man, A Plan, A Recipe Book and a pair of new shoes! (Planning)
Section 7.2: Eat to Live - How to begin to eat healthy (Further suggestions on how to lose weight)
Section 7.3: I think I can, I think I can, I think I can - Becoming more Active (How to make activity a part of your life)
Section 7.4: Why Must I Be A Teenager.. on a Diet? (Teenagers and Weight Loss)
Section 7.5: Yay! I did it! I did it! Now what? (Maintenance)
Chapter 8: HELP ME!!! Common Problems Associated with Dieting
Section 8.1: Gimme Gimme Gimme Some Food After Midnight (Binges)
Section 8.2: Killer Cravings (Cravings)
Section 8.3: The Perils of Plateaus (Plateaus)
Section 8.4: It's not Cheating if you get caught! (Cheat Meals)
Section 8.5: Eating Out (Dun Dun Dun) (Eating Out)
Section 8.6: Crash and Burn - Why Repetition is NOT always good good (Burn Out)
Section 8.7: Eating Disorders and other Mental Diseases (Eating Disorders)
Chapter 9: Useful Links
Introduction: Why the quotes
The problem with most Diets is that they give you a specific structured list of what to do and what to eat. Even the most well-meaning ones, the ones probably grounded in good science usually come with a certain structure that they say you must follow or else.
For some, the structure makes it easier. Having a list of things to do or not to do just feels easier to deal with than a whole universe of choices. For others, the order is just too confining, and they can't picture themselves giving up certain things.
The real truth is most Diets (with a capital D to separate them from diet, which is what you eat) don't work for everybody. Some people are so blessed that all they need to do is lay off the Cheetos and Beer and maybe go out running a bit like they used to and they can lose those 10 lbs. Some people struggle for every single pound lost, despite eating right and exercising. Most are somewhere in the middle, easily able to do some things but struggling with others.
Reason: 4/21/08: Stickied. 5/1/08: Unstickied. 1/4/09: Stickied; 1/27/09: Unstickied; 11/20/09: Stickied again; 5/1/10: Unstickied
Chapter 0: Are you really overweight?
Possibly an afterthought, especially on these boards when at least 90% of you are actually overweight, but... how do you determine if you're actually overweight?
There are stacks of Height-Weight diagrams and relationships that aim to give you some idea of what an ideal weight for you should be. These are reasonable, but there are just so MANY of them. Which is right?
One nearly-universal measure to determine approximately how overweight you are is the Body Mass Index (BMI). Please feel free to use Calorie-Count's site tools to determine your BMI.
In general, the latest suggestions I've seen suggests that if your BMI:
- is less than 15, than you are SEVERELY underweight
- is less than 18.5, than you're underweight
- is greater than or equal to 18.5 but less than 25, than you are considered at an ideal weight for your height
- is greater than or equal to 25 but less than 30, than you're overweight
- is greater than or equal to 30 but less than 40, than you're Obese
- is greater than or equal to 40, than you're morbidly obese
As a note, the BMI is a good measure for the average adult, but if
you are a teenager or very muscular, than the BMI may not be the right measurement for you.
Another more precise way to determine if you are actually overweight is your fat percentage.
If you're a woman and your fat percentage is greater than 31%, then you are overweight. For men, if your fat percentage is greater than 24%, you are overweight.
To get your fat percentage measured accurately ask your doctor about calipers or underwater dunking. Don't trust the number your Tanita scale gives you. It's an estimate with a large range of error.
Chapter 1: The Mighty Calorie
The point of this post is to give you all the knowledge you need, in one little post, to get the weight off and keep it off.
To begin our foray into the issues surrounding weight loss, let's start off with a discussion of the quote unquote enemy, the Calorie. It's not fair to call the Calorie your enemy, though. The Calorie is a unit of biochemical energy, no more no less. The calorie is stored as biochemical energy inside of all of the food you eat. Your body retrieves this energy from the food you eat through a complicated process we will call "Digestion", and then uses it for all of it's needs. If any extra energy exists, your body then stores it inside of fat cells.
Everything you eat, from that apple to that slice of pizza contains calories in it.
Your food can be broken down into three sets of macronutrients: Carbohydrates, Protein and Fat. We'll explain these more below, but for now, understand the following:
Every gram of carbohydrate will release 4 calories
Every gram of protein will also release 4 calories.
Every gram of fat will release 9 calories.
