The Ultimate Guide to Weight Loss
Many people struggle with their weight. In fact, over 93 million people are considered obese in America, which is nearly 40% of our population1. In addition to the daily physical and mental challenges with being overweight or obese, excess body fat can cause several health related conditions including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and certain types of cancers. Plus, did you know that a person who is overweight or obese will incur higher medical costs than someone with a health body mass index1? If you are someone who has struggled with reaching or maintaining a healthy weight, you are not alone.
Why this is happening
Over the last twenty years, proportion sizes have not only gotten larger, in some cases they have doubled2! Also, additives to foods and drinks, like salt, artificial sweeteners, oil, or msg can also have a disastrous effect on our weight3. Since schedules have never been busier, people are eating out more and having less control over what ingredients are used in their meals. You may be surprised that the salad you ordered from a drive through may have more calories than the burger and fries.
In addition to challenges with food, the rise of technology also has contributed to the problem. We simply don’t have to move as much on a daily basis. On average, Americans sit for nearly six hours a day, not including time spent sleeping4. This decrease in activity, combined with the increased proportion sizes of our food, no wonder weight loss is a seemingly uphill battle.
When you begin a weight loss journey, you undoubtedly will hear words like diet, cardio, strength training, and supplements. Plus, you will absolutely think about how much you should eat to lose weight. With so much information on the internet, how do you know where to begin or what to believe? Let’s start with the basics to help you decipher through this wall of common, but vague words.
The term diet is really all the food you consume that contributes to how you nourish your body. Over the years, diet has become a catch all term for what you can eat, or not eat, to lose weight. The term diet is neutral, but over time has become a negative word that deals more with restriction than anything else. A few common diets of today include Ketogenic, Juicing, Paleo, High carbohydrate, and whole food, plant-based diets. Let’s briefly touch on these five types of diets.
The ketogenic diet (keto) focuses on eating high fat, moderate protein, but extremely low amounts of carbohydrates. The Keto diet works as an extremely efficient way to burn fat5. Carbohydrates make up the majority of the standard American diet, and carbohydrates are the easiest for our bodies to convert food to energy. When we do not eat enough carbohydrates, the body must use a different source of food to convert to energy. When the body is in a ketogenic state (known as ketosis), it uses fat as the primary source of energy because it does not have enough carbohydrates to use as energy.
Pros: The keto diet is effective in fat and weight loss. Also, dieters have reported fewer hunger pains and feeling more satiated while on the keto diet. The keto diet is also used under medical supervision to help with specific conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Type 2 diabetes, Epilepsy, and Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)6.
Cons: The keto diet is difficult to follow and maintain a state of ketosis. During the first few days of beginning a keto diet, the body can have a difficult time as it converts to using a new energy source. During this first few days people commonly experience flu like symptoms; this period of transition is known as keto flu. The keto diet can be dangerous. The process of burning fat for energy can lead to a condition known as ketoacidosis which can be life threatening.
The Paleolithic diet (Paleo) gets its name from the concept of eating like our Paleolithic era ancestors. The Paleo diet focuses on eating foods that were found in nature before we began farming such as meat, nuts, eggs, fish, fruits, and vegetables; while avoiding dairy, grains, soda, salt, refined oils and potatoes7,8.
Pros: The Paleo diet is well balanced with a variety of foods including fresh fruits and vegetables.
Cons: The Paleo diet may be time consuming to prepare all your meals since processed food is not approved, making this challenging to sustain over long periods of time.
Juicing is the process of using a machine to press the juice out of fruits and vegetables, which is different than blending with the skin or pulp. In the case of juicing, the skin and pulp are discarded 9.
Pros: Juicing can be a tasty, easy, and fast way to get nutrients from fruits and vegetables
Cons: Juicing can get expensive, depending on the meal replacement frequency and the fruits and vegetables used. Also, if only fruit is used, juicing can spike glucose levels due to the high amount of natural sugars found in fruit. In addition, there are no fiber benefits due to the process of discarding the skin of the fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, long term juicing as a form of meal replacements may lead to protein and other deficiencies.
