Weight Loss 101
In an ocean of “lose weight fast” and “quickest way to lose weight” fad diets, figuring out how to safely and effectively lose weight that doesn’t come back (with interest) seems near impossible. So we’ve put together this all-in-one guide to get you started on healthy dieting and healthy weight loss. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female; the advice given here will work the same either way.
This guide covers an awful lot of ground and will bring you right up to speed with current weight loss research and making sure you can get in great shape. Read through and take notes of what kind of lifestyle choices would suit you. Do you want to be very active? Have you heard endlessly about low carb diets and want to see for yourself what it’s like? Do you want to know more about fat-loss (more than eat less = lose weight)!?
For those who don’t want to dig in too deep, we got you covered! Just look through the bullet points and if something catches your eye, you can read through the section and get more details (and plenty of links to great resources). Then finish off with the SBF section so you can impress your friends with how much you know about why magic pills don’t work and what’s actually making losing those last few pounds so difficult!
References are provided where some scientific backing may be prudent and there’s plenty of links to help you get all the information you need. Also, our website has LOTS of information on exercise and healthy eating too, so this is the last “diet guide” you need to look at. You should end up with full plan of action for how to get started on your healthy diet / weight loss journey!
This is your 521 Guide for what to do (and more importantly, what not to do) when losing weight!
Disclaimer: None of the products sold by 521-healthdrinks are meant to be used for treating any medical issues, lack of friends, lack of hair (top or bottom), or lack of Bruce Lee like kung fu skills. Please be responsible when buying our products, meaning that you meet us half way. You accept that your results are due to a multitude of factors, one of which being diet and supplements (along with hard work, intelligent training, and realistic expectations). We accept that we are responsible for providing the highest quality of supplements, and that we have a duty to help you reach your goals through transparent information, nutrition and exercise advice, and a genuine desire to help you succeed. Please consult your physician/doctor before undertaking any new exercise or diet regimen!
The Diet Problem
(Diet Fads, Fast Weight Loss, etc.)
At this stage everyone knows that jumping from diet to diet is NOT a good idea, but if you’re desperately trying to lose weight, WHAT ELSE DO YOU DO?? Well, statistically speaking, yo-yo dieting (a ridiculous term) results in long term weight GAIN, not loss! There are now literally thousands of diets ranging from the Low Fat – Low Carb – No Dairy – Double Banana Milkshake Diets (there are ACTUALLY banana milkshake diets!!!…???????), to the ever present Ketogenic dieting (because everyone hates carb’s, right!?).
Some of these diets outright don’t work, some of them may work a little, and some of them may even work a lot, but they’re all SHORT TERM FIXES. Why??? Because we WANT results in the short term! Take a look at what we value in a diet:
With a little reverse engineering, you can find out what terms people search for when it comes to losing weight and dieting. It ain’t pretty…
Basically, all we’re interested in is: losing weight FAST, or QUICK weight loss, or the BEST ways to lose weight QUICKLY. WHY!?!? Did we just realize that Frank’s wedding is THIS Saturday!? (OMG!!! Quickly, you go buy laxatives and I’ll start binning whatever’s in the fridge). Ok, so maybe it’s not quite that bad, BUT given that our attention span has somewhat plummeted in the last decade and the fact that we constantly look for instant gratification, our choice in diets isn’t that surprising… it’s also not that effective OR healthy. The most likely result is:
FAST DIETS = SHOCKED BODY = DAMAGED METABOLISM = LONG TERM WEIGHT GAIN
The above (search terms) are what this guide should remove once and for all from your vernacular! We’ll look at how weight loss actually happens, give diet tips, recommend some healthy diets (including low carb), and EVEN list some healthy “fat burning” foods (though how they BURN fat is anyone’s guess…). Get ready to take control of your weight!
Israeli Army Diet[i]… is not used by the Israeli army, nor is it a long term weight loss strategy… nor is it a good “lose weight quickly” strategy. It’s a short term (6-10 day) diet plan designed to work primarily by cutting out “in transit” food and water weight. Losing fat this quickly is not possible. *What usually happens is these kinds of diets deplete your body’s glycogen stores, and that means MUCH less water in your body (as glycogen holds up to 4 times its weight in water!)
VLCD’s[ii]: Very Low Calorie Diets are, again, a form of shock dieting. The idea is you use 800 calorie liquid meals as a meal replacement, which is ok (not ideal) if you can get all the nutrients your body needs form 800Kcal – not easy. If done right, this could be a viable weight loss method in extreme cases. Compliance can be an issue… as can weight regain.
Calorie Counting: Not so much a diet, as a means of controlling energy in to ensure it’s lower than energy out. This is possible if you’re incredibly meticulous, or experienced in nutritional planning.
The Banana Milkshake Diet: This is our name for all ridiculous diets that will, in all likelihood, do damage to your metabolism and cause long term weight gain. Steer clear.
IIFYM: The “If It Fits Your Macros” Diet is effectively a useful diet for people who don’t care about being healthy. There’s no way you can safely lose weight eating WHATEVER YOU WANT, but making sure it falls within your designated daily breakdown of macronutrients. You may lose weight, but it won’t be the weight you want, you will gain it back with interest, and you’ll be even less healthy. Same goes for putting on muscle: eat whatever you want + not taking juice = getting fat
The 2 Day Diet[iii]: The 2 Day Diet actually almost makes sense, except for the issues with potential for self-sabotage. If you’re already disciplined enough to make this diet work for you (eating healthy on your 5 days, and then fasting for 2), you don’t need this diet. It’s designed for people who aren’t capable of sticking to a diet change, which can mean bad food choices, worse health, and probably regaining the weight.
The Grapefruit Diet[iv]: Grapefruits are awesome, just not with breakfast, lunch and dinner… There’s no magic fat burning enzyme (sorry, I know it’s like saying the tooth fairy doesn’t exist), but grapefruits are still healthy! This diet, on the other hand, won’t burn fat and is counterproductive in the long term… still like grapefruits though.
