Weight Loss Questions

  • Too much food or too little exercise? The myth of weight gain

    Many have blamed the current obesity epidemic on the food and beverage industries, with the increased consumption of high-calorie foods and sugary drinks being the primary cause of our society's ever-increasing waistline. Although it is true that having a healthy and nutritious diet is important for weight control and a healthy life, researchers found it's in fact the lack of exercise that is the primary contributor of being overweight.

    The study, conducted by researchers from Stanford University and published in the American Journal of Medicine in July 2014 analysed US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1988 to 2010 and found that the average BMI increased by 0.37% per year in both men and women and the average waist circumference increased by 0.37% per year in women and 0.27% per year in men in the past two decades. The prevalence of obesity and abdominal obesity has increased substantially, especially in young women aged between 18-39.

    Interestingly, in contrary to popular notion, the calorie intake remained steady in the past 2 decades; the daily carb, fat and protein consumptions had not altered significantly either. What changed was the significant decrease in the amount of leisure time physical activities in the general population. The percentage of people reported no physical activity had jumped from 19.1% to 51.7% for women and 11.4% to 43.5% for men between 1994 and 2010.

    The study also identified the prevalence of abdominal obesity in normal-weight women. Indicating women are more prone to gain weight around their waist than men on a population level, at least in America. Abdominal obesity can increase the risk of mortality even in young people with normal BMI. It is defined by waist circumference of 88cm and more in women and 102cm and more in men. This increase in waistline is primarily caused by a lack of physical activity.

    No one is denying that a healthy, balanced diet is essential for body weight control. However, the increased prevalence in obesity is not correlated with increased calorie intake, as we were made to believe. The ever-increasing waistline of the population is in fact associated with the ever-decreasing amount of physical activities we do. Your health is in your own hands. Be sure try to eat well, but more importantly, stay active. There are no shortcuts to good health, and nothing replaces good ol' physical activity.

  • Weight loss, a personal journey

    According to the World Health Organization, over 67% of Australians were considered overweight in 2007 (BMI greater than 25), doubling the figure in 1995. Being overweight and obese can lead to many health-related complications later in life and is costing the government tens of billions of dollars a year. On the other hand, people are spending billions of dollars each year on weight loss/maintenance related products and services and yet, the society as a whole is still getting fatter, with many failed to lose weight and reaching their targets.

    Even though the theory of weight loss can be simply put into one little equation of balancing calorie intake and calorie expenditure, it is not that easy to achieve. I know what it feels like, being handsomely overweight back in my early undergrad years and had experienced several failed attempts of shedding any fat. I eventually lost about 20% of my body weight aided by: the desire of wanting to feel good about myself and my health; a friend Jay (the now owner of AminoZ) who suggested to me that may be I should do a 12-week challenge with him; and being a scientist to be, my own version of the 12-week challenge.

    I lost 13kgs during the first 12 weeks and my weight continued to decline for a further 10kgs in the next 3 months even after reverting back to a normal everything-rich diet from a somewhat high-carb, low-fat diet that I initially employed, which was not the best diet for losing weight as we now all know. My weight has since plateaued and remained stable and I have been enjoying the rewards of a new life since, feeling healthier, more energetic and fitter than ever. That was my third try at losing weight, both previous attempts had resulted in failure. So what did I do differently the third time around?

    I've never really thought about this question until recently, after seeing people going out of their ways practicing different diets and trying out varieties of exercise regimes in an attempt to shed fat and fail. I never bothered with what types of exercises I did nor did I care much about the contents of foods I ate, as long as they were "low fat". In fact, I was so unfit at the beginning, 10 minutes on the treadmill at the speed of 8km/h was enough to exhaust me for the rest of the day, that was pretty poor for someone who's close to 190cm in height, 8km/h almost feels like walking. I did try my best to avoid the obvious "unhealthy" food though, stuff like pizzas, KFC, creamy sauces and deserts, and tried to eat at home for as much as I could. However, one of my staple "healthy" diets at the time was to have an entire pack of pasta with an entire can of meat sauce from Coles in one meal…well, you get the idea.

    So here we go, no specialized weight loss exercises, no ultra scientific-diets, no pills and no ultrasonic fat busters (trust me, been there, done that), I became one of the privileged few who managed to lose weight effectively and stayed light. You might think I'm a special case, but I think not. There are others I know of who had also lost weight in a similar fashion and stayed there. This is not luck, as there are really no short cuts in weight loss, it is something else. What was different for me the third time around was that, this time, I took it personally.

