To really understand how to lose weight you need to learn a little bit about the human body, the mind and nutrition. Weight loss really is not a complex task – you really do just need to eat less and exercise more. The real challenge is overcoming the mind to control your appetite and combat lethargy.
Here we cover the main topics on weight loss. First we look at dieting and attempt to dispel a few myths and explain that although it is difficult to lose weight by dieting alone, it is certainly possible. We also look at the role of human biology in weight loss. We also look briefly at “spot reduction”, which is another classic myth of losing weight.
After the information on how to lose weight we review some weight loss books. All of these books have been hand-picked and individually reviewed – they all provide a healthy and sustainable way to lose weight and get fit.
Finally we provide what is hoped to be some motivational advice and then one solution for tackling weight loss, i.e. adopting “SMART” plan.
If you are not sure whether or not you are overweight then you should use our BMI calculator. If you have any questions or need any guidance then please do not hesitate to ask below. There is also a list of resources and references to allow you to learn more on each topic discussed.
Understanding Weight Loss
Combining regular exercise with a healthy diet really is the best way to lose weight, however, often people are unable to exercise on a regular basis for various reasons. So if you are not able to exercise you have to adopt a healthy weight loss diet plan to help you to lose weight and then manage your weight.
Important note: The goal of a weight loss plan is to lose fat and ideally become fitter at the same time. If you are only restricting calories then it is likely that you will lose muscle tissue as well as fat. While this will still record as “weight loss” it is not what you should be aiming for. Muscle is healthy, fat is not.
To lose weight all we need to do is ensure that our daily calorie intake is less than our daily calorie requirements. So why is exercise thought to be so important for weight loss? Regular exercise makes this easier for four main reasons.
How Exercise Helps You To Lose Fat
- It increases the amount of calories you burn each day
- It increases your metabolism as your body builds new muscle tissue
- It helps to manage appetite by releasing hormones that suppress hunger
- It helps to use up glycogen reserves which triggers the fat burning hormone called glucagon.
So if you cannot exercise you are missing out on a huge advantage when it comes to weight loss. However, it is still possible to lose weight.
Why Fat Loss Is Your Goal
Everyone asks “how do I lose weight?” but the real question should be “how do I lose body fat while maintaining lean muscle tissue?“. A healthy body is lean and muscular – muscles give us our shape and tone.
Muscles are also vital for good health. Not only do they make us stronger and fitter, they also help keep metabolism raised. Muscle tissue is very “hungry”, it needs proteins and carbohydrates for growth, repair and function, and needs much more energy than fat tissue.
Another way to explain it is that muscles are the body’s engines, fat cells are the fuel tanks. When someone wants to “lose weight”, they actually want to lose fat. Understanding this helps to explain why very low-calorie diets can be counter-productive in the long-term.
The Problem of Very Low Calorie Diets
When people attempt to lose weight with diet alone they generally throw themselves into a low-calorie diet, or sometimes a very low-calorie diet (VLCD) which is defined by being below 1000 calories a day.
Often these diets do not provide the body with enough protein to sustain muscle tissue and so muscle wastage occurs. The body simply breaks downs its own muscle tissue to provide energy for other parts of the body. Fat loss will also occur, but not in isolation.
Biology: The Relationship of Food, Fat Storage and Hormones
To understand why this happens we need to explain a little about how the body stores and then burns fat. There are two hormones at play in the body that control fat storage – insulin and glucagon. Both are triggered by changing levels of glucose in the blood (blood sugar).
When we eat carbohydrates, especially high GI carbs, such as bread, blood sugar levels rise. This increase in blood sugar triggers a release of insulin from the pancreas. The role of insulin is to reduce blood sugar levels, it does this by aiding the uptake of glucose into fat storage (adipose tissue). The glucose is actually converted to glycerol and combined with fatty acids for TAGs (triacylglycerides) and this is what we call “fat”. Prolonged raised levels of sugar in the blood can lead to health problems.
So, in a nutshell, when we consume sugary foods our bodies release insulin that causes that sugar to be stored as fat. Understanding this is key to understanding how diet can help lose weight.
