Every few weeks, it seems, a new fad diet bursts onto the scene, promising hopeful, desperate men and women a fast way to drop pounds and sculpt a brand-new body. Now, we’re not here to damn any and all quick-weight-loss dietary strategies — heck, some of them work — but we do want to emphasize one important fact: They’re short-term fixes for a lifelong process of healthy weight management.
The not-so-secret key to losing and keeping weight off is actually much more boring than, say, jumping aboard Beyoncé’s Maple Syrup Diet. That’s because it involves combining healthy eating and supplementation with good, old-fashioned weightlifting, along with a positive attitude. Those three things, adhered to consistently not just for a week or two but for a lifetime, can make all the difference between keeping a body you love and finding the need to search for the next “quick fix” fad to bail you out yet again. Ready to form some new healthy habits and manage your weight the easy way? Read on.
At the beginning of any weight-loss program, the goal is to start burning more calories than you eat. Simple, right? The truth is that most people don’t realize how many calories they consume. In fact, a classic 1999 report in TheJournal of Nutrition showed that even dietitians are fallible — the health professionals in the study underestimated their food intake by an average of 16 percent. If the pros can’t do it, what chance do the rest of us have?
To stay on track and know exactly how many calories you’re taking in, Tom Venuto, longtime personal trainer and fitness guru, recommends in his book The Body Fat Solution (Avery, 2009) journaling your food intake. He also suggests modest calorie restriction rather than resorting to the extreme diets.
“To burn fat, you must consistently eat fewer calories than you burn, but even your calorie reduction should be moderate, not extreme,” Venuto writes. “In long-term body-fat control, slow and steady wins it almost every time.”
Losing 1 pound to 2 pounds per week is a good, healthy target for weight loss, says Roberta Anding, MS, RD/LD, CSSD, CDE, the sports dietitian for the National Football League’s Houston Texans and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. More specifically, losing 1 pound to 2 pounds of body fat per week is a good goal. “You don’t want to lose 20 pounds and have it be lean mass,” Anding says. “It’s not the number on the scale but the percent of body fat.”
The average woman has 20 percent to 27 percent body fat, while the average man carries 13 percent to 17 percent. Anding recommends that athletes especially get a body-composition test before embarking on a weight-loss program in order to get a clear picture of their starting point.
Another way to start a diet program is to do a cleanse — start clean, so to speak. Herbal cleanses available on the market often contain natural laxatives like cascara sagrada, senna, psyllium, dandelion root, chicory root and celery extracts to help flush your body of toxins and re-balance the bacteria in your gut. A typical cleanse can last a few days to a week; if you purchase a supplemental system, follow the label directions and don’t overdo it.
Over the Hump
The beginning of a new weight-management program often has an initial high, that “I’m doing great” feeling that makes dieting almost a source of pride. When that shine wears off, though, putting effort into staying satisfied will go a long way toward fending off hunger.
Eating foods that promote satiety, or fullness, like lean protein and fiber-rich produce, is an important step on the path to weight loss because people who feel hungry are more likely to slip and snack on whatever’s handy, calories be damned. Research shows that filling up on fruits and vegetables at the beginning of a meal helps moderate overall calorie intake.
“In our stomach, we don’t have the ability to sense how many calories we took in, but we do have a volume sensor,” Anding explains. “We do have the ability physiologically to sense volume, and as the volume increases, you feel fuller. If you increase the volume — that is, more fruits and vegetables — and keep the calories low, you’re using your own physiology to trigger satiety.”
For a little extra help in fending off hunger, supplemental options such as glucomannan, Hoodia gordonii and simmondsin may do the trick. Make sure to drink plenty of water with these satiating supplements.
Research with the soluble fiber glucomannan shows that 2 grams to 4 grams per day effectively promotes satiety and body-fat loss. Adding it to an exercise regimen — 60 minutes of resistance training and 30 minutes of cardio just three times a week — makes it even more effective. Hoodia, an African cactus extract, and simmondsin, extracted from jojoba, aren’t as well-researched yet as glucomannan, but early studies in animals clearly show that both help reduce body mass by decreasing overall food intake.
