In an ideal world, we’d be able to snap our fingers and discover some magical solution for weight loss – an instantly successful exercise regime or a miracle eating plan that would without a doubt guarantee the rapid shedding of kilos. Unfortunately, however, we live in the real world, where obesity is becoming increasingly problematic and maintaining a healthy weight is genuinely hard work.
Despite the massive influx of diet plans that continue to saturate today’s media; often endorsed by assorted A-List celebrities, the honest truth is that the path to successful weight loss is a lengthy process, one that requires a great deal of personal dedication and self-motivation. Everyone knows how important it is to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and go for a run every now and then, but few people actually ‘work’ to improve their diets and keep up their fitness levels by implementing these ideas in their everyday lives. Hence, above all it’s important to be aware of the facts and be proactive about making the necessary changes to create a healthier, happier you.
Physical Exercise – The Simple Truth
Engaging in regular sessions of physical exercise is, as is widely known, one of the best ways in which a person can improve their overall health and work towards losing weight. However, for many, the idea of vigorous physical activity can often seem like a burden to be dreaded and endured, which partially accounts for its lack of application and effectiveness. Laziness has a tendency of leading to an avoidance of exercise like lengthy runs or intensive sessions at the gym, especially after an exhausting and mentally-taxing day at work.
While it’s true that working nine to five can make physical exercise seem less than appealing, what most people don’t realise is that a little goes a long way and it is possible to keep active on an everyday basis. For instance, simple measures like taking the stairs instead of the lift at work every day, or popping out for a breath of fresh air and a brisk walk around the block every couple of hours surprisingly adds up during the course of a week.
The Australian Department of Health and Aging recommends that adults looking to maintain their weight should attempt at least thirty minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, if not all, days, while those seeking to actively lose weight should also partake in a higher level of regular vigorous activity to achieve greater health and fitness benefits. It’s important to remember that increased physical activity not only contributes to more rapid weight loss, but also greatly decreases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
If you’re having difficulty motivating yourself to engage in an exercise regime, the key is to change your outlook on the situation. Try the following steps:
- Don’t think of physical activity as a burdensome task; attempt to visualise it in a positive manner instead, focusing on the enjoyable aspects
- Find something that you genuinely enjoy doing that involves some form of physical movement; even something simple as gardening
- Social sports are a great way to expend energy in a friendly social setting, so engage in team sports such as basketball and soccer
- Popular choreographed workouts, such as Zumba, offer a fun alternative to uninspiring exercises at the gym
While boosting your metabolism helps you to lose weight, the actual physical processes of the metabolic system are more complex than that simple statement initially suggests. Metabolism, as defined by Australia’s Better Health Channel, encompasses all the chemical processes that occur inside the body; most notably those that break down the nutrients from our food consumption. Energy that comes from our daily food intake is used to build and repair the body, so when a person eats and drinks more kilojoules than their body needs, that excess is stored as fat.
The metabolic rate is the body’s total energy expenditure, comprised of three components: the thermic effect of food, the energy used during physical activity, and the basic metabolic rate (or BMR), the energy used at rest. The BMR, which accounts for a whopping 50-80 per cent of the body’s daily energy use, is determined by lean muscle mass, which takes a lot of energy to maintain. This is why regular physical activity is essential for weight loss, as increasing your lean muscle mass through exercise allows you to burn more energy, thereby decreasing the storage of fat within your body.
Increasing your lean muscle mass can result in inaccuracies when it comes to methods of weight measurement, so it is important that when implementing a new exercise regime, you don’t set too much store by weight systems such as the body mass index, or BMI. A person’s BMI estimates the ideal weight their body should be in numerical terms, but significantly this method fails to differentiate between body fat and muscle mass. Therefore, the results are only ever approximate, and often unsuitable for those have built up their muscle mass through regular vigorous physical exercise.
You Are What You Ate Yesterday!
The experts have spoken, folks, and it’s just as we expected! The official Australian dietary guideline, as compiled by the National Health and Medical Research Council, recommends that to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, adults should:
- Consume a wide range of nutritious food from five food groups, including fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and lean meats and poultry
- Limit their intake of foods that are processed, or high in sugar, salt, saturated fats and alcohol
- Drink plenty of water
The simple truth is that applying these guidelines to your daily food intake does make a vast difference in helping you work towards forming a healthy eating plan and attaining a healthy weight. Hence, the phrase “everything in moderation” is relevant here, as the key to having a balanced diet is ensuring you satisfy your body’s requirements for the proteins and nutrients provided by aforementioned five major food groups.
Understanding the needs of your individual body is also important when it comes to your daily food intake – for example, controlling your portion sizes so that you eat the right amount for your specific size and frame, as well as how active you are. Organising when and how often you eat during the day will also help your body to develop a routine and therefore improve the efficiency of the digestive system. It’s a good idea to eat small portions for dinner, so that your body isn’t forced to digest a large amount of food while you’re asleep and relatively immobile. It’s also advisable that you eat smaller meals spaced evenly throughout the day, rather than three heavy meals, which will benefit your metabolism.
The term “comfort eating” perfectly describes the way in which our moods can greatly influence our meal choices. We are most vulnerable to our cravings for unhealthy, processed foods during the times when we’re feeling sad, cranky, bored or anxious. It is during moments of stress in particular that the body releases the hormone cortisol, which triggers these cravings for sugary and fatty foods.
While unhealthy snacks can alleviate these tensions for a short time, the inevitable crash and burn our bodies suffer afterwards is an important reminder that what people actually need to soothe their mental and physical burdens is healthy and nutritious low GI foods. Try snacking on oranges, avocados and almonds, or create a delicious meal with spinach and oily fish such as salmon or tuna. All these foods are chockfull of vitamins and healthy fats that work to relieve stress and tension. Consuming them also provides the body with healthy energy and mood-boosting serotonin, as well as helping to regulate blood sugar and insulin levels.