So When Does the Body Decide To Lose Weight?
When glucose levels fall the pancreas then releases glucagon. The role of this hormone is simply the opposite of insulin, it causes blood sugar levels to rise again. Glucose is the prime energy source of the brain which is our prime organ as it controls the functions of all other parts of the body.
So glucagon’s prime objective is to ensure that the brain is supplied with sugar. It does this by breaking down the fat tissue to extract the sugars locked up in the TAGs (glycerol and fatty acids). This is what we call fat burning.
It is not easy to get the body to release glucagon though. You have to allow your blood sugar levels to fall to very low levels. As soon as you eat a sugary food, such as some bread, pasta, high GI vegetable like parsnips and pumpkin, processed breakfast cereals, rice, any junk food (cakes, cookies, donuts), you blood sugar rises and therefore glucagon production stops and insulin takes over, so you quickly go from a fat burning situation back to a fat storing one.
This is why unhealthy diets are so likely to lead to weight gain – most of what is unhealthy is also high on the glycemic index (high GI) which means it causes blood sugar spikes, insulin and fat accumulation. So by limiting high GI foods you can help to lose weight with diet alone.
The Importance of Protein
Protein is important for two reasons:
- Without adequate daily protein muscles start to waste away as the amino acids locked within the muscle tissue are used to help with the ongoing repair of vital organs.
- When protein is digested the body releases another hormone, PYY, which helps to suppress hunger.
This is another reason why very low-calorie diets are bad – people eating less than 1000 Calories a day to lose weight often fail to consume enough protein, instead just eating their favorite sugary snacks. This sugar heavy diet not only causes fat to be stored but also the lack of protein causes muscles to waste away and lowers BMR (basal metabolic rate) which determines how much energy is used to maintain the body at rest.
The Role of Exercise
Although it is possible to lose weight through healthy diet alone, as detailed above, it is far easier and quicker to lose weight by combining diet with exercise. But when is the best time to exercise? Is there a best time at all? One school of thought is that so long as you are active and burn additional calories it does not matter what time you exercise. However, there are other opinions on this, so lets take a look at them.
Many people advocate that the best way to lose weight is to exercise on an empty stomach before a meal. It has long been believed that this fasted exercising will increase metabolism and help lose weight, then eating afterwards will provide the body with essential proteins, carbohydrate and fats to start building healthy new muscle tissue.
However, recent collaborative research carried out by Surrey University and Imperial College London and published in the Journal of Endocrinology suggests that exercise after eating can help people to lose weight more effectively than vice versa.
The research found that exercising after a meal boosts the release of hormones PYY, GLP-1 and PP which then suppress appetite, meaning that you stay full for longer which reduces snacking.
Dr John McAvoy, a GP with a special interest in obesity, said “For exercise to contribute to weight control it should be sustainable over the long-term and enjoyment remains a critical factor to this end.”
As is often the case, the real conclusion is that to lose weight, lifestyle change is required. There really is no quick fix to fitness and health. People that keep healthy remain active throughout their lives and generally socialize with more active people.
One specific hormone that we are currently aware of which affects appetite is the PPY hormone. PPY helps to reduce our appetite when it is in the system. It is created in the body in response to two specific activities; exercise and the digestion of proteins.
Previously it was assumed that the increase of PPY in the body would not last long enough to make exercise after a meal a useful approach to weight loss. However, research has shown that exercise does not result in a reduced calorie consumption. In fact, people who exercise tend to eat more food than the sedentary people!
The Relationship Between Exercise and Diet
Sometimes people really do like to complicate matters. There is already enough confusion regarding weight loss, which leads to many people making costly weight loss mistakes. In recent years two pieces of research were published which really helped to confuse matters. One study concluded that exercise does not help you to lose weight while the other concluded that diet does not help you to lose weight either. So neither work! Well, let’s try to bring some sanity back to the relatively simple task of reducing body fat.