And every gram of alcohol, for those of you who enjoy a drink, is 7 calories.
Got it? Keep those number handy. They're important.
Now, these calories are important because they give you the energy you need, every day, to keep your body working. Everything your body does, from moving blood around, to breathing, to getting up from your computer chair and walking over to that bathroom requires calories.
You can divide caloric output into two categories: What your body needs to run and what your body needs to make you actively DO things such as walk, run, skip, etc.
All of this will be explain below. I'm just laying the foundation.
The first "law" of Weight Loss is
Accumulation of Calories = Calorie Intake - Calorie Output.
Basically put, if you eat more calories than your body uses, you have an accumulation of calories, which will be transferred into fat cells.
If you eat less calories than you body uses, your body will need to USE energy from it's energy stores. It does so by removing some of the energy from your fat cells (and reducing their size) and somewhat by burning off protein from your muscles.
I will warn you, however, that this law does not promise a linear loss. Just because you always eat precisely 500 calories less than your body burns every day does not mean you'll always see a one pound loss. That's because our bodies are very complicated systems, and very complicated systems don't always react the way you expect them to.
Chapter 2: Nutrition in a Nutshell
Obviously, you're concerned with nutrition. Who isn't, after all? ;)
In all seriousness, one of the aims of many of us here on Calorie-Count isn't just losing weight, but also learning how to improve our health. For those of you who want to learn to eat more healthfully, but don't understands the basics of it, this section is for you.
As a note, a lot of the information provided here is based on the FDA's current pyramid, and my own research.
In the last chapter, we discussed what a calorie was, and how many calories came from each macronutrient.
Let's discuss those macronutrients a little farther.
Section 2.1: Carbs are Cool
Carbohydrates primarily come from fresh fruits, vegetables, grains and anything containing one of the various sugars (lactose, fructose, sucrose, etc.)
In general, the FDA suggests that you reduce your intake of processed carbohydrates. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that you limit your daily intake of processed sugars in sweetened food and drink to no more than 10% of your daily caloric intake. Basically, the WHO is saying what you probably already know: avoid sugary foods, sweetened drinks and other sources of food that are mainly sugar-based.
Why, you ask? Well, let's go back to that mysterious and complicated process that we like to call "Digestion". The major difference between how your body processes a big bowl of salad vs. how it processes a cookie comes down to how close the carbohydrates are to simple carbohydrates (sugars), which your body can use for fuel. The carbohydrates in vegetables are complex, meaning it takes longer, approximately 4-6 hours, for your body to be able to break them down into usable sugars than it would something like a cookie. Your body can accept sucrose immediately and use it to fuel your body, leaving your stomach feeling empty. Because of the processes involved in breaking down complex carbohydrates, your blood sugar levels tend to stay alot more level over time, when compared to taking something that's already basically sugar. Sugar, as you know, will make your blood levels jump up, giving you a "Sugar High". You'll feel a burst of energy for a short time, then your blood sugar drops down again, rather quickly, giving you that "Blood Sugar Crash."
Some diets tell you to avoid starchy foods, such as potatoes. The reason for that is Starch IS, by definition, a complex carbohydrate, but one that's only one step away from being broken down into sugar. Unlike the carbohydrates in, say, that bowl of salad, it doesn't take long for your body to break starches down into sugar, which is why, again, you find you don't stay satisfied as long.
These issues are part of why processed foods such as white bread and most pastas should be minimized as well. Because the act of processing the whole grains robs the resultant product of most of the fiber and nutrients the original product had, as well as breaking down the carbohydrates some, so that they're already a step or two closer to sugar.
That's not to say that you can never enjoy a piece of candy or a bowl of pasta again. It just means that you want to minimize these types of food and try to eat more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
Some people are carb-sensitive (Apples tend to be more carb-sensitive than Pears are. For more on Apples and Pears, see below), which means that eating processed carbohydrates seems to help them retain fat. If you think that you might be such a person, try lowering your intake of processed carbs as much as possible.
In general, the FDA suggests that you eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, and that at least half of your sources of grains come from whole grains (whole wheat breads, brown rice, etc.), and that you eat fewer sources of processed carbohydrates (aka sugars.)
The FDA suggests:
1) About 3-5 servings of vegetables a day, preferably with a wide variety of different vegetables of different colors. You're more likely to get a full set of micronutrients if you make sure to work in a large variety of different vegetables.
