How to get started losing weight
Losing weight is a mistake
Take a look in the mirror. What do you see?
I’m going to hazard a guess that if you are reading about fat and weight loss, you’re going to see someone looking back at you who isn’t as thin as you’d like.
You have probably assigned yourself a label too – something like “fat” or “overweight”.
You can’t be “fat”. Fat is a gloopy, sticky, slushy thing that drips off bacon. Fat is like butter, but more so. If you were fat, your bones would be fat, your brain would be fat, you’d just be fat – and you aren’t. Your bone is made of bone, your brain is made of…whatever brains are made of. But it’s certainly not just fat.
You aren’t overweight either. Which isn’t to say you are underheight – but overweight is probably the wrong term to use. Most bodybuilders are “overweight” – they weigh more than someone of their height is “meant” to weigh – but their weight comes from muscle. What you probably have is an excess of fat.
So you’ve probably decided to lose weight – which is another bad idea. If you lose money, one day you hope to find it again. If you lose weight, why would you want the option of finding it again? And it’s not weight you need to get rid of (ask the bodybuilders), it’s the excess fat you have in your body that you need to get rid of.
So your situation is that you have an excess of fat, and need to get rid of it. If it all turns to muscle and you stay the same weight, that might be OK – so you don’t need to get rid of excess weight.
You’re all like, “But I weigh 500 pounds! I’m 5’8”! If that was all muscle I’d look….” ….awesome. The word you are looking for is awesome. You’d have the whole of Arnold Schwarzenegger on each one of your arms. Would you rather have Arnie arms or stay as you are?
“Come with me if you want to live!”
The interesting thing about fat is that over the past 30 years, it has been blamed for the obesity epidemic – “eat too much fat and you’ll get fat”. This makes about as much sense as “eat too many strawberries and you’ll turn in to a strawberry” – do you know anyone who has turned in to a strawberry? Yes? Oh. Send us a photo by email, and we’ll revise this paragraph.
Fat is blamed for making you fat despite the fact that the human body needs fat to function properly, and that the very latest research shows that sugar is one of the biggest threats to your body as far as fat storage goes – and that’s the problem. The amount of fat your body STORES is what makes you fat, rather than the amount you eat. That’s not to say you can just eat a plate of fat for every meal and you will lose weight – while that may be strictly speaking true, you will do more harm than good as fat alone does not contain all the nutrients your body needs to keep working and to keep you healthy.
Similarly, a lot of diet plans make promises of letting you be able to drop a certain amount of weight in a particular time period. There are no guarantees – everyone’s body is different. If your target is to lose fat and get down to a healthy size, you may also be disappointed – many of the current ‘fad’ diets cause your body to drop more water weight than fat. While this lowers your weight – possibly by as much as 30 pounds in 30 days – you haven’t actually lost much fat, and as soon as you deviate from the plan, you’ll start putting weight back on. Yes, I said weight – because you hadn’t lost the fat to start with.
Your target is to eliminate as much unhealthy stored fat from your body as possible – and not to lose weight. Have I made this point enough times yet?
If you exercise regularly, your muscles will respond and increase in size – you may find that at a certain stage, your weight loss stops (and possibly reverses) but your fat loss continues. Being healthy is not about weight loss.
You don’t need magic potions to lose fat
“Come buy your fat burning snake oil!”
“Honey, garlic and vinegar help you to burn fat!”
“Magic Serum Xephpotibul Concerinus makes fat drop off! And your hair falls out too, but we don’t like to promote that….”
There is no magic potion that will make you lose fat – or weight. No supplement, no “diet bar”, no drug – nothing. In fact, try it if you don’t believe me. Take every supplement you can find, and if that cocktail doesn’t kill you, eat two whole loaves of bread with half a pound of butter for every meal – making sure you have 12 meals a day.
If it truly is magic, you will lose 200 pounds of fat within the week.
Some supplements may have a mild effect, but it’s often more of a placebo than an empiric effect. The only way you will lose the excess fat – without having part of your body cut off – is by doing exercise and not eating everything in sight.
You’ll do even better if you eat freshly prepared meals with plenty of vegetation and color – as a general rule, the more variety, the greater the nutrition.
You most likely got fat by eating processed food with additives far too often for far too long. It’s a process that can be reversed, but you must put your faith in yourself and not a charlatan’s magic trick.
Your body is designed and built to eat the food that this world provides – whether it’s animals or plants that take your fancy. You body is not designed to eat plastic, pop tarts or Big Macs. The more processed your food is, the more confused your body gets about it. The more confused your body is, the less effective it becomes at processing food properly – and enhancing your processed food diet with a magical pill isn’t going to make it any better.
The health food/diet industry is worth billions, and make no mistake – it’s a business. And like all businesses, they are out to make a profit – even if it’s at the expense of your health. Just remember, if you get ill they’ve probably got a pill to fix that too.
Think of supplements as shortcuts – and then think of the shortcuts you have taken in order to eat faster for all these years. The trip to Burger King instead of cooking at home because it was ‘easier’. Ordering a pizza delivery because going to the kitchen was too much like hard work. Those shortcuts have served you well, haven’t they?
