The primary reason that people fail to achieve their nutrition and fitness goals is that they are misinformed. You can’t get through a half-hour of TV without seeing advertisements for the latest “Ab-Gadget,” or bottles of “Thermo-Fat-Demolisher.” You’ve seen amazing success stories in magazines from customers of weight-loss companies. You’ll even see electrodes in a briefcase that you can connect to your muscles to make them contract a hundred times in five minutes. All these things have one thing in common; a little message somewhere on the screen or page that reads “Results Not Typical.” Now, I’m not saying that you’re foolish enough to think that the models touting these products and programs look like they do because of those products and programs…but they do look good, don’t they? Could it possibly be that easy? Nope. Sorry. But there are ways…
I am going to share a secret with you -- one of the many things that the marketers of fitness fantasy hope you don’t know. I’m going to tell you why eating less will not help you lose fat. The first thing I need to do is distinguish between weight loss and fat loss. Technically, weight is simply a measure of mass relative to gravity. Fat, on the other hand, is an actual substance that you have some control over. This is an important distinction. The ‘weight loss industry’ is built around lowering the number on the scale, not changing your ratio of lean muscle to bodyfat. Typically, most diet programs achieve their goals by systematically decreasing the daily amount of calories consumed.
It is crucial, however, to recognize that the body requires food. Not just to survive, but to thrive and be fit! Food is the energy source for the body. If you are involved with any plan that eliminates carbohydrates or all fats, or simply asks you to eat substantially less, you’ll likely gain fat in the long term. Low or reduced calorie diets, which ultimately encompass the majority of popular diets, will, in the short term, result in a loss of scale weight. Of course, so will removing your shoes.
When the amount of fuel – food – that the body gets is decreased, the body adjusts to deal with the fuel shortage. In the first week to ten days of a decreased-calorie plan the body can give up between 5-10 pounds of water. This looks great on the scale…and it allows weight-loss companies to tell dieters that their ‘plan’ is working. The weight loss will then level off, and the next step in most dieters’ minds is, since eating less ‘worked’ the first time, to decrease calories again. However, there are some other adaptations that the body makes that most dieters are not aware of.
In a calorie-deprived state, the body is designed to do what it must to survive. This survival mode tells the body to secure as much fuel as possible for daily functions like breathing and keeping the heart pumping. The longest lasting, slowest burning, and most concentrated source of fuel in the body is stored bodyfat. If the body’s fuel supply – caloric intake -- is constantly limited, the body will not only lock down already-stored fat, but it will also create digestive enzymes to make you crave fat!
More damaging still, the body will decrease its overall requirement for energy by eliminating muscle tissue. That’s so important that it bears repeating: if you decrease your caloric intake, the body will decrease its overall requirement for energy by eliminating muscle tissue. Muscle tissue is the most metabolically active tissue in the human body; it requires the most calories to perform its daily functions. However, skeletal muscle, which drives the metabolism, is sacrificed in a low-calorie environment. The body has the capacity to break muscle tissue down into amino acids and use them for fuel. The more muscle is eliminated, the fewer calories the body needs, and the lower the metabolism.
This is why dieters usually gain back more weight than they lose when they can’t stand to starve any longer. The metabolism is so diminished that it can’t keep up with even the healthiest of foods. This is where the ‘yo-yo diet’ gets its name; dieters lose scale weight by decreasing calories, then lose a bit more by decreasing again, but eventually they feel as if they’re starving (they are!) and decide to ‘just eat really healthy foods.’ The body is now primed to burn very few calories, and store every bit of available fat…so the dieter ultimately gains back all that was lost and more. It is easy to see, then, why it is attractive to have more lean muscle…more muscle means the body needs – and burns -- more calories on a daily basis. Simply put, more muscle increases your metabolism.
Changing the ratio of lean muscle to fat requires a combination of resistance training, moderate aerobic conditioning, and healthy, supportive nutrition. Nutrition gleaned from whole food sources is best, but some nutritional supplementation can also be helpful. My personal advice for simple supplementation is to take a multivitamin and fish oil daily, and, if you find yourself craving something sweet between meals or before bedtime, a protein- or meal-replacement mix (I prefer chocolate mocha) to mix with water, or almond or rice milk..
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