2) 2 servings of fruit, and:
3) 4-6 servings of grains, at least half of which are whole grains
I want to discuss the Low-Carb Fad. There are some diets, such as the Atkins Diet, that will tell you to avoid carbohydrates. There's alot of research going on right now trying to explain why these diets work. When you don't eat enough carbohydrates, your body goes into a state called ketosis, which means that instead of burning carbohydrates to fuel your body, it breaks down fat cells instead, releasing the sugars into your body, along with acetone, one of the components in nail-polish remover. As of yet, there is no proof that this is actually harmful to your body, and clearly the diet does seem to work, however I would like to point out that there are reasons aplenty to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains, which we'll get to when we discuss micronutrients and phytochemicals.
I do want to warn you, somewhere, about the potential issues surrounding many sugar substitutes. There are controversies surrounding the healthfulness of most sugar substitutes, such as aspartame, splenda and high-fructose corn sugar. As of yet, there is no proof that any of these sugar substitutes are harmful for you, however there have been no studies on the long term effects of sugar substitutes and there are many people who feel that the overuse of sugar substitutes can actually lead to fat gain. Use these at your own discretion, and make sure to understand that these sweeteners are not natural, in any way, and may yet be tied to harmful side effects.
Section 2.1.1: Functional Fiber
I'll mention fiber when discussing carbohydrates. In general, most of the fiber you eat per day will come from whole foods such as whole grains, and fresh fruits and vegetables, the same foods you will get the bulk of your carbs from. Dietary Fiber is undigestable to your body, and thus contains no calories.
There are two types of fiber: Soluble Fiber and Insoluble Fiber. Though there are differences between the two, and they do act slightly different inside you, you shouldn't worry about trying to eat either more soluble or insoluble fiber. Just concentrate on trying to get enough fiber, period. The benefits of getting enough fiber in your diet is that it can help lower your cholesterol, can help keep you full longer, and can help make it easier for you to excrete your poop (which is very important!)
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) suggests that women attempt to get in about 25 grams of fiber, men, 35 grams. These recommendations should change with age, but for many of us, getting 25 grams of fiber in your daily diet is a struggle already!
Section 2.2: Powerful Proteins
Oh Protein, how I love thee. Steaks and Burgers and Fried Chicken and.. hold on... these aren't all THAT healthful.
Protein is another macronutrient that your body needs to survive. You can get protein from lean cuts of meat, fish, eggs, seeds and nuts, beans and, of course, tofu.
One of the big advantages of eating protein, preferably without all that saturated fat, is that it keeps you fuller longer. Unlike carbohydrates which are converted into energy pretty quickly, it can take 4-6 hours for protein to be fully broken down, leaving your stomach physically full for that much longer.
There's a popular myth going around that people who want to build muscle need to consume a great deal of protein. As of yet, there are no studies proving this to be true. While those people who are looking to "bulk up" do tend to take in alot of protein, you don't need huge amounts to build muscle.
The FDA suggests that you take in
1) 2-3 sources of dairy a day: Milk, Cheese, Yogurt, etc.
2) 5 - 6 oz. of lean meats a day (or meat substitutes such as beans, nuts and seeds)
Section 2.3: Fabulous Fats
Ah, fat, how I love thee. Just a little goes such a long way. Fat takes longer to digest than any other macronutrient, typically 6-8 hours, which is why a little of it goes a long way towards keeping you full longer.
Many dieters don't realize this, but you actually need fat in your diet. There are some micronutrients, Vitamins A, D, E and K, which are fat soluble, meaning that the only way for your body to actually process them effectively is by taking them with fat. That's one of the reason why having vegetables with your meat is so very important.
However, not every fat is created equal. There are four sorts of fats: Saturated, Monounsaturated, Polyunsaturated, and Trans Fats.
Saturated Fats are generally fats that are solid at room temperature, such as butter, lard and the fat that you want to trim off your steak. These are not healthful fats. These are the fats that can harden your arteries and lead you to a coronary. A little of these fats is OK, but eat them sparingly! Most saturated fats come from animal sources: meat, milk, eggs, though some oils such as Palm Oil include saturated fat as well. Be sure to read the label to be sure that your oil is not saturated.
Unsaturated Fats - both Monounsaturated and Polyunsaturated are generally liquid at room temperature, such as canola oil and olive oil. Both of these fats are more healthful than Saturated or Trans Fats. When eating fat, you'll want to eat more of these and less of the others. Other sources of unsaturated fats include fish, nuts and seeds.