You don’t need to eat low-calorie to lose fat
Calories are not an exact science. “Everybody” needs a certain amount every day – say 2000 calories. “Everybody” is of course an average adult male – but if the world is leaning further towards obesity every day, surely the “average” moves upwards every day! Is this “average male” American? Or British? Or Indian? Or Chinese? Because if it is Chinese, then on average Chinese men are shorter than American men, and therefore should need less calories!
It has been said for a long time that the best way to lose weight is to count your calories and eat a low fat diet. Lowering your fat intake can lead to a lower calorie intake, but this brings with it some different problems.
Some people say that if you go too low – say, below 1400 calories – your body starts to enter starvation mode. Your body perceives there to be little food around, and prepares for a famine – by storing every last bit of fat that it can. This is the opposite of what you are trying to achieve! Additionally, your body tries to use as little energy as possible and yet still keep running – which means it actually purposefully tries to use less calories if you eat less calories. The debate about whether “starvation mode” actually exists goes on and on, but your body does need a decent amount of food to keep itself working. Maybe starvation mode doesn’t exist as is commonly imagined, but you can’t be doing any good by depriving your body of fuel.
Psychologically, when you are eating this little, your mind is constantly fixated on the next meal. You think about food more often, and it becomes impossible to not eat – which leads to overeating.
Using calories as the be-all and end-all is flawed in any case – if your target is 2000 calories, you could eat 4 sensible meals during the day and get there nicely. Or you could eat 8 to 10 chocolate bars. Or a tub of butter. Is the “tub of butter diet” a thing? No, I don’t think it is. Are all calories the same, no matter what source you get them from? No, I don’t think they are.
If you insist on measuring calories in this way however, the best way forward is not to reduce your calories, but to use more calories – eating the same and exercising more is far more effective than just eating less – and easier to stick to as well. If the choice is between the “perfect fat loss diet” that you can only do for a week at a time, or the “40% fat loss diet” that you can do forever, you are better off doing the one you can stick to.
Nobody knows your body better than you
Remember the time you ate such-and-such and it made you ill? But your best friend ate the same thing and they were fine? Yeah, that’s because everyone is different.
What works for one person won’t necessarily work for others. Some people find they are mildly allergic to gluten and cow’s milk, and by cutting out bread and milk from their diet they lose weight (and fat) suddenly and easily. Others find that this has no effect, but that by drinking green tea they seem to lose more fat in a shorter time period.
It is important to listen to what your body tells you, both with diet and exercise. If you eat something “recommended” in a diet plan, and it either tastes awful or makes you ill – give it a miss. If you go for a run and get so out of breath that you can’t speak – stop. You’re going to kill yourself before you make yourself healthy that way.
If your body says “no”, it doesn’t matter if you are on the greatest-diet-ever-or-at-least-this-week, because whoever designed that diet designed it for the general population – who are about as much use as the “average male” – and not specifically for you. If it’s not working, change it.
And just because The Slow Carb/Low Carb/Atkins/South Beach/Weightwatchers diet worked for your friend – don’t expect to get the same results. Unless you are twins – but even then it might not work.
BMI is a big fat lie
Imagine someone who is 5’5” and weighs 125lbs. They have a target weight of 120, and have been struggling for weeks. One day, they get on the scale and they weigh 123 – dropped two pounds, happy days! But are they seriously more healthy than they were two weeks ago?
There’s a “healthy range” to be in, according to science. If you are within that range, you are considered healthy. But what if the range for our friend was 115 to 124 pounds? When they weighed 125 were they in serious danger of dying from fatness? Of course not!
If you weigh 125, can you run up and down 6 flights of stairs much more easily than if you weighed 123? Probably not.
And what if you weigh 135 with a lower body fat percentage but higher amount of muscle? You weigh more – “unhealthily” more – but you are actually a world class athlete who could run up and down 12 flights of stairs faster than our 123 pound friend could get up 6.
At the opposite end of the scale, what about someone who is the same height but weighs 325? Maybe they worked hard and got down to 323. It’s a good start, but are they any more healthy than they were before? Not really, no – they are certainly headed in the right direction, and should be encouraged – but they aren’t going to be slim overnight.
But if they keep working and one day get down to 160, then what? They are clearly “overweight”…but are far healthier than they have been for years. They might think they could run a marathon – and they are probably right.
We are told all the time that there is a specific range we should be in, and that we should all look like stick insects. For some people, this is very hard to achieve – and it is most disheartening when you have 200 pounds to lose.
If you drop 165 pounds and get in shape sensibly, then you are probably just about as healthy as our 125 pound friend. People get hung up on the numbers – what is far more important is that you feel better, eat better, look better – and that you are able to LIVE your life, rather then just exist.
And if you still want to lose ALL your body fat – just let me know what bodybuilding competition you are entering, because that is clearly your chosen profession. Oh yes, you’ll probably die too – did you remember that your body needs fat to keep working?
You’re fat because of your diet. It’s not genetic
You are genetically inclined to be fat. You can’t help it. Your parents were fat, and therefore so are you.
Excuses are great aren’t they? They are also normally lies.
Granted, you are more likely to have a body type more similar to your parents than to anyone else. But your dad wasn’t born being 200 pounds overweight, and neither were you.
