Saturday, 16 March 2013

How not to Lose Weight

Ask most nutritionists, dieticians or doctors how to lose weight and you will hear the same litany over and over. Eat less meat, less fat, more whole grains, fruit and vegetables. Go vegetarian. People have been following these guidelines for forty or fifty years and the general population is getting fatter and fatter. What else do the experts say? Get more exercise. Walk more. Use the treadmill or crosstrainer. Lift light weights if you must. Every day at the gym I see these people, walking on the treadmill for an hour at 3 mph or so. Do they ever lose weight? No. So, the answer to the above title, “How not to lose weight” is, go by the national guidelines on how to lose fat or maintain a healthy weight.

Let’s take these things one at a time. First, the diet. We have been hearing for years how eating fat makes you fat and eating plenty of grains makes you thin. The only problem with this is that it’s wrong. I know this from experience, as well as from studying the matter. I used to buy into this idea and I ate lots of whole grain breads, muffins, all the nice fibery stuff. I always had 10 or 15 lbs extra and could never get rid of it. Then I discovered that I had a problem digesting gluten. I gave up all the wheat based products, as well as rye and oats. Within 6 weeks the excess weight was gone and I wasn’t even trying.

But you don’t have to take it from me. Take it from all the health bloggers, doctors and other diet experts who are all talking about this. In fact, some of us are old enough to remember when people who were trying to lose weight avoided “starches” during the 1950’s and early 60s. No, I’m not quite that old but the books and tv programs were still out there in the 70’s and 80’s. This was before Ancel Keys did his famous study mistakenly linking cholesterol to heart disease. This was also before the agricultural lobby grew so strong.
This group and now the dieticians are so strong that recently one blogger was told he had to take down his blog recommending the paleo diet because the dieticians didn’t want him raining on their parade. Or cutting into their profits, because that’s what it’s all about. Did you really think that the national food guidelines were there for your health? Sorry again. They’re there for the benefit of the people growing all the grain. Meat consumption has been steadily dropping over the last forty years because people think it’s bad for them, when in reality, they’d be much better off eating more of it and fewer grain foods. 

So, to recap the first part – eating fat won’t make you fat. Eating bread will. Eating meat won’t make you fat. Eating muffins will. So ditch the lowfat, high grain diet. A friend of mine recently gave up wheat (she still eats a bit of rice) and has lost 17 lbs without trying. Without being hungry. While feeling more energetic. And she’s retirement age. Now for the bad news. Sugar is bad. Aspartame is worse. Why are all the people I know who drink diet soda fat? Because aspartame makes the body store fat. If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you need to ditch the sugar and other sweeteners. Or at least limit them. There’s a whole bunch of science I could tell you now about why this is so, but that’s for another post. Suffice to say, if you want to burn fat, eat fat. If you want to burn sugar, eat sugar. The only problem is if you are burning sugar you are not burning fat.

Now, how about that exercise thing? Well, first off, long hours of steady state, low effort cardio will net you nothing except lost time. If you want to lose weight you need to exert yourself. Quite a lot. Sorry, but that’s the way it is. I see so many people in the gym every day, wasting time, going nowhere and getting frustrated. On the treadmill, the bike, the elliptical, hour after wasted hour.

So, how much do you have to exert yourself? You need to get out of breath. And stay that way for a while. How best to do this? One way to get a lot of bang for your buck is to do intervals. On a bike, treadmill, crosstrainer, the road, whatever is available. Hard, heavy intervals. Go as fast and hard as you can for 30 seconds, then go at a slow pace for 90 seconds to 2 minutes. Do this 8 or 10 times. And that’s it. Leave the gym. After stretching, of course. Do this 2 – 3 times a week. Is that it? That’s all I have to do? Nope, sorry again.

Now you have to work your muscles. Everyone knows muscle weighs more than fiat, right? Well, it also burns more energy than fat. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism. Remember the metabolism? That’s what people used to blame for being fat. So, weight train or do hard body weight exercise 3 times a week as well. Sometimes, do a nice long walk. I recommend working out with a certified trainer if you are not knowledgeable about weigh training. Bodyweight exercise can be learned pretty easily online, unless you’re a total klutz, in which case you may need a trainer for this too. If you are middle aged or older keep it light”. (Basically, take some of the bodyweight exercises and tone them down to a non panting, non puking, dull roar). I started doing this after years of weight training and within 6 weeks had lost noticeable inches and gained significant muscle, without changing my diet.

What do I mean by bodyweight exercise? Stuff like squats and pushups. You can also walk around the gym carrying heavy weights. I do. Or walk around your garden carrying rocks. Whatever challenges your muscles. That’s the key. Challenge your body with weights and with hard cardio. If you’re not challenging your body, you will not have the desired results. 

So, to recap the exercise part – challenge your body regularly. Whenever your body gets used to whatever exercise you are doing, up the ante. Bring in new exercises. Switch it around. Work harder. Not longer. Studies show that if you exercise too long it will have the opposite of the desired results. An hour a day is plenty. Work really hard 45 minutes some days, do an easy workout for 90 minutes other days. A long, pleasant walk is a good way to mix it up.

Good luck. Let me know how these recommendations work for you. And remember, I’m not a doctor, and not a physical trainer, so ask advice from an expert if you are not in good shape to begin with. And I’m not telling you to do anything, just pointing out what I have read and experienced.

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