The Macro-less Diet: This is cutting out any major food group in the belief that that macro nutrient is responsible for your not losing weight. This is just not true. Weight loss studies have been done on a range of diets and the common denominator has always been calorie count. There is one caveat to this, which is how your body metabolizes sugar. We’ll look at that in the next section.
Fat (more than just love handles)
We’re not going to smother you with details here, but a basic understanding can really help when it comes to deciding how you want to eat and how you want to take care of your body. Fat is our body’s energy store that helps to regulate hunger signals and can also store toxins. Historically speaking, fat was obviously very important in us surviving times of scarcity, but it’s also a necessary protective layer as it can help thermo-regulate (so you don’t melt of freeze).
A fat cell is also known as an adiposite (these make up adipose tissue). Adiposities are, in turn, made up of triglyerides. Triglycerides are 3 (not surprisingly) fatty acids and a glyceride (glycerol) molecule. What this means is that when your body is starved and needs sugar (think fuel), it can (via gluconeogensis) break down the triglycerides into its constituents and use the glycerol as sugar. This is how your body deals with low blood sugar, but just because your body breaks down fat to compensate for a carbohydrate shortage does not mean that cutting all carb’s out of your diet is a good way to burn fat! (We’ll get to that)
There are 2 kinds of fat, subcutaneous and visceral. Subcutaneous fat is just normal fat (literally fat beneath the skin), while visceral fat is the unfortunate fat that surrounds the organs and can cause some rather serious health problems. Roughly, this means that anything you can pinch is subcutaneous, but if you have a bit of a paunch you might want to consider getting in shape for more than aesthetic reasons (as visceral fat is linked to heart disease, diabetes, increased inflammation and even cognitive decline).
There are 2 types of fat cells, regular “white” adipose tissue, and brown adipose tissue (BAT cells). The brown cells are far fewer and act as heat regulators (non-shivering thermogenisis). These BAT cells have more mitochondria which can produce energy in the form of heat (…ever heard of “shiver walks”?? Making this heat uses calories, though maybe bring a scarf just in case and start out easy – 15 minutes max). White cells, on the other hand, are far greater in number but have only a single mitochondrion per cell.
White adipose tissue cells release a hormone called Leptin (which works alongside other hunger signals like Ghrelin, released in the stomach). Leptin works by telling your body that you need less food, therefore the more fat cells you have the stronger the signal! Pretty clever, right? Unfortunately, we can reduce our Leptin sensitivity[v] (effectively, chronically high leptin levels can reduce the receptors sensitivity to it, and it’s possible that certain foods can cause issues with the receptors reducing Leptin’s effectiveness) and it can even be over-ridden. Much money is spent (by major fast food companies) on finding the right chemical balance to make foods “hyper-palatable” which can make overeating more difficult to control[vi].
How Fat Is Made
When you eat food, your body breaks it down (metabolizes it) so that it can be absorbed (usually in the small intestines) and sends what it needs to perform its basic processes (enzymes, amino acids, vitamins, fatty acids, simple carb’s etc.) to the muscles, replenishes glycogen stores, and what’s left is converted into triglycerides. As all carbohydrates are broken down into monosaccharides (sugar), any carbohydrates that aren’t used to make glycogen (the animal version of starch, a polysaccharide) will be used to make triglycerides and stored in adipose tissue. The backbone of these triglycerides is sugar, which is why it has such a bad reputation. But it HAS TO BE NOTED, that only excess sugar is bad.
Sugar, as everyone now knows comes in many, many forms, and is snuck into everything we eat these days. This is hugely problematic as our bodies don’t use anywhere NEAR the amount of sugar (processed carb’s) that we consume AND to make things work, studies have shown that fructose (in excess) could be responsible for many health issues! While this is a problem, it does not mean that sugar is the enemy, it mostly means that we aren’t using anywhere near enough carbohydrates through daily activities to warrant the huge amounts of processed carb’s we now consume and that we need to cut down on our fructose consumption (think… everything that tastes sweet these days).
So, effectively,when we look at fat production we should think: Excess calories in our diet (in the form of macronutrients). These are either used, or converted into glucose. Glucose is used to make Glycogen which is an energy store for the muscles. When glycogen stores have been replenished, and left over sugar is then bound to fatty acids to make triglycerides. These triglycerides are now stored as… FAT
The Metabolism of Fat
The metabolism of fat begins with the hormones produced by the adrenal glands which bind to receptors in adipose tissue. Fat is stored in adipose tissue cells (as triglycerides), and is released via lipolysis after stimulation of the beta receptor (though glucagon can also bring about lipolysis in adipose tissue, it’s much more active in the liver). Triglycerides are broken down into glycerol and fatty acids during lipolysis. The glycerol can be converted into glucose and the fatty acids can be used as fuel (by mitochondria). There are some hormonal imbalance issues (such as with cortisol, leptin, estrogen etc.) discussed in more detail in the “It’s the little things” and “SBF” sections below.
How Fat Is Lost:
Losing fat shouldn’t be as complicated as it’s made out to be. Below are the 4 primary ways diets will cause you to lose weight, laid out in general terms so that you can see how they apply to diets you may have tried in the past. (a), (b), and (c) are normally the results of fad diets and are not roads to long term healthy fat loss. In the next section we’ll start to look at what diets are safe and how they work, and then at healthy food choices that can help.
The 4 types of weight loss:
(a) Cutting water weight: will drop the numbers on your scale but will not help you lose weight long term, will not help you get healthy, will not help you feel (or look) good (leave this to athletes and bodybuilders)
(b) Losing muscle: is the disaster scenario where your diet/exercise plan goes horribly wrong. This can happen when people wrongly manipulate their macro’s and as a result are working muscles that aren’t getting fed (not good!)
(c) Losing “in transit” food/water: is the quick win You ate late last night and weigh yourself in the morning; you’re up over half a kilo. The next day you cut your food, eat light meals and have nothing after dinner. You hop out of bed in the morning the scales are your best friend! Not only have you lost the 0.6kg you had gained, but an ADDITIONAL 0.5kg. There’s nothing wrong with losing “in transit” weight, but it’s definitely not a viable long term strategy!
