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When you have a lot of weight to lose, and specifically a lot of fat to lose, there are some things you should keep in mind. I wanted to quickly go over these things with people and maybe give a heads up on what to expect as you drop weight and return to better health.
First thing to remember, if you have a good deal of fat to lose (fifty pounds or more as a range), it’s all about the diet. Yes, I’m a personal trainer, and yes, I always encourage everyone to exercise as much as possible, but I’m not a dummy, I know what it takes to lose weight, hey, I lost close to 60 pounds myself, so I know where you’re coming from. It’s often stated that losing fat is 80% diet and 20% exercise. Losing the fat means cracking down on the nutrition; this is especially true at the beginning. I’ve seen many folks who lost upwards of half the fat just by learning how to eat healthier. You don’t have to be a clean eating superstar to become healthy, you can be reasonable about your eating habits and still be in very good shape. But it does mean cutting out most of the saturated fats, hydrogenated fats, simple and processed carb treats, and making most of your meat choices as lean as possible. It’s the little things you need to do to become healthy, order that fish baked instead of fried, choose mixed veggies instead of the French fries, eat more vegetables at every meal, ask for dressings on the side, avoid the fat and sodium laden glazes, and watch your condiments. You do all these things and you’re well on your way.
The second thing to remember is that as the weight comes off, you need to adjust what your calorie deficit is. If you’re obese, then you can probably afford a 2 to 3 pound per week deficit. That’s plenty for anyone IMHO, but you may notice yourself losing weight faster than that at the beginning, that’s ok, but recognize that as you lose the fat, your weight loss will slow down. This is expected and natural, don’t worry about it, and just keep going.
Third thing to remember is that plateaus happen. Your body isn’t mechanical, it won’t follow your well laid plan exactly all the time. Sometimes your body will stop and adjust, this can take a few weeks, even up to a few months in extreme cases, don’t let that stop you, just take it as part of the plan. Don’t even worry about this until you’re up over a month, and at that point, if you’re still not losing, examine what you’re doing and decide whether you’re making the right choices.
Lastly, exercise may not be the main ingredient in losing weight at the beginning, but it’s what will help you stay healthy at the end. Exercise is vital to staying healthy. Exercise promotes muscle strength, bone health, immune system function, cardiovascular health, correct sleep patterns, and removal of excess fat. Exercise is a great stress reliever and releases endorphins in the body making you feel better the rest of the day. Exercise shapes your body, making you look better and have higher self-esteem, which can manifest itself in many aspects of life including relationships, work, social gatherings, public speaking … etc. For all these reasons, it’s vital that you include exercise in your journey. And I don’t just mean walking or using the elliptical. Don’t get me wrong, cardio is fine, but it’s only part of the process, exercise should include resistance, stretching, AND cardiovascular activity. Include at least one day of each every week, with multiple days of at least one for at least 30 minutes and at least a moderate level of activity for optimal health, more if you can fit it in.
Nutrient supplements come in many different forms. For the purposes of this blog, I’ll only be speaking on vitamin and mineral supplements. Muscle strength based “stacks” as they are commonly referred to are a different topic, and one I am not as well versed on and I won’t try to sway you one way or another on that particular subject.
When discussing vitamin and mineral supplements (hereafter referred to as VMS), there are a multitude of factors to keep in mind. Firstly we must understand how these VMS are manufactured and the form in which they are presented. Next we must understand how VMS are broken down in the body and are dissolved; and finally we must understand how the delivery forms interact with our bodies and what happens when we deliver massive doses of VMS to the body in a relatively short period.
In the USA, there is no formal FDA requirement for VMS other than truth in labeling. Even in labeling, there are certain “fudge factors” that the government allows for manufacturing variances and shelf life degradation. Many VMS are manufactured using processes and techniques that can leave the vitamins and minerals unable to be used by the body, or a portion thereof. Generally, the cheaper the VMS, the lower the quality control of the manufacturing process. This does not take into effect the inert substances used to bind the VMS particulates together and the various substances used to help the products with delivery into the system, namely things like bile salts and/or amino acids that can help deliver vitamins and minerals to their proper places in the body. Lastly it should be noted that better quality products also often rely on a “coating” to keep them from dissolving in the stomach acid before they can reach the small intestine where they are designed to be absorbed.
VMS that are taken orally in pill form are designed to pass through the stomach and be dissolved in the intestines. Many multivitamin and multimineral supplements have components that are susceptible to the acids in the stomach. Without some kind of coating, much of the desired effect of this type of VMS will be blunted or completely destroyed before being of any benefit to the person taking them. Many of the more expensive and better MVS offer a coating that will protect the pill from stomach acids, and are stripped of when they enter the duodenum, allowing the nutrients to be absorbed as they enter the small intestine. Another concept to understand is that vitamins and minerals can talk multiple molecular forms, some of which are less bioavailable or completely unavailable to the human body. So while the label may say 100% of a specific vitamin, the usable amount may be far less.