Trans Fats, are fats that start as unsaturated fat, but are transmuted to something that acts entirely differently. The great majority of the trans fats out there now are a product of modern science. Hydrogenation occurs by heating up an oil and passing hydrogen through it. If you fully hydrogenate the oil, it will become a solid, but if you only partially hydrogenate it, it become semi-solid, like margarine. The hydrogenation process is CHEAP and it makes foods that can keep better, which is why they're so widely abused. However, they are incredibly unhealthy, as you'll see when I discuss cholesterol. Anything containing the words
"Partially Hydrogenated" and Oil should be avoided as much as possible.
That includes margarine and a lot of the fats you find in Potato Chips.
The FDA suggests you actually take in between 4 and 8 tsp of oil a day, depending on how many calories you should be eating.
Section 2.3.1: Confusing Cholesterol
When discussing fats, we should probably discuss cholesterol. Like fat, some cholesterol is actually necessary for your health. Most of the cholesterol you need daily is actually created within your own liver from the raw material in the carbohydrates, proteins and fat you consume.
Cholesterol is delivered through your body via lipoproteins that move the cholesterol through your blood stream. The type of lipoprotein carrying your cholesterol along will determine the eventual fate of the cholesterol it carries.
There are three types of lipoprotein, the carriers that carry cholesterol into your blood: High Density Lipoproteins (HDL), Low Density Lipoproteins (LDL) and, Very Low Density Lipoproteins (VLDL).
VLDL and LDL are considered "bad" because they are small enough to exit your blood vessels and deposit the cholesterol behind it, into your arteries and veins, creating blockages, which can trigger heart attacks and strokes.
HDL, on the other hand are big/thick enough that they can't exit your your blood stream, and exit your body, instead, through excretion. HDL may also "sweep up" left behind cholesterol. That's why HDL is considered "good cholesterol".
These are important to mention, because different fats can induce the creation of different lipoproteins.
Saturated fat will increase the concentration of LDLs.
Monounsaturated fat will increase the concentration of HDLs.
Polyunsaturated fat may decreate the concentration of both HDLs and LDLs
Transfats will increase the concentration of LDLs and also decrease the concentration of HDLs.
This is the mechanism by which a diet rich in saturated fat and trans fats may lead to heart attack or stroke, and why you should work to eat diets higher in monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, instead of saturated or trans fats.
The FDA recommends that you consume no more than 300 mg of cholesterol.
Section 2.4: Water You Talking About?
You can't discuss nutrition without delving into the wet and wonderful world of Water. Water water everywhere and most of us simply don't get enough to drink.
Simply put, your body needs water, and quite a bit of it. Your body needs it to do most of the things your body does: Construction of new cells and plasma, digestion, breathing, etc. Water acts as the interface for many of the biochemical reactions inside you.
If you do not intake enough water, your body will hold onto what water it has received, so that it can continue to have the interface it needs for biochemical reactions. Actually, to be fair, your body holds onto water for a number of reasons, including intake alot of salt, a woman's cycle, and certain illnesses. The surest way to make your body let this water go is.. to consume more water.
Approximately 20% of your water will come from the food you eat, however, to make sure that your body runs at full speed, make sure to take in 64 oz. of water a day, more if you like.
One thing I'd like to touch briefly is the Politics of Water. Bottled water companies would like you to believe that you need to drink veritable rivers of water a day to maintain good health, preferably their bottled water. They'd also like you to believe that the water in.. tea, soda or coffee doesn't count. These are all myths. It IS true that tea, soda and coffee all contain caffeine which can be a mild diuretic, however the reality is that by consuming these drinks, you typically take in more water than you expunge. However, the advantage of drinking plain, unadulterated water is that there are no calories associated with it. And it's good cold, especially with a lemon inside.
It IS Possible to consume too much water. If you start drinking water and begin to feel queasy and ill, desist for a time until you feel better. Luckily, however, you need to drink a lot of water in a very short amount of time to be truly drinking too much. For most of us, though, drinking a lot of water will result in no more than a few more trips to the bathroom.
Section 2.5: They may be small, but they pack a huge whallop!
Before trying to decide what type of diet is best for you, you have to understand that there's more to nutrition than just the macronutrients. It IS important to make sure to get enough carbohydrates, enough fat and enough protein, but I wouldn't go aiming to try to lose weight on the all-cheeseburger diet without understanding why you may not be getting the nutrition you need.