(d) (Ideal) Losing fat: is the goal of almost all weight loss plans, but is very rarely the result. Losing fat is not always as complicated (or as easy) as it is made out to be. There are a few key points that are generally left out or completely glossed over, because of the prominence of fad “quick-fix” diets. So let’s start looking at how we get a (d) result!
How to avoid the (a), (b), and (c) of weight loss:
(a) Cutting water for sports/bodybuilding actually involves water loading, so it is pretty rare to have this happen unintentionally. Losing water weight when beginning a new diet on the other hand is INCREDIBLY common and is generally the quick results you see from fad diets. There is nothing hugely terrible with dropping water weight in the short term, it’s just that there’s nothing particularly good either (for health OR weight loss), and it’s usually from cutting carb’s dramatically. This means that when you replenish those glycogen (think glucose) stores, you’re getting all that water weight back too! So the key is not to focus on the weighing scales too much, don’t drastically cut any macronutrient group (especially carb’s), and don’t jump straight into any fad diet that tells you that you’ll lose X kilo in 10 days.
(b) Losing muscle is not actually that uncommon, and shy of steroid use can be difficult to avoid completely if you’re looking to lose substantial amounts of fat (and steroids are NEVER the answer!). If you are undertaking a reasonably strenuous exercise routine, DO NOT suddenly cut your food intake drastically and definitely don’t cut out any macro group(carb’s are actually very necessary, as are fats and protein). The key here is to remember your body will follow the path of least resistance. If you lift (relatively) heavy weights and eat enough good protein you muscles will remain intact. If you then introduce something like I.F. or another means of calorie reduction (like substituting calorie dense foods for something lighter) then you will lose weight. Put these together and you’re losing the right kind of weight. If the unthinkable happens (and it might), switch up your diet. Try to gain a little muscle (there will be some fat too, that’s ok), and then resume cutting fat.
Protein Tip: Use Protein shakes to ensure you’re getting enough high quality protein without a huge number of calories. Breakfast shakes are a great low calorie, nutrient dense replacement for standard staples (cereals/bread etc.) and can be improved by adding nutrient dense powders to them. Post-Workout Shakes should include both protein AND sugar, as it will increase your insulin response which means muscles getting fed. Lastly, if you’re only doing HIIT workouts (15-20 minutes or less), you DO NOT need a post-workout shake, just have a high protein snack or exercise before dinner.
(c) Losing “in transit” waste isn’t really to be avoided, and will naturally happen as you reduce your food intake (or do a detox). You’d be surprised how much “excess baggage” you carry and more importantly how bad that is for your health. Doing this won’t help you drop sizes, but it WILL help you feel better and look better!
Generally speaking, before jumping into an intense, potentially restrictive diet, a substitution diet is a great place to start from (replace unhealthy foods with healthy alternatives). This allows you to tighten up on any bad habits and get prepared for a long term push towards healthy living. Good substitution dieting almost always comes down to mastering your shopping and being willing to throw out the crap in your cupboard – shop how you intend to eat! (Here’s an article on how to implement good shopping and exercise habits) This is mostly just a case of replacing processed / sugary foods with healthy alternatives and making sure you PUT THE HEALTHY OPTIONS somewhere easy to see! Small changes make BIG differences! (i.e. cutting out sugary drinks or fruit juice)
Before you eat, ask yourself “Is there a healthy alternative”, and if there isn’t you’ve failed in your planning, not your execution. Your environment dictates your behaviour in many ways (at least in terms of maintaining bad habits), so break the cycle, throw out (at least most of) the crap, and make the good stuff easy to get at! When you’ve mastered this, here are a few diets that you can learn from to help you create your own safe and effective nutrition plan. We’re not suggesting that you adopt any of these diets outright, but they all have some good ideas that are worth considering.
The Schwarzbein Principle: We decided to open with the Schwarzbein diet because low carb is SO popular and though this diet has some negative reviews, there are some good takeaways. The Schw. diet is effectively a means of transitioning to a low carb lifestyle (though the carb recommendations were increased after the first book) that aims to cut out all processed foods. It’s generally high in protein which will help with weightloss, and it emphasizes healthy eating (which means healthy you).
For more information about The Schwazbein Diet take a look here!
IF (Intermittent Fasting): Intermittent Fasting is our favourite for many reasons. It has been shown in many studies to increase cell health and (potentially) life expectancy. It doesn’t cost any money, it’s hard to get wrong, and it definitely works, and you’ll feel great (when you get the hang of it!). It is not about skipping meals and then eating what you want! It’s a great precursor to a long term diet change, though the most important thing with any of these diets is that they suit your lifestyle!
Our free Green Tea Diet Plan outlines the whole process and gives a checklist to keep you from getting overwhelmed! Or you can take a look at Ori Hofmekler’s very well researched and interesting book The Warrior Diet!
Paleo Diets: are EVERYWHERE now… not that this is a bad thing, but it does lead to an awful lot of misinformation. Remember that, in essence, the Paleo Diet is about eating how our ancestors would have eaten, which is to say while running from other hungry animals. Suffice to say its supporters feel we wouldn’t have had access to cultivated grains or domesticated farm animals, but it follows the basic principals of eating a varied diet with no processed foods or additives.
Ketogenic Dieting: (Incl. The Dukan Diet): Contrary to popular belief, Keto-Diets are not just kind of low carb, they are very low carb. The Dukan Diet is more moderate in that it’s clearly laid out. It begins with a high protein phase, and then slowly adds small amounts of carbs as it progresses.
Transitioning to ketogenic dieting is generally only suitable for those not doing strenuous exercise routines, or high intensity exercise given the body’s need for glucose post workout. For more info about The Dukan Diet take a look here!
The Anderson, Anderson, Anderson Diet is a name we just invented to amalgamate the 3 popular Anderson diets, which should just about make up 1 good diet. The first is James Anderson’s “Simple” Diet which is a mix of shakes and meals prepared in advance, the second is William Anderson (“TGIF” Diet) which again has good and bad points, and the last is Tracy Anderson’s dancer body aka how to look like eating’s not cool any more diet.