Lastly we must remember that the body has evolved to digest and break down foods over relatively long periods of times (hours generally), which means that the vitamins and minerals in food are released gradually to the body, allowing the body to use these in a more controlled manner. For many vitamins and minerals, there is either no storage mechanism in the body, or the process to store the supplement is slow to account for the gradual uptake. When we deliver massive volumes of a micro-nutrient to the body, we risk toxification in the body which in very high doses can have negative effects, or elimination which means that much of the nutrient can be neither used nor stored, and is thus eliminated as a waste product.
In conclusion, my main point is to use caution when supplementing your nutritional intake. As a general rule (one I myself follow) I usually say, supplement as little as possible, and through the best, most credible providers you can afford. Remember that there’s really very little regulation in the supplement industry, and manufacturers can make some pretty outrageous claims with little or no backlash.
Analyzing low carbohydrate diets
Let me first put it out there; I am not claiming to be a low carb guru or anything.
My knowledge comes from 2nd hand sources. I NEVER participated in a low carb diet for any extended period. With this in mind, my thoughts on a low carb diet are purely from a technical and research point of view. I have no bias one way or another. Next let me just reiterate that I am not a nutritional scientist, and my views are purely amateur and based on personal research. Take my information and opinions for what they are worth.
What does the term "low carb" mean? That's not as easy to answer as it first may seem. There are a lot of people and companies out there pushing "low carb" diets these days. Their definitions depend solely on who you are talking to or reading from. In general there are two main categories of low carbohydrate diets. The first being the most extreme approach, these are called ketogenic diets, where carbs are kept so low that the body remains in a state of ketosis. The second is a non-ketogenic low carb diet. Where carbohydrate levels are kept lower than the FDA recommended amounts, but not so low that the body enters a ketogenic state. I will attempt to briefly outline both, give the low down on how they generally effect the body, and summarize how I feel low carbohydrate diets should be used.
The human body uses 3 forms of macronutrients as fuel. Carbohydrates, fats, and protein are all considered food and fuel for the body. While all 3 macronutrients can be used as energy, evolution has chosen carbohydrates as the primary fuel source for the human body. Dietary carbohydrates (carbs with value to the human body) come in two forms, fiber and non-fiber. Fiber is indigestible to the body and plays a role as a cleaner and digestion governor in the body. Non-fiber carbohydrates can be broken down into sugars and eventually turned into glucose for energy in the body. Glucose is the primary energy source the human body uses. Carbs are broken down quickly in the stomach and intestines and transported mainly to the liver where they are recombined into glucose and distributed throughout the body. When there aren't enough carbohydrates coming in, the body relies on dietary fat, dietary protein, stored fat, and lean tissue to produce its energy. The process of converting fats to energy is somewhat slower than glucose production. Protein is the slowest conversion rate of the three and is usually considered the last resort. The human brain requires glucose or ketones for energy as does the central nervous system. The energy derived from fat cannot be used to fuel the brain directly as free fatty acids (FFA) that can substitute for glucose in many organs and muscle groups are large molecules, and cannot pass the blood-brain barrier. This means that in order for the brain to use alternate fuel, that fuel must first be converted in the liver to glucose or ketones. The body knows how to do this, but the process is slower, and produces less total energy to do so (called the Krebs or citric acid cycle). When there isn't enough carbohydrate in-take to satisfy all energy requirements, the body prioritizes any carb. conversion for the brain, the rest of the body must take what it can from the rest, using fat and protein to balance out its fuel.
When we lower our carbohydrate in-take levels enough, in the short term the body does not make any changes, stored glycogen in the liver and muscles will take up the slack for a period of days or weeks depending on how low our total caloric in-take is. Eventually though, the lowering of carbohydrates depletes glycogen stores, when the stores are depleted enough, the body will begin producing more and more ketones, these ketones take over for the role of glucose in the body, providing energy. By itself this is not a bad thing, but many things happen when we move from a glucose metabolism to a ketogenic metabolism. Without making an informed and conscious choice to choose ketogenisis, you could be putting your body and your health at risk.
Lowering carbohydrate levels to a point where they affect your energy balance does a few things chemically. First and foremost, it changes the amount of water in the body. Because glucose is mainly distributed and stored in a water based solution called glycogen, hundreds of grams of water are no longer needed in the body. As hydration levels lower, weight goes down. In some cases, a person can drop as much as 20 lbs of water weight in a matter of a few days or weeks. "Dieters" and people touting low carb diets for weight loss flaunt this fact as "proof" of weight loss, but it's nothing but a temporary weight loss, no real fat stores have been lowered because of these phenomena. It should be known that once carbohydrate in-take is restored, the water levels will quickly return to their former state and you will gain that water weight back. When protein is used for energy instead of as a building block for lean tissue, it has by-products. Those by products include carbon dioxide, water, urea, and ammonia. The last two, urea and ammonia need to be expelled from the body as they are considered poisons. This forces the liver and kidneys to work harder (stressing them). It is unknown as of yet, whether this can have a long term detrimental effect on a healthy adult, but common sense says that when we increase the work being done by an organ over the long term, the extra stress can be detrimental to its health. Obviously, someone with liver or kidney issues should never be on this type of high protein, low carb. diet, without consulting their doctor first.
