Whatever the latest diet or exercise trend, whatever bullshit lines the personal trainer at the gym is feeding you, and whatever the latest scientific research is telling us, losing weight revolves around one factor and only one… CALORIES. Consume more than your body burns in day, whether through your natural basal metabolic rate, your day to day activities or exercise and you will gain weight. This is known as a calorie surplus. Burn more than you consume and you will lose weight. A calorie deficit. It really is as simple as that.
The more significant gulf between energy consumed and energy used you are capable of generating, the more quickly you will lose weight. Whilst the component parts of the equation are simple, the way you go about solving it is a little more complicated, particularly if it is to be sustainable. It’s very easy to tell yourself to eat less and be more active, but a lot harder to actually do it consistently for long enough to see results.
There are of course lots of ways in which you can manipulate both your diet and exercise regime in order to give yourself the best opportunity to both lose weight and then maintain those losses as part of a healthy lifestyle.
You can’t help but be aware of the health risks associated with being overweight. Whether it be online, on the TV or in magazines and newspapers, the information is everywhere. As a society we have become increasingly concerned with healthy living and in particular diet and exercise. And rightly so. These areas represent an enormous challenge to millions of people all over the world.
Excess weight, and in particular, obesity, negatively impacts almost every facet of health. As well as the widely known increases in the risk of life altering and deadly diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancers, your reproductive and respiratory functioning, memory and mood can also be severely compromised.
I think the motivation for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight are pretty clear.
This is where we get back to that all important important equation:
Calories consumed – Calories burned = Energy balance
Negative energy balance = calorie deficit = weight loss
Positive energy balance = calorie surplus = weight gain
The two easiest ways to influence your energy balance? Diet and exercise!!
There should be little surprise that what you eat (and drink) and how much of it you eat (and drink) determines your calorie intake for a period of time. Consequently, one of the simplest ways in which you can alter your energy balance is by consuming fewer calories. Over an extended period of time, provided the adjustments are significant enough to create an energy deficit, you should lose weight.
Eating less than your body is used to all of a sudden, unfortunately, is easier said than done. There are, however, a few strategies you can implement in order to give you the best chance of success.
- Ditch the sugar:
Sugar is the devil. It is addictive. Eat more of it than you can burn off and your body stores it as… FAT! Excess fructose (sugar) in your blood causes elevated insulin levels. This prevents the body from accessing stores of fat for its energy demands and results in the brain telling you that you are hungry.
Moreover, sugar also causes leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone which helps us release fat from stores to be used as energy. Ergo it tells the brain that we have enough energy supplies and we don’t need to eat. Increased levels of fructose in the blood raises the level of triglycerides, which block the transmission of leptin from the blood to the brain. The brain thinks the body is starving and tells us to eat more than our energy demands require. Thus we gain weight.
Sugar has also been shown to have very little effect on our feeling of fullness relative to the number of calories being consumed. That my friends is a slippery slope. One which isn’t going to help anyone lose weight, nevermind lose it quickly.
See, I told you sugar was the devil!
The good news is, the less sugary foods you consume, the less your brain craves them and the less you eat. All YOU need to do is break the cycle.
Here are a few top tips to help you cut back your daily sugar intake:
- Avoid drinking calories. That means fruit juices as well as the more obvious sodas.
- Reach for an apple rather than the candy. Whilst fruit obviously contains sugar, your body responds very differently to fructose in comparison to heavily processed, sucrose rich foods. Fruit can also be a great way of satisfying any cravings for sweet foods you may have without the drawbacks of regular chocolate binges.
- Avoid pre packaged ‘convenience’ type foods which are often high in added sugar. The best way of knowing exactly what you’re putting in your body is by making your meals from scratch as much as possible.
- Up the protein, fat and veggies:
When it comes to losing weight, protein is king. Studies have demonstrated that protein may boost the metabolism by up to 100 calories per day. That’s energy you’re burning simply sitting on the sofa twiddling your thumbs.