Other Popular Diets
These are diets worth a mention due to their popularity and use to treat specific conditions, though, as with the diets above, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re ideal, just that there might be something we can learn from them!
Specific Carbohydrate & FODMAP Diets, are based around the principle that certain carbohydrates are allergenic, which is quite possible. Many people are unable to digest certain carbohydrates, such as lactose (found in dairy), as well as certain FODMAP’s (Fructo-Oligo-Di-Mono-Saccharides And Polyols). While these diets can help, in reality no one is going to have problems digesting ALL FODMAP’s and will have to do an elimination diet to find out which foods upset the system. The issue with this is that not eating a particular type of food for a week + can increase sensitivity as it can cause a change in gut bacteria and digestion. As such, people who have tested allergic to specific carbohydrates should obviously remove that from their diet (Specific Carb Diet), but if a more comprehensive list of carb’s are to be removed, it may be best to start with some form of food intolerance test and THEN try a trial elimination diet, instead of arbitrarily picking a FODMAP/carbohydrate group and removing it completely to see how your body reacts.
The Gerson Therapy/Protocol, which is now considered a cancer diet, was originally created to treat migraines, and was subsequently believed to be a good treatment for tuberculosis. While the Gerson Protocol is a very healthy diet (contrary to how most mainstream media portrays it), and while there is substantial anecdotal evidence as to its efficacy, there is limited scientific evidence for this being anything more than a useful adjunct treatment. More details can be found here, and this will be addressed in much greater detail in our future guides.
The Food Combining (Hay) Diet seems, much like the Gerson Therapy, to be somewhat lacking in scientific studies to back up the claims. Combining certain foods should, in theory, cause digestive upset (due to competing digestive needs of certain macro nutrients – varying degrees of acidity) but in practice our bodies (as always) have incredible ways of coping with these problems. That said, a lot of people swear by this diet and how it has helped them, and it’s becoming clearer than ever that Seňor Hippocrates was correct when he said health comes from the gut (well technically he said all disease comes from the gut). Maybe food combining works, but more than likely not for the reasons its followers suggest.
The Alkaline Diet, is an absolute die-hard favourite with alternative health followers. Believing that many (if not all) health problems stem from an excess of acidity in the body, the goal of this diet is to alkalize the body, to counteract the acid and slow (if not reverse) the damage caused. We cannot tell you how many, many, many health books and diets and naturopaths have cited this as a key factor for poor health (especially with chronic conditions such as rheumatism and arthritis), but this doesn’t seem to quite fit with how our body regulates acidity. This diet advocates separating certain foods, removing other (acid causing) foods from the diet altogether, and eating foods that alkalize your body. More information can be found here!
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The Montignac (Low GI) Diet was based upon the premise that eating low GI foods would stabilize blood sugar and reduce food cravings, and, while our understanding of the limitations of the Glycemic Index and blood sugar has improved, there is still some merit to this diet. Maintaining blood sugar levels can help with many health problems as well as increasing energy and reducing mood swings.
“Calories are irrelevant for weightloss and all that matters
is what kind of food you eat”
Unfortunately this is not true, but there’s just enough truth to make it seem plausible. There have been no studies that show you can eat a caloric surplus and lose weight (except in very atypical circumstances). The truth is that we DO have some hormonal imbalances brought about by poor diet habits that can cause excess fat stores and increased levels of visceral fat. This means the key is to start by cleaning up your diet and then learning how to run a safe caloric deficit. Don’t completely restrict ANY macro nutrient as they’re all necessary for a healthy body (there’s merit to many different macro-splits, just not to cutting something out completely). Many people now advocate a high carb diet (all non grain carbs – potatoes, rice, sorghum etc.) as this can potentially increase testosterone levels. Many people thrive on diets high in fat, high in protein, but low in carbs (such as the Schwarzbein Diet). Many people argue that certain proteins are inflammatory and low protein diets result in less “modern” illnesses. There’s no need to get hung up on which you choose, as it’s more important that you ensure your getting all your essential nutrients. Macro split should really be about preference and interest.
Look to eat a variety of healthy things in each meal (don’t overcook, plenty of colour, go easy on the sauces). Most of the headache of planning meals will be taken care of when you iron out your shopping list (see our guide for more information). Try to get at least 2 nutrient dense vegetables in each of your main meals, and have plenty of fruits. If you’re still not sure you’re getting what you need, feel free to ask a question in the comments box and there’ll be more guides in the future about specific diet needs.
Our food list is going to start with vegan options as these are things almost everyone can eat (save for some possible food allergies/intolerances), and then add in vegetarian, and lastly the flexitarian (we need a better word for that). 2 things to note:
1) Certain Foods are at risk for higher amounts of pesticide residue with Apples, Peaches, Nectarines, and White Potatoes[vii] scoring very high. Kale and leafy greens should also be bought organic where possible. The EWG’s Clean Fifteen list of produce least likely to hold pesticide residues consists of avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, cabbage, frozen sweet peas, onions, asparagus, mangoes, papayas, kiwis, eggplant, grapefruit, cantaloupe, cauliflower and sweet potatoes
*See EWG’s top 50 fruit/vegetables with pesticides here, though this guide is made for the US so just be careful what you’re buying and from where. Good substitute ideas can be found here.
2) phyto-nutrient just means plant nutrient (and they are generally just forms of flavonoids and other non-vitamin/mineral compounds)
*It would be very, very remiss of us not to mention how invaluable the World’s Healthiest Food’s website as a reference resource has been. It’s really, really wonderful (and free)! All links from the table above are at the end of the article.
