What You Need To Know About Diet And Exercise In Order To Lose Weight
There are two main components when it comes to losing weight and maintaining a healthy body – diet and exercise. We all know that. But what we don’t all know is the way these two factors are best utilized to help a person find success in this regard.
Let’s talk first about diet – or what, when, and how much a person should eat.
For all intents and purposes, I want you to understand that a calorie is a calorie is a calorie. Sure, some calories are better than others – like eating an apple is better for you than eating a cupcake – but generally speaking, if you are overweight, the bottom line is that you need to reduce the number of calories that you consume on a daily basis.
I was watching an HBO movie the other night on the obesity crisis in North America. It was called The Weight Of The Nation. One thing that they said in the film reaffirms my point here, and that is, the biggest part of weight loss has to do with calorie reduction and portion control.
If you want to make a change in your body, then you have to make a change in your lifestyle. In this case, that means eating fewer calories. It’s as simple as that.
Well, it’s not really as simple as that, but I’m saying it is to make you feel better.
Now, I’m a pretty straightforward gal – as in, please don’t make anything too complex for me, or I just won’t get it. It’s the reason my husband is always shaking his head whenever he sees me trying to use the television remote. Therefore, if we are talking about healthy eating, I only follow a few easy-to-remember rules.
1. I try to eat fresh, unprocessed foods. If it comes in a box or a can or any kind of a container, then I either forget about it, or I keep it to a minimum.
2. I eat often. There is logic behind this. If I eat often, then chances are, I’ll make better food choices. When I am hungry (or worse, starving) I tend to grab at anything – like the bag of cookies in the cupboard, or the ice cream in the freezer. I want to avoid this type of binging. Besides, if I don’t eat for long periods of time, then I get gas, and that’s never good.
3. I don’t deny myself treats. I love desserts, and I allow myself to have them, I just don’t eat them by the ton. For example, in the evening, I might have two cookies with my cup of tea. If it’s someone’s birthday, I’m definitely having a piece of cake. I didn’t say two pieces, or half the cake, I said I would have a single, small piece. There’s nothing wrong with indulging sometimes, it just has to be in moderation. A week before my period though, leave me alone. I’m gonna eat whatever I damn well please. OK, that’s not completely true, but my appetite definitely does change.
4. As for how much I eat, I will say that although I never count calories, I am quite aware when I’ve had enough. Counting calories is just mind boggling to me. It’s like when I work out, I don’t need numbers – like heart-rate monitoring, etc. – because I’ve come to know what my body can do safely, and what it means to work hard or not. Same thing with food. My weight has pretty much stayed the same for the last twenty years, so I think I’ve got that department covered. For those who need more specific guidelines, portion control is slightly easier to implement than counting calories. One of my favourites is the “hand guide” of portion control. Check it out. Remember, you want to keep things as easy and as manageable as possible.
One more point about this whole eating thing. Most people have room for improvement, me included. Now, I COULD choose to only ever eat healthy things – no sugar, nothing processed – and I know some people who do that. But you know what? I have chosen a combination that works best for me. I am happy with my body, and I can still eat some of the things I enjoy. I don’t need to be perfect.
Anyone who wants to look like they are straight out of a magazine will inevitably have to make sacrifices, and work really hard. There’s a reason most people don’t look like that. For me, it’s about the long haul, and like I’ve said before, I’d rather be the tortoise (consistent and able to maintain my lifestyle forever), than to be the rabbit (who runs off quickly but can only maintain what he’s doing for a short period of time). Having said that, you have to be honest with yourself. Are you happy with the way you look and feel? If the answer’s even a little bit “I’m not sure” then you’re not, and you need to do something about it.
But what about exercise? How does that fit into the equation? Well, many people make the mistake of thinking that they are going to “exercise off” some of the calories they take in, i.e. they’ll say, “I’m going to run on the treadmill for twenty minutes so I can eat that bagel with cream cheese for lunch.”
There is one major problem with this type of reasoning. Yes, exercise does burn calories, but it inevitably doesn’t burn ENOUGH calories to affect weight loss, or to make up for you stuffing your face with garbage.
Think about it this way – you would have to run pretty freakin’ fast for about half an hour to burn off the calories from that one deli-sized bagel, and that doesn’t even cover the cream cheese.
That’s not what exercise is meant to do anyway.
Exercise is meant to increase lean muscle mass which in turn, increases one’s metabolism, which in turn helps to burn more calories all day long. Muscle needs more energy to maintain than fat.
This is why strength training is so important for those who need to lose weight. Jogging, walking, swimming, skiing – all these types of activities will help to make your heart and lungs stronger, and they build muscle to a certain extent – but they aren’t the primary activities which lead to its development. The million dollar question then becomes, which exercises does a person need to do to increase their lean muscle mass?
The answer: you should do compound resistance training exercises. This means large body movement against force. Basically, you need to move weight - either an exterior weight (a dumbbell, barbell, or something similar) or your own body weight – from one spot to another using a number of different muscle groups at once. Keep in mind, if the weight you are moving is light, then you need to do more repetitions in order to make those gains. Changing exercises and the amount of weight (as in light vs. heavy) is also important to keep one’s body from plateauing.
Common exercises include push-ups, pull-ups, pull-downs, seated rows, and any and every kind of squat you can imagine.
Does that mean a person should forget about doing cardio then? Absolutely not. Your body needs all three components of fitness – strength, cardiovascular training, and flexibility.
One of the trends in fitness these days is high intensity interval training (HIIT) which combines strength training WITH cardio. These workouts – Crossfit, BodyRock, Insanity – are put together specifically to give you the benefits of both in the same workout.
Sorry to say folks, there is no way around it – being healthy and in-shape takes hard work and dedication. In thinking about how diet and exercise work together to shape your body, a very wise fitness friend of mine once said…
“Strength training builds muscles, and a good diet helps to show them.”
This pretty much sums it up.