We are constantly hearing about the growing epidemic of obesity in this country. At the same time, we’re bombarded with the latest fad diets and weight loss products. We’re told to eat less fat, then high fat-low carb—no wonder we’re confused.
We recently reviewed several products that can help you lose weight. But we wanted to take this one step further and discuss a rational approach to weight management.
First of all, please notice that we didn’t say weight loss. Loss implies that what you had was something you wanted, and you are likely to look for it until you get it back. What happens on most weight loss diets? Right, you gain the weight back.
So for starters, let’s start by calling this process weight management. Weight management has two phases: weight reduction (you are lowering your weight, not losing it) and weight maintenance. What we hope to do is give you a framework to help you achieve your weight reduction goals, and to help you manage your weight with the maintenance phase.
I was a fat kid. No other way to put it. I have some pictures of me in a baseball uniform that show the fabric was screaming. The coach took one look and I became the catcher. I could really block the plate. So I have had to struggle with this all of my life. Being on the high school track team (shot-putter, of course) helped me keep things under control a bit. But when I hit college, I gained the “freshman fifteen” (or 25 in my case) and hit a high of 225 lbs, on my 5’ 11″ frame. It wasn’t a pretty site.
Over the years, I was able to get down to the low 200, high 190 range, but not without a struggle, and not without bouncing back up higher. I stayed between 200 and 205 for a while, and never really felt comfortable, and never felt good about my weight. Then three years ago, I started uncovering some basic truths about weight reduction that have helped me get down to 180 to 185 pounds, and I’ve been there for a year.
I feel good about my health, feel good about myself. I went to my 20-year high school reunion last November, and the comments about how good I looked never stopped. It was great, and has inspired me to share some thoughts with you about how you can achieve permanent and lasting weight reduction.
Part 1. It’s all in your head.
One of the most important aspects of weight reduction is the expectation of what you hope to achieve. This encompasses the development of an ideal body image which you need to visualize, as well as the setting of realistic weight reduction goals. By visualizing your ideal body image, I’m speaking about firmly implanting in your mind a mental picture of what you want to look like when the weight reduction phase is over, as you move into the weight maintenance phase.
Some people scoff at this notion, but some of the most successful people have used this method to achieve great success in sports, business and health. One great example is Bruce Jenner, the Olympic Decathlon champion. Bruce had pictures of himself winning events in the decathlon and winning the gold medal which he looked at every night before he went to bed, and first thing when he woke up in the morning. He was programming his mind for this success, and it became an expectation. Once your mind has an expectation that’s clear, it will help you make decisions and choices that will help you meet your goal.
You must also set realistic weight reduction goals; this is necessary to keep the process moving and avoid discouragement. Motivation is a key factor in weight reduction: you have to know why you want to do it. Is it to improve your health, fit in to new clothes, or some other reason? Whatever it is, your goal of how much you want to reduce your weight must be tied to a clear reason and a firmly implanted mental picture. When you then add realistic goals, you are setting yourself up for success.
Let’s say you want to reduce your weight by 25 pounds. (Again, we do not want it back so we are not going to lose it!) You see an ad in the paper that says you can lose 25 pounds in one month (the ad wants you to lose the weight, so that you find it again and use their diet products again). Ask yourself a question: how long did it take me to gain that weight? 6 months, 1 year, six years or more may be your answer. If you weighed 175 pounds in high school at age 18 and now at age 40 you weigh 200, you gained that 25 pounds in 22 years. Just sort of snuck up on you, didn’t it? Do you honestly expect that you will be able to lose that 25 pounds in 30 days if it took you 22 years to gain it? Of course not, but we try the diet anyway, and we fail. We fail because we have unrealistic expectations, bad goals, and poor methods.
Now let’s talk physics and math. The only way to reduce weight is to put the body into a negative calorie balance. What that means is simply that in order to reduce your weight, you have to burn up more energy than you take in (we are not talking about water weight, but fat weight). We need a certain amount of fuel each day to supply our bodies with energy to function. For an average person, it may be around 1800 to 2400 calories per day, depending on a lot of factors, but mostly size. A pound of fat contains approximately 4500 calories. Therefore, you must burn up more than, or take in fewer than 4500 calories to reduce your weight by that one pound. If you want to reduce your weight by 25 pounds, you must expend 112,500 more calories than you take in! If you want to do that in 30 days, you would have to have a daily negative calorie balance of 3750 calories. That’s totally unrealistic.