Try to get your gut bacteria in shape! Increase your probiotics and look forward to a healthier gut and immune system (and lots of other goodies). Many of you will have read Tim Spector’s book The Diet Myth and as such are aware of the impact your gut bacteria can have on your health, as well as your weight! While probiotic supplements only really provide a short term boost to your gut bacteria, many pre-biotic foods as well as the now super popular fermented foods will have a positive impact on your guts overall health in terms of allowing new good bacteria to successfully colonize in your gut (though like all living things, these guys need food so you’ll have to maintain your diet changes to get the benefits). Pro-biotics are the the actual healthy bacteria that help break down food, but can only survive for so long in the gut without the correct food. Pre-biotics are a type of fibre that feed the probiotics. Fermented foods (such as Kefir) are known as “synbiotic” because they contain both pre and pro-biotics, providing both healthy bacteria AND food for the new bacteria.
Pre-biotic foods include: Banana, Chicory or Garlic (inulin), Apple (pectin), Oat Meal (Beta Glucan), Potato (resistant starch). There are many others, though gum arabic (acacia gum) and chicory have the highest amounts per gram.
Healthy fermented foods include… Kefir (water and milk), Kombucha, Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Stinky Tofu (don’t ever eat it… just kidding… kind of), other live culture yogurts, as well as some beers and breads (sourdough bread being one).
It is true, that if you only care about losing weight (regardless of what kind of weight it is and of how unhealthy it makes you), then you don’t need to exercise. BUT, if you want to lose weight AND be healthy, AND look good… you need to exercise! (Also, it’ll make the diet side of losing weight easier!)
Your body works off the principle of path of least resistance. This means that if you don’t use a muscle, your body will decide you don’t need it and you’ll lose it[viii] (as it is eating up calories that could be used to make more fat stores and is an inefficient use of resources which your body doesn’t like). Even more importantly is how incredibly clear it is (anatomically speaking) that our bodies were MADE TO MOVE![ix] We’re not designed to live a sedentary life[x], it’s just not healthy (interesting article for those who sit at work! Interesting exercise to reduce back pain). When you combine the two of these points you get:
Don’t do exercise: probably lose muscle, potentially gain fat, and end up less healthy with a higher chance of things like heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis and many more delightful surprises.
Do exercise: know that your body will maintain your muscle levels as this is the path of least resistance. You also increase your metabolism (not as much as many fanatics will have you believe, but enough to make a difference), help balance your hormones, reduce stress levels, improve mood[xi], and dramatically reduce your chances of heart disease[xii], osteoporosis, arthritis, and all those aforementioned delightful surprises. This sounds like a healthy bodily environment more conducive to healthy weight loss!
When it comes to burning calories, the best way to exercise is (you’ve heard it before, but…) HIIT. We have a Free HIIT Guide that will give you all the information you need and some free routines. Suffice to say, it doesn’t require a huge investment of time, doesn’t require a gym membership, and gives exceptional results. It does require some effort to see the kind of results you read about online (in the interest of full disclosure, you will need A LOT of effort to get those results, but this is an investment in your happiness and health… easy decision!)
Another point to note is that a HUGE issue these days with weight gain is excess sugar (primarily in the form of fructose) being converted into fat. When you exercise (ideally for longer periods circa 60 minutes), you severely deplete your glycogen stores. What this means is that your body needs and can actually USE the sugar you eat. This, coupled with a few small food substitutions (no sodas, swap crap for healthier snacks), can have a major impact of your health and long-term weight.
If learning more about exercise and its benefits seems like something you’d be interested in, or you’re interested in learning more about exercise, you can have a look at these books available on our site (all affiliate sale proceeds from books sold through the site go to charity), though they’re available just about everywhere. Power To The People (exceptional book for learning the basics of strength and working out), The Egoscue Method (exceptional book for helping with mobility problems), Fast Exercise (exceptional introduction to HIIT as well as the research and history behind it), and a great resource for the runners among you.
(For people unable to exercise, elderly people with limited mobility, or to earn bonus points for those who are already working out but want to do a little extra!)
This is our “When All Else Fails” Exercise selection, for those unable to do a proper workout at home. These exercises can be…
Sitting (while watching tv):
• Knee Raises
• Leg Curls
• Shoulder Routine (involving Arm Circles, Shoulder Circles, Stretching, Cuban Press, etc.)
• Cardio Punches
• Scapular retractions & Neck Stretches
Lying (while… lying down):
• Knee/Leg Raises
• Cross Crawls
• Rolling / Rocking
• Cardio Leg Bicycles
• Glute Bridge
*Make sure if you do exercises sitting (or lying) it’s a reasonably solid surface without cushions.
Measuring For Success
“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps.” Confucius
At this point you’ve probably been reading for about 20-25 minutes (factoring in for daydreaming time about how you’ll look after a successful diet), so here’s the final stage: setting yourself up for success.
Sometimes, the biggest obstacle to getting in shape is your own expectations. You’ve just spent a WEEK eating healthy and exercising, you hop on the scales waiting to see them register a negative weight, but… hold on… 1kg!?!?!?!?!? I lost 1 kg!?
This is a very common problem which can be tackled with 3 realizations:
• Your body is not a damn abacus – things don’t always add up the way you want. That said, you will always be rewarded for your efforts. It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, but the rewards will come. Be patient.
• It is NOT SAFE to lose 4, 5, 10, 15, whatever kilograms a week. It’s just not! If you have a big event coming up and you want to lose weight for it, start early. Otherwise you’ll just end up putting it back on with interest, and potentially damaging your body and metabolism in the process.
• Losing 5, or 15, or even 25 kilograms (over the long term) will always be made up of 1kg victories. Why belittle the fact that you’ve just proven you can do it! Every kilo is a victory. It might take a month or two longer than planned, but the goal is to get healthy and look good. There’s no biological prizes for losing the weight fast, only potential downsides.
Many writers suggest only weighing yourself once a week, which only makes sense if you’re VERY sensitive to what you see on the scales. Otherwise, check your weight every day at the same time (ideally morning), in the same clothes (pyjamas), and try to find your baseline weight (an average over the course of a week). Your bodyweight will fluctuate naturally depending on what and when you eat (due to transit time), so don’t worry if some days are up!
