Not to mention, there are about as many ways to lose weight as there are overweight people! The variety of techniques, strategies, and programs people use to lose weight are practically endless. And while one strategy may work well for one person, it may do nothing for another, depending on one's habits, lifestyle, and even genetics.
We are a species of instant gratification. We all want the magic pill, the little-known strategy that is going to fix all of our problems, the one simple technique that will always work - we want the secret! Whether it is flat abs, thin thighs, or a smaller behind, when it comes to weight loss, people buy the "miracle cures" hook line and sinker by the truckload. Sadly many are left disappointed. Some may lose a bit of weight, but it is a struggle and many often give up before achieving their goals. Many put back on all of the lost pounds and then some.
So what works? What is the secret?
That's not to say there isn't anything that works. As mentioned above, there are hundreds of strategies - many of which may quite well work to some degree. But the one way to weight loss that is utilized by all the methods that really work is not a secret at all. In fact, it's so common-sense that everyone knows it, whether or not they realize it or take action on it.
There is one and ONLY one way to lose weight, just like there is one and only one way to gain weight.
To lose weight, output must be greater than input. (To gain weight, vice versa. To maintain current weight, they must be equal - which is why so many diets don't work - once you've stopped restricting your input, you go back to eating more than you're burning and the weight comes back on.)
Once again, let me repeat that: Output must be greater than input. That is, the energy you expend using your body must be greater than the energetic potential of the fuel you put into your body. Or, to put it in simpler terms, you gotta burn more calories than you consume. And to keep the weight off, you have to continue this pattern throughout your life.
That's it - pure and simple. Not a secret, right? But again, there are literally hundreds of ways to accomplish this. From aerobic exercise to working a manual labor job to managing your portions to tracking calories to going on a diet...and the list goes on.
So if it's so simple, why is obesity such a problem in our country today? Since everyone knows this truth, how come we aren't all slim and trim? Are we all just so lazy we literally can't take the time to manage this most basic aspect of our health?
I say no. I say that there are a number of reasons, and some of them are sneaky and not as commonly known as the facts above.* For example, the low-fat diet craze of the 80's. Everyone jumped on the bandwagon that "fat is bad," and if we just cut as much fat out of our diets as possible, everyone would lose weight. Obviously 30 years later we can see that this is indeed NOT the case! If it was, again, we would all be slim and trim by now. If anything, our country as a whole is fatter than ever.
See, your body was made to burn fat for fuel. If we deprive it of fat, guess what? It will learn to burn something else - particularly, carbs. Then, when there is fat available, it doesn't process it as well, because it's not used to it anymore. We have shifted our metabolism away from burning fat, and towards burning carbs. But it doesn't burn carbs very efficiently - instead, it tends to store many of them as fat! What?? So by eating carbs instead of fat, we're actually getting fatter?! Yep! (More on this in a future post.)
Now I'm not saying you should subsist entirely on ice cream and butter. But a BALANCED diet is essential to provide your body with the tools it needs for health - including proper fat-burning. Balanced means protein, fat, carbs, and lots of colorful veggies and fruit.
There is a caveat though: Despite what some diet "gurus" may say, not all calories are created equal, and this goes for a balanced diet as well. For instance, not all carbs are the same. Complex carbs, such as whole, fresh vegetables, should make up the bulk of your carbohydrate intake. A few whole grains are also okay for some people (some people have trouble digesting grains - especially those with gluten, such as wheat, so if you're one of those people, even whole grains are not healthy for you).
And not all fat is the same. A lot of research shows that processed vegetable oils are one of the worst things you can put into your body. (See "Know Your Fats," by Dr. Mary Enig for more on this.) Be sure you are eating healthy fats, not unhealthy ones. Healthy fats include minimally processed virgin expeller-pressed oils such as olive oil, coconut oil, and some nut oils. Animal fats from healthy, grass-fed, organically raised animals can also be healthy.
Just remember, if you're trying to lose weight, output must exceed input. Fats are high in calories, so while you're in fat-burning mode, you'll want to limit your healthy fats to an appropriate amount. This amount will vary based on the person and your goals. You may want to consult a qualified nutritionist for guidance.
Now that we've talked about input, what about output? But this blog post is getting a bit long, so we will pick up and cover output next week. :-)
Be sure to check back next Saturday for the conclusion - remember input is only half of the equation, you've got to also incorporate appropriate activity levels into your life in order to achieve your ideal weight.
* Required disclaimer: Information on this blog is for informational purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice. And remember, be sure to consult your healthcare practitioner before making any radical dietary changes, or beginning any new exercise routine, especially if you are on any medications, or at a low fitness level.