Let’s start by reviewing what the current scientific evidence tells us about losing body fat. Notice we did not say losing weight. The truth is that from a medical view, how much the human body weighs is not the most important part of a healthy life. The key issue is how much fat compared to how much muscle is on your body. Although, most obese individuals weigh a lot, not all people who weigh a lot are obese. This is a key concept that we need to keep in mind as we review issues and habits over the next three months.
The way that the human body stores fat is an indicator of health risk. We cannot change that storage system, it comes with us at birth. We won’t go into a lot of detail, since we cannot change the storage method of our body. The apple or pear profile of our body is the easiest way to remember this risk. If we look like a pear (that is, if our hips carry most of the body fat stores), then we have a certain level of risk for chronic disease related to obesity. If we look more like an apple (that is, if our stomach or belly area carry most of the body fat), then we have a greater risk of disease such as heart disease or diabetes. We’ll learn more about that in one of our practical exercises.
Losing 5% body fat is enough to have a dramatic impact on your health. Individuals with diabetes who were overweight or obese and lost 5 to 7% of their body weight showed better blood chemistry, required less or eliminated medications. So, initially set a target of no more than 7 to 10% of your body weight.
The scientific basis for losing body fat is straight-forward and has been known for many years. We are all unique and vary in how we behave and what our body does with the calories we eat. The information and techniques outlined in this section are simple. Eat fewer calories than your body burns on a daily basis and you will lose body fat. It really is that simple for almost every one of us. Why do you need to read this section and learn all those techniques? Well, if it was that easy we would not be overweight and struggling as we many times see our lifestyles. The effort to lose weight is not an easy journey. We have an entire life of experiences, habits, baggage, and myths to deal with as we try and lose weight. The biggest reason for failure? Impatience. We try to lose weight too fast and we break the rules of science. Our bodies follow the science, not our willpower and within one or two years at the most we are back where we started. So let’s review the key principles to losing weight and start our journey to a healthy body.
We have heard that the recommended amount of physical activity we should get every day is 30 minutes or more. If we want to have an impact on our body fat, we need to eventually get that amount of physical activity up to 60 to 90 minutes on 3 or 4 days of the week and maintain the 30-minute level on the other days. If we can raise our intensity of activity to a vigorous level on 3 to 4 days per week we will improve our heart and lungs and reduce dramatically our risk of heart disease. Individuals, who have a healthy amount of body fat, are physically active at these levels.
That is a lot of time for many of us. That’s why the knowledge is simple but the habit is not as easy. Don’t get frustrated, we have a lot of ways to help you improve your daily physical activity. Plus, we don’t want to make any dramatic changes right now. This is only about learning what we need to consider for the future.
The most basic thing in your healthy body plan is to lower the number of calories you eat. You should set a goal of about 400 calories per day to be eliminated from your normal intake. When you accomplish this change, you can lose about 3 pounds of body fat per month, or 36 pounds of body fat per year. We’ll get into the details on how we can do this and some things to consider along the way.
Fitting your calorie goals into daily life without special foods
One of the discoveries we have made is that when individuals use special foods such as protein drinks, special nutrition bars or liquid diet supplements to lose weight, they gain the weight back. The primary reason these special foods do not work is that they are special, not part of your normal eating routine. If you start to eat these foods for lunch and lose some weight, what are you going to do when you reach your goals. Almost of all of us, go back to our original food habits. That’s the reason these special foods don’t work, they are a short term substitute for long term changes in your life.
You will maintain your energy level and decrease the chance of a surge in your appetite if you eat 4-6 times per day. Notice I did not say eat more, just divide your calories into smaller meals or snacks throughout the day. We will get into some specifics about this but there are several research studies that have shown eating calories earlier in the day and not eating big meals is associated with lower body fat.
We need to calculate what a minimum number of calories you will need for your healthy body goal. The general rule is to consume at least 1,500 calories per day. Remember our previous principle – we can’t reduce our calories by more than 400 per day. So, we have to stay above 1,500 and not reduce any more than 400 calories per day.
What does it take to burn fat? It takes oxygen and water to break up fat and convert these molecules to energy. The oxygen component is pretty easy, just keep breathing. The water part can sometimes be a barrier to reducing body fat. Although the most common recommendation we hear is 8 glasses of water per day, we will discuss how we know if we are getting enough water in our daily routine. For now, the 8 glasses per day is a good place to start. If you are just a little bit dehydrated, your body will refuse to break down the fat, because of the water shortage in your body and will look for other sources of energy.
The biggest driver of calories is fat in the foods you eat. There is some evidence that eating fat is more likely to be stored as fat. The key principle is more likely linked to the number of calories in fat. An ounce of fat contains 225% more calories than an ounce of protein or an ounce of sugars or carbohydrates. Reducing the foods that are high in fat content typically will drive down your total calories for the day.
Here is one of those things that is simple, but not easy. We want you to keep track of your eating and activity habits every day. It is very important we track these habits at the start of our program to investigate and learn about your own personal lifestyle. You will probably find out some things that you did not know about why to behave, and when you fall into both good and not so good habits during the day. Also, we want you to weight yourself daily. We now know that when you weigh yourself daily, you are more aware of your eating and activity habits and more likely to stay on target in your lifestyle changes. We don’t want you to become too focused on your weight, it can change day to day by a pound or two. Also, if you have begun a muscle strengthening program, you may increase weight through some increase in muscle mass. But, you’ll see the gradual loss of body fat and the change in your health over several weeks. Just follow the steps in this section and you’ll be well on your way to your goals.
You need some friends in your life. These friends will be there to help support you both morally and sometimes as your partner in various activities. You may recruit your spouse or a neighbor, or a co-worker. Sometimes your spouse can be a negative influence in your support network, so choose carefully.