Get a scales that measures body fat and water (doesn’t have to be expensive as generally these aren’t that accurate anyway, that’s fine). You are looking to get a baseline and then work from there. If you step on the scales and it says 35% Body Fat, but you’re actually 21%, it doesn’t matter because you now have a starting point to ensure that the numbers go in the right direction.
Take a weekly photo, and use THIS to measure success (you don’t have to share the photos, but keep them to see how far you’ve come). Many times when you are dieting and exercising at the same time, your body will naturally lose some weight and your muscles will need to grow to accommodate the training. What this means is that though your scales are saying you only lost 0.4kg, your body might be telling a different story. Muscle is much smaller than fat per kilo of weight, therefore it’s possible to maintain the same weight but make really big improvements in your figure.
A Healthy Attitude
While this is just a small section in this article, this is by no means an indication of its importance. Approaching health and dieting with a healthy attitude is paramount to long term success and health.
• Remember that planning is 90% of correctly executing a habit change (in this case your diet). This means that a good shopping list will go a long way to getting you on the right track (see article) (sample shopping list).
• Don’t let yourself slip into a negative internal dialogue, where you focus on what you can’t have or what you didn’t do. It’s not only normal to have bad days, it’s necessary. That’s how you learn what works for you. If you really feel deprived without a certain food, try to engineer it so that you can have a healthy substitute, or just eat it in place of another snack. Ultimately, you’re trying to get healthy and be kind to your body, not be miserable. There’s some truth in the expression “no pain, no gain”, and you should get outside your comfort zone, but know when to give yourself a break or you’ll end up quitting!
• Willpower is not inexhaustible, it fatigues like every other muscle (it’s known as ego depletion). Allow for your having a tough day (and still being able to get your workout done or steer clear of bad snacks) by making it easy for yourself. Have your meals planned and your gym bag packed and ready to go.
• If planning is critical in successfully changing a habit, then momentum is key in maintaining that change! This is all about keeping things moving forward, and focusing on the little victories you have along the way. As Peter Druker once said “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”, so keep a record of how many reps, or how heavy, or how fast, or how you feel (and use that as motivation to keep you going). Keep a picture of what’s motivating you to get in shape nearby, and have a “mantra” that you can repeat to yourself in the morning and evenings, or before workouts.
Stress eating is another big issue (many would argue one of the biggest issues surrounding weight gain), and is somewhat beyond the scope of this article. Suffice to say that awareness of your eating patterns and emotions is key. This is a difficult cycle to break and will take time. First off, it’s a habitual response that will probably need to be substituted out in the short term, and then there’s the physiological (addict’s) response where your body releases feel good hormones (dopamine etc) in response to junk food.
Try to be aware. Every time you pick up a snack, ask yourself “why am I eating this” and don’t let yourself away with “because I’ve had a long day”! Be honest about how you feel and then, if you need, have the snack (guilt free, there’s no point adding guilt to what’s already a difficult emotional situation). When you’ve had your snack, write down why you felt the need to eat, and keep a journal. After a week, read through the journal and try to think of ways to confront and deal with these issues.
It’s the little things…
Sometimes all the little things can add up to big differences, which is why we’ve included a list of things that shouldn’t be overlooked by anyone trying to lose weight!
Hormones. There are 4 hormones worth mentioning when it comes to safe, healthy weight loss: Leptin, Ghrelin, Cortisol, and Insulin (Estrogen’s looked at in the last section). These hormones will combine to have a big impact on your health journey, but a little knowledge will go a long way to ensuring they’re working with you instead of against you.
Leptin sensitivity can be improved by reducing fructose intake (not to nothing, but cut out HFCS and only get fructose from fruit is a good start). This is actually to reverse the leptin resistance that can be caused by diets high in fructose. Get enough sleep. Try not to prolong under eating.
Ghrelin, as we know, is released by the stomach and is a hunger signal sent to the brain. An easy trick to help with this is to drink a glass of water 30 minutes before you’re going to have a meal. This can lower Ghrelin levels and, in doing so, reduce your appetite[xiii] so that you have more control over your portion sizes (as your stomach stretches Ghrelin levels decline). Also, as you saw in the article above, not getting enough sleep can increase your ghrelin levels!
Stress, when chronically elevated, is going to wreak havoc on your hormones. Cortisol is generally accompanied by adrenaline (and its friend norepinephrine) who are both catabolic[xiv] (hence their being included in so many weight loss supplements. See SBF section below for more info an links!). Cortisol on the other hand can actually increase fat levels (particularly abdominal) by causing a change in your hormonal environment, and also potentially causing you to eat more sugar, AS WELL AS interfering with your body digesting and absorbing nutrients. By learning to reduce stress, sleeping more, and doing regular exercise, we can reduce the effects of cortisol.
Insulin is an anabolic hormone, meaning that it causes growth. Insulin’s primary function is to shuttle nutrients into the cells, both fat and muscle. This means that insulin, when flowing in the body, will increase protein synthesis (muscle building), increase glycolysis and glycogen synthesis (preparing the complex sugar needed for making fat and feeding the muscles), AND it will also decrease the rate of lypolysis (meaning less burning of fat for energy)[xv]. This means having chronically high levels of insulin will both increase your body’s storing of fat AND reduce its breaking down of fat.
Get hydrated. This isn’t quite the crisis it’s made out to be but is still important AND can actually be done in conjunction with I.F. We recommend using green tea as a breakfast/lunch replacement. THAT SAID, there’s also a lot of good research around the idea of rebalancing electrolyte levels of your body to help with water absorption. This can be done with a natural salt-water drink called Sole (So-lay) drunk first thing in the morning. Sole with help with adrenal fatigue, helps start your metabolism, and rehydrates the body. You can learn how to make it here. You can also read our 521-Hydration Guide here!