What’s more, high protein diets have also been proven to reduce cravings and make you feel fuller for longer. All of which are going to help you achieve the all important calorie deficit required for meaningful weight loss.
Low carbohydrate vegetables (normally the green ones), like broccoli, spinach, lettuce, cucumber (you get the idea) are a great way of filling out your meals without adding excess calories. Vegetables have a high fibre content which means they not only provide volume but also take longer to digest meaning you stay fuller for longer. They also provide you with some really important vitamins and minerals which will help keep your immune system in tip top shape. It’s a win all round really.
Whatever you do, don’t neglect fat. This is probably one of the most counterintuitive aspects of weight loss nutrition. Eating foods high in fat surely makes you fat? Provided you’re consuming the right kinds of fat (unsaturated and naturally occurring) rather than those found in heavily processed foods then they are a hugely important part of a balanced healthy diet and can help you lose weight.
By upping your fat intake in relation to your carbohydrate intake you can create an environment in which fat loss is actually more optimal. As already discussed, our consumption of carbohydrates releases insulin. The more carbs you eat, the more insulin your body produces and the harder it is for your body to access fat stores for energy purposes. Therefore, by replacing some of the calories you consume through carbohydrates with fat, you will reduce your insulin levels which will in turn make it easier for your body to access fat stores for energy at the same time as allowing fat to enter and fuel your muscles. Winning!
All low fat diets do is reduce your body’s capacity to burn fat and increase its ability to burn carbohydrates. Hormones such as adiponectin, which help boost your metabolism and break down fat cells are also inhibited.
Foods high in fat are also much better than those high in carbohydrates at making you feel full for longer. When the fat you eat enters the small intestine it releases hormones including cholecystokinin and peptide tyrosine tyrosine, which both play a major role in the regulation of your appetite. The more full you feel after eating, the less inclined you will be to dip into the snack cupboard or go for seconds, all of which is going to help you consume fewer calories in the long run!
As with anything in life, moderation is the key. Foods high in fat are calorie dense. So whilst upping your intake in replacement of carbohydrates is definitely a good idea if you want to lose weight, if you don’t take care of the all important energy balance then you won’t see the changes you want to.
- Eat complex carbohydrates:
Cutting carbs from your diet all together is simply not sustainable. They are after all the most prolific source of energy for our bodies. There are, however, some sources of carbohydrate which will make it much easier for you to lose weight than others. Complex carbohydrates, such as those found in foods like oats, beans, brown rice, quinoa and lentils take much longer for your body to breakdown than simple sugary carbs. Whilst all carbs are eventually broken down into glucose, the longer this process takes, the longer you will feel full and the more nutrients your body will absorb from what you eat.
Feeling fuller for longer means you’re more likely to eat fewer calories and thus more likely to achieve that all important calorie deficit.
- Fuel regularly:
One of the most common mistakes people make when they are looking to lose weight quickly is to adopt a very low calorie diet. Whilst this will obviously achieve the negative energy balance required, there are some significant disadvantages to such a strategy.
Your metabolism goes up for two to three hours after any meal as a result of the extra metabolic processes required to digest food and absorb its nutrients. Consequently, the less you eat the slower your metabolism becomes.
Your body has a tendency to treat huge reductions in calorie intake as a period of food scarcity (that’s evolution for you). As a result your body becomes more efficient at performing the basic functions which keep you alive and thus you burn less energy and your metabolism slows.
Moreover, you hold on to more fat in order to increase your chances of survival. Even worse, as muscle takes more energy to support than fat, your body will break it down before it breaks down it’s stores of fat.
Eating regularly and ensuring your body never enters this survival mode will help to keep your metabolism ticking along at an optimal level.
- Drink more water:
Drinking more water can help you lose weight in a number of different ways. Most fundamentally, it increases the number of calories that you burn at rest. In fact, energy expenditure has been shown to increase by up to 30% within 10 minutes of drinking water.
