What better time could there be to discuss dieting and weight loss than the beginning of the New Year, a time when New Years’ resolutions abound and dieting is always a prominent player. The marketing gurus have already begun to turn up the intensity with more and more ads promising to melt away the pounds and inches, all in ten days or less. Don’t listen to them because it doesn’t work. However, you can be successful once you have the knowledge and understanding of some basic principles.
The first principle addresses intake and output. You can only lose weight if the number of calories you take in is less than the number of calories you burn up. This is a basic law of science and there is no way around it, no matter what you read or hear. You have to pay attention to calories.
The next principle is a comparison of muscle and fat. Muscle has more density than fat, which means that one pound of muscle take up less space than one pound of fat (a good thing). There are also huge differences in the ability of fat and muscle to burn calories at rest (the Basal Metabolic Rate). One pound of fat will burn up 2 to 3 calories a day while some studies have shown that one pound of muscle will use up to 70 calories a day. In other words, if you replaced just one pound of fat with one pound of muscle you would be able to eat almost 70 extra calories a day without gaining weight. Dieting would be easier because the difference between what you consume (diet) and what you burn up would be greater.
Some of you were hoping I wouldn’t mention exercise. Sorry! There is no way around that one either. Aerobic exercise (also know as “cardio”) is any exercise which consumes oxygen and results in a sustained increase in your heart rate. The good news is that in addition to burning up extra calories while exercising, you will increase your Basal Metabolic Rate. You will burn more calories at rest all day than you would if you did not regularly exercise.
The bad news is that the machines at the health club lie. You really didn’t just burn up 350 calories in twenty minutes on the Stairmaster™ while you were reading the morning paper. Put the newspaper down, work hard for twenty minutes three times a week and don’t worry about the calculations.
Taken together, these principles can be used to formulate a successful weight loss strategy with three components. The first step is to accept that strength training is a good thing. It doesn’t matter if you do it with weights, Pilates or any other approach, as long as you get stronger.
Many women are afraid of weight training because they don’t want to “bulk up” when the opposite is true. Strength training for 30 minutes three times a week will not make you bigger. If your weight stays the same and you replace fat with muscle you will be smaller (remember the density principle).
If you add dieting to strength training and lose weight, you will be more likely to lose fat rather than muscle and lose inches instead of just pounds. And if you alternate strength training with “cardio” you will burn more calories both during exercise and at rest, making any diet more effective.
I didn’t say it would be easy. I just said that you could be successful. Yes, you can lose weight with dieting alone, but staying on a diet is hard, really hard. It just stands to reason that anything that would make a diet more effective so that it wouldn’t have to be so harsh or last so long would be well worth the effort. And don’t forget the health benefits to your heart from regular exercise.
Now that you know what to do, it’s just a question of how you are going to do it. Next time I will review the big name diets out there and break down what works and what to avoid.