With the dawn of another New Year many of you will be thinking " Right this is my time" and deciding to go on a diet to get yourself into better shape for the summer. Having said that many of you will simply think about it without actually acting upon it and many of you will leave it until 3 weeks before you go and expect some kind of miracle fix.
There is no quick fix for getting into shape and maintaining it; sure you can lose weight quickly using a "diet" but maintaining it takes time, effort and commitment to changing habits. However once you have made the changes (usually 2 to 3 weeks) the effort seems less and the results, if you put the effort in, are definitely worthwhile.
So what do I mean by the title of this post?
It is quite simple really; the majority of people talk about diet as being a defined plan which follows some sort of guidelines (no fat, no sugar, no carbs or similar) in order to achieve weight loss (on the scales). However, as a
Personal Trainer and Fitness Instructor when I talk about diet I am referring to what you eat and your calorific intake each day.
So what's the difference ?
In a nutshell a "diet" could be seen as a quick fix to losing weight. However, losing weight is not necessarily a good thing as most people will probably agree that weight isn't really the issue as we are only overweight because we have a high percentage of body fat; so it is actually fat which we should be focusing on losing not weight. A diet will simply reduce your daily calories in some way meaning that your body has a deficit compared to what it actually needs. This is a good thing if done right but the problem is that most diets do this by removing certain food groups from what you eat and hence the plan doesn't tend to be sustainable as it leaves us feeling grumpy, tired, craving certain things which in turn leads to giving up. If we do manage to lose weight we feel good but then, because as its not a sustainable way to live we go back to how we were before and put the weight back on again. Furthermore we may have lost weight but chances are we are actually fatter now than we were before, just lighter as the weight will more than likely have come from muscle mass and not fat - more on this later.
OK, so how do we lose body fat? .
Again, in a nutshell, losing body fat rather than weight requires the correct diet (mix of food groups), ensuring that we are eating enough to cover our calories at rest, as well as the correct balance exercise and sleep. I will be discussing different food groups, exercise and sleep in future posts so here I am going to focus on why eating enough is important for fat loss and what I mean by calories at rest.
Before going any further I would like to mention a simple principle of weight loss which is calories IN versus calories OUT. If our calorific intake is greater than our calorific requirement (what we eat is more than what we need) we are likely to put weight on; and on the flip side if our calorific intake is less than our calorific requirement (what we eat is less than what we need) we will more than likely lose weight. When I talk about calories I am talking about good calories which mean calories from foods which our body will actually find useful. For example eating a 1000 calories pizza clearly won't give you the same result as eating 1000 calories from sources such as chicken, veg or fruit because a pizza has a higher percentage of incorrect food groups such as fats and could not be considered a balanced meal.
Having said that, it isn't quite that simple, and here's why
We all have a certain number of calories we require simply to maintain our normal bodily functions such as breathing, keeping our heart beating, digestive functions and simple muscle movements such as blinking. This figure is known as our required calories at rest or "Resting Metabolic Rate" (RMR). If we do not get the right amount of good (usable) calories to meet our RMR requirement then our bodies are not going to be able to adapt and grow as they have no spare calories to do so as all of the ones they have are being used to perform "vital" functions and we still have a deficit. Bear in mind the RMR is also a calorie requirement for doing nothing at all. On a normal day most of us will walk around somewhere or move in some way which means we require more calories to allow us to do that so our RMR is a base figure from which we can work out our exact requirements.
When we try to lose weight or build muscle we need to exercise which also requires a certain number of calories so our actual daily requirements is higher than our measured RMR. Take a look at the example below:
Measured RMR = 1200
Calories burned during daily activity (measured using Garmin / fitbit or similar device) = 800
Based on the above our total daily requirements are 2000 in this example. Now going back to my comments regarding calories in vs calories out we can get a good idea of what we need to take in assuming each day is as per the above. In order to lose weight we need to train our bodies to break down fat supplies stored internally and we do this by consuming slightly less calories than we need so in this example we would probably aim for 1800 calories making our body look internally for the remaining 200 we require to perform our daily tasks and activities. Easy right?
Not quite - as muscle is easier for our body to break down and get energy (glycogen) from if we do not exercise it is extra calories from our muscles that will be consumed over those stored as fat as fat deposits are more difficult to break down and access. This leads to muscle wastage and not fat loss. Sure, when we get on the scales we will be lighter and hence will have lost weight but, as per my comment earlier in this post we will actually be fatter than before as our body fat level as a percentage of overall weight on the scales will be higher.
To illustrate this I have chosen a simplistic example as there are other factors to consider but - Lets say we start out at 10 stone exactly and have a body fat of 25%. if we diet and don't exercise we may lose a stone bringing our weight down to 9 stone. However, based on the above it is likely that most of the weight lost will be muscle so lets assume our body fat has only decreased by 1% down to 24%. Our body fat as a percentage of overall weight is 24% of 9 stone which is greater than 25% of 10 stone; so we are actually "fatter" than we were before even though we appear lighter.
By doing exercise we are ensuring that our muscles' supply of energy (calories) is consumed by the exercise so that any deficit has to come from our body breaking down fat. In doing this we maintain our muscle mass and burn body fat so we not only become lighter, we also feel much healthier and fitter as our overall body fat percentage when compared to overall weight is lower.
So in Summary - When most of us talk about losing weight it is actually body fat we wish to lose and not weight and the only way to lose body fat is to train our bodies to burn fat stores by ensuring that we eat enough of the right foods, in the right amounts; that we get enough exercise to maintain our muscle mass, that we relax, rest and sleep and that we create a small calorific deficit in our daily intake.
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