He probably got there through some combination of eating the wrong foods and not exercising enough. As you grew up, you ate in the same house as your parents, and so became accustomed to the food they ate. You adopted this food in to your diet, and now continue to eat it. Mom said that deep-fried-banana-sandwich-with-mayo was excellent, and you agree.
You see, it’s not the genetics that made you fat. It’s the deep fried sandwich.
Why blame your parents and your genetics for you gaining fat? Did you get a good job? Assuming you don’t work for your parents, did you get that job because of your genetics? You live in a nice house – you could have had a nasty house that was falling down, but because of your good genetics you got a great house. Remember the time you won that spelling competition? Yay genetics!
You are not fat because of your genetics. Period. Babies normally weigh between 5 pounds and 14 pounds when they are born – and many 5 pound babies go on to be overweight, while many 14 pound babies end up being as thin as a rake. Nothing was predetermined, no-one else was to blame.
As long as you have a crutch, an excuse, or someone else to blame, you are not going to take responsibility for your weight, your health, your diet, or your life.
No-one forced you to eat that Big Mac, no-one forced you to sit for hours on end watching TV, and no-one forced you to eat a whole pizza and a tub of ice cream because you thought you were fat. If it bothers you that much, take responsibility, and do something about it!
Your parents genetics didn’t make you fat – and whining about your “bad luck” isn’t going to make you thin. Only you can make you lose fat.
There’s no such thing as a balanced diet
What’s a balanced diet? A nice mix of everything? A certain proportion of fat/carbohydrate/protein? A plate with a pound of rice on one side and a pound of meat on the other, perfectly weighed so it can balance – yes, balance – on a pin?
“Health experts” can not and will not agree on what a balanced diet is – because there is no such thing. If you believe it should be ‘a little bit of everything’, then what are the vegetarians going to do? Or the vegans for that matter.
If it is fat/carb/protein, then let’s look at what the carbohydrate requirement is for a human body to work – oh, it’s none. There’s a “recommended” amount, but it’s not a requirement. Of course, 50 years ago smoking was “recommended” to cure certain afflictions, but then we found there were a few problems with that.
Your body needs fat. Your body needs protein. Vegetarians can get these just as easily as anyone else – protein is not just in meat. Your body also needs vitamins and nutrients, which are often found in fruit and vegetables – these contain carbohydrates. So while carbs are not required, you will naturally consume some in order to get your vitamins and nutrients. So a balanced diet should be the diet that gives your body everything it needs to work – and if that involves fat and carbs, then so be it.
And don’t try the plate balancing trick. When it goes wrong, there will be one heck of a mess to clean up, and a meal of a pound of rice with a pound of meat probably isn’t good for you either!
So what next?
There’s a lot of interest about the “Paleo Diet” right now. It attempts to emulate the diet of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, on the premise that eating that kind of food with the same amount of exercise will result in decent and sustainable weight loss.
There seems to be some big debate going on too about how closely a paleolithic diet can actually be copied – there’s no woolly mammoth herds wandering around at the moment!
And that is where the problem with many diets and dieters is – in the words, in the attitude, in the semantics.
What does the paleo diet recommend you eat? Basically – meat, nuts, berries, that kind of thing. So high protein, low(ish) fat. Avoid processed food.
What does the slow carb diet recommend? High protein, low fat, slow carbs. Avoid processed food.
What do bodybuilding diets recommend you eat? High protein. Low fat.
Something in common between all of them, wouldn’t you say?
No, not that. More of the fact that a diet high in protein and low in fat tends to also be low calorie. Essentially, these are ways of eating that help you reduce your overall intake of calories, thus enabling weight loss. It’s not necessarily quite as simple as that, as certain combinations work differently with your body, eg the Atkins diet that attempts to start ketosis by strictly limiting carbs – but more of that in another post.
Serious diseases and illnesses are on the rise, as is obesity. Is this because we have global communications and are now aware of these things? Or is it because people eat too much processed chemically enhanced food?
Year after year, new toxins are found in chemicals added to food during the processing, and in some cases nothing is done until “further testing” is completed years later. A pet hate of mine is aspartame – it can cause cancer in lab tests (admittedly in rats), but is used as a sweetener in diet sodas. So you’ll consume less natural sugar (which can be bad for you teeth but your body can process it) and more chemicals (nice teeth – shame you are skinny and likely to get very ill).
Given the choice, I will always go for sugar over sweetener, butter over ‘low fat spread’, fresh brewed coffee over processed instant coffee, and so on. Generally, it tastes better, and won’t kill me in such strange ways. The key here is to limit the amount you have – eating spoon after spoon of butter is a BAD idea!
Everyone will eat the ‘wrong thing’ every now and then. But the key is to learn from your mistakes and don’t worry about it too much. If you go on a strict diet and say that you never cheat, you either have an iron will or are a rather convincing liar. Many diets do now recommend that you take a day off once a week (or every 10 days) and this certainly helps. Maybe it slows your progress by a day, but it also means that you won’t have so many uncontrolled binges if you know you can eat something special in a few days time.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – life is for living. If there’s a birthday party with snacks, ENJOY IT. It is better to have fun and be happy than to be rake thin and miserable.
So does that mean I can have breakfast?
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” – I bet you have heard that before. According to several sources, it seems that those who eat breakfast tend to be less likely to be obese, so there could be something to it after all!