A Truly Balanced Diet
Restricting food intake during a diet seems obvious, but the foods that stay on your plate are just as important as the ones that don’t. The trick is to make every calorie count.
Make sure to eat at least three meals a day — don’t skip breakfast, Anding says — and focus on a balanced diet. By “balanced diet,” she means balancing overall protein and carb intake and dividing protein between three to six daily meals.
“Fill at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables, which works especially well with dinner,” Anding says. “The other half should be equal parts lean protein and a quality carbohydrate like brown rice or sweet potatoes or a whole grain. It really is that simple: organizing a plate.”
In conjunction with choosing calories carefully, some dietary supplements help the body keep from absorbing unwanted calories. Not to be used as a means to continue eating a high-calorie diet, these “blockers” give the body a slight edge in its ability to dispose of excess calories.
The white kidney-bean extract in Carb Shredder, for example, blocks carbs to elicit weight loss. Research shows that taking 445 milligrams of phaseolamin before one main meal a day for 30 days effectively reduces bodyweight, body-mass index and fat mass without causing a loss of lean mass.
Chitosan, which is derived from shellfish, is another blocker — but instead of blocking carbs, it blocks fat. There is some debate in the scientific community as to whether it is effective for reducing bodyweight this way, but a 2008 Cochrane review indicated that the overall evidence is positive.
Another supplement that helps reduce fat and maintain lean mass is an herbal complex called LeanGard. In a company-sponsored study, the majority of overweight men and women who took the supplement lost more bodyweight and body fat and gained more lean mass than people in the placebo group.
Muscling Up Your Efforts
Maintaining lean mass is just as important as losing fat during periods of calorie restriction because the body will burn what it needs to for energy, including muscle. Resistance training is really the only way to maintain or build muscle during a diet. “The combination of calorie restriction along with high-intensity training makes all the difference in the world,” Anding says.
High-intensity training requires using more weight and doing sets of eight to 12 repetitions, reaching muscle failure on your last rep of a set. “[Use a] heavy enough weight where when you’re at the tenth rep, you really have to think about your form because the weight’s heavy and you don’t know if you’re going to make it to 12,” Anding explains. This method is effective for men and women, Anding adds, and the risk of a woman getting “too bulky” — unless she has a hormone imbalance — is extremely slim.
To prompt your body to preferentially burn fat during exercise, supplementing with conjugated linoleic acid, or CLA, and L-carnitine has shown promise. One trial of CLA showed that people who took 3.4 grams per day of Tonalin CLA lost an average of 6 percent to 8 percent body-fat mass over the course of two years. Research with the amino-acid-like compound L-carnitine showed that in addition to helping with fat loss, it also decreases post-exercise plasma lactate and improves exercise recovery.
Frame of Mind
When push comes to shove, attitude is all-important in making lifestyle changes that lead to weight loss and long-term weight management. As Venuto writes in his book, “Willpower gets you started, but only habit keeps you going.”
Even with willpower, it’s easy to get derailed when life throws a monkey wrench in the operation. Emotional stress, for instance, can lay to waste the best laid plans and make high-calorie comfort foods almost impossible to resist. In fact, stress is one of the most common triggers for emotional eating, according to Venuto. He recommends changing points of view, looking at stress as an agent for change and a cue to strive for work-life balance.
As an ally in the fight against stress, an ayurvedic herb called Ashwagandha has proved helpful, too. The body of evidence for “Indian ginseng,” just one ingredient in Diet 360, indicates that it not only has anti-stress properties but also is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. In addition to Ashwagandha, Diet 360 has decaffeinated green-coffee extract to inhibit fat absorption, fucoxanthin to boost metabolism, and blueberry-leaf and bayberry-bark extracts to promote healthy blood sugar levels.
After the stress is under control, the pantry is stocked with high-fiber, low-cal foods, and the gym membership is renewed, it really all comes down to desire. How much do you want it? A lean physique is within your grasp, and the formula for success couldn’t be easier. Now it’s your turn to prove that your amazing physique is no fad.