Are you hungry or just thirsty? You would be surprised at the number of occasions when you feel hungry but are actually just dehydrated. Next time you feel the urge to eat, have a drink of water and see if it satisfies your ‘hunger’. The signals from our brain which tell us if we are hungry or thirsty can get a little confused, which means we have tendency to eat when we actually need to drink.
As water is completely free of calories, making sure we are suitably hydrated before we resort to grabbing a snack is a great way of reducing excess calorie intake and finding the negative energy balance which is so fundamental to weight loss.
Whilst thinking carefully about what and when we eat and drink should be one of the cornerstones of any weight loss strategy, there is another key way in which you can ensure your body is operating in a calorie deficit. EXERCISE.
Controlling what we eat takes care of the energy we consume, but upping how much exercise we do is the easiest way to increase the amount of energy we use.
- HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training):
The more active you are the more calories you burn and the greater your potential calorie deficit will be. This doesn’t mean, however, than you need to spend hours and hours on the treadmill or spin bike each day in order to give you the best chance of losing weight.
In fact, most research suggests that engaging in shorter burst of high intensity exercise is far more beneficial to both overall health and weight loss. Intense activity will increase your basal metabolic rate for up to 24 hours after exercise; increase levels of fat oxidation in the muscles; and lead to significant jumps in growth hormone levels, which help to burn fat.
As a result, a 20-30 minute HIIT session is actually going to be more beneficial to both your health and weight loss goals than an hour plodding on the treadmill at steady state. Efficiency is the name of the game here.
Circuit based training is a great way of introducing yourself to HIIT based workouts, particularly if you don’t necessarily want to fork out for a gym membership. Click here for a great whole body workout perfect for helping you shift that excess weight!
- Resistance training:
Larger muscles burn more calories. Simple as that. The more lean muscle you have the more calories your body will burn at rest. In other words, having more muscle increases your everyday base metabolic rate. The metabolic demand of muscle is greater than it is for fat.
Muscle is constantly being broken down, recreated, and synthesized, all of which requires energy. So not only will you be increasing the number of calories you burn during exercise, but you will also increase your energy demands at rest, both of which will make it much easier for you to achieve the negative energy balance required for weight loss.
The best way of building muscle is to ensure you include some resistance based strength training in your regular exercise routine.
Studies have shown that your metabolism can be elevated for up to 38 hours after strength training, which means you’re energy use will be elevated for the best part of 2 days after your session. Boom!
If it isn’t already clear, the single most important factor in the management of your weight is the relationship between the amount of calories you consume through eating, and the amount you burn through staying alive and exercising.
If you consistently exist within a calorie surplus, you will gain weight. If you consistently exist within a calorie deficit, you will lose weight. It really is as simple as that. If you eat unhealthily but maintain a negative energy balance then you will lose weight just as if you eat healthily but maintain a positive energy balance you will gain weight. It’s all about calories in and out.
However, from a nutritional perspective, you will obviously give yourself the best possible chance of losing weight if you stick with some of the simple tips already discussed like ditching sugar, upping your protein intake and ensuring you drink enough water.
Your calorie consumption is, however, only one side of the equation. For most efficient weight loss results, you should definitely pay some attention to how much energy you burn too. The most efficient way of increasing the energy demands you place on your body? Probably some kind of combination of HIIT and strength training. Remember, this type of training will not only allow you to burn calories whilst you exercise, but will also help you burn more when you’re chilling on the sofa. That, my friends, is what we call a win win!
Jacky has a degree in Sports Science and is a Certified Sports and Conditioning Coach. He has also worked with clients around the world as a personal trainer.
He has been fortunate enough to work with a wide range of people from very different ends of the fitness spectrum. Through promoting positive health changes with diet and exercise, he has helped patients recover from aging-related and other otherwise debilitating diseases.
He spends most of his time these days writing fitness-related content of some form or another. He still likes to work with people on a one-to-one basis – he just doesn’t get up at 5am to see clients anymore.