On top of needing a certain amount of calories, a certain amount of carbs, protein, fat and water, we humans need so much vitamins and minerals a day, every day, to stay in tip-top shape. Take too much or too little and you could end up with everything from liver spots on your skin and bleeding mucous membranes to liver and kidney disorders, or worse!
The BEST way to get the nutrition you need is from your food. Popping a pill in the morning might help some, especially when trying to get a micronutrient you just don't get enough of in your diet, but you have to understand that pills are not the best way to get the micronutrients you need. Firstly, your body is not really capable of processing most of the vitamins and minerals that come with that pill, especially if you take it on an empty stomach with a bit of water. Secondly, there's studies out now that suggest that taking too much of a certain vitamin, these "megadoses" that certain dietary supplements offer may actually do more harm than good. And finally, unfortunately many pills can have occasional unwanted interactions with other prescriptions you take, or with things like pregnancy or chronic medical conditions. And because the FDA does not oversee dietary supplements, there is no one accountable if things go wrong.
Dietary supplements, if they are used at all, should be used minimally, to supplement an already good diet.
Moving forward, we will discuss three types of micronutrients: Vitamins, which are organic compounds your body needs to function, Minerals, which are chemical compounds your body needs to function, and Phytochemicals, which are chemical compounds found in fruits and vegetables that help your body stay healthy and fight disease.
Section 2.5.1: Vital Vitamins
Vitamins can be split into two types: Water-Soluble, those that your body can absorb with water, and Fat-Soluble, which your body can't absorb unless you have fat in your digestive track at the same time.
Water-Soluble vitamins are: B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12, and C
Fat-Soluble Vitamins are: A, D, E and K
Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) of these vitamins can change greatly, depending on your sex, age and whether or not you're pregnant. Do a little research to find out what your specific RDAs are.
Like water, you CAN have too much of a good thing. Too much of Vitamins A, B3, B6 and D have been linked to negative health effects.
Section 2.5.2: Mighty Minerals (Here they come to save the day!)
Minerals are typically broken down into two groups: Essential Minerals and Trace Minerals.
Essential Minerals are those minerals required to support your internal processes, many acting as electrolytes. They are: Calcium, Chloride, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium and Sodium. The daily Required Dietary Intake (RDA) of these is pretty large, in comparison, which is why you often find these minerals added to everything from breakfast cereals to flour to sodas.
Trace Minerals are required in miniscule amounts. The trace minerals are: Cobalt, Copper, Fluoride, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Molybdenum, Nickel, Selenium, Sulfur, Vanadium and Zinc.
Luckily for you, the best way to get these minerals is through consumption of good quality food, such as.. you guessed it, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean cuts of meat.
Once again, I suggest you look up your RDAs and start to get a feel to make sure you're eating the right kinds of foods to get the nutrients you need.
Section 2.5.3: Phreaky Phytochemicals
Unlike Vitamins and Minerals which EVERYONE knows about, there's still very little known about Phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are tiny plant-derived chemical compounds with some rather large health benefits. Current studies seem to suggest that phytochemicals in fresh fruits and vegetables can significantly reduce your risk of cancer, possibly due to antioxidants.
Antioxidants are molecules capable of slowing down or preventing Oxidation, a chemical reaction that transfers electrons from a substance to an oxidizing agent. The process of Oxidation produces something called Free Radicals, highly reactive molecules with an unpaired electron that can cause chain reactions that can damage cells. Free Radicals have been linked to many different diseases, including cancer.
Not much is known about phytochemicals, or precisely what they can do for you, but the general consensus is that they can help you live longer, be healthier and avoid disease. Unfortunately, current science seems to suggest, however, that the processing of fresh fruits and vegetables, possibly including cooking, may destroy these phytochemicals.
The point to get out of this section is, eat more fresh fruits and vegetables! It's good for ya!
Section 2.6: So, how much should I be eating then?
Now that I've blown a lot of hot air at you, let me break it all down to you.
We'll discuss how many calories a day you should be eating further on, but to end this chapter, let's discuss percentages.
On average, the FDA guidelines add up to the following percentage breakdown:
A) 50% of your calories come from sources of carbohydrates, preferably whole foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables (preferable a wide variety of vegetables) and whole grains
B) 25% of your calories come from sources of protein, such as lean meat, fat-free milk, light yogurt, etc.