Studies have shown that physical activity also helps to lessen the brain’s response to stress. A research team based at Princeton University discovered that exercise reorganises the brain so that neurons are released to prevent cells firing in the ventral hippocampus; a region of the brain that regulates anxiety. So whenever you’re feeling tense and under pressure, you can help to relieve that stress by taking some time out of your day to go for a short walk or run, or any other form of physical exercise you prefer. In other words, reach for the runners – not the fridge!
Caloric Restriction – More Than Just Hype
If you’re looking to lose weight and are having trouble finding an eating plan that works for you, caloric restriction is a method (albeit a controversial one) that has worked for many people. This is a dietary regimen that is based on low calorie intake, relative to an individual’s regular calorie intake. Studies have shown that consciously restricting calories and lowering food intake leads to an increased lifespan in a number of model organisms. More recently, scientists at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China have been researching the ways in which low calorie intake promotes a healthy gut microenvironment, allowing the growth of healthy bacteria such as lactobacillus and decreasing unhealthy pathogenic bacteria. Professor Liping Zhao, who led the research team, reported that restricting calories can positively alter the composition of the gut microbiota by up to thirty per cent.
If you think that lowering your calorie intake might be beneficial, there are a number of ways to approach it. Intermittent fasting has become increasingly popular in recent years, as its flexibility allows people to periodically lower their calorie intake without inhibiting their overall enjoyment of food. Many people choose a certain routine of intermittent fasting to suit their own schedules; some fast for the same two days every week, for example, while others prefer to skip certain meals every few days.
What intermittent fasting aims to do is reduce the hormone IGF-1 in the blood, which triggers the body to turn on reparative cells that protect against a variety of cancers and fatal diseases. Therefore, losing weight is just a by-product of this method; whereby the long-term health benefits for the body are the real goal. It doesn’t come as a surprise, therefore, that intermittent fasting has become so popular as a method of low calorie intake. Alongside regular physical activity, reducing the amount of calories you consume can help you work towards achieving not just a healthier body, but a healthier life.
Avoiding Fad Diets
In today’s celebrity-obsessed society, it’s easy to fall prey to the media’s breathless claims of amazing diets and weight loss programs that guarantee rapid results. Be wary, however – just because a photo of a bikini-clad actress appears alongside an article promoting the latest fad diet, doesn’t necessarily mean you can expect have the same results in only a matter of weeks!
Despite what gossip magazines would have you think, jumping from one diet craze to another, hoping that the next one will truly work, will only wreak chaos on your body. And while some fad diets may help you to initially lose weight fast, keeping the weight off for an extended period of time inevitably becomes a struggle. The infamous Atkins diet, for example, has its advocates, sure, but health experts have raised concerns about the long-term dangers, pointing out the increased risk of heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Yo-yo dieting describes the condition of constantly fluctuating between weight loss and weight gain, a common problem experienced by dedicated followers of fad diets. This pattern is not only discouraging for those seeking permanent weight losses, but it is also extremely hazardous for overall health by greatly increasing the body’s chances of developing cardiovascular disease. If you’re truly serious about improving your health and building up your body’s defences, as well as losing weight over the long term, the important thing is to focus on the essentials: having a nutritious well-rounded diet, eating healthy food, and engaging in regular exercise.
While dieting can be extremely hazardous for the body, there’s no doubt it also can have a powerful, and at times detrimental, effect on our mind and self-esteem. Often our perception of our own self-worth is, sadly, dependent on our physical appearances, and fruitlessly seeking a way in which to achieve instant and drastic weight loss can be very disheartening, and prompt people to fall into unhealthy habits when it comes to eating.
Studies have shown that dieting is the single most important risk factor in developing an eating disorder, and that many dieters quickly begin to exhibit unhealthy attitudes towards food, often losing their natural ability to distinguish whether or not they are hungry or full.
Having a healthy mindset is essential when it comes to having a healthy body and weight. The best way to actively work towards losing weight is to not concentrate solely on that purpose. Instead, you should prioritize the importance of your overall health, and above all, genuinely want to improve your body, mind and spirit.
Final Word: Genes
At the end of the day, losing weight (and more importantly, keeping it off) is a genuinely difficult and lengthy process. A variety of external and internal factors influence successful weight loss, and when it all starts to seem like an exercise in futility, one argument that people resort to is genetics. The idea is that certain people are genetically predisposed to be heavier than others, and thus have a much harder time losing weight. The FTO gene, or “fat gene”, has been a controversial topic in the past, and research has shown that our genes do have an impact on weight loss and weight gain. More specifically, it’s been proven that FTO deficiency does protect against obesity.
However, while this internal factor is undoubtedly relevant, the idea that genetics alone is to blame for a person’s dress size discounts the far more significant external factors that influence weight loss. A study conducted by the Lund University Diabetes Centre found that those people who are genetically predisposed to gain weight are only at a disadvantage if their diets are high in fat. Otherwise, these individuals are no more likely to be overweight, or to have issues losing weight, than someone without the FTO gene.
So as convenient as it would be, genes can’t honestly be blamed for everything. It all boils down to the same idea: a proactive attitude and a positive mind-set are the most important tools to have in your arsenal when it comes to losing weight, keeping it off, and boosting your body’s health and vitality. When all is said and done, there’s no easy shortcut to successful weight loss – but with a little luck and a lot of determination (as well as plenty of healthy food, water, and exercise of course!), you really can make a difference to your health and happiness.
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