High Carb Diets
The high carbohydrate (high carb) diet focuses on eating fruits, vegetables, and higher carbohydrate foods such as whole grains, quinoa, rice, and potatoes. The emphasis for this diet comes from the concept of eating as many carbohydrates as you desire because they tend to be lower in calories and fat than compared to fatty cuts of meat or cheese. The belief is that the fruits, vegetables, and grains have an adequate amount of fiber, which will help the dieter feel fuller without consuming as many calories as a high protein or high fat diet.
Pros: High carb diets can be non-expensive. Rice, beans, potatoes, and in season fruits and vegetables tend to be less expensive than cuts of meat or cheese. Also, this diet allows for adequate amount of fiber that are found in whole grains, beans and legumes, and fruits and vegetables.
Cons: High carb diets may lead to protein deficiencies if meals are not planned with complete protein grains such as quinoa. This diet may not be sustainable long term because of the potential for low satiation with high carb diets10.
Whole food, plant-based diet
A whole food, plant-based diet focuses on eating food from plants, not animals, that are found in a whole state11. For example, an apple would be the better option compared to applesauce in this type of diet.
Pro: The whole food, plant-based diet can be inexpensive compared to other diets, especially when fruits and vegetables are purchased in season. Also, this diet allows for an abundance of fruits and vegetables, which are high fiber and relatively low in sugar when compared to other diets with processed foods.
Con: It may be difficult for some people to remove all animal products from diet. Also, the food selection will need to be careful to include complete proteins to avoid deficiencies12.
Calories in vs Calories Out
Perhaps the most studied diet is the calories in, calories out diet. This focuses on burning more calories (output) than the number of calories consumed (input). Scientists know that burning 3500 calories equals a one-pound weight loss, so this is commonly the first thought when people mention the word diet.
Pro: Measuring calories is a time-tested diet and is something nearly everyone can do.
Cons: You must measure food to calculate the number of calories, which can be time consuming.
So, how much can I eat?
Everyone has a resting metabolic rate and a basal metabolic rate which varies how each person uses food as fuel. There are two common ways to determine how many calories you typically burn: basal metabolic rate (BMR) and resting metabolic rate (RMR). BMR is more precise than RMR because it is measured after 12 hours of fasting (not eating) and a full night of sleep, in a clinically controlled environment, like a laboratory. RMR is less precise because it is measured when the body is at rest, but without requiring the 12 hours fast and full night of sleep. Both tests require a gas spirometer for an accurate reading, but you can use the Mifflin St. Jeor equation, to calculate yours at home.
Mifflin St. Jeor Equation13
For men: BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) + 5
For women: BMR = 10 x weight (kg) + 6.25 x height (cm) – 5 x age (years) – 161
BMR and RMR are important because it lets you know how many calories your body needs to function properly. You should never consume fewer calories than your BMR, unless directed by (and under supervision of) a physician. This number will also let you know what a healthy goal of calories is to consume while beginning a weight loss journey. To lose one pound per week, you will need to be in a calorie deficit. Meaning that you will need to either burn more 3500 more calories or eat 3500 fewer calories than you typically consume in the same week. You can break this down to 500 calories per day because there are seven days in a week. We recommend consuming 250 fewer calories than your average day and burning 250 extra calories per day through physical activity14. This will help make a seemingly large goal of 3500 calories more attainable.
Exercise can be scary for someone that is new to a weight loss journey. The primary areas that we are sharing today are cardiovascular training and strength training.
Jokes aside about how everyone hates cardio, this type of exercise is great for your health. Cardiovascular training (cardio) is any exercise that forces your body to use additional oxygen due to an increase in heart rate and blood flow, hence the name cardiovascular. Cardio is important to keep your heart, lungs, and blood vessels functioning properly. Cardiovascular exercise has also been shown to reduce plaque build up in arteries and veins, reducing the likelihood of heart attack and stroke.
Heart rate Zones
Your body experiences different benefits in different stages of cardiovascular exercise. There are typically six heart rate zones: resting, moderate, fat burning, aerobic, anaerobic, and maximum effort. Below, we cover how to find your maximum heart rate and how to know which zone is right for you.