But say that you set a realistic weight reduction goal of one year for those 25 pounds. That is about 2 pounds per month. Burning those 2 pounds requires a 9000 calorie negative balance, or 300 fewer calories per day. Can you think of some food that you can skip that amounts to that much a day, even if you don’t change the way you eat? Of course you can. Do you see now why setting a goal of reducing your weight by 25 pounds in one year makes much more sense than trying to accomplish it in 30 or 60 or even 90 days? If you do it that way, you don’t have to battle the laws of physics.
Part 2: Calories
We have just discussed that in order to reduce your weight, you must be in a negative calorie balance. All foods, and most beverages, have calories. And while counting calories is enough to drive any person nutty, you have to have a general sense of what you are dealing with. Here’s a quiz: which has more calories: a peach or a candy bar? If you said candy bar, then you know what to chose next time for a snack- the peach. Pick healthy foods: fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats. These foods have fewer calories per portion size, so you can eat a little more, and still not be over the top in your calorie count. I don’t think you need to count calories, but use good judgement in food choices, and don’t stuff yourself.
What about the diet plans: Some have merit, and some will work for different people. No one plan will work for every person; we are all built just a bit differently. And if you need some structure to follow to help the process along during the weight reduction phase, that is perfectly fine. You want to replace your morning donut or bagel with one of Dr. Atkins’ drink mixes? By all means, go right ahead. I do believe that people tend to snack too much on carbohydrate, like bagels, pretzels and all those other low fat items. Our snacks need to be balanced; have a handful of almonds instead of pretzels once in a while. Watch the portions, go for quality, and avoid the junk.
Another word about carbohydrates. The highly refined, over processed carbohydrate that most of us eat as a staple is causing a lot of obesity in this country. It raises blood glucose, which increases insulin levels. Insulin is absolutely necessary to maintain proper blood sugar balance, but excess levels of insulin may be a large contributing factor to heart disease, hypertension, increased lipids and other chronic illness. And because it actually impairs the body’s ability to use its own fat stores, excess insulin actually inhibits weight loss.
The goal is to eat low glycemic carbohydrate, which cause less of a “spike” in insulin levels and avoid the adverse effects of excess insulin. There are several good books that discuss this theory, including Dr. Atkins Diet Revolution, Sugar Busters, and The Glycemic Revolution. Low carbohydrate diets such as Atkins, Sugar Busters and Protein Power make extensive use of this concept, and for some people can be very effective in helping in weight reduction. One thing you might find with the carbohydrate-restricted diets is that it will be difficult to keep up long term. This is where you knowledge of the glycemic index of carbohydrate is important. Substituting low glycemic carbohydrate for high glycemic will diversify your diet and avoid the high spike in insulin levels.
Part 3: The “E” word
The other thing that you need to do is to increase the amount of calories you are burning in a day. Cutting back on intake is good, but your body will reset to a lower caloric intake, and you will reduce your weight more slowly. So in addition to a healthy diet with good choices, you need to increase your caloric expenditure-you need to exercise. Get those calories to burn up, and boost your metabolism.
The best way to do this is with a combination of aerobic exercise and resistance training. The aerobic part, 20 to 30 minutes daily (or at least 4 times per week) will have many health benefits, and help you burn calories. The resistance training (i.e. weightlifting of any sort) will help you tone your body and add muscle. Did you know that for every pound of muscle you add to your body you will burn an extra 50 calories? This is because muscle is metabolically active and uses energy at a much higher level than fat, which just sort of sits there like a couch potato and expends no energy. Time for more math. 10 pounds of muscle equals 500 calories extra burned per day! Remember, we said in our example we said that if you burn an extra 300 calories each day you would reduce your weight by 25 pounds in a year. Well there you go.
If you don’t think you are ready to hit the gym just yet, don’t worry. Think small first. Start with a walk around the block. Every day. Increase the distance, go a little faster, do it for 30 minutes. Give yourself one month to get there. You’re not in a hurry; weight management is a marathon, not a sprint. And for the resistance training, start with push-ups, pull-ups, and deep knee bends. If you are ready to take the next step there are some very good home gym devices that are reasonably priced and can give you a good toning up. You don’t need to bulk up like a bodybuilder, just tone up. Resistance training can help strengthen bones, increasing bone density and cutting your risk of osteoporosis.