Breakfast is important for many reasons – not least of which is to kickstart the engine of your body. When you sleep, your body keeps doing this and that, just ticking over, but it doesn’t do everything it would when you are awake. Getting the digestive system in motion shortly after getting up is beneficial, not least because your body actually burns calories to digest food!
However, not all breakfasts are equal. Most studies are very specific in mentioning that they measured those who ate WHOLE GRAIN cereal. Lucky Charms and any other sugar-coated fruit-enhanced syrup-dripping “cereal” need not apply – nor should bacon and egg, unless you are Atkins or low carb inclined.
A carefully chosen breakfast can set you up for the day, and keep the hunger at bay until lunch time. There is a saying along the lines of, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper” which was for many years believed to indicate that eating a hearty breakfast followed by smaller and smaller meals was the way to go. However, recent research has shown that no matter what time of day a meal is eaten, the overall calorific effect is the same – you can eat breakfast like a pauper and dinner like a king, the important point being to eat breakfast.
You cannot lose weight by simply starving yourself, as your body will realise what you are doing and hold on to every ounce of fat that it can. It is important to eat meals regularly (3, 4,5 or 6 depending on exactly which diet you are following), and skipping breakfast is the worst meal to skip. As stated above, by breaking your overnight fast, you are getting your body going and using calories effectively.
That’s great – but I’m vegetarian….
There used to be a joke (if you can call it that) about vegetarians – although they might be saving the planet, they’re a group of pasty, unhealthy looking folk who tend to…break wind…often. As with most stereotypes, this is untrue – or at least it is now!
With any dietary choice, it’s preferable to maintain a certain balance in what you eat. While there is no real “balanced diet” – even health professionals disagree about what exactly is best – and everyone is different in their size, shape and metabolism, it is generally accepted that you need to eat protein and carb to stay healthy along with a lower amount of fat, in addition to getting all your vitamins for the day. And water is good too.
The problem for vegetarians is that protein is very much a meat thing. Vegetables as a rule are low protein, so the clue is in the name! Vegans are not too keen on any animal products, including eggs and milk, which are also sources of protein. And fish is out too.
If you’re OK with the notion of eggs and such like, then a quick mushroom and cheese omelette will give you a protein boost. Commercial products in the form of protein shakes are also viable, but the source of the protein content in these may be a problem based on your dietary beliefs. Some shakes are artificially synthesized, others are made from animal bases – check the label! However, as noted above, I’m not so keen on artificial anything as an aid to weight loss…
So where can a vegetarian get protein? Quite a few places, it seems. Whole grains are a good start – but if you are following a slow carb diet, they are probably best avoided. Beans, lentils, legumes and nuts all contain protein in varying amounts – just eat the nuts (especially peanut butter) in moderation. If you can’t manage moderation, don’t eat them at all! They’ll come back and get you!!
Meat substitutes also often contain relatively high amounts of protein, but again these things are down to personal preference. If you don’t eat meat due to the effect on the environment and/or your feelings about eating animals, go ahead. If you just don’t like the feel of meat in your mouth then forget about it!
Do what you can, stick to what you believe in, and it will come right in the end – as always, don’t get too caught up in all the numbers, and don’t beat yourself up when you fall off the wagon. That wagon keeps moving…you’ve got to get back on.
What was that about water?
According to Wikipedia, 65-90% of the human body by mass is water. That’s approximately between two thirds and “nearly all of it”. So what’s the point of adding more water to an already apparently saturated body?
Two good reasons:
1. Brain hydration – your brain is, as the rest of your body, mostly water. When your body’s store of water gets used up, the brain becomes dehydrated and unable to function correctly. You will find it harder to make sensible, rational decisions, and will certainly have a headache too. The headache is your brain’s way of saying, “Hey! I need some liquid refreshment up here, right now!”
2. Losing weight – yeah, you got that right. I’m certainly not suggesting you diet by just drinking water instead of eating! Your body uses water to remove waste, toxins – and get this – fat. Anything excess to requirements is sent out of your body…well…you know how…and the mechanism for moving it is based on water. Your entire digestion system runs around water. If there is not enough water in your body, and your body tries to shed some fat, there is nothing to carry this fat away.
Maybe I’m oversimplifying it, but the facts are that your body needs water to keep working, and you need to drink water to lose weight. That should be good enough for you!
Also remember, you don’t have to drink water “straight” – coffee and tea is allowable, as are sodas. Always remember though, if you are on a slow carb diet, you should not really be having milk in any drink, and limit your soda to as little as possible – preferably none. But if it’s a choice between Cherry Cola and dehydration, DRINK THE COLA!
I read that fruit was bad because it has too much sugar.
Isn’t that like the craziest thing ever? Of course fruit is good for you! Why else would they recommend you get “5 (or more) a day”?
Well in principle, fruit is good for you – full of vitamins and so on. But too much fruit can make you ill – spend your day eating blueberries, and I’ll see you when you get out of the bathroom! Too much of anything will likely make you ill, so maybe that’s a bad example.
In addition to vitamins and lovely fruity goodness, fruit also contains a high amount of naturally occurring sugar. On a slow carb diet, you should avoid high amounts of sugar at all costs. On many other diets, it’s also recommended to keep sugar low, but fruit isn’t necessarily frowned upon.
