Losing excess weight is not difficult with the right mindset. In most cases it is mental battle and excuses that prevent people to shed pounds, not the physical or medical conditions. The formula is basic and simple: diet – exercise – supplements. These are essential interdependent requirements for healthy weight.
- If you want to eat well and not be hungry you must exercise. Some people are lucky to have good genes and have faster metabolism, but for those who are not so lucky, exercise is the only option to increase metabolism, burn fat and fuel muscles without starving yourself.
- On the other hand, if you want to see result of your physical exertion, you must eat right. In most cases it’s not the amount of food that you consume that aids weight gain, but the certain types of food. By eliminating certain foods from your diet for good and enjoying a healthy diet you won’t go hungry or unsatisfied (healthy can be tasty), will see the results from exercise much faster and might even reverse some medical conditions.
- Food consumption and exercise increase metabolism. Breaking down food and using amino acids, fats and carbohydrates for energy is a necessary process, but it does produce free radicals and increase oxidation. Exercise also demands proper recovery. This is why supplements also play an important role in maintaining healthy weight. They provide the missing nutrients from diet to assist with recovery, physical and mental stress reduction, increase fat burn, balance hormones, help to control blood sugar, etc.
Start with diet.
First of all, you must never restrict your calorie intake for a short time just to lose a few pounds. Reduced calorie intake result in reduced metabolic rate. When regular eating habits are resumed the metabolism is still slow while the calorie intake becomes higher. So the result of any restricted diet is weight loss, followed by immediate weight gain. This is not healthy for the body and mind nor it is effective or clever way of losing weight. Either you have to be on permanent Calorie Restriction (CR) diet or you have to stick to your average healthy calorie intake, but eat right types of food. Consistency is the key, this is why choosing the healthy diet that suit individual needs and stick to it is so important. If you chose to eat – do it well and don’t skip your meals.
There are many popular diets from classic Atkins and Mediterranean to Dukan, Paleo, Caveman, etc., but all of them have three things in common: you eat a lot of lean protein, a lot of vegetables and a little healthy fats. There are variations, but this is the basic principle that has been followed by many athletes for decades. I like the name that fitness professionals use for this type of diet – Clean Eating. So forget about calorie count, RDAs and low-fat and concentrate on what is healthy instead. At least in the beginning.
There are three food groups: protein, carbohydrates and fats. The typical example of using these food groups in clean eating would be:
- Lean protein: such as skinned chicken or turkey, fish and seafood, tofu, eggs or egg whites, beans and pulses, natural yoghurt and natural cottage cheese.* Cooking method is important of course as frying fish or meat in oil or grilling it until it resembles a piece of coal rather than food would defeat the purpose. Beans are best bought in bags and soaked overnight as tinned beans tend to contain salt and sugar. Beans and pulses also contain a good type of starch that is beneficial for digestion.
- Unprocessed simple and complex carbohydrates that are very low in calories and fully utilised by the body: green vegetables can be eaten in any amount – the more the better, root vegetables are also good with the exception of white potatoes. Fruits are good too, but chose the ones with low sugar content, like apples, pears, apricots and other Northern fruits and limit the intake of tropical fruits. Berries can be eaten in any amount. Unprocessed complex carbohydrates means brown rice, rolled or whole oats, barley, buckwheat, etc. Whole grain bread, pasta and cereals are often advertised as healthy, but they are in fact highly processed and not healthy at all. Healthy starches can be found in sweet potatoes or yams, macadamia nuts and pulses.
- Healthy fats include: oily fish, nuts and seeds, avocados and coconut, peanut and olive cold pressed oils. Egg yolks are good too in moderation as they are very nutrient dense. Almonds, pistachio, pine and macadamia nuts are best for weight loss and contain better Omega fat ratio than other nuts. Omega 3 rich seeds such as hemp, chia and flax are the best of seeds. Peanut and coconut oils are heat-resistant and better for light frying and baking, while extra virgin olive oil is best for dressings and marinades. Avoid low-fat produce as it tend to be high in sodium and is processed.
Spices are excellent food addition not only because they make it taste better, but also because certain spices increase metabolism, provide antioxidants and help to regulate blood sugar level. The most notable ones are turmeric, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, garlic and ginger.
Consume drinks that increase metabolism and eliminate excess water, such as green tea and nettle or dandelion teas. Peppermint, camomile and fennel also help to reduce bloating. Mineral water is essential for weight loss as it balances appetite and help to eliminate toxins. Detox juices such as prune, carrot and beetroot are good to detoxify liver and clean up the digestive tract. Prune juice does have a laxative effect though.
Snacks and treats are possible on healthy weight loss diet. Apart of nuts, fruits and berries described above, certain dried fruits are OK, such as sugar and oil free apricots, prunes, cherries and cranberries. Dark – 85% and above – chocolate is also fine at about 10-20g per day. Whole olives and rough natural oatcake with cottage cheese are also a good snack.