C) 25% of your calories come from fats, preferably monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (oils, basically), and;
D) You should be taking in at least 64 oz. of water a day.
These percentages are simply the FDA guidelines. In reality, you may find that your percentages are fairly off when compared to these. Don't sweat it, if they are. Just make sure that you keep eating plenty of the right kinds of foods and make sure that you are getting in a reasonable amount of carbohydrates, protein AND fat.
Chapter 3: Movin' Right Along - Exercise and Weight Loss
Most of us here at Calorie-Count aren't just looking to be thin, but to improve our health, and to improve our looks from overweight to thin, and athletic.
Exercise is a key factor in weight loss. While you can certainly lose weight without exercising, there are other benefits associated with exercising besides just burning calories. Exercising can speed up your metabolism. It can also help you relax and work through the stress of the day. It's something positive you can do for yourself. It can help you shape your body and start to feel GOOD about yourself. It can also, apparently, improve your sex drive!
We can break exercise up into three basic kinds: Aerobic, Stretching and Strength Training. All of these can help lead you from unfit to athletic and healthy. All have their place in the overall health plan.
If you're looking for an overall starting place, let me suggest about.com's 12 weeks to Weight Loss plan. It includes some cardio, some weight lifting and some flexibility training. It's a good start in the right direction!
Section 3.1: Sweatin' off the Pounds - Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic exercise is, without a doubt, one of the best ways to help you burn calories. Whether you jog, run, skip, dance, swim, play sports or just pull out one of your video tapes and work your body in time to a man (or woman) in tights, you're working your body, building up a sweat and burning off calories.
Aerobic Exercise is the best way to help increase your caloric deficit reasonably, and to increase your cardiovascular fitness, so that you can last longer at.. pretty much anything you like.
When you're first starting, it sure looks intimidating, reading about how some of your peers are jogging or running or dancing or.. whatever. Don't worry about it... just DO something. Whether it's as simple as signing up for a water aerobics course at the Y or taking out your iPod and walking around the block a little. Start somewhere.
In general, without involving heartbeats, a way to determine if you're working hard enough is the talk test. If you can do whatever you're doing and still sing at the top of your lungs, steps it up a notch. If, on the other hand, you're doing what you're doing and you can hardly say two words without gasping for breath, step it down. If you're looking for something a little more concrete, look into how much a heart rate monitor might cost. It can give you a range of heart rates to exercise within.
If you do get a heart rate monitor, or track your heart rate some other way, try to stay within the cardio range. There's a myth going around that the best way to lose fat is to exercise at a lower intensity, the so-called fat-burning range. While it IS true that when you exercise at a lower intensity, you burn more fat compared to muscle, you still burn more calories overall when you exercise in your cardio range. You also get more benefits from training in that range as you're working your heart reasonable hard, and, with time, will see the benefits of that as you get fit and can last longer at whatever activities you choose.
As a note, the FDA suggests that you get at least 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous activity a day, every day. The FDA suggests moderate activity includes walking brisky, hiking, weight lifting, playing golf, lawn work, bicycling less than 10 miles per hour. Anything where you're raising your heart beat, but it isn't necessarily near it's maximum threshold.
Vigorous activity includes running or jogging 5mph or more, swimming, heavy yard work (like chopping wood) and competitive sports. Activities where your heart beats are near to their threshold, for a time at least.
Section 3.2: Bend Me, Shape Me, Any Way You Want Me
Flexibility training doesn't immediately benefit weight loss, though exercise IS exercise. Flexibility training can be as simple as making sure to stretch before you run, and as complicated as a 60 minute Pilates video.
In general, the advantages of Flexibility Training is Flexibility itself. It's the ability to bend over and touch your toes, or help twist your body into ways you may not have thought you could. It can help ease tension in your joints, and arthritis, or help prevent future joint-based illnesses.
Section 3.3: Govehnoh Ahnold Sent Me.. to PUMP YOU UP!
Weight training, perhaps surprisingly, DOES directly affect your ability to lose weight and maintain weight loss. Unlike fat, muscle is an active tissue. Every time you move your muscles, whether it's walking, lifting up a box, or typing on your computer, you burn calories. The more massive your muscles, the higher your metabolism, and the more calories you burn every day. Weight training can also counter the negative effects of dieting. As you lose weight, you typically lose both muscle and fat, potentially slowing your metabolism down. Lifting weights can help you build muscle again, and counter the effects that losing weight will have on your metabolism.
