When people talk about losing weight, they are most often talking about losing fat. “Fat” scientifically called “adipose tissue” is how the body stores excess energy that is taken in in the diet, but that does not get used throughout the day. Most people find themselves let down by diets or exercise, and while there is no set list for everyone to lose weight, there are general guidelines that everyone can follow, and a few potential snags that everyone should consider on the path to weight loss.
The two main ways that people can naturally lose weight is through the restriction of energy taken in through the diet, and increasing the amount of energy that the body uses through physical activity. These two approaches work best when used simultaneously, which is why dieting alone doesn’t work for most people. For the body to burn fat it must use more energy than it takes in, so people who take in a great amount of energy and then reduce that amount of energy but don’t increase how much energy their bodies use will often stop gaining weight, but will never see any loss.
Increasing Activity Levels
The first half of a real weight loss program is exercise. There are several kinds of exercise classified by how they develop the human body, including weight training, balance and flexibility, and others. Aerobic exercise, the kind that increases heart rate, is the kind that helps people lose weight most efficiently. Walking, running, jogging, and even swimming are all examples of aerobic exercise.
Aerobic exercise will naturally burn more fat and more energy the longer and more rigorously it is practiced. That having been said, the nature of aerobic exercise makes it very easy to implement gradually, and according to the needs of the individual. Decreasing the time spent exercising, or the level of intensity will obviously slow weight loss, but will also make the exercises more bearable, and the end-goal more easily attainable. After all, even the best diet and exercise plans can fail if the person can no longer keep up with them.
In fact, for people who may be elderly, or otherwise have trouble getting around, aerobic exercise can be gradually brought into daily life. Tending a small garden, walking short distances instead of driving, or even just parking further away from the entrance to stores are all good ways to gradually build in low-intensity aerobic exercise.
Anaerobic exercises, the kinds of exercise that build muscle, also require energy, and so they can also lead to weight loss, though not as quickly. While people who only want to lose weight are likely better off jogging, people who want to lose fat and build muscle should probably consider exercises like weight lifting, or a mix between the two.
Those who do choose anaerobic exercises for weight loss should be aware that as they build muscle it may offset some of the more superficial benefits of weight loss. Adipose tissue is typically located just beneath the skin, on top of muscle, so weight loss that results from that kind of exercise may not be visually evident immediately. Muscle is also more dense than adipose tissue, so even though fat content may be going down, the needle on the scale may actually start to work its way up.
There are some more complex benefits to losing weight and gaining muscle at the same time. Muscle cells require much more energy to operate than do adipose cells. This means that building muscle makes a body use more energy – even while they aren’t working out.
Where, How and Why to cut calories
The other half of a proper weight loss program is diet. There are a lot of crash diets out there that promise results, and often deliver, but usually only on the short term. Diets that drastically restrict calories and carbohydrates might be a good way to start a weight loss program off on the right foot, but can hamper progress, or even do harm if maintained for a long period of time.
Diets, like exercise, should be implemented gradually, partially to give the body time to adjust, and partially to give the mind time to adjust. Many a diet fails because it is too much change too quickly, and the dieter can’t keep up.
Just like building muscles can make losing weight easier, changing the diet can make further diet changes easier as well. Many of our cravings and eating patterns are controlled by bacteria living in our bodies, which can become accustomed to a certain food, which is part of why starting a diet can be so hard. It’s not just will power, there’s a biological component to it as well. The good news is that gradually changing a diet can gradually change what our bodies expect, and even what they demand.
As any dieter likely knows, carbs and calories are everywhere these days, which is part of why crash diets that require removal of all carbs and calories tend to fail. A better method is to consider areas of the average diet that contain the most amounts of carbs and calories, and the least amounts of anything else. In the Western diet, the most common energy-rich and nutrient-poor foods are sweetened beverages and bakery. Switching from sodas to sparkling juices, or from cappuccinos to mochas can remove a huge amount of extra calories from the diet.
Removing calories from food can require a lot more reading of the package, because huge amounts of sugar can find their ways into a lot of baked goods, including bread. A good rule of thumb is that if sugar is on the top three ingredients, don’t eat it.
Fortunately, like building muscle burns fat and changing the diet changes what one craves, as more and more people look for healthier foods, healthier foods are becoming cheaper and more readily available. Eating healthier foods no longer necessitates going to a health-food store – although these establishments are certainly more common – as there are more healthy food options in standard grocery stores, with some grocery stores now having special sections for healthier food options. Similarly, more communities now have more options for exercising, from gyms to spinning and endurance classes, to yoga and Zumba courses.
Losing weight doesn’t have to mean going without favorite meals, or forcing one’s self to go to the gym every day. It is easier, more enjoyable, and more productive to make smaller changes to diet and activity that eventually become part of a healthy life rather than part of an unhealthy diet.