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Seven Crucial Steps for Long Term Weight Loss
1. Food Intake – How much do you need?
First of all, you need to understand that in order to begin losing weight you must consume fewer calories than your body burns in a period of a day. The bottom line is, regardless of the confusion brought on by the media and industry, calories still count!
Your body weight is largely a product of total daily caloric intake minus total daily energy expenditure (TDEE). So, to lose weight, your daily food consumption measured in calories must be less than TDEE. In other words a deficit in calories must be created to trigger a reduction in body weight. Although this is a simple concept, it’s not easily accomplished. And statistics prove it: approximately 50% of Americans are obese and two thirds of Americans are borderline obese.
It doesn’t have to be that way, however. People need to be educated with respect to health, nutrition and weight loss maintenance. Knowledge is what we need. Knowledge is power, and with power comes change.
One simple guideline for losing weight is to adjust your daily caloric intake to equal ten times your weight in pounds. For example if you weigh 180 lbs. your total daily food intake should equal 1800 calories. This would create a sufficient deficit in calories for gradual weight loss. This method will not work, however, for people who are extremely obese.
Another efficient method of losing weight at a reasonably comfortable pace (for any person) is to reduce your total daily food intake by 500 calories. One pound equals 3500 calories and at the rate of 500 calories per day, it translates to 1 pound of weight loss per week. This is a sensible, realistic weight loss pace and more likely to succeed in the long term. On the other hand, diet programs based on more extreme calorie restriction are very stressful physically and mentally, which is why they result in quick but temporary weight reduction. Not to mention the high cost of many weight loss plans that include pre packaged food, unnecessary meal replacements, supplements and so on.
A more accurate method to figure out how many calories you actually need (to maintain your weight) is to take your body weight and multiply it by 11. Say you weigh 160 pounds and you are completely sedentary.
160 x 11 = 1760 (calories). So you would need 1760 calories if you sat around all day with very minimal movement to remain at 160 pounds.
Now to go a step further, we have to determine your metabolic factor. There are 3 main categories for metabolism. Slow metabolism is when you have a very difficult time losing weight. Medium metabolism means you don’t have difficulty losing weight – if you really try. And Fast metabolism is when it seems no matter how much you eat you can’t gain weight. Don’t I wish I had that problem. See the table below.
Slow Metabolism (%)
Under 30 Years of Age – 30%
Between 30-40 Years of Age – 25%
Over 40 Years of Age – 20%
Medium Metabolism (%)
Under 30 Years of Age – 40%
Between 30-40 Years of Age – 35%
Over 40 Years of Age – 30%
Fast Metabolism (%)
Under 30 Years of Age – 50%
Between 30-40 Years of Age – 45%
Over 40 Years of Age – 40%
Let’s continue with the above example (1760 cal.) and let’s say you’re 35 years old and have a slow metabolism. The corresponding metabolic rate factor would be 25%. 1760 x 25% = 440 calories – which means you would need an additional 440 calories. Your total daily calories would therefore equal 2200 (1760 + 440). In other words, you would require 2200 calories per day to maintain your present weight.
Now to lose weight at a comfortable pace (as mentioned above), subtract 500 calories from this total. That would equal 1700 calories (2200 – 500). Consequently, in order to lose one pound per week you would require 1700 daily calories from food. The next step would be to keep track of all your calories. To do that you will need to know the calorie content of the foods you eat. A calorie counter or calculator is where you enter the type of food product, the amount (in grams or ounces) and it calculates the calorie content for you. You can find them at many websites online for free. One that I found to work fairly well, which also contains a huge selection of foods including items from fast food restaurant chains, is at http://www.caloriesperhour.com/
To increase your rate of weight loss even further you can raise your exercise level. One way to accomplish this is by participating in a program of regular physical activity or if you already are, simply increase the exercise intensity level. See tip number 6 and 7 in this article for more information on physical activity and weight loss.
2. Diet Composition
Your diet must consist of foods from all food groups (e.g. meat, dairy, vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts/seeds, legumes). If you’re a vegetarian, you can still get sufficient amounts of protein from legumes, soy bean products and whole grains. In a French study, evidence suggested that diet variety was one of the reasons French people were less obese and had fewer occurrences of heart disease than Americans. Another important factor was the diversity in their diet. Overall, the French diet contained more foods from all food groups and consisted of more types of food and food products compared to the American diet. (1)
Furthermore, the French seemed to enjoy their food more. Their meals were like special gatherings, celebrations, meant to be enjoyed by all. They typically didn’t eat very fast. They seemed to enjoy their food more; it’s as if time stood still during their meals. This method of eating accomplishes several things. For one, eating slower and being more relaxed during meals increases chewing time. In addition, by slowing down the pace of a meal and chewing more, you are more likely to get a feeling of fullness while eating less quantities of food. In contrast, North Americans, very often eat on the run.