There are many studies that have been done recently (over the last 10 to 20 years) that have looked at the long term effects of a low carb diet vs. a balanced nutritional diet with a modest calorie deficit. In diets lasting longer than 6 months, participants generally had statistically insignificant differences in total weight lost. In some cases other systems benefitted from a low carb technique, such as blood cholesterol.
For those with reasons other than weight loss for their dietary changes, there are well documented and perfectly valid reasons to go on a low carbohydrate and/or ketogenic diet. Epilepsy is one reason. Without going into specifics, changing the brain's fuel levels and source has a profound effect on the amount and strength of seizures. Cancer research is also being done on fuel sources. On main theory is that cancer cells rely solely on glucose as fuel and thus starve if not provided, I have not delved deeply into this topic though, and would suggest talking to an oncologist for more details.
As to low carb as a way to quickly and efficiently shed pounds; I don't see the benefit. Studies don't show any additional fat loss from low carb diets over a normal, moderate calorie reduction diet. And the consequences for high intensity work are significant. Once glycogen levels are depleted, someone on a very low carbohydrate diet will take much longer to restore those glycogen levels, severely restricting their ability to perform anaerobic activity for any extended period. This limits the amount of weight training or high intensity (anaerobic) cardiovascular work you can do in any one period. Also hydration levels must be closely monitored, as dehydration can have serious and very dangerous side effects. Couple this with the unknown possible long term consequences of kidney and liver stress; I cannot endorse this method as a weight loss tactic. There is much great work being done in this area in the scientific community, and the facts change almost daily. I have merely hit the main points and barely scratched the surface of low carb. If you want to know more, I urge you to talk to many sources, not just the proponents of one type. There are benefits and drawbacks to low carbohydrate diets. But one thing I can tell you with certainty, it’s not a "quick fix", and done right, it's not easy or cheap. If you wish to be a "low carb. convert", walk into that lifestyle with eyes wide open, realizing that you will have to closely monitor yourself, and be aware of the side effects, and know that doing it short term does nothing for you.
I have not touched on low carb diets as a diabetic treatment or low carb. For those who have nutrient allergies or celiac disease. These are specific cases in which the treatment can have high benefit. Please talk to experts in your specific field if you wish to pursue this avenue. And best of luck to you!
When people try to lose weight, often times they begin to obsess about "the scale" and take measurements multiple times per week or even every day. As a general rule this can be a very self-destructive process. Media and specifically television shows such as "The Biggest Loser" focus on fast weight loss using what most experts would call extreme measures. What most people don't realize is that people who are morbidly obese have a lot larger cushion for weight loss than most of us, even those of us classified as obese. Expecting 3 or 4 or more pounds per week weight loss is unrealistic in the extreme. Occasionally you may see those numbers on the scale, but generally the numbers will fluctuate, and some weeks may even see a gain in weight. In my humble opinion, the only way weekly weight loss measurements are effective are if you can add them to a continuing monitor strategy and look for longer term trends. I recommend 1 month at a minimum. If you take 4 or 8 measurements over a month, and the trend is consistently sloping down, chances are you're doing things right and should continue on the path. If your trend is static, or upward, then you should adjust and compensate. Other than that, weight loss is a relatively poor measure for short period accuracy.
I generally advise clients to use something termed on many weight loss and nutrition sites as Non-Scale Victories (NSV for short). A non-scale victory can be anything from an exercise performance increase, to a size of jeans you wear. It can be an instance where you resisted the temptation to eat a cookie at a company gathering, or maybe hitting the 10 minute mile mark on a run. A weight loss strategy that tracks both weight loss and non-weight loss progress is the healthiest way to gauge progress. If you have a trainer or someone who you work with for dietary information, you should work with them to clearly state and write out your goals, including the goal, a timeline for completion, and a method to achieve that goal. Your goal should be precise, and can have smaller "waypoints" to help you track progress in smaller, more manageable chunks. Make sure your goals are challenging, but also achievable, it’s perfectly fine to ask others if they think your goal is achievable. Sometimes choosing our own goals can be a little daunting. Make sure you don't make your goals so long term that you could procrastinate, and make sure you don't set open ended goals (I.E. "My goal is to be in a size 6." This has no timeline, and no strategy for completion.). An example of a solid goal is as follows: "I would like to drop 4 inches from my waist within 4 months by eating a healthy diet with a moderate deficit, and by exercising 3 to 5 times a week for at least 30 minutes. I will track my progress by using a tailor’s tape measure every other week and record the results in my nutrition notebook." Here you have a challenging but reasonable goal, a timeline with which to achieve that goal, and a basic strategy to follow.
Setting goals is a way to help you keep to a plan, it can hold you accountable if you choose to share that goal to others, encourage those you trust to ask you about your progress, and don't be afraid to adjust your goals "on the fly" if you realize you made a goal that was overly challenging, or maybe a bit too easy. Have a lot of goals, you may or may not reach all of them, but that's not important, the important part is being accountable to something, and learning how to celebrate your victories, and stay on the right path.