    That's right, weight loss is a very personal journey. In order to be successful, one needs to go through the following eight stages:

    1. Recognition (wholeheartedly acknowledge the weight issue)
    2. Desire (the strong desire to lose weight)
    3. Justification (to understand the precise reasons for wanting to lose weight)
    4. Vision (to imagine yourself at where you want to be, in this case, after you achieved your weight-loss goal)
    5. Hunger (to crave about achieving the goal, enough for you to do something about it)
    6. Action (autonomous action driven by own desire)
    7. Discipline (continuously driven by stages 1-5)
    8. Reward (enjoyment of everything about yourself and life)

    As you can see, weight loss is a journey of self-acceptance, self- discipline and self-empowerment. It is all in our own psychology, and it is our own responsibility. The problem with many who tried but failed to lose weight, my old self included, is that, with so many products and assistance available to aid weight loss, we are squandering this responsibility to something/someone else. For many, this is the recipe for failure. Personal trainers, gym equipment, diets, even pills are there to assist you to lose weight according to your own personal circumstances. However, they are not the reason that you can/cannot lose weight. I've seen many complaining about certain weight loss products "doesn't work", and then the same people would move on and searching for weeks to find the next magical product that still "doesn't work". It's a vicious cycle. One cannot rely on anything else other than themselves to lose weight.

    Researchers from Cornell University conducted a simple study to investigate just how important a role phycology can play in weight loss. The study found that people who saw exercise as a chore were more likely to eat more fattening food to reward themselves post-exercise, and consequently rendered the exercise ineffective for weight loss. On the other hand, people who saw exercise as being "fun" were more likely to eat less and eat healthier. The findings of this study substantiated the notion that successful weight loss is a personal journey, and it's a difficult journey. Once the responsibility of this journey is in others' hands, you are likely to lose your focus in the face of difficulty, which would eventually lead to failure. You don't need to find exercise "fun", but you need to do it on your own terms, be proud about it and embrace stages 1-5 of weight loss as listed above.

    Please allow me to stress that it is absolutely fine if you seek help or use products, but only at your own volition. Consider helps and tools as mere assistants to your success rather than necessities. Remember, weight loss is a personal journey, and you will only succeed if you take the full responsibility yourself. One might ask if I was going to lose weight again would I employ a more scientific exercise regime accompanied by a more clinically proven diet? The answer is yes, only because I know better now and one should always make the most of their resources to maximize their success. However, following a better regime doesn't necessarily translate into getting better results. Many failed to lose weight even with all the help in the world while many others, myself included achieved our goals by following rather flawed exercise regimes and diets. I took the responsibility of my health into my own hands and did it because I wanted it and I did it on my own terms and it worked, it was personal and it is sustainable. I wouldn't want it any other way.

  • Water drinking may assist weight loss

    Water is one of the most mundane yet important substances on earth. Over 50% of our body is made up of water, with the average water content slightly higher in men than in women. Most of us probably have heard the slogan that tells us to drink 8 glasses (or 2 litres) of water a day and yet, it was reported that around 75% of the population in America (Australian data not available) may be suffering from chronic dehydration due to a lack of water intake or/and an excessive amount of dehydrating beverage intake. We don't drink enough water. While drinking water has obvious benefits such as thirst quenching and life sustaining, it is the weight loss effect of water drinking that motivated me to write this article and to share this unusual information with you.

    Drinking room temperature water (22°C) can induce a thermogenic response, partly due to the fact that the body has to warm up the water to 37°C after ingestion. How much energy does it take for the body process water? Boschmann et al found in 2 independent studies using healthy male and female subjects that drinking 500mL of room temperature water can increase metabolic rate by up to 30% over the course of 60 minutes after ingestion. This energy-burn generally begins from 10 minutes after water ingestion and reaches maximum at around 30-40 minutes after ingestion. It's estimated that 100kj of extra energy is spent by the body to process 500mL of water. That is 400kj of extra energy expenditure per day if you drink the recommended 2 litres of water, which is equivalent to roughly 20 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise. This may not seem much to some, but for those who want to lose weight, every calorie counts, especially when you can burn them by just drinking the recommended amount of water. The catch however, is that researchers found drinking a small amount of water (50mL) does not induce a thermogenic response, you have to do it in relatively large quantities, i.e. 500mL portions (Boschmann et al 2003 and 2007, Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism). So the recommendation of 8 glasses of water 8 times a day should be modified into 8 glasses of water, 4 times a day, 2 glasses each time, if you want to take advantage of the thermogenic effect of water for weight loss.

