Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How I Lose Weight

I'm fortunate that my weight hasn't fluctuated much since college. But, from time to time, it might creep up 10 or 15 pounds which needs to be knocked back down. I've always believed that you don't gain 100 pounds without first gaining 50 pounds without first gaining 25 pounds, etc. So I try to remain vigilant. I enjoy running, so imagine going for a three mile run while carrying two five pound weights - being just ten pounds overweight will definitely slow you down.

Eat less and workout more is what needs to be done. But that's an oversimplification - it takes more than physics to successfully lose weight, there's a huge physiological and psychological part. My goal when losing weight is to do it without increasing my workout routine.

Fats vs Carbs
The key when deciding which foods to eat is to pay attention to the energy macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins, and fats), before looking at the micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc). Traditionally, we think that low fat or no fat is good but consider which of the following is healthier: eating a tablespoon of sugar that's completely fat free or eating a tablespoon of flaxseed oil that's 100% fat.

When it comes to fats and carbs, it's important to recognize the difference between good ones and bad ones. The nice thing about fats is that they give you a full feeling when you eat them but you want to stick to eating unsaturated fats while staying away from trans fats.

With carbs, you'll want to eat complex carbs (high fiber) instead of refined simple carbs like sugar. The problem with eating simple carbs is that your body burns them up right away. In the world of carbs, simple sugars are like barbecuing with only lighter fluid whereas complex carbs provide the slow burn you get from charcoal.

My Experiences
Over the years, I've tried different techniques and, in the end, it's a matter of finding what works. I've made a few surprising discoveries. Most people will weigh themselves the same time, everyday - usually first thing in the morning. It's not unusual, when dieting, to notice a pound, or more, difference from one day to the next. While this looks like progress, don't be too quick to celebrate because it's not a pound of fat that you lost.

In theory, a pound of fat requires burning about 3,500 calories more than you've consumed. That's a big calorie deficit from one day to the next. A 200 pound person would have to run a marathon to burn that many calories.

So, where did that missing pound come from? It's mostly water weight but that's still a good thing as long as you're drinking water and staying hydrated. Ironically, you'll need to drink plenty of water to keep the fat burning process going smoothly.

Getting Started
The key to this diet is to make it a lifestyle. It starts with two weeks of indoctrination where you consume virtually no carbs that puts your body into a state called ketosis (more here) which weens your body off of carbs and simple sugars in a healthy way. When I do the two week indoctrination, I typically lose almost a pound each day. Also, since it only lasts for two weeks, it's not as unhealthy as it might seem when it comes to cholesterol, blood pressure, heart rate, etc. On the contrary, I find that these health indicators also drop with the weight loss - and I'm only loosing 10 - 15 pounds.

After the first two weeks, I start to introduce more carbs into my diet without bingeing. The key is to look at the nutritional information on the foods that you're eating. The downside is that you have to be very careful when eating out. Fortunately, if you find that this weight loss technique works for you then there's no shortage of foods to make it easier designed by Atkins, PR Nutrition, The Zone, South Beach, Philip Maffetone, etc.

I don't want to sound fanatical about a low carb diet. Most any diet will result in some weight loss since it restricts what you eat. I've simply found that the low carb solution works for me. "Low carbs" generally means that, after the two week indoctrination, no more than 40% of your calories come from carbs while the other 60% is split evenly between fat and protein. For this reason, it's sometimes referred to as the 40/30/30 diet.

What About Exercise?
Obviously, exercise is important. But, don't suddenly increase your workout routine and expect the weight to melt off. Actually, whenever I increase my runs substantially, I notice a weight increase over the following week or two. I suspect that this is due to two things: my body retaining more water due to the added stress from the increased workouts and my increased appetite.

While exercise is important in the long term, consider that running a mile might burn 70-110 calories. If you walk that same distance, you'll burn more of it as fat instead of carbs. Regardless, if you cover three miles you'll burn up to 300 calories. That's less than a single Boston Kreme Donut. Trust me, it's easier to skip the donut than to find the 60-90 minutes it takes to run or walk three miles (keep in mind that you'll need a shower if you run three miles, which also takes time.) Cutting back on 300-500 calories every day, without feeling hungry, is much better and it's surprisingly easier than you'd think during the two week indoctrination, especially when eating tasty nutrition bars. Reducing 500 calories, each day, equals one pound of fat per week.

Keeping it Off
Keeping the weight off is always a challenge. Our bodies appear to have "set" points. In other words, our body likes to maintain the average weight it's been at during the past few months. So, if you can keep the weight off for six to nine months then you should be "set" unless you completely fall off the wagon.

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