Exercise Alone Does Not Help You Lose Weight
The British Journal of Sports Medicine published a report which concluded that exercise fails to help many people lose weight. A team of sports scientists conducted a study which involved monitoring the calorie expenditure of a group of people on a rest day and then again on a controlled exercise day.
The results showed that exercising did not generate a calorie “after burn” that many people believe. In fact, in some cases people burned less fat on their exercise days than on their rest days.
In the study all the subjects were overweight or obese, and the study only monitored progress over a short period. From practical experience we see that although in the very short-term people do not lose weight when they start exercising, on the longer term they do. For example, when people start jogging / running they often see no or little weight reduction in the first month. It is only in the second month of running when the body has become stronger and fitter that a person can push themselves hard enough to burn off enough extra calories to make a real difference.
Short Term Weight Loss is Not Possible
In the average 45 minute cardio session the number of calories burned is about the same as that for a sports energy drink, and less than that of a protein / carbohydrate replacement drink. So it stands to reason that without strictly controlling calorie intake weight loss is much harder to obtain. In fact the study showed that weight loss was not possible in the very short-term by exercise alone.
Another reason why people fail to lose weight is because they gain more muscle when they start exercising. Although there is no weight loss, there is sometimes some fat loss, which is the ultimate goal. Muscle is healthy, fat is not.
Diet Without Exercise Does Not Aid Weight Loss
The second study that was published in the American Journal of Physiology concluded that diet without exercise does not aid weight loss. The scientific community has once again thrown our understanding of health and fitness upside down. However, we have to listen to our scientists as they are the experts!
In this study it was concluded that eating fewer calories does not contribute a great deal to achieving weight loss goals and that eating healthy food, instead of unhealthy, does not directly aid weight loss either. This is the sort of conclusion that leads tabloid readers reaching for the donuts and pizza!
Explanation of the Research
The research group from the Oregon Health and Science University suggested that the reason diet does not always lead to aid weight loss was because when people eat less they become less active, therefore burning fewer calories, so the reduction in calories eaten does not lead to a calorie deficit because the body needs less.
“This research shows that simply dieting will not likely cause substantial weight loss. Instead, diet and exercise must be combined to achieve this goal.” Dr. Judy Cameron, senior scientist at Oregon Health and Science University.
The research was carried out on primates (18 female rhesus macaque monkeys). After being fed well for several years they were placed on a low-fat and low-calorie diet with 30% fewer calories than they normally ate. During the first month of their diet their weight hardly changed, with no significant weight loss.
What was surprising was that the monkeys became much less active. They became lethargic and sedentary to conserve energy. In the second month of the study calories were reduced again and this resulted in activity decreasing even further.
As part of this research another group of monkeys were given a standard diet and exercised for one hour per day. These monkeys lost weight.
“This study demonstrates that there is a natural body mechanism which conserves energy in response to a reduction in calories.” Dr Cameron, Oregon Health and Science University.
The key to fast and successful weight loss seems to be as it always has been – a combination of healthy diet with fewer calories and regular rigorous exercise!
But Humans Are Not Monkeys!
One thing to consider though, when we make an effort to lose weight by restricting calories, we often do not have the luxury of being able to become less active like the monkeys in the study could – we still have to work and carry out our chores. So for many people reducing calories is a good way to lose weight.
If you go on a calorie restrictive diet and maintain your activity levels, then you will certainly lose weight, although you need to be sure that you do not become more restful after workouts.
If you decide to just exercise more, the chances are that you will be eating less and eating meals that help with your exercise, i.e. meals that are lower in carbohydrates, less stodgy/easier to digest. These types of food will also help you to lose weight.
Exercise is Important
Exercise does help you to lose weight and it certainly gets you fit. But you need to ensure you exercise with intensity and do not over eat afterwards. So many people treat themselves to a big dinner or breakfast after exercising in the mistaken belief that they have worked hard enough to deserve it. This is rarely, if ever, true. Professional swimmers, athletes and bodybuilders consume considerably more calories every day, but they are super-fit and train for several hours each day at a much higher intensity than an overweight and unfit person can manage.
