Watching those pounds melt away without pushing your plate aside sounds too good to be true. Of course, no weight loss method is that simple, but there is a way you can eat more on your next diet and still lose the weight you want. Scientists are finding that the calories you burn during your daily activities may be the ones that really count in the dieting game.
Why diets don’t work
For decades, experts believed that weight problems were caused simply because people ate too much. That is, they consumed more calories than their bodies needed and the extra calories were stored as fat. New research, however, suggests that the real reason some people are heavier than others may have more to do with physiological differences between people than with how much they eat.
The most appropriate approach to preventing obesity may be to increase physical activity, rather than decrease caloric intake. There’s another reason why cutting calories alone doesn’t work.
Surprising as it may sound, crash dieting may actually cause you to gain weight in the long run. How? Drastically cutting back on calories can slow down your metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories). Each of our bodies has an internal control mechanism, or setpoint, that drives the body to maintain a certain amount of body fat. When we diet to lose weight, our bodies automatically try to compensate by conserving body fat – in effect slowing down our metabolism.
What’s a dieter to do?
Researchers are now pretty much convinced that increasing your activity is the easiest – and safest – way to lose weight. By increasing your physical activity instead of cutting back on calories, you won’t have to go around feeling hungry and miserable all day long. That means you’re more likely to stick with a sensible diet plan and make the weight loss stick, too.
Regular exercise helps you burn fat. Exercise slows down the rate of protein breakdown in your skeletal muscle, which means that an even greater portion of the calories will be burned as fat. You can see the results in groups of people who exercise regularly throughout their lives. Obesity is virtually nonexistent among nomadic people in Africa – even when fat comprises up to 70 per cent of the diet. Those people keep up a lifelong modest level of exercise. Their low body fat seems to be related to that continuous activity.
Dieting alone, on the other hand, usually causes you to lose water during the first several weeks, which you gain right back after you go off your diet. If you can manage to stick to a low-calorie diet for more than a few weeks, you’ll shed some fat, but the accompanying muscle loss can zap your strength. And although you won’t rapidly lose weight by exercising, you’ll probably notice improvements in your appearance fairly soon.
Since you’re building lean muscle mass, which weighs more than the fat you’re losing, your clothing size may drop before your weight follows suit.
But won’t exercise stimulate your appetite and make you want to eat more? That’s a myth. While it’s true that athletes in training do require more calories than most of us, studies have shown that regular, moderate exercise doesn’t appear to have much effect on the caloric intake of the average person.
If exercise is such a great way to lose weight, wouldn’t exercise and dieting work even better? Yes! In fact, scientific research is full of examples of the role of exercise in weight loss.
The beauty of combing exercise and diet, of course, is that you don’t have to cut calories so drastically, since the calories you burn during exercise add to the calorie deficit you need to lose weight. And since exercise helps stoke up your body’s calorie-burning abilities, it counteracts the detrimental effects that dieting alone has on metabolism.
If you decide to combine the two, just remember to diet sensibly. To start, make sure you take in at least 1,200 calories a day. If you eat any less than that, you’ll be short changing yourself nutritionally. One of the best ways to cut back on calories is to cut fat from your diet. That’s because fat has more calories (9 per gram) than protein or carbohydrates (4 calories per gram). And some studies suggested that it’s possible to gain weight on a low-calorie diet that’s high in fat.