Choosing a Healthy and Successful Weight-loss Program

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A healthy weight loss program needs to be tailored to your body, and your own circumstances. You need to understand the mechanisms that regulate your body’s weight, and work with them, rather than against them.

The first factor in weight loss is understanding that your body is a finely tuned instrument, and that your weight is, to a large part, set by triggers in your own metabolism. This has been known since at least the 1930s, and has been tested on both extremes of the spectrum: People who are naturally endomorphic (prone to gaining weight) have a "body mass regulator" that likes a certain amount of body fat – this is a survival trait when you’re part of a Neolithic hunter-gatherer society. People who are naturally ectomorphic (tend to be very thin) have a body mass regulator that’s set for "Assume that there’s plenty of food, if you’re lean enough to catch it." This can also be a survival trait in the plains. Mesomorphs are freaks of nature and tend to put body mass on in the form of muscle – and while there are some advantages to this, there are some disadvantages if the food supply is ever disrupted. (Ever seen a professional athlete when he can’t eat 6,000 calories a day? It’s not pretty.)

So, be realistic about your goals. Now, we’re going to give the conventional advice. It’s the same advice that you’ve heard since junior high school and earlier. Then we’re going to modify it a bit, based on sound nutritional science.

That first piece of advice? Moderate your caloric intake. And do it gradually. If you immediately slam into a reduced calorie diet, you’re going to convince your endomorphic body that you’re in the middle of a famine, and it’s going to do what it’s good at – which is store every calorie it can get as fat for the winter.

Next, exercise. You don’t need to do massive cardio burns – in fact, it’s better to do a short, intense workout every other to every third day than to try and do one every single day. The goal here is to convince your inner Neolithic caveman that you’re out hunting mammoths every other day, and lugging the carcass home. When you don’t exercise, your body assumes you’re ill, and packs on the weight to make sure that the illness doesn’t kill you.

Now comes the controversial part of this: While caloric intake is important, the real killer on most diets is carbohydrate intake. Carbohydrates are a ready source of energy – and so long as your body gets all the carbohydrates it wants, it’ll burn them, rather than burning the fat reserves it’s built up. The Western diet is, bluntly, loaded with carbohydrates in the form of potato chips, soft drinks, artificial sweeteners, breads and everything else. You don’t have to go to quite the extreme of the Atkins diet, but being aware of carbs as well as calories will help you keep the weight off. In general, try to limit your big carb meals to 24 hours before a long aerobic workout, and then taper off between workouts.

But yes, the general advice does boil down to "Eat less, exercise more, and avoid sweets and salty snacks" – there are no magic solutions to weight loss other than sweating and working out.

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