One other somewhat surprising advantage of weight training is that it can actually help counteract the effects of aging on your bones and may help to thicken your existing bones, helping to stave off Osteoperosis.
What all this means, in a nutshell, is that the more muscles you have, the more calories you burn per day. That, in a nutshell, is the natural advantage men have over women when it comes to weightloss. At adolescence, men develop muscles, whereas women develop fat. If you are a woman reading this, again, never fear. You can still lose weight, gain muscle and look good. You'll just need to work a little harder at it.
There is a myth that toning your muscles will make women look bulky and masculine. This is a myth only. Creating muscle tissue to an extent to look over-muscular or bulky is very difficult and requires a great deal of training at heavy weights so you are constantly overloading the muscles to stimulate growth. In other words, you won't look bulky unless you take the time and effort to look bulky.
One specific set of muscles to mention working on are abs. The advantage of working out your abs, for both men and female is that strong abs actually reduces the visible size of your stomach. For those of you without strong abs, if you suck in your abs and look in your mirror, you see that your stomach size has reduced. Strengthening your abs actually acts to make it easier for your abs to be sucked in, thus reducing your stomach size visibly.
Chapter 4: Putting It All Together - The Road to Fat Loss
OK, so we discussed nutrition and exercising, and you hopefully understand some of the ins and outs of both, but how do we actually put all of this together into something like a weight loss plan?
Next, I'll explain how to set up a weight loss plan that works for you and helps you work towards healthy, manageable weight loss.
Section 4.1: Deficit Spending
Let's go back to Chapter 1, Shall we? In chapter 1, I introduced the first law of weight loss:
Accumulation of Calories = Calorie Intake - Calorie Output
Obviously, to lose weight, you want to be eating less than you burn a day, but how many calories less?
Doctors suggest that you eat between 500 and 1,000 calories less than you burn, however experience on calorie-count suggests you should actually try for a deficit of 500-750 calories a day. A 1,000 calorie a day deficit can both lead you to overexcercising or simply not eating enough. Remember, this is not a race. You aren't competing against anyone but yourself.
As you've no doubt heard, one pound of fat = 3500 calories. So, a loss of 500 calories a day should equal one pound of fat lost a week. Slow and steady and totally maintainable.
No doubt, though, you've seen the fallacy of the first law of weight loss, right? Some people, hoping that if they eat the minimum, they can lose weight faster tend to undereat. They think that this is the best way to lose weight. I'm here to tell you that's just not true. If you eat far less than you burn, your body rebukes you and slows down your metabolism, which will be discussed later on.
The Mayo Clinic, as well as many other important sources point out that there's a line.. a bare minimum you need to intake every day or risk some ugly effects (metabolism slowdown, starvation mode, possibly malnutrition). For women, this line is 1200 calories a day. For men, 1500 calories a day. Please don't get hung up on these numbers. These are not suggestions for how much you should eat. They are meant to be bare minimums for the average person. Eat no less than this, or there could be so ugly consequences (malnutrition can get kinda ugly).
What I want to stress here is deficits. Your body burns a certain amount of calories EVERY day, both by living and through activity, and while it doesn't, in general, mind tapping the fat stories to make up a small amount of energy, eating too little, under your recommended deficits, can put your body into panic mode, and your metabolism will slowly lower to match what you're eating. That, in essence, is what Starvation Mode is: your body panicking, and slowing down your metabolism to meet what you give it.
The real dangers of Starvation Mode are two fold: firstly, your metabolism slows down. As your metabolism slows down and tries to reach an equilibrium with what you eat, you will be unable to lose weight. You'll hit a pleateu you can't get off of. Eating more will only make you gain weight, because now your metabolism has slowed down. Eating less is the only way to lose weight again and that way lies madness and malnutrition. The other issue with Starvation Mode is that to be in Starvation Mode, you're probably eating far too few calories, protein, micronutrients, etc. for your body to run properly. As such, it will begin to shut down. When you see these terrible effects that people with eating disorders start dealing with: ammenhoria (loss of your period), hair falling out, inability to poop.. these are all effects from not getting enough of the stuff you need to survive.
I can not stress enough the importance of eating at a reasonable deficit. Eat too little, and the consequences will eventually catch up to you.