Exercise does have a vital purpose though. Most people who manage to control their weight long-term after losing a lot of weight do so by using exercise. If you are fit and exercise on the regular basis you can get away with a few more eating binges before the weight comes back on.
If you want to lose weight and shed the pounds, then the answer is to eat a healthy well-balanced, portion controlled diet AND do some exercise to get fitter so that you can maintain your healthy weight.
One final point on exercise – it boosts your confidence. Another study recent showed that people feel better about themselves after they exercise. Even when there is no real physical change, self-confidence is improved. This increase in self-esteem caused by exercise leads to more exercise and eventually you become healthier, fitter and slimmer.
Sometimes you have to be really careful how you interpret results of studies. The tabloids reported both of these stories in the most controversial way possible, that is diet does not lead to weight loss, and neither does exercise. The research is still important as it helps us to understand the dynamics of weight loss, diet and exercise and how our bodies respond to changing conditions. However, as far as the average overweight person is concerned, the same rules apply – exercise more and eat less to lose weight.
The key to losing weight and staying fit and healthy is to make a full lifestyle change which involves eating less, eating a well-balanced diet and getting regular exercise. Be more active every day, it really will make you fitter and leaner. Combine these weight loss articles with a specialist weight loss plan and you can lose weight even faster!
Weight Loss Depends on You
“A Weight Loss Plan Is Only Ever As Good As The Person Following It”
Many people spend a long time looking for the “perfect” or “best” weight loss solution. And as there are so many products, plans, regimes and systems on the market it often seems logical to assume that there must be a system that cannot fail.
However, every year people do fail to lose weight and get back in shape. Also every year we hear people saying “I have tried everything to lose weight and nothing works”.
So, are all weight loss plans a waste of time, and money? Well, maybe they are, if you are not prepared to put in the effort.
That is why we always say, “A Weight Loss Plan Is Only Ever As Good As The Person Following It“.
You can hire the world’s top nutritionists and fitness instructors to help you meet your weight loss goals, but if you do not put in the effort, if you are not fully committed, then failure is a real possibility.
Alternatively you could follow the simplest of plans, and if you are dedicated and work hard, you will succeed.
When it comes to losing weight and getting back is shape, the only person that can make that change is you. You have to follow the diets, you have to do the exercise, you have to control your appetite and not give in to your cravings in more difficult times emotionally. Only you can do it!
However, saying that, a good plan does provide a solid foundation on which to work. And being part of a weight loss or fitness group can help provide the support and encouragement that you need to help keep you on target.
“successful long-term weight loss maintainers share common behavioral strategies, including eating a diet low in fat, frequent self-monitoring of body weight and food intake, and high levels of regular physical activity” (Wing and Hill, 2001)
So if you do decide to follow a weight loss plan, remember, the plan will only work if you do too. Long term weight loss requires constant vigilance. Never stop monitoring and keep food and exercise journals if need be. The easiest thing in the world is to give up on the plan and revert to your old, unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle and put all the weight back on again. Do not let this happen. Once on the slippery slope to weight gain it is hard to stop.
All of these plans can be very effective. No weight loss plan will work if you are not committed to follow the rules, read all the guidelines and most importantly do the hard work, that is exercising or following a strict diet.
These plans will in the long-term do more than just help you lose a few pounds though (you can learn more about the health benefits of exercise here). They will teach you how to live a healthier and more fulfilling life. Regular exercise and a healthy diet will literally add years, maybe even decades, to your life. And it will also make those extra years more rewarding as you will remain more active into old age.
We are living in a society today where more people are growing older each year but many of these people are house bound, obese and very inactive. The quality of life for millions of people is well below average. Anyone who does not take action and strive to become fitter and healthier when they are young, risks crippling health problems later in life. So do yourself a favor and get active and start changing your life today!
