Despite the unsupported claims of various diet gurus, the key to getting lean is a product of managing caloric intake. This is consistent the first law of thermodynamics: consume fewer calories than you expend and you will lose weight. Thus, the suggestion that certain diets allow you to eat all you want and still shed unwanted pounds is a physiologic impossibility. Calories in versus calories out ultimately determines whether weight is gained, lost, or maintained.
That said, however, all calories are not created equal and the types of foods in your diet most certainly will have an effect on body composition. What follows are five strategies to help maximize fat loss. Adhere to these principles and youll be well on your way to achieving lasting weight management. 1) Replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats: Saturated fats (found primarily in meat and dairy products) have a plethora of negative effects on your body. Not only do they elevate your risk for cancer and heart disease, they also harden your cells, making it more difficult for your body to burn fat. Unsaturated fats, on the other hand, have the opposite effect. They keep cells fluid as well as increase various fat burning mechanisms, thereby helping you stay lean. A specific unsaturated fat called omega-3 fatty acids (found in walnuts, soy, flaxseeds and cold water fish such as salmon and sardines) is particularly beneficial in this regard. Here's what do: Choose leaner cuts of meat and opt for reduced fat dairy products. Consume healthy amounts of unsaturated fats, especially those from omega-3 sources.
2) Increase fiber intake: Fiber is one of the most important nutrients for weight management. It exerts its effects in two separate ways. For one, it creates satiety, suppressing your hunger. Fiber is so good at filling you up that a mere 14 gram increase results in a 10 percent reduction in energy intake. What's more, fiber forms a "gel" in your intestines that traps toxins, causing them to be excreted before they are absorbed. It has been shown that simply doubling your fiber intake will reduce the available calories in your diet by more than 100 calories per day! Aim to take in at least 30 grams a day from fiber-rich foods like bran cereal, legumes and dark colored fruits and veggies. If you have a difficult time consuming enough fiber from whole foods, consider one of the many fiber supplements on the market.
3) Maintain an adequate protein intake: During dieting, your body not only breaks down fat for fuel, but it also cannibalizes muscle tissue, too. Since muscle is metabolically active, this leads to a slowdown of your metabolism and ultimately a weight loss plateau. To counteract this phenomenon, you need to maintain a daily intake of approximately one gram of protein per pound of ideal bodyweight. So, if you should weigh 125 pounds, then consume 125 grams of protein per day. Protein has an additional benefit over other nutrients: It is by far and away the most thermogenic of all food sources. During digestion, approximately 25 percent of the calories from protein are expended as heat (by comparison, only about 8 percent of carbohydrate calories and 2 percent of fat calories are burned in the digestion process). So, when cutting back on calories, do so by reducing your fat and carb consumption while keeping protein consumption constant.
4) Consume nutrient dense carbs: Refined, overly processed carbohydrates are one of the biggest detriments to your physique. They are a hormonal nightmare for your body, sending insulin levels through the roof without providing any tangible source of nourishment. These foods should be all but eliminated from your diet. Stick with healthy amounts of vegetables and fruits. Green veggies in particular are excellent choices- you can think of them as "green water" and consume as much as you want. When choosing grains, adhere to the axiom, "Think Brown!" Instead of white bread, white rice and white pasta, consume multi-grain bread, brown rice and whole wheat pasta. Brown carbs are "slow burning," ensuring that glucose enters circulation in a time-released fashion. Ultimately, hormonal levels remain stable and the potential for fat storage is diminished.
5) Increase meal frequency: One of the biggest dieting mistakes is to skip meals. When you go long periods between eating, your body goes into a starvation mode, initiating various hormonal responses to increase hunger and slow metabolic rate. Your best bet is to develop a "nibbling" strategy, spreading out eating over five small meals per day. In this way, your body knows it's getting a constant source of fuel, staving off the dreaded starvation response.Your glucose levels will remain more stable and youll be more apt to stay on the nutritional straight and narrow.
Brad Schoenfeld, CSCS, is a nationally renowned fitness expert and author of the new book, The Look Great Naked Diet: Change Your Set Point, Change Your Life, (Penguin/Putnam; 2004; $19.95). He is a frequent contributor to New Living Magazine. Check out his website at www.lookgreatnaked.com.