If you are eating fruit though, bear some things in mind:
- Natural sugars are not bad for you. Artificial sweeteners ARE bad for you. With natural sugars, you may become more prone to putting on a bit of weight, and if you don’t brush often you may have dental problems. Artificial sweeteners have been proven to cause cancer and death in rats in lab studies – but when they died, they were thin and had great teeth.
- Different fruits contain different levels of vitamins. Don’t eat *all oranges* every day. Mix it up. The actual recommendation is to get 5 pieces of DIFFERENT fruit every day – preferably different colors. Green fruits are very different to purple or orange fruits.
- A banana is not a fruit. But it can be good for you.
- A tomato is a fruit. And a vegetable. Depends who you ask.
So do the same you do with everything else – eat sensibly, don’t have too much of one particular thing, and don’t fixate on particular aspects of your diet. Think of all the people who “eat right” and are slim, and fill their cup of tea with artificial sweetener – it could well be rotting their insides away, but who cares, they look great and have a nice smile…
Why is 5-a-day good for you?
Who told you it was? Sorry, more accurately, WHO told you it was. The World Health Organization recommended that 400g of fruit and vegetables be eaten every day to maintain health.
In the UK and quite a bit of Europe this has been translated to “5 pieces a day” – except in Denmark where it’s six. Or Ireland where it’s complicated. Americans seem to prefer around 9 a day, and Australians want 5 veg and 2 fruit. Or something.
Italy just says “eat more fruit and veg”.
There have been many studies published over the last 20 years or more trying to assign blame for why people put on weight, especially in regards to diet. The were initially two potential problems identified – sugar (carbohydrates generally) and fat. It is sensible (even if it isn’t correct) to think that eating fat MAKES you fat – and that’s the route we took. Obesity got worse.
Eating a diet of pure fat probably will make you fat – but carbs also seem to cause problems. The biggest problem is when they are eaten with fat – your body tends to use the carbs for energy and stores the fat for future use. By continually eating carbs, the stored fat doesn’t get used, hello obesity.
So if fruit is full of carbs, why eat it?
Fruit and vegetables (excluding the starchy stuff, like potato) are full of vitamins and so-called “natural goodness”. The health benefits from this can be great, and that’s the main reason for the recommendation. However, there’s another reason.
In a 100g bar of chocolate, there’s a lot of calories and processed sugar. In 100g of apple, there’s some calories and some natural sugar. Your body can quite happily process and dispose of natural sugar – that’s what it is designed to do. Processed sugar can be difficult for your body to handle – and if you eat 100g of apple, you’ll probably be quite happy and feel satisfied. If you eat 100g of chocolate, you’ll probably want another 100g straight afterwards.
Eating fruit can help with portion control – it’s hard to eat mountains of fruit, it’s easy to eat mountains of candy!
Some low carb diets advise staying away from fruit, and rightly so – if you are trying to avoid carbs, fruit is a good source of them. But if you need a snack, you’re better off getting some natural sugar from an orange than you are eating a Snickers. An orange may not fit in with the diet you are trying to stick to – but I’m fairly certain a Snickers doesn’t fit in either.
What about fish? Is that diet friendly?
Fish is a good source of protein, and low in “bad” fat, so is ideal for many diets. There are other benefits to fish though, aside from the protein.
Omega 3. I went and said it. You may see adverts on your TV promoting cereal or some other “healthy” product, and indicating that said product has added Omega 3 – often “to keep your heart healthy”. Well, that isn’t strictly speaking true, but here’s the thing – fish are a good source of omega 3 as well as protein, and you need this stuff to keep your body in good condition.
But what is it? It’s a fatty acid that is required by your body to help maintain a normal metabolism. If your metabolism is abnormal, and especially if you are trying to lose weight, your weight may well go up and down while you feel tired or nervous…a normal metabolism keeps you on the straight and narrow, and you know what to expect from your body.
Research also suggest that these fatty acids may help with blood pressure regulation, easing of depression, easing of arthritis symptoms and possibly slow the development of various cancers. More research is clearly needed, and don’t get excited – this isn’t a miracle cure for anything – but the benefits of having Omega 3 in your diet is clear.
The biggest problem for humans is that, unlike a lot of the things whizzing around in your body, your body cannot manufacture omega 3 fatty acids. Sure, it will have a good go, but won’t do very well – therefore an external source of omega 3 is required. Eating oily fish (salmon, mackerel, etc) a couple of times a week should certainly give you a boost.
But what if you are vegetarian? Don’t worry, got you covered – flaxseed (linseed) oil is they way to go. Flaxseed oil is again rich in omega 3 – but if you’re not up for that, try walnuts. Walnuts have a lower percentage of fatty acids in them than flaxseed, but about 10 times more than pecans. This is actually a higher percentage than some fish!
Please be aware that people with cardiac issues, including but not limited to congestive heart failure and/or angina, should consult their doctor before increasing their omega 3 intake.
How do I get 6-pack abs?
A lot of people want 6 pack abs. Not because they think it’s a sign of health and fitness, not because they think it makes them look strong…but because they think 6 pack abs make you look sexy.
And who are we to argue?