Part 4: You’ll get by with a little help from your friends
There is no doubt that at times we all need a little help. It might be controlling cravings at vulnerable times, or boosting the metabolism to help promote quicker weight loss. An ideal regimen will help with both of these problems.
Cravings can be tough to control, but watching the carbohydrate intake should help. Supplements can help, too. 5-Hydroxytryptophan has been shown to help curb appetite, especially for carbohydrate. It helps you feel full, decreasing your caloric intake. If cravings and willpower are a problem for you, this supplement can be a great help. Another helpful supplement is Hydroxycitric acid, found in Garcinia cambogia. This will also help curb appetite, and may impair the conversion of glucose to fat. Chromium is an important adjunct in weight loss, as it stabilizes blood sugar levels and helps promote lean muscle mass. Fiber, such as psyllium or glucomannan, with help fill you up and eat less, and maintain good bowel function.
So now that you have a handle on your cravings, how can you turn up your metabolic furnace and burn some extra calories? Two supplements can help here. The first is Green Tea Extract. This important antioxidant can also help increase your metabolic energy expenditure. Another very safe thermogenic (calorie-burning) supplement is Bitter orange (Citrus aurantium). This product contains a component called synephrine which help burn calories. Synephrine stimulates certain receptors in fat which cause an increase in metabolism of the fat cells, leading to loss of fat. However, it does not significantly stimulate the cardiac or central nervous system receptors. Therefore, it does not cause the palpitations, jittery feeling or potentially lethal cardiac disturbances you can get with ma huang (ephedra). There have been no reports of adverse events with bitter orange.
So how can you get all these useful supplements? Right now, your best bet is to use Nutrislim from Nutraceutical Sciences Institute (NSI) to start, and add Nature’s Way Bitter Orange. The Nutrislim contains all the anti-craving supplements we discussed above. Nature’s Way Bitter Orange is a high-quality product that is standardized to 6% synephrine; you know exactly what you are getting with this supplement. Nature’s Way has a reputation for excellence in all their products, especially the standardized extracts.
Two caveats: people who take the following medications should avoid Nutrislim and products containing 5-hydroxytryptophan to avoid potential problems with excess serotonin: antidepressants, migraine medication, Parkinson’s disease medications and seizure medications. People with hypertension or coronary artery disease should not take bitter orange.
Part 5. Keeping on track
Okay, you have made the commitment to take one or two years for the weight reduction phase of your program and then move into weight maintenance. How are you going to keep on track? Do you have to lead a monastic life of sacrifice, and never eat dessert again? By the way, that three hundred calories we spoke of is usually in the form of desert. Skip the cake, eat an apple. But this does not mean you can never have dessert again. You can subscribe to the law of diminishing fractions. This law (really a guideline to help you reduce your weight) states that in order to quickly achieve your goals, you need to stick to your plan 6/7 of the time. If you want to go a little slower on the weight reduction, 5/7 will do, and for maintenance you need to behave yourself 4/7 of the time. If you start to put weight back on, you need to go back to the next level. It is not very easy to maintain a one year plan if you never enjoy the food that is a real treat for you.
So while you are on your program, you can treat yourself; at first, just one day a week and the other 6 you avoid the foods you know you shouldn’t eat (like dessert). Letting yourself have a SMALL reward once a week will keep you on track and you will be less likely to backslide than if you completely abstain from all food pleasure. As you move toward the maintenance phase, you can enjoy some treats a bit more, but always remember that you must pay the other days of the week. An even better habit is to start to view healthy foods as treats; if you get tired of one kind of fruit, substitute something healthy but exotic, like a mango or kiwi. Delicious, and a treat.
Part 6. The bottom line
The simple truth is that there is no way that you will reduce your weight in a permanent fashion unless you commit to the long-term management of your weight. What I hope you realize is that there are a variety of ways to do this, but there are some underlying principles that will help you achieve your goals. The above principles are those that I have used in my efforts to manage my weight, and I have found them to be quite effective. I wish you the best of health, and commend you on your efforts to control your weight.