Healthy Weight Loss: The Basics

A healthy weight loss is one which preserves lean muscle while burning extra fat for fuel.

In order to preserve muscle while losing weight, one must eat enough fat and protein to maintain the muscle already within the body, plus reduce carbohydrate intake to the level that allows the body to switch to burning internal fat stores for fuel instead of dietary carbs.

  • A high carb intake translates into high blood sugar and high insulin levels. When blood sugar and insulin are elevated, the body uses blood sugar for fuel, and stores all excess energy as fat. Any fat already stored stays stored because the body has sugar to burn for energy.

  • If protein intake is too low, and carb intake is normal, the body will have a tendency to burn internal muscle for fuel, as it won’t be able to access fat stores while insulin and blood sugar remain elevated from the carb intake.

  • If fat intake is too low, the body cannot maintain tissue integrity and overall health, plus carbohydrate intake will be too high (something must replace the fat not being eaten).

  • Contrary to popular myth, natural fats such as butter, whole fat dairy products and olive oil are healthy nutrients. Fat is the only nutrient that has zero effect on blood sugar and insulin. In addition, saturated fat is harmless in the context of a low carb diet. It is a high carb intake and the elevated blood glucose and insulin which is at the root of heart disease, not saturated fat intake.

  • In addition to being excellent for healthy weight loss, a low carb way of eating also supports overall health in that it lowers and normalizes blood sugars, increases beneficial HDL, lowers triglyceride levels, and reduces inflammation.

The correct levels of these nutrients for each person are determined individually. However, most low carb diets start with a diet that is higher in fat, moderate in protein, and very low in carb. One could start with calories being divided as follows: 60% coming from fat, 30% coming from protein sources and 10% from carbohydrate sources.

So at each meal, this might translate into 4-6 ounces of protein (larger men may need 8 ounces) 10-15 net carbs, (net carbs=carb minus fiber) and the balance of your food in fat calories. A representative meal might include 5 ounces of beef tips, 2-3 cups of salad greens with full fat dressing, and a thick pat of butter on the steak.

There are a multitude of books which have a more detailed explanation of these concepts, plus menus, food lists and other information. My recommendations are listed at right.

Role of Exercise

The right type of exercise can make a big difference in a healthy weight loss plan. In general, high intensity exercise is the best, while low intensity exercise is less effective.

High intensity exercise forces your muscles to use the energy (called glycogen) stored within them. When the muscles use up this energy, the body has to replenish those energy reserves with the sugar in your blood stream. During this process, overall blood sugar and insulin are lowered. Lower blood sugar and insulin translate into better fat burning, and better health.

When you compare low intensity exercise to high intensity, you find that:

  • Low intensity exercise which is performed for long periods at a slow pace (i.e., jogging, walking long distances) is the worst for weight loss and cardiovascular health. It does not cause the muscles to use large amounts of energy and is not as effective for increasing muscle insulin sensitivity. Long periods of low intensity exercise carry a much higher risk for injury and muscle wasting (tearing down muscle without letting it rebuild). It also increases general hunger without using enough muscle energy to compensate for the increased amount of calories consumed.

  • Exercise which is of high intensity and short duration is the best for weight loss, because it causes the muscles to dump energy in great amounts. This increases the sensitivity of the insulin receptors on the muscle, which increases overall insulin sensitivity, which translates into lower blood sugar, better fat burning and a healthy weight loss. It also strengthens and builds the body's overall musculature, and increases the body's ability to use oxygen efficiently. Better oxygen use means more energy and better health.

Strength endurance training is high intensity exercise that will improve your fitness levels immensely. Check out this article on strength endurance training for more information on the positive impact strength and conditioning can have on your health.

And for more detailed information on high intensity exercise and its effect in combination with a healthy weight loss program, read Body by Science: A Research Based Program to Get the Results You Want in 12 Minutes a Week by Dr. Doug McGuff and John Little.

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