The only sure thing that 6 pack abs are a sign of is low body fat. When you look at well defined abs, you are seeing the shape and size of the muscles. Some people think the way to get them is to follow advice from the movies:
“Crunch you will, and abs will show, mmm” – Yoda, Star Wars Episode VII
“Sit ups. Do them and the abs will come.” – Someone in Fields of Dreams 3, ‘The Middle-age Spread’
OK, so they may be totally made up quotes, but is there any truth in it? Will doing a thousand crunches a day help with your abs?
Well, it depends entirely on your situation. If you are already thin, and have a little definition, doing crunches and other exercises may help increase the size and strength of the muscles, giving greater definition. If you aren’t thin, it won’t work like that.
What will happen is, if you do enough crunches, you will build up a sweat and hopefully start burning fat. So in a roundabout way, doing crunches could lower your body fat percentage, and start you off towards your 6 pack goal.
But realistically, the only way you will get the abs you desire is by working hard at lowering your body fat through diet and exercise. There’s no magic bullet, it’s all down to hard work and determination. This does mean that you don’t have to go all out on the abdominal work though – any exercise that helps you build muscle and burn fat is going to be beneficial.
I’m too heavy to exercise. I’m going to use an ab-belt. They work, right?
As far as I know, no scientific evidence either way has been provided, but I can give you a bit of common sense and personal experience. And for the record, they are very unlikely to help you lose fat.
In order to get 6 pack abs, you need to do one of two things:
Lower your body fat to below 15%, preferably below 10% – this can be done on a slow carb diet, but if you are starting off well overweight, then it’s going to take some time and effort.
Exercise. Lots. No, really – sit ups and similar exercise will strengthen your abdominal muscles, and maybe increase their size – but if you have a thick layer of fat around your midriff, you ain’t gonna see them.
I remember reading something once (a long time ago) that with enough sit ups, you could train your muscles to stretch the fat tight across your stomach, and reveal the hidden six pack. I don’t really believe this – I think you would have to do a heck of a lot of exercise to get to that stage. Also, it would be healthier (and probably easier) to lose the fat.
Anyway, back to the original subject! An ab belt is meant to give you those elusive six pack abs without the effort – a small electric current is passed through the appropriate muscles, causing them to tense and then relax, allegedly mimicking the action of a sit up or crunch.
I see two problems with this. One, there’s no load on the muscle. Sure, it’s contracting, but it’s not pulling anything. I think that maybe a little resistance is needed. And two, you won’t build up a sweat. Your body isn’t supplying any energy to the muscle to make it move, and so you aren’t burning any calories/working off any fat/sweating. If you have a gut full of fat, ab belts won’t get rid of it.
Now, I don’t wish to upset you if you use one of these belts (nor do I wish to incur the wrath of the manufacturers of such devices), but it is misleading to suggest an obese person can obtain six pack abs by wearing one of these belts. Trust me – I tried it! If you have a low percentage body fat already, try it out – I think it may give you a tiny little boost, maybe even if it’s only psychological.
But no amount of psychology is going to move a fat belly out the way to reveal the hidden beauty within. Face it, if you are that big, you have a serious problem that you need to deal with head on, not with a gadget – if you aren’t on it already, try the slow carb diet – fat loss is one of the things it’s good at. Get it? Fat loss, not necessarily weight loss – although if you ARE obese, the weight usually goes with it! Again, trust me!
A Gentle Reminder
Before starting any major change in your lifestyle, such as exercising, you should consult a doctor. You may have underlying health problems that might cause you issues if you try and do too much too soon.
But if you get the all clear, then the only way is up – any exercise you do is better than none, and it will surely help you on your way to weight loss.
But I can’t stick to a diet!
Here’s a couple of thoughts for those of you starting out on your journey of fat loss. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.
Clichés, for sure. But true.
Maybe you find yourself 100 pounds or more overweight, and all your friends are on about this great diet you should try (each friend recommends a different diet of course – variety is everything). You try this one, then that one, but fail each time because you find yourself hungry at the oddest times, and all that you can find is a chocolate bar. Hey, it’s only a single chocolate bar. And then it’s another one. And another….
Stop with the fad diets right now, don’t listen to your friends and whatever 4 Hour South Beach Paleo Banana Smoothie Watchers Diet they are doing this week. TAKE CONTROL. For too long you have been lead on by advertising, hypnotised in to believing that “you’re loving it” and so on.
This is YOUR LIFE. This is YOUR BODY. You need to make the decisions. You need to acknowledge you have been eating crap for the most part, and you need to dedicate yourself to making a change. Congratulations, you have just taken the first step on your journey.
And here’s how you break yourself in to a diet gently. If you go all out and cut out all the bad stuff and just eat lettuce, you are going to fail. Massive change like that will not (in most cases) work – you are too used to living another way, and your brain and body won’t let you change everything by just flicking a switch. What you need to do is to perform a couple of days of observation.
Make notes of what you eat, whether on paper or on any of the food-tracking websites. Makes notes of calories consumed, the amount of fat, protein and carbohydrates.
At the end of the second day, LOOK at what you have written down. KNOW that you should probably be on 2500 calories or less a day to maintain your weight, and less if you are trying to lose weight.