To understand heart rate zones, you first need to understand your heart rate maximum. Your maximum heart rate is an age predicted recommendation for the number of beats per minute that a relatively healthy heart should be able to manage without injury15. If you have a family history of heart disease, are pregnant, or have never exercised before, be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
To find your age predicted maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220.
Example: 35 year old
220-35=185 maximum heart rate
Each heart rate zone provides a different benefit, but each is important.
- Zone 1: Resting heart rate zone occurs when your body is at rest and there is no additional stimulation.
- Zone 2: Moderate activity occurs when your heart rate is approximately 50% of your age predicted heart rate maximum. This is a good place for your heart rate to be during a pre-exercise warm up.
- Zone 3: Fat burning comes from your body burning primarily fat, rather than glucose, during exercise. This occurs at approximately 60-70% of heart rate maximum.
- Zone 4: Aerobic training comes from the additional pull of oxygen to supply body needs when your heart rate reached approximately 70-80% of heart rate maximum.
- Zone 5: Anaerobic heart rate zone is when your body is not able to sustain the exercise for longer than 90 second intervals due to a chemical reaction that takes place in how your body uses oxygen, clears carbon dioxide. This typically occurs post 85% of heart rate max.
- Zone 6: Maximum effort is when your body is pushed to its physical limit and the exercise or activity cannot be continued due to fatigue.
To find the percentages, take the age predicted maximum heart rate and multiply by percent.
Example: 35 year old
220-35=185 maximum heart rate
60% of 185 = 185*.60 =111
111 is the beats per minute when a 35 year old heart is working at 60% capacity, or zone 3. This means the body is primarily in the fat burning stage of exercise.
Two Types of Cardio Training
There are two primary types of cardiovascular exercise: high intensity interval training (HIIT) and low intensity steady state (LISS).
HIIT gets it name from short, yet intense bouts of exercise that typically last 20-30 seconds, followed by a rest period of 15-30 seconds16. Examples of HIIT exercise could look similar to the example below.
Example: Perform each exercise for 30 seconds, followed by a 15 second rest. Repeat all four exercises and rest periods for three rounds.
- Squat jumps
- Jump rope
- Pull up
Pros: HIIT has shown to be a fast way to burn fat and increase cardiovascular functioning. It is also ideal for people with busy schedules that need a fast workout.
Cons: HIIT is an intense form of exercise. It may be too difficult for beginners, depending on baseline fitness level.
LISS is a form of cardio that keeps your heart rate consistently between 60-80% of your heart rate max17. This differs from HIIT because in steady state cardio, you do not rest until the exercise session if finished.
Example: Steady state heart rate exercise could be walking for 20-30 minutes at 60-80% of your heart rate max.
Example: 50 year old
Age predicted max heart rate: 220-50 = 170
Heart rate zone 3: 170*.60= 102 beats per minute, heart rate at 60%
Heart rate zone 4: 170*.80 = 136 beats per minute, heart rate at 80%
To reach LISS, the heart rate must be between 102 and 136 beats per minute in the example of a 50 year old.
Pro: LISS can be a great option for beginners because it does not stress the body as much as HITT.
Cons: LISS exercises do take longer to perform because the time spent getting the heart rate to the target zone does not count toward the time spent in LISS.
Strength training is an important part of your overall health plan. Strength training, including body weight resistance, has been shown to increase the muscles of your heart, provide better spinal alignment, and increase bone density. Strength training can also be a great way to burn fat and calories on your weight loss journey, and beyond. A common myth with strength training, particularly for women, is that they will get bulky. Women do not produce the same amount of testosterone (the male sex hormone) as men. Testosterone is one of the primary hormones that makes men, on average, larger and stronger than women. Also, women produce a higher amount of estrogen (the female sex hormone), which can contribute to softer, more feminine characteristics. Without unnatural supplementation and excessive training, women cannot alter their bodies to look like men, even with lifting heavy weight.
When you perform strength training exercises, the body is lifting weight against the force of gravity. Continuous lifting causes tiny tears in the muscle because of literal wear and tear. Your body is amazing and heals itself, usually within 24-72 hours. As your body repairs those microtears, the muscle gets stronger, and in many cases, larger.