Help your body to heal. The theory goes something like: excess toxins (in excess of what your body can remove) are stored in fat cells; therefore if you are carrying a lot of excess fat, chances are you’re carrying a lot of toxins. If you’re now eating healthy and starting to cut calories in a healthy way, your body will need to burn fat stores… you might be about get those toxins back. While there aren’t enough studies underpinning THIS theory, countless studies have shown that different diets and food supplements can improve vital organ function which is always a good thing! DETOX and help your body heal (though you might feel like crap for a while anyway).[likebtn theme=”heartcross” dislike_enabled=”0″ icon_dislike_show=”0″ white_label=”1″ voting_cancelable=”0″ counter_padding=”7″ i18n_after_like=”Awesome! You liked it!” i18n_like_tooltip=”press me… press me!”]
Medication can add, according to some studies, up to 10lbs (4.5kg)[xvi][xvii] of weight. Sometimes getting the body you want isn’t only about cutting calories and burning fat, it’s also about getting healthy. Things should get easier once you prioritize that.
Intuitive Eating is eating aware. By slowing down your eating and trying to listen to what your body needs you can start to see the disconnect between your views on health and what your eating. It’s also a good way to find the connection between what you’re eating and why you’re eating, which should help with things like stress eating. Being aware of where the problem lies is half the battle.
Heal Your Metabolism. Your body’s metabolism can be damaged by regular changes in diet (specifically extreme calorie cutting or macro-nutrient cutting) and can become slow. Some good ways to get your metabolism firing again (without ruining your weight loss goals) are carb cycling, HIIT (start off easy), occasional (moderate) cheat days if you’re cutting calories, getting more sleep, and reducing stress!
Heal Your Gut – This doesn’t just mean eating more fermented foods (though that does help!). Constantly eating processed foods can be draining on your digestion, as the necessary enzymes (naturally occurring in foods) is destroyed or removed during processing. This means your body has to compensate. Eating less processed foods, more vegetables (don’t cook them till they’re edible threw a straw!) and fruit in moderation can help take the pressure off your digestive system. There are also things that can help with stomach health (such as glutamine) and digestion (such as psyllium husk), so these are viable options to help while you’re getting back on track.
This is actually one of the most important parts of losing weight (or anything for that matter). Most people associate responsibility with blame, when in reality it’s about being in control. No one who’s focussed on improving and progressing will waste time blaming people (including themselves), they learn from whatever mistakes were made and improve upon them.
This is important because there will be days when you fall off the wagon and overeat, or don’t exercise, or bags of processed crap and junk food (hopefully not often). DO NOT allow yourself to use this as an excuse to give up, or say that it’s too difficult. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY, admit you made a mistake, forgive yourself (everyone makes mistakes), and then remember that it’s the ONLY way to improve! Cue cheesy expression… “It’s not how many times you get knocked down that counts, it’s how many times you get back up”.
Cover Your Bases
Ok, at this point you’ve now taken on board a LOT of new information, but before we finish up it’s worth noting that there are a few supplements worth adding to your daily diet regimen.
♥ Psyllium Husk (is a soluble fibre that has shown in studies to help with digestive health and not to cause much irritation for people with IBS)
♥ Chromium (is incredibly useful for those looking to get the best results from dieting as it can help with carbohydrate metabolism and balancing blood sugar. Foods high in Chromium include broccoli, brewer’s yeast, green beans, and oats)
♥ Omega 3 Oil (Fish oils have been studied ad nauseam but have over the last couple of years come under fire as being both unsafe in terms of mineral content AND a way for unscrupulous food companies to monetize their bi-products. That said, our diets are generally WAY too high in omega 6 which means extra omega 3 will be of immense benefit. Try whole fish, some canned fish is very good, flax oil or vegetarian oil blends can be good to – though it’s best to go with a reputable brand like Udo’s)
♥ Vitamin D (has come under fire recently, but it’s still very affordable, has been shown to have many health benefits, and in places where the sun only comes out on Wednesdays, it’s a safe bet)
♥ Zinc/Magnesium Blends (taken before bed, are a good way help increase sleep quality and ensure sufficient levels of these 2 vital minerals. Magnesium has been shown to be lacking in most of our diets, and zinc comes with a VERY long list of health benefits)
♥ MSM/Epsom Bath Salt Blends (are a great way to pull toxins from the body, and to make something that’s already great even better, just add a half cup of apple cider vinegar)
♥ Greens/Protein Blends (are not necessary if you’re eating a reasonably complete and well-rounded diet, but if you do hard exercise, are prone to cold/flu symptoms, or struggle to find ways to get enough protein into your diet, these are great!)
♥ Curcumin Extract (has been studied extensively and has been shown to have a list of health benefits the length of this article, well… nearly – C1, C2, C3, C4. This is an exceptional supplement regardless of your diet as it’s quite difficult to get curcumin in any appreciable amounts through diet alone)
♥Green Tea (is really an added bonus. If you like the taste, then you get a delicious drink AND an incredible array of health benefits. If you don’t like the drink, don’t sweat it. Either take the capsules or if you still really want the green tea polyphenols you can take the capsules)
♥Multivitamin (is, again, necessary only for those who struggle to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. That said, most people running a caloric deficit for weight loss are realistically going to be deficient in some areas of their diet, so a good multivitamin won’t hurt)
Ohhhhhh… that SBF
This is the part where we look past all of the ridiculous Garcinoble Cambodoodle ideas out there designed ENTIRELY with the sole purpose of separating you from your hard earned Sunday treat $.
Stubborn belly fat is caused by hormonal imbalances and can lead to fatty deposits in the stomach (AND thigh regions in women) and stomach region for men. But, all you really need to get rid of it is take this secret new plant we found in the African sub-tropical, Saharan, Rain-Forest. Fortune smiled on us all as it was found by the world’s LEADING expert in fat-loss (and marketing), who was there on an unrelated, very scientific expedition. Blah, Blah, Blah… If you Google stubborn belly fat, or even belly fat in general, you get a host of highly scientific, research backed articles about how secret pills and magic exercises can fix it… or maybe it’s just a load of nonsense designed to sell things.
Ok, but you’re still asking “why do I have fat in certain areas and not others!?” which is a fair question and can be answered with two words “genetics” and “hormones”.