The other benefit of the French eating style is that it aids the digestive process by reducing workload and improving the efficiency of nutrient distribution throughout the body. An increase in food variety and diversity decreases the percentage of bad foods (saturated/trans fats, unrefined carbohydrates) present in your digestive system. Moreover, increased fiber content from fresh foods (fruits vegetables and whole grains) also sweeps up and pushes out bad foods quicker, leaving them less time to be absorbed by the intestines and therefore becoming less harmful. As a result risks of developing chronic diseases, such as various forms of cancer and heart related diseases are also reduced. (2)
3. Quantity and Frequency of Meals
Does the size and quantity of your meals really matter? You’ve probably heard many times over that it’s best to have smaller more frequent meals throughout the day. In other words snacking is preferable to gorging. Is this fact or fiction? Well, the fact of the matter is that scientific research with respect to this area of study has been largely contradicting. There really is no overwhelming evidence to support the idea that increased frequency and decreased portion size of meals is associated with weight loss efficiency. This eating method, however, has been shown to benefit athletic performance in trained athletes. (3)
A study with ice skaters suggested that meals taken throughout the day to correspond with periods of physical demand associated with training, help to maximize performance. Keep in mind that improving athletic performance in athletes is one thing, but increasing the rate of weight loss is something quite different. Although, when taken to extremes, it is probably better to eat 8-10 smaller meals per day than 1 large one for example.
As it turns out, the customary three meals a day method is just fine. There just hasn’t been enough convincing evidence to prove that it has a negative effect on weight loss. Eating 5-6 meals a day is also fine. Changing to a more frequent eating style, however, may cause you to over eat, if you’re not careful, especially at the beginning. This is because, subconsciously, you’re used to having larger food portions at meal time. So, it’s important to keep track of the food quantity of every meal, until you get accustomed to the new way of eating.
4. Don’t Skip Meals
Ever heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? Well it’s true. The one meal you should never skip is breakfast. It is the meal that sets the tone for your metabolism. When you miss breakfast your metabolism responds by slowing down. Your body receives signals of famine from the brain and switches to energy conservation mode. This means rather than burning calories the body gets stingier with them.
The other thing that happens, when missing breakfast is, by the time lunch time comes around you feel starved and you almost always end up overeating. And as a result of this added pressure on your digestive system, most of your energy gets used up as your body works hard to digest and absorb all that food. Needles to say, you won’t feel very productive when you return to work, a feeling which may last for the next few hours.
Another important benefit of not skipping meals is that your blood sugar level is more stable, which keeps insulin in check – reducing unnecessary fat storage and ensuring that you have adequate energy levels required to perform your daily tasks with less physical and psychological stress.
It was thought that drinking plenty of water throughout the day was a crucial part of a good weight loss strategy; the theory was that an adequate amount of water – 8 eight-ounce glasses per day – gives you a feeling of fullness which reduces periods of hunger; and the less you feel hungry the less you are going to snack – which translates to fewer calories. Recent studies have suggested, however, that choosing foods with high water content like fruits and vegetables and blending water into meals like soup has a greater effect on satiety, than simply just drinking water. And that it may result in a reduction of total daily calories.
In other words, including water rich foods like watermelon and other fruits and vegetables, fruit juice, and soups in your diet, is more effective with respect to satiety than relying on just drinking water. As a result, you wouldn’t need to drink 8 glasses of water a day, if you were getting an adequate supply from your diet. In fact, drinking 8 glasses of water per day is a misconception. This number was originally reported by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States Food and Nutrition Board. They also mentioned, however, in the same report, that the majority of water people need comes from food. (4)
The recommendation for a healthy individual is to drink one cup of water or juice with every meal. (ibid)
It’s also important to keep in mind that the human body is made up of 60-70% water. All our organs consist of a lot of water. Blood is mainly composed of water. So it makes sense to ensure that you’re always getting an adequate supply. Here are some functions of water:
– regulates your body temperature
– transports nutrients to your organs
– transports vital oxygen to your cells
– removes waste from your body
– protects all your organs and joints
As you know, exercise participation is an important factor in weight loss and weight loss maintenance. In addition to weight reduction here are 20 important health benefits of physical activity.
1. Increases thermogenesis (increase in body temperature to burn calories).
2. Raises basal metabolic rate increasing calorie expenditure even during periods of rest or sleep.
3. Releases natural stimulants in the body helping to improve overall psychological condition. In other words it may alter your mood to a more positive state. (5)
4. Relieves stress and reduces the risk of stress related chronic diseases. (ibid)
5. Improves sex function
6. Lowers High Blood pressure levels.
7. May increase levels of good cholesterol (HDL)
8. Lowers elevated blood cholesterol levels.
9. Improves blood circulation.
10. Increases the level of oxygen uptake (VO2 max) and improves endurance. Vo2 max varies directly with the level of physical fitness.
11. Increases lean body mass (muscle) while reducing body fat – improving body composition and therefore improving physical appearance.