References and Further Reading
“Exercise after eating diet tip” – BBC News, Monday, 4 June 2007
“Effects of exercise on gut peptides, energy intake and appetite” by Catia Martins, Linda M Morgan, Stephen R Bloom1 and M Denise Robertson. J Endocrinol May 1, 2007 193 251-258
“The allure of forbidden food: On the role of attention in self-regulation.” by Esther K. Papies, Wolfgang Stroebea and Henk Aartsa. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Volume 44, Issue 5, September 2008, Pages 1283-1292.
“Obesity: genes, glands or gluttony?” by D. J. Chisholm, K. Samaras, T. Markovic, D. Carey, N. Lapsys and L. V. Campbell. Reproduction, Fertility and Development 10 (1) 49-54. http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/R98016
“Food presentation and energy intake in a feeding laboratory study of subjects with binge eating disorder” by Blake A. Gosnell, James E. Mitchell, Kathryn L. Lancaster, Melissa A. Burgard, Steve A. Wonderlich, Ross D. Crosby. International Journal of Eating Disorders. Volume 30, Issue 4, pages 441–446, December 2001.
“Breakdown of dietary restraint following mere exposure to food stimuli: Interrelationships between restraint, hunger, salivation, and food intake” by Peter J. Rogers, and Andrew J. Hill. Addictive Behaviors Volume 14, Issue 4, 1989, Pages 387-397.
“Effect of exercise on food intake in human subjects” by FX Pi-Sunyer and R Wood. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 42, 983-990, 1985 by The American Society for Clinical Nutrition, Inc. Abstract.
“The Effect of Soup on Satiation” by Abdou Himaya and Jeanine Louis-Sylvestre. Appetite Volume 30, Issue 2, April 1998, Pages 199-210.
“Increased Consumption of Dairy Foods and Protein during Diet- and Exercise-Induced Weight Loss Promotes Fat Mass Loss and Lean Mass Gain in Overweight and Obese Premenopausal Women” by Andrea R. Josse, Stephanie A. Atkinson, Mark A. Tarnopolsky, and Stuart M. Phillips. Published in The Journal of Nutrition. September 1, 2011 vol. 141 no. 9 1626-1634. Abstract: jn.nutrition.org/content/141/9/1626.short
“Beneficial effects of exercise: shifting the focus from body weight to other markers of health” by Neil King, Mark Hopkins, Phillipa Caudwell, James Stubbs, John Blundell. British Journal of Sports Medicine. Published Online First: 29 September 2009. doi:10.1136/bjsm.2009.065557
“A rapidly occurring compensatory decrease in physical activity counteracts diet-induced weight loss in female monkeys” by Elinor L. Sullivan and Judy L. Cameron. American Journal of Physiology Regul Integr Comp Physiol 298: R1068-R1074, 2010. First published January 13, 2010; doi:10.1152/ajpregu.00617.2009
“Successful weight loss maintenance”, by Rena R Wing and James O Hill. Annual Review of Nutrition, Vol. 21: 323-341, July 2001. Abstract: www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.nutr.21.1.323
“Evidence for Success of Exercise in Weight Loss and Control” by Steven N. Blair, Annals of Internal Medicine. October 1, 1993vol. 119 no. 7 Part 2 702-706. Abstract: www.annals.org/content/119/7_Part_2/702.short
“Dietary adherence and weight loss success among overweight women: results from the A TO Z weight loss study” by S Alhassan1, S Kim, A Bersamin, A C King and C D Gardner. International Journal of Obesity (2008) 32, 985–991; doi:10.1038/ijo.2008.8. Abstract: www.nature.com/ijo/journal/v32/n6/abs/ijo20088a.html
Influences of age and gender on abdominal muscle and subcutaneous fat thickness – http://www.springerlink.com/content/wndaq317cmq0jfkp/
Reduced physical activity increases intermuscular adipose tissue in healthy young adults – http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/full/85/2/377
Are blood flow and lipolysis in subcutaneous adipose tissue influenced by contractions in adjacent muscles in humans? – http://ajpendo.physiology.org/cgi/content/abstract/292/2/E394
Notes on the publication of this article: The first part of article was originally published in March 2009 with updates following. In February 2012 all parts were combined into the article you find today.