    The timing of water consumption may also help with weight loss. It was found that premeal water consumption (again in 500mL portion) could significantly reduce energy intake during a meal. A 44% greater reduction in weight was also observed in middle-aged and older adults with BMI of 24 - 40 after 12 weeks of premeal water treatment while on a low calorie diet compared to those on a low calorie diet alone without the water (Dennis et al 2010, Obesity). Other studies have also confirmed the energy intake reduction property of consuming 375 - 500mL of water before a meal in healthy and obese adults aged 55 and above (Van Walleghen et al 2007, Obesity; Davy et al 2008, Journal of American Dietetic Association). However, this energy intake reducing effect was not observed in young health adults aged between 21 - 35 (Van Walleghen et al 2007). No studies that examined the effect of premeal water consumption on energy intake reduction in obese young adults were found during my literature research while writing this article. Therefore, while drinking 500mL of water before a meal may help you to lose weight by reducing energy intake if you are over 55, I cannot comment on the effectiveness of this strategy if you are under the age of 35.

    Drinking enough water can ensure good health and increase energy expenditure, which could help with weight loss. I hope this article gives you enough incentive to follow the doctor's recommendations on water drinking. Go fill up your glasses and drink up.

  • Calories are not created equal

    The balance of our body weight can be seen as an act of balancing energy input and energy expenditure. There are four subcomponents that contribute to energy expenditure: resting energy expenditure (the energy used to just stay alive), thermic effect of food (the energy needed to digest food), activity energy expenditure (energy used from doing activities) and total energy expenditure (the combination of the 3 above). Calories-in-calories out is the traditional model for weight gain and weight loss. Many professionals hold the belief that a calorie is a calorie, no matter what you eat. However, it has became more apparent that not all calories are created equal, some calories will make you burn more energy, through altering one or more of the 4 subcomponents of energy expenditure.

     

    A study conducted by Ebbling et al and published in the prestigious The Journal of the American Medical Association in 2012 compared the effects of three common diets, low-fat diet, low-GI diet and low-carb diet on energy expenditure. In contrast to the conventional recommendations, the study showed that the low-fat diet tested was probably the worst diet for weight loss and maintenance compared to the low GI and low carb diets. The authors concluded that low fat diet "produces changes in energy expenditure and serum leptin that would predict weight regain".

     

    In agreement with some available diet programs, the study showed that low-carb diet resulted in the highest resting energy expenditure and total energy expenditure in most test subjects compared to the low-fat and low-GI diets. Test subjects on a low-carb diet used on average 67kcal per day more resting energy than subjects on a low-fat diet and 29kcal per day more compared to those on a low-GI diet. The figures shown represented average data from all test subjects, there were of course exceptions, some people tested seemed to respond better and burn more energy on low-GI and low-fat diets. One has to choose what is more suitable for them based on their own experiences.

     

    Although low-carb diet is the most beneficial in terms of energy expenditure and a number of metabolic syndrome components, prolonged enforcement of this diet can increase the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. High cortisol levels may in turn promote fat gain, insulin resistance and cardiovascular diseases. Therefor, low-carb diet may not be a long-term solution to weight loss and maintenance.

     

    Low-GI diet on the other hand, appeared to be the most healthy and sustainable in the long run compared to the low-carb diet, even though the effect on energy expenditure was not as pronounced, it was comparable nevertheless and more effective than the low-fat diet.

     

    Altering the components of your diet based on how your respond to different foods can make a significant impact on the body's energy expenditure and consequently affects weight loss/maintenance. Reducing fat from your diet doesn't necessarily translate into fat loss. A low-carb diet may be an effective and safe short-term boot camp solution for some but may also be harmful in the long run for others. A low-GI diet might not have the impact of the low-carb diet but it may be good for weight maintenance. Different people will respond to different types of food differently and you will have to find what's best for you. Remember, not all calories are created equal.

  • Will high intensity cardio break down muscle if you don't have carbohydrates available? I just read your fat burning zone article - a great read!

    Thanks for the feedback on my fat burning zone article.

    It’s true if you are carbohydrate deficient that you will begin to metabolise muscle tissue. If you are depleted in carbs and are performing a high intensity cardio session working aerobically, fat is not able to supply a sustainable energy source, simply because fat is metabolised quite slowly. Muscle tissue on the other hand is utilised far more effectively than adipose (or fat) tissue.

    The key with high intensity cardio is to ensure that you do obtain adequate carbohydrates prior to your training session. A big mistake is to perform this cardio on an empty stomach first thing in the morning for this very reason – you will be carbohydrate deficient. It is also unwise to perform high intensity training when you are following a particularly low carbohydrate diet – you will most likely lose significant amounts of muscle tissue.

    Hope this helps mate. Carbs are so very important when losing weight. They have received a very negative “stigma” in the past decade, but this is really due to fad dieting myths rather than sound scientific research.

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