Heavy weight, low reps or light weight, high reps
Similar to how different heart rates produce a different cardiovascular benefit, strength training also has differences18, 19. Higher repetitions (the amount of times you do an exercise without resting) produce muscular endurance. You can think of this as cardio for your muscles. High repetitions increase strength, but mainly increase the amount of times you can lift a lighter weight before your muscle gets tired. This is a great place for beginners to start a strength training program. Due to natural fatigue, to lift something more times, requires that the weight be lower than if you want to lift a heavier weight, fewer times.
Pro: High repetition, low weight is a great place for beginners to start a weight lifting program. With high reps and low weight, there is less structural damage to the muscles, allowing for faster recover, which also lowers risk of injury.
Con: High reps, low weight do not produce muscle gains as quickly as other lifting methods.
When you lift heavier weight, fewer times, the body reacts differently. Rather than increasing primarily endurance, the muscle experiences faster fatigue and therefore deeper microtears. The rebuilding of your muscles causes an increase in strength, also known as gains.
A good rule of thumb for strength training is shown in the graph below.
Supplements can be a helpful part of your health and weight loss journey. The standard American diet does not include all the nutrients that our body needs to thrive optimally. Three supplements that you may want to consider adding to your diet for weight loss are protein, fish oil, and green tea.
Protein is an easy supplement to add to your diet. Protein is a macronutrient that contains at least one amino acid strand. Amino acids are essential to our health because they repair our body after daily stressors cause everyday damage on our bodies. Protein supplementation is especially helpful after beginning an exercise routine. Remember those microtears we get in our muscles after exercising? Protein is the primary nutrient that repairs those microtears. A high-quality protein supplement can help you recover faster and feel better20.
Fish oil is another simple supplement to consider in your weight loss journey. Fish oil is high in Omega 3’s, which is a type of fatty acid that our body does not produce. This is essential to our health because fatty acids help decrease inflammation, assist with keeping skin and joints moisturized and lubricated, and help improve cognitive function. Fish oil has also been shown to help improve fat loss due to two compounds, EPA and DHA, which improve how our body processes fat21.
Green tea can be a great supplement to improve your health. Green tea has a component known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) that is responsible for interacting with other compounds and help the liver break down and process fats. This can speed up metabolism which can assist with weight loss. Additionally, green tea has healthy polyphenols which are antioxidants that help clear your body of free radicals. Free radicals are basically daily wear and tear on your body. Green tea can also help lower blood pressure. Green tea has been shown to increase metabolism and fat burning22.
Weight loss can be challenging, but you are already on the right path by reading the necessary steps to help you reach your goals. Educating yourself is a great way to stay motivated and avoid injury while you are on your weight loss journey23. Remember to check with your doctor before any drastic changes to your diet or activity level, especially if you have a pre-existing condition like heart disease or diabetes, or if you are under the age of 18 or pregnant. You can start by talking to your doctor about your goals and asking your doctor the following questions:
- Do you see any problems with ______ diet?
- Am I healthy enough to begin an exercise program?
- What is the best way for me to begin with supplements and which ones do you recommend?
- Will any medications I am currently taking interfere with exercise or supplements?
- For pregnant women
- What is a safe way for me to begin an exercise program?
- Which supplements should I take during pregnancy?
The best diet to follow during your weight loss journey is the one that works for you. Each person is unique, and health is not one-size-fits all. Choosing healthier options when possible, supplementing as needed, and staying physically active most days of the week will help ensure that you stick with your plan long enough to see results.
- CDC https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
- NIH https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/wecan/eat-right/distortion.htm
- Science Daily https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/02/080210183902.htm
- Science Daily https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120113210203.htm
- NIH https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945587/
- NIH https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4124736/
- NIH https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4588744/
- NIH https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2787021/
- UCLA https://exploreim.ucla.edu/wellness/juicing-body-cleansing-or-nutrient-depleting/
- NIH https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5898445/
- NIH https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3967195/
- NIH https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5598028/,
- NIH https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997297/
- Oxford Academic https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/51/2/241/4695104?redirectedFrom=fulltext
- NIH https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3081386/
- NIH https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5010533/
- NIH https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4657417/
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- NIH https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4836564/
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- NIH https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/WeightLoss-HealthProfessional/
- CDC https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html