Oh no, not another diet!
For us in the Northern Hemisphere summer has arrived and shedding the layers of clothes has begun. But for many it's a case of extra winter baggage still hanging on, which sees a lot of people taking drastic measures like semi-starving themselves to fit into their bathing suits and summer outfits.
In this articel I will examine firstly what happens to your body if you severely reduce calories and secondly how to safely and effectively achieve permanent fat-loss.
1. Cutting calories - hunger pangs!
2. How it effects the body in the long term
3. 5 keys to permanent and healthy fat-loss
· Need for Muscle
· Cardio in moderation
· Eat to boost metabolism
4. Conclusion1. Cutting calories - hunger pangs!
What comes to mind when you hear the word diet?
Bad memories of starvation and restriction, or a physical feeling from a lump in the throat to a stomach aching from past hunger pangs. That's the group of diets I am talking about: Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Slimfast or Cambridge - diets that the foundation involves cutting calories (calories are simply units of food energy).
Firstly however it is essential to stress and clarify that not all calories are the same. For example the calories from a slice of white bread has a different effect on the body than the same amount of calories in a serving of vegetables. So in order to be accurate I am all for reducing calories (consumption) from processed food but not whole food!
The following article examines what happens to your body when you reduce calories from whole foods resulting in a reduction of essential nutrients and energy for the system to function effectively.
2. How it effects the body in the long term
So how do "calorie restrictive" diets work?
Basically on the simple principle of less calories (or energy) coming in as opposed to more energy being used. This leaves the body in a negative energy balance state which results in using current sources including body fat.
Success from that concept makes sense in theory and often achieves positive results on the scale but unfortunately it's generally short term because the body is a lot more complicated and smarter than that simple theory.
Therefore to explain why it's essential to look deeper into the body's mechanisms for creating a natural balance or homeostasis.
After cutting calories the miracle of the body's internal wisdom sends a message saying "slow down the master regulator of metabolism" - otherwise known as the thyroid gland.
An under-active thyroid is one of the reasons people cannot achieve a permanent optimal weight. The thyroid gland reduces the energy production to cope with the reduced energy input which consequently slows down many of the bodies systems which we experience as fatigue.
Another problem in cutting calories is the body uses existing muscles for energy which further reduces metabolism as muscle is an active tissue. Losing muscle mass gives people a false sense of fat-loss as muscle weighs more than fat and can make the scale lie.
In short, the drastic approach of severely cutting calories does not work in the long run in the effort to lose body fat!
So what does?
3. 5 keys to permanent and healthy fat-loss
In my experience long term success comes from controlling metabolism through a synergy.
Synergy can be described as "the interaction of two or more agents or forces so that their combined effect is greater than the sum of their individual effects."
I believe firmly that the success of an individual's health and fitness goals depends on the following synergy: the need for muscle mass, cardio-respiratory exercise in moderation, supportive nutrition as part of an overall healthy lifestyle that includes the right amount of water and sleep.
· The need for muscle. Muscle is an active tissue that needs fuel. It's your friend if you want to lose body fat by increasing your metabolism. Did you get that? Muscle helps you to lose fat. Does it mean you have to end up with a body like Arnold Schwarzenegger, ladies? No, activities like circuits, Yoga and Pilates develop muscle. Furthermore after the age of 30 our muscles shrink so it is imperative to regularly maintain or build them.
· Cardio in moderation. It is important however not to overdo the cardio (e.g. cross trainer or jogging), as this can lead to a decrease in muscle mass which are your fat burners. I am not saying Cardio is a bad thing, as it allows nutrients to be transported to the cells via the bloodstream. When fat is released from storage centers (adipose cells) it travels through the bloodstream to be "burned". But if there is a decrease in muscle mass, the body's ability to burn fat is also decreased. I recommend short duration cardio to limit the possibility of losing muscle.
· Eat to boost metabolism which means minimising simple sugar and refined carbohydrates intake, but consuming frequent meals consisting of proteins (meat, fish, chicken), complex carbohydrates (starches- brown rice), fibrous carbohydrates (vegetables), and essential fatty acids (olive oil). By eating every 3 hours metabolism increases and your body basically says I don't need to store this as fat as I get food regularly. (1)
· Drink plenty of water. The body is made up of around 75% water. Water is crucial when it comes to health by playing a role in transporting nutrients, digestion, elimination of waste products, detoxification, etc. Processes that if not balanced can directly lead to weight gain.
For example body fat is a great place to store toxins by pushing them away from the vital organs. Only until an individual has detoxified will the body freely give up body fat as it naturally protects itself from circulating dangerous toxins through the blood stream.
Beware a "dry mouth" is NOT a safe judge of thirst, it is actually a sign that the body is well into dehydration.
How much water should we drink each day? That depends on several factors including your weight and how active you are. But without complicating it with litres or ounces my rule is start the day with 2 big glasses of water and then take a water bottle everywhere you go sipping throughout, aiming for at least 8 glasses consumed for the day. Additionally hydration comes from pure water not soft drinks, juice, coffee, tea, processed milk or alcohol. These drinks require much more water than they actually contain to process, detoxify and pass them out of the system, and lead to further dehydration. To maximize absorption add a pinch of unrefined sea salt. (2)
An excellent text outlining the need for water is called "Your body's many cries for water" by Dr. Batmanghelidj.
· Get sufficient sleep. Sleep is another factor that has huge ramifications on the body. I consider sleep a major tipping point as many times I have personally seen clients only achieve results until they get to bed earlier and sleep a little longer.
It may seem far fetched but we are often sick, overweight, diabetic, and suffering from disease because we don't sleep enough. The invention of the light bulb brought with it a host of chronic health concerns. In 1910 the average adult slept 9-10 hours per night for over 4,000 hours yearly. Currently we are lucky to get 7 hours for an average of 2,555 hours yearly. (2)
Dr. Shahrad Taheri, a leading sleep expert reported that those who are sleep-deprived have the "same hormonal balance in their brain as someone who has been on a low calorie diet for three months". Which as previously discussed puts the body in a starvation state triggering a negative hormonal change, potentially leading to obesity. (3)
The earlier you get to bed the better. Aim to be asleep by 10.30 pm and to obtain a minimum of 8 hours sleep in complete darkness. The body is programmed to perform tasks at certain times. One example is the gallbladder which detoxifies between 10 pm - 1 am. A good rule is every hour of sleep before midnight is worth two hours after in terms of recovery and repair.
To find out how to improve your sleep patterns check out the November issue of Peak Performance article called "22 Ways to a good nights sleep". (4)4. Conclusion
So next time you have that fat-loss thought don't set yourself up for failure, be smart and think synergy: need for muscle, cardio in moderation, supportive eating, plenty of water, and sleep.
Your 3d Coach
(1) Burton, Strong beginnings - success through synergy, 2005
(2) Hittner, Sleep, Water & Food. www.ptonthenet.com, 2003
(3) Fletcher, Stay in bed if you want to stay slim say scientists, Express Newspapers, 2006
(4) Burton, 22 ways to a good night's sleep, 2005
By Craig Burton BSc (Sports Science) NASM PES, CHEK NLC2
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