Visceral fat, fatty deposits around the abdomen, is believed to be highly correlated with cortisol levels[xviii][xix], and is now also thought to be caused by a combination of dietary factors (too much processed food that’s high in fructose – think HFCS) causing insulin resistance, xeno-toxins (including xeno-estrogens – think foods with unpronounceable chemical additives), endocrine disruptors (think pesticides), and some medications.
Visceral fat, which is associated with many health problems (diabetes, heart disease, etc.), can be reduced quite easily with regular exercise (like jogging, though HIIT will be more than sufficient as long as you’re not pushing yourself too hard). Cut down on foods known to be highly sprayed with pesticides (like the ones mentioned in the EWG report above) or buy organic. Washing fruit / vegetables (that aren’t peeled apples, pears, leafy greens etc.) with a lemon and water mix can help remove some of the chemicals. Estrogenic factors are a big issue for men, so cutting down on alcohol consumption, foods with soy additives. Estrogenic factors have actually been linked to breast cancer in women (and potentially prostate cancer), so these may also be useful recommendations regardless of gender. Please bear in mind that this doesn’t make estrogen bad, it’s just that feeding your body an unnatural, chemical version of a hormone that can increase cell growth speed might not be a great idea. For those interested, there are books on how to minimize excess estrogens in the diet (here, and a good list of things to avoid to reduce xeno-estrogens can be found here).
Fat is known as “stubborn fat” when it has an altered ratio of α:β receptors (or just not enough receptors). While this is a little complicated, suffice to say both of these receptors play a role in the metabolism of fat. They are acted upon by epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and facilitate the release (and subsequent) breakdown of triglycerides from adipose tissue via lipolysis. Other hormones (such as glucagon, cortisol, and insulin) also play an important role in this metabolism of fat. What matters here is that:
1. Norepinephrine[xx] is the key player in bringing about the metabolism of fat stores, and that some fat cells have lower than ideal levels of receptors for this neuro-transmitter.
2. Chronically high levels of insulin will prevent lipolysis from occurring optimally and result in insulin sensitivity issues
3. High cortisol levels are highly correlated with high amounts of abdominal fat[xxi] as well as reductions in sex hormones (which basically means feeling crap, looking worse, and gaining fat)
4. Chronically low estrogen levels can reduce insulin sensitivity
5. Are you sure you haven’t lost fat?
6. Does it make sense for your body to break down fat stores?
So how do we tackle these problems…???
Eat healthy, exercise, and rest.
1. Norepinephrine is released during intense exercise. Don’t kill yourself, but don’t skip the tough stuff. More on this below.
2. Sugar or processed carb’s should only enter your vernacular for 2 brief moments BEFORE and AFTER a heavy workout. Otherwise, try to minimize insulin spikes.
3. Cortisol is tied to stress. Though most would advocate something like meditation to reduce stress, meditation for weight loss might just be a recipe for sitting on your own, thinking about your belly fat for half an hour… probably not that relaxing. Try walks in nature, getting a massage, or playing an instrument (or any other reasonably restful hobby). Also, keeping a stress diary can help to get things out of your head, and cutting down on caffeine can help.
4. Estrogen (actually estradiol) is released by adipose tissue. Unless you have recently gone through menopause, low estrogen levels shouldn’t be an issue.
5. This is a two part issue: firstly that you may lose fat but not weight (through muscle gain) which is an ideal outcome, and secondly visceral fat deposits will be utilized before subcutaneous fat deposits as they are more receptive to exercise hormones. So, you may be losing fat, you just might not have noticed yet.
6. As mentioned in the paragraph about visceral fat, toxins in the body can make it difficult for your body to burn fat. Why would it burn fat when it’s having to add more to store these toxins. When done correctly, Intermittent Fasting can help with the body allocating more resources to cellular detoxification AND can help with insulin sensitivity. Also, consuming enough fibre on a daily basis can dramatically increase your body’s ability to dispose of toxins.
The past 2 decades have seen the rise and demise of the “eat less, exercise more” school of thought, as many ended up gaining weight. The result was an awful lot of self professed health aficionados decrying all forms of strenuous exercise as doomed to cause weight gain. If you run yourself into the ground in the gym, your body probably won’t thank you for it. If, on the other hand, you progressively increase the challenge you pose to your body and allow it to heal sufficiently, it will thank you with health. Additionally, mitochondria burn fat, and HIIT increases the amount of them in the muscles. ALSO, it’s believed that slow twitch muscle fibre can also play an important role in fat burning. This means that a combination of HIIT, low impact cardio, and resistance training makes for the best approach. That doesn’t mean go out and do a 3 hour gym session, followed by a 40 minute HIIT spin class, followed by a 4 hour walk.
Start with your HIIT workouts (15 minutes) 2-3 times a week, and go for a walk 2-3 times a week (for 2-4 weeks). Then add 1 weights session (45 minutes) in place of a walk (again, approximately 2-4 weeks). Then add 1 weights session in place of a HIIT workout (again, maybe 1 month). Now you amalgamate your weight sessions and HIIT work (Weights then HIIT work – 50 minutes) 2-3 times a week, walk/jog 2-3 times a week. At any time, if you feel run down, revert back a step for a week or 2. You’re looking at 6 months to being in very good shape.
Lastly, some of you may be saying “wait! I saw that TED Talks where the speaker said we have a fat set-point. Obviously, we CAN’T lose fat!” and to this we say: There have been countless people who have lost SERIOUS amounts of weight and KEPT IT OFF!! Why wouldn’t you be able!? Remember to tell yourself that there is NOTHING wrong with your body even if it’s a few pounds over weight, that’s really just a chance to make an already amazing thing even better!
Food Table References & Links[i] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11446830 [ii] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4027835/ [iii] https://authoritynutrition.com/6-proven-health-benefits-of-apple-cider-vinegar/ [iv]http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19661687
Beetroot: Betaine (TMG)
Tea & Kombucha: health benefits of a healthy gut
Fermented Foods: Sourdough, Sauerkraut, Kimchi, Miso, Amazaki, etc.
Live Culture Yogurt & Kefir: Kefir
Organ Meats: incredibly nutrient dense