There are constant new companies that stand to make a lot of money by contusing you about weight loss. Their hopes of getting you to buy their diet foods and pills rest on convincing you that good nutrition is a complex science, that you'll need experts and special help to achieve weight loss.
The diet-food industry has been abetted by well-meaning scientists searching for the keys to why we gain weight. When these scientists solve one piece of the weight puzzle, the media hypes their discovery, and soon a whole industry forms around that one element. This is what happened with the low-fat craze of the nineties, and it's happening again with the low-carb craze of today.
Some good education came out of both of these diet trends. We're all a lot more savvy about nutrition than we used to be. But too often, focusing on one element of nutrition encourages people to ignore the big picture. People thought all they needed to do was cut fat or carbs, and then they could do anything else wanted. They weren't being told that the truth about weight loss is incredibly simple. Here it is:
The only way to lose weight is to burn more calories a day than you eat!
Pretty simple, huh? But you can't really sell diet products by telling people that. (Unless you're selling pills that promise to "boost your metabolism." Sorry, the only ways to boost your metabolism are exercise, regular sleep, and healthy eating.) We'd all love a shortcut to weight loss, so we seize on one when it's offered to us. Unfortunately, that allows us to ignore the basics, things like portion size and total caloric intake. The average woman today eats 335 more calories per day than did the average woman thirty years ago. That's alarming.
Here's one more number to keep in mind (and after this, I promise, no more math). Every 10 extra calories eaten per day result in 1 pound of weight gain per year. So 335 extra calories per day add up to 33.5 pounds per year. For most of us, those thirty-plus pounds are the whole shebang. If we could eliminate those, we'd be sitting pretty.
The good news? The opposite is true, too. Every 10 calories you cut from your daily diet result in 1 pound of weight loss per year. You can easily shave those thirty-some pounds in a year without eliminating any particular foods or embracing any fad diet. Once you understand the nutrition basics, you'll see why paying attention to why you overeat and learning to change your habits will pay off faster than simply cutting certain foods from your diet.
Nutrition and Energy
Food is energy. It's our only source of fuel, and it provides us with the power we need to do everything we do: to walk, talk, think, breathe, and laugh. It allows us to hug our kids, weed our garden, and inn a marathon. It also provides the energy for things our bodies take care of automatically; for example, it keeps our heart beating and our skin replenishing itself.
The energy that food provides is measured in calories. That's also the way we measure the amount of work it takes our bodies to do anything. If you weigh 120 pounds, you use about twelve hundred calories just doing the basics of staying alive: breathing, digesting, talking, walking around your house and office, and sitting or standing upright. If you are larger than this, you bum a little more. If you are more muscular, you also bum more, because muscle uses energy all the time to keep its form, while fat doesn't (fat is your body's energy storage). This basic amount of energy burned is your resting metabolism. Beyond this, you bum calories through physical activity. A brisk half-hour walk bums about two hundred calories. So does an hour of gardening.
Whatever amount of energy we use, we need to make sure we get enough from our food to support those activities. That's not a problem for most of us in America, where food is plentiful. What's more common is getting more calories from food than we need. When that happens, our bodies take the extra, unburned calories and store them as fat.
Don't blame the body. It's just being responsible. If we cam more money than we need to support our lifestyle, we try to store the extra in savings or retirement accounts, knowing that a day will come when we'll need it. The body does the same thing. Before the invention of modem agriculture and transportation, food shortages were common. A body that could draw on that savings account of fat when times got tough was much more likely to survive.
In the modem world, however, most of us never experience tough times foodwise. Still, our bodies act like misers who learned to squirrel away as much as possible and can't stop, even as those bank accounts on our thighs grow fatter than we will ever need. Like a miserly old uncle, they hate to give up even a little of what they've saved.
Fortunately, you can get that uncle to loosen up his checkbook. The more your body gets used to burning calories every day through exercise, the more willing it will be to do so in the future. (And the more it will need to burn to maintain your increased muscle.)
The other side of the equation is the main focus for this book. If we cut the uncle's income down to no more than he needs, he can't squirrel any more away.
The question is: Exactly how much do we need, and of what?
Protein, Carbohydrates, and Fat
As you've noticed in the nutrition facts found on every food package, food is divided into three main nutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Despite what certain media reports may have led you to believe, there are no bad nutrients. You need them all! Each plays a different role in the body.
Protein is the building material of the body. In a way, you are protein. Your muscles I and organs are made of protein, as is your skin. Your bones and brain contain protein, too. Protein is pretty important stuff. Your body needs to get enough of it every day to rebuild body tissue, to build new muscle, and to create the hormones, enzymes, immune cells, and other tiny workers that keep the body functioning. You can't store extra protein in your body for a later date, which is why you need a fresh supply daily.
Fortunately, few of us have any trouble finding enough protein. A 140-pound woman needs about 56 grams of protein per day-which is about the amount found in one quarter-pound hamburger or other serving of meat or fish. Animal flesh is primarily protein. Other good sources of protein include dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds, beans, and soy products.
The only problem with protein is that it tends to come wrapped up with a nutrient that is not so good for us-saturated fat. This kind of fat-found in beef, pork, and chicken, as well as in milk, cheese, and eggs-is the kind that promotes cardiovascular disease. Many of the eating tips you'll learn in this book are designed to help you develop the habit of getting more of your protein from sources that come with little or no saturated fat attached, such as fish, poultry breasts, nuts, and legumes. Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are fuel, plain and simple. Your body loves to bum carbohydrates and has an easy time doing so. In their simplest form, carbohydrates are sugar molecules. Sugar is pure carbohydrate. But so is a baked potato. Starch is just sugar in disguise. It is sugar molecules linked together into longer molecules. These longer molecules don't taste sweet on the tongue, but once they hit the stomach, they are quickly broken apart into sugar. (This is why when you roast vegetables or caramelize onions, they get sweeter; the cooking breaks down the starches into sugars.)
Now you understand the reason behind low-carb diets. All your life, you may have forced yourself, or your kids, to cat your rice and potatoes before you could have candy for dessert, when in reality they are the very same thing for your body.
But don't swear off bread quite yet. Your body loves carbohydrates. In fact, your energy comes from these sugar molecules being burned in each individual muscle cell. Like a little car engine, the "explosion" of the sugar molecule being burned is what makes your muscle cell expand and contract. For your muscles to work in any way, you need a steady supply of these sugar molecules.
However, your muscles can store only enough energy for about ninety seconds of exercise. Where does it come from after that? You don't have any built-in potato bins on your body.
The answer is fat.
For a long time, we thought fat made us fat. It only made sense. Fat in food must be easily stored in those handy fat deposits around your middle. And it's true; if your body gets more fat than it needs, it will store the rest. But it turns out the body is more clever than we suspected. If it gets extra protein or carbohydrates, it has no trouble converting those into fat storage, too. We now know that when it comes to weight gain, it doesn't matter in what form calories enter your body. Any excess calories get stored as fat.
Tags: Exercise and Fitness
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