More people are realising the importance of lifestyle changes to achieve optimum health. Without doubt the number one common reason people begin Personal Training is to lose weight. Obesity has become a huge problem in the UK (approximately 23% of people are clinically obese) and the links between excess weight and health problems has becoming more apparent. There are also so many crazy diets out there that further confuse the issue; it’s no wonder people often find themselves caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. Here I have put together a list, of what I believe are 10 of the best simple, yet most effective, ways to lose weight healthily.
1. Achieve a Negative Energy Balance.
In order to lose weight, energy expenditure has to exceed energy intake. This is known as negative energy balance. How to increase energy expenditure and decrease energy intake efficiently will be explained in the other points, but it is important to remember the general principle: Weight loss can only be achieved by either reducing the calories consumed and/or by increasing calorific expenditure.
2. Eat Regular Meals every 2-3 hours.
Eating regularly is essential for increasing metabolism and hormonal control. Many people don’t realise that by missing meals during the day can actually increase the likelihood of gaining weight. This is primarily down to glucose regulation and the affect it has on insulin sensitivity. It is often a good idea to include a complete protein (contains all essential amino acids) and also a vegetable source packed with vitamins and minerals with every meal.
3. Increase Non-Exercise Physical Activity.
This is a particularly important aspect of a weight loss program that is often overlooked. We often assume that the only way to achieve ‘Negative Energy Balance’ is to eat less or do more exercise. However, from my experience people with sedentary lifestyles are often overweight regardless of whether they go to the gym or not. Just by regularly taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator or walking to work instead of a short bus journey can really make a significant difference. Remember a weight loss program should not only apply when you eat and train - a weight loss program is a 24 hour commitment.
4. Decrease Refined Carbohydrates and Sugars.
I am not a big fan of the ‘no carbohydrate diets’ (particularly the side effects that comes as a result from them), but I do believe we need to look at the types of carbohydrate we consume and when we consume them. On a weight loss program you will need to keep sugar down to a minimum, this also includes fizzy drinks, fruit juices and high calorie smoothies. Also substitute the bread, rice and pasta for different coloured vegetables that contain a variety of vitamins and minerals. The only time I would recommend a high carbohydrate meal during a weight loss program (>60% total meal) would be after exercise when carbohydrate is more readily metabolised. Low GI (Glycaemic index) foods should be consumed as they will leave you feeling fuller for longer and controlling glucose regulation.
5. Increase Vegetable Consumption.
As well as containing plenty of vitamins, minerals and fibre, substituting vegetables in a meal, will inevitably lower the ratio of carbohydrates and fat. I also believe it is important to try and get our micronutrients from food sources instead of supplementation. I often feel supplements are only included in a diet to compensate for what is already a ‘poor diet’.
I would recommend supplementation when the body is under stress i.e. during Illness, recovery or oxidative stress from regular training, but so often people take shakes, tablets and capsules that they just don’t need. The healthiest people I know keep it simple, train hard and understand their body. So many people believe in the ‘quick fix’, take loads of supplements and are always in the comfort zone during training. These people never get results as they learn to rely on supplements rather than rely on training and a healthy diet. Try and mix the colours of your vegetables and substitute these instead of the high fat, high carb foods in your meals. The more colours in your diet the better.
6. Increase Complete Lean Protein Intake.
So often is the case that people on a weight loss plan decrease their protein intake, which is a huge mistake. This is the one macronutrient that you should aim to increase, particularly complete protein from animal sources that contain all the essential amino acids. Increasing protein will lower the ratio of fat and carbohydrate in the diet, but there are several other reasons why protein intake should not be decreased. Protein is theromogenic (heat given off while it is metabolised) and requires more energy than carbs and fat to breakdown. This helps with the weight loss due to a higher metabolic rate. Protein also provides the building blocks of muscle tissue, therefore helps us improve body composition as well as weight loss. Let’s face it when we lose weight it is the fat we want to lose, not muscle tissue. Protein also increases the hormone glucagon which has a direct influence on fat storage reduction in the adipose and liver cells. Protein also has an increased satiety affect leaving you feeling fuller for longer. For these reasons I would strongly recommend having protein with most meals, (particularly lean chicken and meats, egg whites) which will lead to increase in metabolism and improvements in body composition and performance.
7. Substitute Good Fats for Bad Fats.
Substituting polyunsaturated and monounsaturated in the diet instead of saturated fat is very important not just for weight loss but for decreasing the risk of Cardiovascular disease as well. Fish oils, a good source of omega 3 essential fatty acids, should be encouraged as they improve insulin regulation. It is also important to include nuts and seeds in the diet as well which will increase your Omega 6 intake. Try introducing ground flaxseed and olive oil in foods as well that are also great sources of good fats. Of course the take-aways, processed foods and regularly visits to the pie and donut shops are a big no no.
8. Increase intensity of training as well as Duration
Training for longer burns more calories, but also training at a higher intensity burns more calories as well. Higher intensity training also has a ‘metabolic after burn effect’ meaning you will be burning more calories during the recovery process. For an obese client, increasing intensity of exercise can be very difficult so it is best to just keep moving for an hour with major muscle group exercises. For people that can work towards a higher intensity, circuit training and interval training are particularly useful. However duration is still important and it’s amazing how I see people training for 15-20 minutes at a high intensity and still think they are going to lose loads of weight. Get your body used to performing for longer durations first, and then apply the intensity. This not only allows you to handle the higher intensity sessions easier, it also means fat oxidation efficiency will improve and you will be burning more calories when you start to do even harder training. It is also important during longer aerobic cardio sessions to perform one exercise, instead of having 5-10 minutes on 4 different cardio machines. So if the intention is to do 50 minutes cardio, then do 40 minutes running/40 minutes cycling and finish off with a 10 min quick high intense metabolic circuit at the end. Try and do a minimum of 4 hours exercise time per week. I am a firm believer in training for a minimum of 45-50 minutes exercise time per session during a weight loss program (preferably 50-70 minutes). Anything under this and your back in that comfort zone and wasting your time.
9. Try drinking 2-3 Cups of Green tea per day.
Green tea is thermogenic, meaning heat is given off when consuming it. Green tea also contains powerful phytochemicals that have antioxidant, antiviral and antibacterial properties and is thought to decrease the risk of cancer as well as lowering cholesterol levels. I would definitely recommend green tea as part of a weight loss program, but try to hit 3 cups per day to get maximum benefits.
10. Good Quality Sleep
Sleep is so important in any exercise plan, including a weight loss plan. Poor sleep leads to hormonal imbalances and reduction in overall human performance.Aim to get a minimum of 7 hours sleep per day. This will control hormones such as cortisol (stress hormone) that becomes raised as a result of poor sleep patterns. It will also enable you to have more energy and more motivated to increase activity levels throughout the day. Without good quality sleep you will never get great results.