How To Lose Fat

Obesity is an ever increasing problem in this country. 67% of Americans are either overweight or obese (very overweight).  Research has increasingly linked obesity to heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and other health problems. Many of us either need to or would like to reduce our bodyfat levels. What is the best strategy?

There are numerous dietary plans that are touted as the surefire way to lose fat. A new one appears monthly. The Cabbage Soup Diet. The Beverly Hills Diet. The Zone. The Paleolithic Diet. Sugar Busters. Weight loss centers such as Jenny Craig are raking in billions of dollars.  We constantly hear about a new pill or drink that will literally shrink the fat off of us. How can there be so many obese individuals with all these diet programs, weight loss centers, weight loss drinks, powders, food bars, and pills?

Is one dietary approach superior to another? Yes and no. To start with, the biggest reason why most dietary approaches don't work is that nobody actually follows them. Virtually all of these programs have one thing in common--they involve a lowered calorie intake. And ultimately, burning off more calories (through exercise and other activities) than you take in will result in weight loss. The biggest issues are:

1) Will I feel good enough on this program to want to continue? and
2) Will this program result in loss of bodyfat rather than lean tissue (muscle)? and
3) If I lose weight on this program, will I be able to keep it off?

Let's discuss these in order:

1) Will I feel good enough on this program to want to continue?

You will likely feel sluggish and unhappy on some dietary programs and energetic and happy on others. We each have different metabolic systems and will respond differently to different diets. Being on the right diet for you is at least the first step in trying to stay on it and experience long term weight/bodyfat loss. This may require some experimentation. One of the variables you will need to experiment with is the balance of protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

The Eat Right for Your Blood Type program is one attempt to match groups of individuals into one of four categories based on your blood type (O, A, etc.), with dietary recommendations for each type. The author, Peter J. D'Adamo, should be given credit for recognizing that we all have metabolic differences and will each thrive on a different program.  However, there hasn't been enough scientific research to substantiate this particular program and some of the conclusions don't seem to ring true. And it is very impractical to follow this unusual program. 

I recommend that you first try the low glycemic carbohydrate, low saturated fat approach, since it is the one most consistent with good health.  This means trying to keep your saturated (animal) fat intake to a minimum, while making sure to consume daily some healthy fats--omega 3 and monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, canola oil, flax seed, nuts, nut butter, avocado, and fatty fish such as salmon.  Avoid high glycemic carbohydrates, such as white bread, white potatoes, french fries, chips, most breakfast cereals, cakes, muffins, cookies, candy, soda and other sweetened drinks, and other sugar snacks.  Limit your grains, like wheat bread, rice, pasta, yams.  Stick with whole, least processed grains that are higher in fiber.  Try to consume vegetables, and a lean source of protein (fish, chicken, turkey, etc.) at each meal.  Whole fruit is good, while fruit juice should be avoided or diluted.  Drink plenty of purified water. 


2) Will this program result in loss of body fat rather than lean tissue (muscle)?

Some diets are so extreme that they result in a loss of muscle rather than fat. This is bad, since muscle is metabolically active and the less muscle you have, the fewer calories you burn, even at rest.  Eating lots of protein will not guarantee that you will not lose muscle.  If your body is too much into starvation mode, it will cannibalize your muscle tissue for energy.

The key is that you need to take in fewer calories than are needed, but not too few.  This is why an effective weight loss program is gradual.  Quick weight loss is unhealthy and invariably results in a loss of lean muscle tissue along with fat.  It is estimated that if you lose more than 2-3 lbs per week that you are losing some muscle, ie., you are losing too fast.  

An effective weight loss program needs to include exercise.  A regular exercise program will make it easier to maintain your lean tissue (muscle), while losing body fat.  You should be doing aerobic exercise (walking, running, biking, or using a stationary ergometers (bike, treadmill, elliptical cross trainer, stair climber, etc.) for at least 30 minutes, at least three times per week.  Aerobic exercise signals your body to use your stored fat for energy.  

Your program should also include at least two days per week of resistance (weight) training to encourage your body to maintain and increase your muscle tissue.  Having more muscle in the right places will make you look more firm and shapely.  And more muscle will speed up your metabolism, which means burning more calories even at rest.  Without such an exercise program, you will lose approximately 1/2 lb. of muscle per year after the age of 30 due to lack of activity. 


3) If I lose weight on this program, will I be able to keep it off?

If you follow an extreme dietary program, such as a very low calorie diet (eg., less than 1000 calories/day), you will be unlikely to stay on such a program for very long.  Once you halt this program, you will most likely gain back the weight that you lost while on the program.  This is a common scenario.  Large numbers of people yo yo back and forth between being heavier, and then losing the weight, and then gaining it back again.  This is more unhealthy than being overweight.  And it results in a slowing of your metabolic rate.  If you lose weight on a gradual program over a longer period of time, it is healthier and you will be more likely to keep it off.  Your exercise and dietary program should be a change of lifestyle for the rest of your life, rather than a diet to be followed for a period of time.