A calorie is a measure of energy, the energy our body consumes through eating, or expends through activity. Whether we lose weight or gain weight is merely a factor of whether or not the energy we consume is greater or less than the energy we use through activity. We will “gain weight — fat, generally – if we take in more calories than we use up. We can “lose weight” – fat or muscle tissue – if we expend more calories than we take in. Although this seems rather simple, this formula is made much more complex by our body’s instinctual need for self-preservation. Our body instinctively holds onto our fat reserves if it believes that we are in a “fasting” situation, i.e. about to go through an extended period without food. This often occurs after years of chronic dieting or improper fueling because of erratic eating patterns. While you may lose weight after your first “diet”, once you go off your “diet”, the weight will come back on. Subsequent tries at dieting become more difficult and only result in a slow down of your resting metabolism. Recent research studies have proven that your body actually secretes hormones to increase your hunger levels and promote weight gain after each diet – another attempt to maintain fat stores for self- preservation.
In addition, how well your body expends its energy is dependent on whether or not you have a high resting metabolism (as with those with a good muscle base, or a genetically high metabolism), and how consistently and accurately you provide it with its necessary fuels – protein, fat, carbohydrates and water. Losing weight permanently and healthily means you must provide your body with these essential nutrients consistently throughout the day so it can depend on these fuels for burning, without the fear of fasting.
Here are 10 of the most important things you can do to maximize your ability to lose fat while maintaining high energy levels. These are permanent behavioral and lifestyle changes that are not related to any quick fix diet. Do not underestimate the importance of these suggestions. They are essential for long-term success!
- Exercise consistently throughout your life. While aerobic activity is important for cardiovascular health, you must also perform strength training to add muscle and increase your resting metabolism.
- Drink water throughout the day. Dehydration is a major cause of low energy levels and sabotages weight loss efforts.
- Know how much is in a “portion” of the foods you eat. Many of us eat two or three portions of our foods without knowing it. A portion of pasta is a scoop of ice cream! A serving size of juice is 6oz, not 12oz.
- Include protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats at EVERY meal. Your body needs these fuels consistently dispensed through the day.
- Eat every 3-4 hours to keep energy levels high and blood sugar levels constant. We actually BURN calories when we eat, and small frequent meals expend more energy than one or two meals a day.
- Eat the majority of your calories during the day, when you will burn them up, rather than at dinner time when they are more likely to get stored as fat.
- Keep a food log. Research has proven that those who keep a food log are 60-70% more successful at weight loss.
- Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Drinking too much alcohol will sabotage your efforts to lose weight as your body stores most of it as fat, and also because alcohol lowers your resolve to eat healthy.
- Choose healthy, whole foods that are as natural as possible. Fruits, vegetables, lean meats and high fiber grains are all a necessity. Try to avoid processed foods and prepackaged foods as they generally contain unhealthy fats and high levels of sugar, salt and chemicals.
- Take a multivitamin, or, even better, take Juice Plus+®, a whole food alternative to multivitamins that provides vitamins and phyochemicals from 17 fruits and vegetables in a natural form. If you are a woman, take a calcium supplement. Recent research has shown that adequate calcium intake speeds up weight loss.
It is also helpful to know your approximate daily caloric needs based on your resting metabolism and your activity level. Your resting metabolism (RMR) is the number of calories you expend at total rest, and is approximately 10 times your current body weight. Never eat less than your resting metabolic level (unless recommended by a physician). Your body may perceive this as fasting! You need additional calories above and beyond your RMR due to daily activity, work and exercise. If you are very active, you will need approximately 50% more calories than your RMR. If you are inactive, you may only need 20-30% more calories. If your goal is weight loss, then subtract 200-300 calories off of this total to estimate a safe calorie range to shoot for.
Finally, have patience! Most weight gain creeps on slowly over time, as a result of a couple hundred extra calories a day. Healthy weight loss should be the same — slow and consistent. Remember that diets that promote quick weight loss DO NOT result in permanent weight loss.