Find something you are eating too much of on the notes – for example, maybe you repeatedly eat chocolate every hour. How do you start your new lifestyle? By stopping that habit. Cutting that one thing out isn’t a massive change to your life, but is a massive change to your lifestyle.
Maybe you got to McDonald’s and eat two burgers, a large fries and have a large drink. Cut down to one burger, or perhaps just go regular size instead of large.
Try it for a week, and still keep making notes. After this week, see how much less you are eating by comparing the calories, fat etc.
And then, for week two, repeat the above. Find something else you are having too much of, and cut it down. Week three the same, and so on.
And suddenly, you are a month in, and you are eating less than you were, and it wasn’t too hard.
The key here is to get in the groove gradually. Jump in too fast, and you’ll just crave everything, binge on it and probably put even more weight on. Cut things down slowly, and you won’t see instant massive results, but you will be able to stick to it – and that’s the important part. Being “on a diet” is no good if you don’t actually stick to it.
Once you have the hang of it, you can start planning your meals, and limit your portions based on calories, or carbs, or fat, or whatever you choose – you are now aware of what you are eating, and far less likely to overeat simply because you are paying attention.
None of this is ground breaking, most of this is common sense. But when people start talking about “dieting”, common sense often goes out the window.
So…how about some dessert?
When you are at home it is quite easy to not have dessert, and if you feel hungry after a meal you will know what snacks you are allowed.
If you are eating out however, it becomes a lot harder. You don’t usually have time to let everything settle and for your body to decide that you aren’t hungry any more – desserts are an impulse purchase!
Quite a few restaurants now offer “Weightwatchers” desserts or low carb/low calorie alternatives, but your self control is a key factor here – do you really need dessert? And just because the dessert is ‘low’ in something, it doesn’t mean you can have two…
But what if no alternatives are available, and you feel socially obliged to eat something? Well, stop conforming to the expectations of everyone else! Seriously though, go for damage limitation. One dessert does not ruin a diet, but it can spoil your progress for that day. Something like a fruit salad is normally a good option, even if your diet is telling you to avoid fruit – I’m sure that your diet will be more forgiving of eating fruit than eating the giant size cookie ice cream chocolate double dip taste sensation with extra fatty sauce.
That’s a problem right there. Many people scoff at the idea of a “day off” from your diet, but if you have a single day off rather than secretly binging every day, it works. You know when you can have your favourite treats, and you avoid them until the designated time. It does not ruin your entire diet. Imagine the man who has lost 60 pounds, suddenly decides to eat a whole chocolate cake – he doesn’t wake up the following day having regained those missing 60 pounds. It takes a lifestyle to lose or gain that amount of weight, it doesn’t take a day – and you are aiming to change your lifestyle.
So when you have had your dessert, count the calories or carbs or whatever system you are using, acknowledge it was probably more than you should have had, and get on with your life and your new lifestyle. If you worry about it, you’ll probably end up comfort eating, and then your whole lifestyle change is out the window.
It does require dedication, it does require self control, but life is too short to say no to every piece of cake.
Some Final Thoughts
Why are you dieting? What’s your motivation? What do you hope to achieve?
For me, it’s several things. I enjoy food, I like the taste and the texture, so eating-to-live rather than eating-for-fun can be a bit of an issue. BUT – when summer comes and I’m out playing football with my kids, I know what I need to do.
I want to be fit and healthy for my kids now – I want to be able to go down to the park with them and play football for an hour. I fully expected to be hot, sweaty, and ready for an ice cream by the time I’ve done – I do not expect to need medical assistance. When I was at my heaviest, the medical assistance option always weighed (see what I did there?) on my mind, and frankly losing to a ten year old because you can’t keep up with them when they run for fifty yards is not the way I want to be.
I also want to be healthy enough to see them grow up, to see them achieve their dreams, and to get married and have kids of their own. Or not – whatever they want to do is fine. The point is, I want to be there to see them and their decisions, and I want to be able to be an active part of their life…not locked away in a house somewhere eating chocolate, or worse in a morgue.
So my primary goal is fat loss, and by losing this fat to become more healthy. My secondary goal is to build up some muscle and become a little more athletic. I will never run 100 yards in less than 9 seconds. I will probably never run a marathon. I hopefully will not die when I run to catch a bus though…
My motivation? Selfish and not-so-selfish. I want to see my kids grow up, so it’s kind of for them. But also, it’s entirely selfish – I don’t want to die!
When you realize that over eating and not exercising is actually a selfish thing to do, you soon can change your habits. It IS selfish, as when it causes your early death, everyone else is left behind to pick up the pieces.
I’m not the greatest person in the world, I’m not the thinnest, I’m not the strongest – hell, I’m not even the nicest. But I’m a lot more use here than I am in a box, and I make more people happy when I’m alive than the number of people I’d make happy if I died.
But if you want even more motivation, just think of the people you will annoy by staying alive even longer…
Tracking, tracking, tracking. It’s all you seem to do on some diets. Sometimes you pass through calories and then carbs/fat/protein, and even go so far as to count the amount of sodium in each thing you eat.
This is good stuff. Being aware of what you eat and what makes it up is very important – in fact some studies have even shown that just being aware of what you eat rather than consciously trying to reduce it actually results in weight loss. That’s cool!