12. Improves self esteem.
13. Causes a natural tendency to be more conscious about eating healthier and therefore may improve a person’s diet.
14. Strengthens the musculoskeletal system protecting the body from unexpected physical shock.
15. Strengthens the body’s immune system and therefore slows down the aging process.
16. Strengthens bones and fights against osteoporosis – especially important for post – menopausal women. (6)
17. Strengthens the body’s immune system and therefore slows down the aging process.
18. Helps to fight against chronic diseases including many forms of cancers and heart disease. (7) (8)
19. When combined with stretching it may help to reduce lower back pain.
20. Improves physical condition in pregnant women making it easier to cope with the trials of childbirth: It increases energy levels; helps to reduce back pain; improves circulation and reduces swelling and development of varicose veins; tones muscles making it easier for the body to return to pre-pregnancy condition. You should check with your doctor, however, before you begin exercising during pregnancy. (9)
How Much exercise is Necessary for Weight Loss?
It depends on your goals and your body condition. Here are some questions you should ask yourself:
– How much weight do you want to lose?
– What’s Your Age
– How much do you weigh?
– What is your physical condition?
– What is your daily caloric intake?
– Will you combine exercise with caloric restriction?
If you’re overweight, by more than 20 pounds, you need to participate in a program that includes diet restriction (reduce total daily calories by 500 cal.) and regular exercise (6-7 days a week). You should exercise for at least 30 continuous minutes – for best results increase the duration (up to 60 minutes). Your target intensity should be between 65-75% of your maximum heart rate – in other words, a comfortably vigorous level of intensity. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that a good weight loss program should consist of daily caloric expenditure of 300-500 calories from exercise. (10)
How do you calculate your heart rate? An easy formula for figuring out your maximum heart rate works by simply subtracting your age from 220. If you’re 40 years old, for example, your maximum heart rate is 180 beats per minute (220-40). To train at 70% of your maximum heart rate, simply multiply 180 by 70 and divide by 100, which equals 126 beats per minute. Therefore in order to train at an intensity level of 70% of maximum heart rate your training heart rate should be 126 beats per minute. How do you calculate your heart rate during exercise? Simply take your pulse by counting the number of beats over a 10 second period. Multiply that figure by 6 and you have the number of beats for a 1 minute period – that’s your training heart rate. Before you begin exercising, however, get clearance from your doctor, especially if you’re a beginner.
7. Exercise for Weight Loss Maintenance
Once you reach a desirable body weight, you can switch your exercise routine to weight loss maintenance mode. That means you can reduce the frequency of your workouts to 3-4 times a week. The duration and the intensity should remain the same – 60 minutes at a comfortably vigorous level. You will notice as you reach higher levels of fitness, exercise intensity must be turned up a notch to keep the workout challenging and also to burn more calories.
What types of activities should you participate in? There are many forms of exercise that are efficient in producing adequate weight loss and fitness. Some of them include aerobics, step or boxing aerobics, cycling, spinning, step-climbing, training on elliptical machines, cross country skiing (real or machine version), in line skating, ice skating, swimming, jogging, skate boarding, and sports like basketball, hockey, and soccer. There are many more. The important thing is to choose one that you’ll really enjoy. This way, your chances of sticking with it in the long run will be much higher.
Have fun, get in shape, lose those extra pounds and keep them off!
1. http://www.sciencedaily.com, “Healthy diets need fat, according to new study”, retrieved 22 June 2005 from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1998/04/980424031929.htm
2. http://www.ajcn.org, “Cereals, legumes, and chronic disease risk reduction: evidence from epidemiologic studies”, retrieved 15 August 2005 from http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/abstract/70/3/451S
3. http://www.jacn.org, “Contribution of Meals and Snacks to Nutrient Intake of Male and Female Elite Figure Skaters During Peak Competitive Season”, retrieved 19 May 2004 from http://www.jacn.org/cgi/content/full/21/2/114
4. http://www.drmirkin.com, “HOW MUCH WATER DO YOU NEED?”, retrieved 30 August 2005 from http://www.drmirkin.com/nutrition/9942.html
5. http://www.issponline.org/documents/physactstatement.pdf, “Physical Activity and Psychological Benefits – an ISSP Position Stand”, retrieved 22 August 2005 from http://www.issponline.org/documents/physactstatement.pdf
6. http://www.osteoporosis.ca, “Physical Activity: An Important Factor in Preventing Osteoporosis”, retrieved 22 August 2005 from http://www.osteoporosis.ca/english/About%20Osteoporosis/Physical%20Activity/default.asp?s=1
7. http://www.americanheart.org, “Physical Activity”, retrieved 25 August 2005 from http://www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=4563
8. http://www.cancer.gov, “Questions and Answers: Physical Activity and Cancer”, retrieved 25 August 2005 from http://www.cancer.gov/newscenter/pressreleases/PhysicalActivity
9. http://health.discovery.com, “The Benefits of Pregnancy Exercise”, retrieved 26 August 2005 from [http://health.discovery.com/centers/pregnancy/americanbaby/exercisebenefits.html]
10. http://www.findarticles.com, “Exercise, the cornerstone to weight loss – Tech Brief”, retrieved 27 August 2005 from http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0675/is_5_20/ai_92840206#continue
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