Your eating and exercise habits determine whether you lose (or gain) body fat. They determine how many calories you take in and how many you use up. To lose body fat, you need to control the number of calories you eat from a balanced diet and increase the amount of calories you burn through exercise.
Research shows overwhelmingly that combining the proper diet with exercise is much more effective for losing body fat than dieting alone. Even the most nutritious low calorie diet without exercise will cause some of your losses to be from muscle. A pound of muscle has only 600 calories – or about 1/6 the calories in a pound of fat – and, therefore, can be lost much quicker than fat. Since a pound of fat has 3,500 calories, you should expect to lose no more than 1/2 to 1 percent body fat per month or 1-2 pounds of fat per week. If you lose any more than that, you’re losing muscle too. You simply can’t rush fat loss. You don’t gain fat overnight, and you don’t lose it that way either; but the losses you do get will be permanent. And with the accompanying changes that exercise will make to your body, the results can be remarkable.
Remember to consult your doctor before starting a reduced-calorie diet and exercise program, especially if you have a history of health problems, haven’t had a physical checkup recently, or are pregnant or lactating.
THE RIGHT WAY TO DIET
Eating properly to lose body fat is easier and more enjoyable than you might think. Most people think of a diet as a temporary way of restricting food until they reach a certain weight goal. It’s not. You don’t need to go on a specific diet that forbids certain foods or tells you exactly what foods to eat each day. That’s something people can stick with for a while; but when they inevitably go off that type of rigid diet, they tend to go back to their old eating habits and gain back weight they lost. You should never think of being on or off a diet.
Instead, you should make your own choices within the guidelines of a normal, healthy diet that you can enjoy and continue for life. Eating fewer high fat foods and more fruits, grains, and vegetables is not only the best diet to lose fat, but also for your lifetime.
To lose body fat, there are two things you should think about in deciding how and what to eat:
Follow a balanced, healthy diet by eating some foods from each food group. Diets which eliminate certain food groups never last long because they don’t provide the nutrition you need to stay healthy. The ideal diet should improve your health while you lose fat.
Reduce the amount of calories or give up your favorite foods you choose. This doesn’t mean you have to count calories or give up your favorite foods. It means choosing low calorie foods more often, without sacrificing the nutrients you need.
A diet based on these two principles – “balance” and “calories” – is the closest thing you can get to a “magic” diet for losing body fat. Eat a variety of foods and don’t eat too much of anything.
So what’s a healthy diet?
It’s simply following basic dietary guidelines. At a time when we seem to be overwhelmed by what and what not to eat, it’s best to look to the experts. The following guidelines have been established by the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services and are also recommended by the American Heart Association and National Cancer Institute. They are the basis of Federal Nutrition Policy and represent the best, most up-to-date advice from nutrition scientists. They also represent the best way to reduce calories when trying to lose body fat:
Eat a variety of foods
- Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol
- Choose a diet with plenty of vegetables, fruit, and grain products
- Use sugars in moderation
- Use salt (sodium) in moderation
How do I put these guidelines into action?
A great way is to follow a system call the Food Guide Pyramid. The Pyramid is a research-based food guidance system which goes beyond the “basic four groups” to help you put the Dietary Guidelines into action. It is based on USDA’s research on foods Americans eat, what nutrients are in these foods, and how to make the best food choices for you.
The Pyramid and accompanying information will help you choose what and how many foods to eat from each food group to get the nutrients you need without getting too many calories – or too much fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar, or sodium.
Your Food Guide Pyramid
Your Food Guide Pyramid provides a framework of what to eat each day. It’s not a rigid prescription, but a general guide that lets you choose a healthful diet that’s right for you from food that are readily available in your supermarket.
The Pyramid calls for eating a variety of foods to get the energy, protein, vitamins, minerals, and fiber you need. Your body needs more than 50 different nutrients for good health. Variety also prevents your diet from becoming boring. The way to assure variety – and with it, an enjoyable and nutritious diet – is to choose foods each day from the food groups shown.
How to Make the Food Pyramid Work for You
How many servings are right for me?
The Pyramid shows a range of servings for each major food group. To lose body fat, you’ll need to gradually reduce your food intake down to the lower end of these ranges. Make sure you don’t reduce more than one serving per food group per week. However, cutting your calories too quickly can make it difficult to control your appetite and cause your energy level to drop. This can also cause your body to go into a semi-starvation mode and lower its metabolism to try to preserve its fat stores.
Regardless of your body fat goals, remember to eat at least the minimum number of servings in each food group. You need them for the vitamins, minerals, fiber, carbohydrates, and protein they provide. Just try to choose the foods lowest in fat from each food group.
The servings are intended to be averages over time. They are illustrations of healthful proportions of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in your diet, not rigid prescriptions. Don’t hesitate to fluctuate your number of servings from each food group from time to time. This will help you from experiencing plateaus by not allowing your body to become accustomed to the same number of calories each day.
Don’t skip meals! Research shows that people who skip meals (especially breakfast) don’t lose fat as readily as those who don’t skip meals. Try to spread your daily servings from the food groups out over five to six small meals a day. This can help increase your metabolism by requiring additional energy to digest and process food. Frequent meals also maintain your blood sugar level which sustains your energy level and curbs you appetite making you less likely to eat too much later and store the excess calories as fat.
Making The Pyramid Fit Your Goals
Once you’ve reached your body fat goals, all that is needed to maintain – as opposed to reduce – your body fat is to stabilize the number of servings you eat to the level that’s right for you. In other words, after you lose the unwanted body fat, you’ll also have the necessary guidelines to control your body fat in the future. If you find you’re gaining body fat, simply cut back on your calories by eliminating some of the foods you don’t need to provide the fundamental outline for a healthy diet.