Starting Something New

I don't want to sound like a pharmaceutical ad, but before you start any new program you should always consult your doctor to confirm you're ready for the change and that there are no underlying conditions that may require additional care or preparation.

Whether it's weight loss, a significant change in activities, or a fundamental alteration of your eating habits (such as going vegetarian), make sure you're prepared for the journey upon which you're about to embark. 

Why Be Fit?

There are significant documented benefits associated with improving your overall fitness level, whether or not you need to lose weight. That's right - even if you're at a healthy weight, it doesn't mean you're fit. Making the decision to improve your fitness, which includes building muscle and aerobic endurance, can drive significant benefits in your everyday life. Some of those benefits include:

  • Exercise can help keep your weight under control. If you're not overweight, exercise helps keep you that way. If you are, exercise (along with proper nutrition) can help you lose some of that weight.
  • Exercise can help combat multiple health issues, including Type 2 diabetes, depression, stroke, etc. It also boosts High-density Lipoproteins (HDL, or good cholesterol), helping to decrease the risk of heart disease.
  • Exercise can make you happier by stimulating the production of serotonin, which helps to elevate your mood.
  • Exercise gives you more energy - the more you exercise, the more benefit you get by building your body's ability to respond to life's physical demands.
  • Exercise helps you to sleep better as long as you don't do it too close to bedtime, as then it can get you too hyped up. Make sure you have at least an hour between workout time and bedtime.
  • Exercise can improve your physical relationships not only by giving you more energy but also by helping you to feel - and look - better, improving your confidence.
  • Exercise can also be fun, especially when you go it with a partner or in larger groups where you can interact and socialize during your workout.

And you don't have to take my word for this, just ask the Mayo Clinic.

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Weight Loss

Why lose weight?

For those of you who think that losing weight is difficult, think about how hard it is on your body to continue to carry around those extra pounds. Here are a few of the significant health impacts of obesity:

  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • joint problems, including osteoarthritis
  • Sleep apnea
  • cancer
  • metabolic syndrome
  • psychosocial effects

Click here for more details on each of the above effects.

Add to the health effects above the pure physical effort involved with carrying additional weight, and you will see that being overweight is much more difficult than being healthy.

For example, if someone is 50 pounds overweight, that's 50 extra pounds that needs to be carried around all day - climbing stairs, getting out of chairs, walking to the car, etc.

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How do you lose weight?

In order to lose weight you need to burn more calories (energy) than you take in. Simple, right? Well, yes and no. 

The "Yes" part

Losing weight really just comes down to numbers. Food supplies energy, which for now I will loosely generalize to just the calories part of it. In order to lose pound, you must burn 3500 more calories than you take in. It's a simple numbers game from that standpoint.

Let's use an example:

If you are currently consuming  3000 calories per day and want to lose 2 pounds per week (any more than that may not be healthy, consult your physician), how many calories per day, on average, would you need to cut out of your diet?

In this case, you want to lose 2 pounds. At 3500 calories per pound, you would need to eliminate a net of 2 x 3500, or 7000 calories from your diet each week. This amounts to a differential of 1000 calories per day, putting your target daily calorie consumption at 2000 calories.

The example above assumes that there is no change in one's physical activity level. That is, the weight loss program is purely centered on reduced caloric intake vs. increasing energy usage.

If, in the example above, physical activity is increased such that an additional 500 calories were burned each day, then the calorie consumption would need to be increased by that amount in order to maintain the desired weight loss target.

So you can see that the physics of losing weight are indeed relatively simple. If only that was all there was to it.

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The "No" Part

Unfortunately, losing weight is only partially about the numbers. Most people don't struggle with a weight loss program because they don't understand the basic numbers, they struggle because implementation of a program can become confusing, frustrating, emotionally draining, and ultimately unsuccessful.

The key is to design a program that makes sense for an individual's unique goals and limitations. Some key things to consider when building your (or someone else's) weight loss program:

  1. Set mini-goals. If you have a large amount of weight to lose, it can seem daunting. Break it up into smaller, more manageable, sections to give an ongoing sense of accomplishment.
  2. Don't be afraid to reward yourself. Meeting your mini-goals is a significant accomplishment, both physically and mentally. As you meet these goals, set up small rewards for yourself such as new clothes (you'll need them!) or even a food treat.
  3. Don't cut out entire food groups. Your body is built to perform best using a range of nutriets - protein, carbohydrates, and fat (yes, fat!). Severely limiting one of these groups can have significant adverse impacts, especially if done for long periods of time.
  4. Track what you eat. The biggest mistake many people make is assuming they know what's in their food, how big a portion is, etc. You'd be surprised how easy it is to overeat based on "hidden" calories. Using a tool such as MyFitnessPal will help you to track your food intake and exercise output easily and regularly. There's even a mobile app!

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