On the menu: Want to burn 65 extra calories a day? Here’s how
There are no short-cuts to weight loss but there are strategies to support your ability to exercise and get fit, says Paula Mee
Regular exercise and reducing your calorie intake is more effective for weight loss than exercising on its own or just cutting back on what you eat. Photograph: Thinkstock
Taking regular exercise and reducing your calorie intake is more effective for weight loss than exercising on its own or just cutting back on what you eat. Of course it’s not easy to do both together. If you are “new to exercise” or you simply “just love your food”, the road to change can be rocky.
When you are truly convinced that losing weight is more important than what you are giving up, you are indeed ready for action and you will succeed. But often old and unhelpful habits provide pleasure or enjoyment. Your efforts to change will be futile if these habits provide more gratification than what you actually believe you will get from losing weight.
The problem is that sometimes we have to reach that all-time low before there is no more denying that things really do have to change. Along the way, short-term and sticking-plaster measures might give temporary outcomes.
A high-intensity boot camp seems to work until your back gets injured. A stringent exclusion diet gets results, but only until the holiday. Then you follow it with lashings of the very foods you deprived yourself of in the first place.
Losing weight can improve your blood-sugar levels, blood pressure and cholesterol, and can help reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke. It improves your mobility, relieves stress, improves self-esteem and boosts your energy levels. Who wouldn’t want these effects?
The question is, are you willing to wait for the results? Have you the tenacity to stick with a suitable programme of change in the long term? Nothing happens without you prioritising the changes you need to make in your busy week. You have to make the time, not find the time to exercise or to shop and prepare food. And nothing happens overnight.
There are no short-cuts to weight loss but there are certain strategies that can help and support your ability to exercise and get fit. How fast you burn calories depends on several factors. Some people are genetically programmed with higher metabolisms. That’s why it is not advisable to compare your weight loss with a friend following the same exercise and dietary programme.
Gender is also an issue so men lose more weight on a programme than women do. With advancing age, you lose muscle and the metabolism slows steadily so that you really need a little less, not more, food as you age.
To increase your metabolism and the ability to enjoy your calories, you need to increase your muscle mass through strength and resistance training. Start easily and build up to two short sessions a week. Increasing your muscle mass by as little as 1kg will help you to burn an extra 65 calories a day or 23,725 calories a year. Combine this with some kind of cardio exercise to burn some body fat reserves and you will see a change in body shape and muscle tone over time.
Schedule your resistance training before your normal mealtime, because for the hour or more after vigorous exercise you can raise your metabolic rate and burn calories faster than normal. During this timeframe, your body pays off the oxygen debt, repairs muscle tissue and replenishes its glycogen stores. However, if you are unfit and just beginning to exercise, the hike in your metabolic rate will be minimal.
While eating small frequent meals throughout the day does not appear to significantly increase your metabolic rate, research suggests that it helps to reduce your hunger and improve your appetite control.
Having smaller meals and snacks is better than eating the same number of calories in just two larger meals. Increasing the frequency of your meals can positively impact other markers of health, such as LDL cholesterol, total cholesterol and insulin levels. A review by the International Society of Sports Nutrition concluded that increased meal frequency also preserved muscle mass in athletes on restricted calorie diets, as long as they had an adequate protein intake. This effect was not seen in sedentary populations.
So if you want to preserve your muscle mass, get moving, and feel satisfied on fewer calories by ensuring you have a protein-rich food at each meal and snack. Breakfast foods might include low-fat yogurt or milk, eggs, a nut butter or some seeds in your porridge. Lunch options such as tinned or fresh fish, bean salads and lentil soups are ideal. A variety of lean red meats, poultry or seafood can make you feel more full at dinner time.
The second strategy that will help you to feel satiated involves fibre. Eight out of 10 adults in Ireland don’t get enough. Feeling full is related to food weight and volume, not calories. Increasing the amount of fibre in your meals can help you have less room for the higher calorie foods that increase your weight.
The Harvard School of Public Health studied the dietary patterns of almost 75,000 women over a 12-year period and found that women who ate more fibre weighed less than those who did not.
Fibre-rich foods such as fruit and vegetables are high in essential nutrients and low in fat and calories. Fibre is a non-digestible carbohydrate, but the body tries its best to break it down anyway, using up energy and boosting metabolism at the same time.
Raw vegetable sticks and chopped fruit make a great snack between meals. Serve with low-fat yogurt or a hummus dip for extra nutrition and protein.
When you start training and begin to sweat, you must think about fluid replacement. If you are mildly dehydrated, your metabolism can slow down. Beginners can learn to check in with the body and gauge their fluid requirements, which will be influenced by the type, duration and intensity of their exercise.
Water is the best option pre- and post-exercise if you are trying to lose weight. If you are fitter and able for a more intense workout lasting about an hour, you can continue to drink water during your training and then recover with a skimmed milk-based drink. This is a natural source of electrolytes, protein and lactose. It’s certainly less expensive than some of the other options.
Coconut water, the liquid found in green immature coconuts, seems to be a popular gym-goers’ drink: yet, according to an Eat Right fact sheet from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “When we’re dehydrated, our metabolism slows down” but there’s “no food or drink that’s going to increase your metabolism permanently. Exercise increases your metabolism, but food and beverages don’t” – at least, not significantly.
A compound in green tea and capsaicin may boost metabolism but it is not significant enough to have a weight-loss benefit. Although caffeine definitely does stimulate the central nervous system and increase metabolism, its effects on weight loss are unclear.
Paula Mee is a dietitian and a member of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @paula_mee