Avoid pre-packaged foods, sugar, too much salt and processed carbs. Never ever consume anything with vegetable oil in it as it mostly derived from soybean, corn or sunflower. Being highly processed, these oils are extremely unhealthy and contribute to weight gain and disease. Do not eat breakfast cereals of any kind, even muesli. Avoid corn at all cost and anything with corn or its derivative in it – it is possibly the worst thing you can eat for blood sugar control and weight. Do not drink any soft drinks or conventional juices as they are full of sugar, and cut the amount of alcohol to a minimum. Stick to a small glass of red wine every other day. Avoid all prepackaged snacks with the exception of the ones mentioned above. Most protein and snack bars are full of sugar. In fact I was checking all snack and protein bars in my local health store the other day, as I allowed myself to get very hungry (not a good idea) and absolutely all of them contained sugar (agave nectar, malt syrup or brown rice syrup) as first ingredient!
There are many good recipe sites for healthy eating. My recommendations are: Artisan Cook (because it is my cooking blog and I have years of practice, cooking healthy meals that taste nice), clean eating magazine, Elana’s Pantry (healthy gluten-free recipes).
Those who never exercised and are afraid to do it because of existing medical condition should start slowly, by simply walking, swimming or aqua-aerobics, climbing stairs and doing light stretching and toning routines from Pilates and Yoga. Once you are confident enough to progress further and sculpt the body that you want, choose your exercise strategy. There are three effective ways to lose fat:
- Cardio HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training)/Explosive cardio – fast (as little as four minutes can be enough), can be done in gym or outside, effective for fat burning, but no overall body toning. Can be combined with weight lifting for muscle tone. Three most popular ways to do it: running, elliptical or stationary bike. Need interval timer.
- Plyometrics/HIIT – fast (routines from 10 to 15 minutes), great for when you don’t have any equipment, can be done anywhere and great for home workout, provides cardiovascular exercise and great for muscle tone. Can be stressful on joints therefore not suitable for everyone. Need interval timer.
- Heavy weight lifting – great for fat burn and overall body tone, plus provides joint support by building strong muscles. Good for those who can not do cardio or plyometrics. Gained muscles continue to burn calories between exercises! Muscle building is also the best anti-ageing strategy for the body.
Supplements for weight loss.
Generally there are three types of popular weight loss supplements on the market:
- appetite suppressors/blood sugar balancers
- metabolism boosters: thermogenics and lipotropics.
- exercise boosters that help to build muscle faster or burn glucose for energy more efficient.
Since eating is important for weight loss the two last ones are always a better option. However, those with obesity problems might want to start with appetite suppressors and thermogenics and moving on to exercise boosters later. There are also digestive enzymes, diuretics and general support supplements. While they are not directly affecting fat loss, digestive enzymes might help to improve digestion, reducing bloating and flatulence if present, while duiretics help to get rid of excess water if necessary. Multivitamin is one of those general support supplements and always a must, since B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium, iron and zinc help to convert food into energy instead of fat. Many trace minerals in multivitamin (iodine, zinc, etc.) also help to regulate thyroid function, increasing metabolic rate.
Blood sugar and appetite control supplements:
- GTF Chromium is the number one mineral to include for blood sugar balance. It supports the insulin function which result in reduced cravings and balanced appetite. Chromium is often the main ingredient in pretty much all weight loss/sugar control formulas on the market. Taking it on its own is just as effective and much cheaper.
- Niacin (B3) helps to reduce cravings and to regulate appetite. It also plays a major role in energy production, increasing metabolism and aiding fat burn.
Thermogenic and lipotropic supplements:
- CoQ10 deficiency decrease thermogenesis and energy production. Taking CoQ10 with MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) for maximum absorption helps to burn more calories.
- Choline and Inositol assist liver with more efficient fat metabolism. Choline and Inositol can be bought as one supplement. Alternatively, a good quality soy lecithin also rich in choline.
- Omega 3 fatty acids (EPA/DHA) contribute to healthy metabolic rate, hormone balance, brain function and have other health qualities. Unless you eat oily fish three to four times per week, it is a good idea to add this supplement to your regime. Always chose the good quality Omega supplements as bad ones can do more damage than good for both health and pocket.
- Green tea extract is a potent thermogenic and can be found in many weight loss formulas. It can be taken as a supplement or as tea up to eight cups a day.
- Arginine/Ornithine help to increase fat metabolism in liver, using up body’s stored fat for energy. Arginine is also required for insulin production and blood sugar control.
Supplements for exercise:
- Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) increases insulin sensitivity and aids glucose transport, which result in more energy production in muscles and less fat stored in body. It is also a very powerful antioxidant.
- L-Carnitine increases fat burning in heart and muscle cells, transporting fat cells into mitochondria for energy. Carnitine is a great energy, endurance and stamina support.
Supplements to avoid:
- Slimming teas and other laxatives will not help to lose fat, but rather will dehydrate the body and rid it off nutrients. Not to mention spending major part of waking hours in the toilet.
- Ephedra is banned in USA and most weight loss formulas avoid using it due to bad publicity. Despite it being a very potent thermogenic, ephedra’s side effects outweigh its benefits and it is best not to use it. Some of the side effects include increased heart rate, constricted blood vessels that cause high blood pressure and headaches, hyperthermia, dizziness, etc.
I could probably write a book about weight loss (and maybe I will one day) because there is much to expand upon, but hopefully these basics will help and if you have any questions about supplements, food, recipes, exercise routines, etc. please don’t hesitate to drop me a line.
*I include certain meat and dairy products for those who do consume them even though I personally do not eat any of it for reasons not relevant to this article.