Spring has sprung! And with it, whispers of getting that “beach-bod” ready for summer. Whether you are aiming for a summer trim down, or seeking a more permanent weight loss, it is important to do so safely. Safe weight loss includes a reasonable diet, properly prescribed exercise, and smart supplementation. It also ties in nicely with smart weight loss, which includes balanced macronutrients, individualized exercise prescription, and behavioral changes/discipline. I will touch on both as we move along.
**Note: the advice given in this article is recommended for healthy adults. If you have any sort of health condition (including high blood pressure and diabetes) please consult your doctor and/or a dietician before making changes to your diet and exercise**
One of the worst habit changes you can make for weight loss is to stop eating. Most people are overweight not because they eat too much, but because they eat too little and/or too much of the wrong foods. Let’s start with some basics of metabolism:
Metabolism is the sum of all of the chemical reactions that happen in your body. Some reactions breakdown substances, like digestion breaking down your food into energy; others use substances to build or repair, like muscle repair after a workout, or skin closing over a scratch. When you exercise, more of the breakdown reactions occur; and when you rest, more of the build/repair reactions occur. Anything that is not used for activity is stored either as glycogen (a derivative of sugar) in the liver and muscles, or as fat beneath the skin and around the organs.
Why is this important?
- If calories in > calories out, then weight gain is likely (either fat or muscle, depending on exercise).
- If calories in = calories out, then weight is typically maintained.
- If calories in < calories out, then weight loss is likely.
This is a VERY DELICATE balance. If you are considering cutting calories for weight loss, the safe way is cutting 400 from what you normally eat everyday, and not going below 1600 calories per day.
As far as choosing which foods you eat, I always suggest that clients use a 40-30-30 macronutrient distribution (40% carbohydrates, 30% healthy fats, 30% protein). This blog post has a pretty decent list of foods under each category if you require more guidance on what foods fall under different macronutrients. I use the 40-30-30 to span the day, and I know some people like to do it per meal; either works just fine. Balanced nutrition will help with all of your body’s major functions; the more efficient you are, the more effective you will be at burning calories. Depending on your activity level, your body may or may not be able to readily take advantage of the energy sources available. There is a simple way to use your diet to rebalance your metabolism (see Smart Weight Loss: Diet box to the left).
Dietary changes will have a huge impact on your weight loss. Remember, food is not an enemy, it is a fuel source for activity, and an agent in recovery. Use it to your advantage!
Let’s look at the other half of the equations above: calories out. In order to lose weight, you have to get moving! Choose your style based on your goals and your preferences. Believe it or not, cardio is not the only way to lose weight—anything that gets your heartrate up and triggers the appropriate energy pathways works! Let’s take another look at the metabolics:
We just went over how your body can get energy by breaking down three macronutrients: carbohydrates, fats, and protein.
- Carbohydrates are the primary source used in quick-energy production, like during a sprint, or a quick trip to the copy room at work.
- Fats are primarily used for endurance activity, like long walks or jogs.
- Protein from food usually goes toward rebuilding muscle tissue, and as a backup, muscle can be broken back down to serve as energy for activity.
Here’s the thing: if you have been sedentary for a long period of time, chances are, your metabolism running on whatever foods you primarily eat and the energy types required for spurts of activity (i.e. carbs). Basically, you will not be primed for fat burning (see Smart Weight Loss: Exercise box to the right). If you want to lose a lot of weight, the type of caloric burn is almost irrelevant: any activity will show results. Safety-wise, if you are cleared by your doctor for moderate to intense exercise, get your heart rate up to 75-85% of your max heart rate to see increased caloric burn. At the beginning stages of weight loss, getting high caloric burn is important before getting specifically “fat” burn.
Another safety note, ease into your training. If you have been sedentary, it does not make sense to suddenly hit the gym every day for high intensity workouts. Starting off too intense can lead to overtraining or injury, keeping you out of the gym for an extended period of time. If you are more active, do not give up your rest day(s)! the same concerns around overtraining and injury apply. As always, ensure with your doctor that it is safe for you to exercise, and use all equipment properly and safely.
There are a lot of supplements out there that tout aiding in weight loss, and a lot of supplements that most gym-regulars use. Which ones are right for weight loss? I am a whole-foods kind of person, meaning that I try to get all of my nutrients from whole foods rather than powders or goos. However, it is difficult for me to get enough protein throughout the day, so I usually consume a protein shake after my workouts. That being said, for the average joe, it is more than likely not worth going out and getting a bunch of powdered supplements. Most of them are focus on performance and muscle growth. If you want to lose weight, eat at least 30 minutes before you work out and at least 30 minutes after.
- Ideal pre-workout meals are relatively light and consist of primarily carbs and healthy fats. For example, my favorite pre-workout is a peanut butter and banana sandwich.
- Post-workout should consist of a 2:1 ratio of carbohydrates to protein. You can see this by looking at a food label; for example, the protein that I drink after my workouts has 25 grams of protein, so I make sure to have at least 50 grams of carbohydrates with that (such as the almond milk I mix it in, or a bagel with cream cheese). Remember, eat for your activity. Prepare and recover mindfully.
Aside from a protein supplement being handy on the go, super-starches are great pre- or post- workout mixes, especially if you are cutting calories and feel hungry often. UCAN is an example of a powdered super-starch supplement that breaks down slowly over time, giving you lasting energy for your workout and/or curbing hunger afterward. Be sure to read all instructions and consult a doctor or dietician if you have any health concerns regarding a product.
So, How Quickly Will I Lose Weight?
The ultimate question. And the inevitable answer: it depends. Age, sex, level of activity, comorbidities, genetics, diet, medications, stress all play a role in how your body processes energy and changes shape. If your BMI is over 30, it is safe to lose 2 lbs per week. If it is lower than 30, it is safe to lose 1 lb per week. This is not a rule for how your body will work, but it is a jumping off point to make realistic goals for yourself. The Smart Weigh Loss boxes are smart because they work on your metabolism to you can be more efficient all the time, not just when you are exercising.
The components of smart weight loss: balanced macronutrients, individualized exercise programs, and discipline are integral in lasting weight loss. I have covered the first two briefly, and the discipline component is the one that will make your weight loss occur quickly. I would like to separate discipline from its association with “punishment.” Being healthy is not a punishment. Exercising may be strenuous, but not a punishment. Eating should be a positive experience, not a punishment or a reward. The discipline involved in your weight loss is more akin to integrity and accountability. Set your goals, make your plan, work your plan. And if (when) something happens that interrupts your plan, you honor your commitment to your goals, and then continue to work your plan. Reaching your goals is a journey and keeping them in sight will make it all worth it.