If you are tracking *something*, track it properly. If you have to estimate, great, do it – but always err on the side of caution and OVERESTIMATE. If you are sticking to a certain amount of calories a day and estimate that a cream cake has between 175 and 210 calories, assume it is 210. If you don’t, you will find creative ways of using the extra 35 calories you have spare, and probably find a way to use them twice when you already ate them in the original cake. By picking the lower number you are cheating the system, and by cheating the system you are cheating yourself.
Would you rather mess about for the sake of a few calories, or be honest with yourself and stick to your diet? It is entirely your decision, but once you start down this road it is hard to stop – a little cheat leads to a bigger cheat leads to a larger cheat leads to a massive cheat….and soon you will convince yourself there are no calories in cakes if it is your birthday, and there are no calories in McDonald’s fries if you take them out of a box that is not yours!
Nobody said losing fat would be easy, and it is fine if you aren’t perfect. If you really really need the cream cake and the fries, then do what you have to, but just be honest about it. Record your numbers, figure out where you are going wrong, do something about it.
You owe it to yourself and your body – anything less would be cheating.
Tips for Living The Fat Loss Lifestyle
You’ve decided you want to lose weight, you’ve decided on a diet plan to follow…but what next? Here are eight tips to help you live the fat loss lifestyle.
- Plan your shopping – It doesn’t matter how many times you go to the store, the important thing is to buy things that are suitable for your chosen diet. If your diet requires low calorie food, don’t go buying all the candy you can find. If you need low carb/high fat, the make sure you are getting butter and no low-fat “spread”. Make a list, and stick to it – deviation is not moderation!
- Plan your meals – This goes hand in hand with number 1. If you have decided on eating a particular meal, and intend on making it from scratch, you need to make sure you have all the ingredients or at the very least viable substitutes. Switching a lemon for a lime is fine, but switching a lettuce wrap for a tortilla wrap might not be. Plan your meals weekly, even if you don’t shop weekly. At least this way you will know what you need to buy, and what your next meal is going to be.
- Start moving every day – Even if it is only a small amount, moving around – or ‘exercise’ as some people like to call it – is vital to create and maintain fat loss. If diet is the fuel for your fat loss, think of exercise as the turbo-charging. A walk to the local store, or to see your friend a few blocks away, is ideal to get started. Your body was designed to move around, and it expects to move around. Exercise is more than just burning calories, it is training your body to respond as nature intended.
- Eat consciously – Ever sat down to watch TV and eat a meal at the same time? Ever finished that meal and while being able to remember every detail of the TV show you just watched, having no idea where the food went? A large part of the feeling of satiation when eating is down to your eyes seeing the food leave your plate and enter your mouth, and your brain processing this information. If the eyes don’t see it, and the mind doesn’t process it, how is your body going to even know you have eaten? Be aware of what you are eating – even if it means turning off the TV!
- Tracking – Some people have found they have lost weight by watching what they eat – not checking calories and so on, but literally tracking everything they eat by writing it down. If you like to snack on candy bars, and you think, “One won’t hurt!”, you are probably right – in the long run, over an 80 year plus life, a single candy bar will have little or no effect. But how often do you think, “One won’t hurt”? When did you last have a candy bar? Maybe you had one at 1pm, and thought that it wouldn’t hurt. And then again at 2pm, and 3pm. But it doesn’t hurt, because you lost track and forgot about the first two. By writing down everything you eat, you can’t deny what you have eaten – and when you get to your fifth candy bar, you know that it probably IS going to hurt.
- Use visual cues – Want a six pack? Want thinner thighs? Condition yourself to reach your target by finding a picture of your ideal “body part” in a magazine or on the internet. Cut it out or print it, and stick it to your fridge. Every time you go to the fridge, there is your ideal body looking back at you. Now, what was it you were going to get out of the fridge
- Don’t worry – Anything is better than nothing. Your best friend reduced their calorie intake from 3000 calories a day to 1200, and started to lose weight. You reduced yours to 1600 calories from 2500, and felt hungry the whole time – and felt like a failure. You know what? 2400 calories is less than 2500. Cut down to a strict 2400. When you master that for a week, drop down to 2300. Then 2200, and so on. If 2500 is too many calories, then 2400 is better – and any way, your friend starving themselves is not a role model you need to follow!
- Forgive yourself – You had a bad day, stayed up late watching a soppy movie, ate a bag of popcorn and a block of chocolate. SO WHAT? Everyone has a bad day, no-one is perfect – and if you think you are perfect, why are you reading this? Why are you trying to lose fat if you are perfect? GET BACK ON THE HORSE. If you think one day of messing up has ruined your life, you are wrong. Believing that your diet is ruined and there is no point carrying on is what ruins your diet – one day off and then back on for the next two months is called being human, and is no cause to beat yourself up. Forgive yourself – you might be dieting, but you still have a life to live.
Don’t give up, don’t panic, and good luck in your fat loss journey.
All advice and information is provided on a non-professional basis. Before starting any diet or exercise, you should always consult a qualified physician. Diets and exercise will have different effects on everyone, and weight or fat loss is not guaranteed by following any of the information contained in this article.
As always, use your common sense, and if in doubt consult a qualified expert in the field.