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Recipe for Weight Loss

A successful weight reduction program is like a recipe.  Start with a few key ingredients as a base, add some others for taste and individuality, and you end up with a winning formula for success.  Two of the key ingredients are GRADUAL caloric restriction and exercise.

A typical cascade of events that leads to failure in permanent weight loss goes something like this:  An individual is initially gung ho and overly anxious to lose weight.  They proceed to drastically cut calories below what their body needs to perform daily functions.  The body attempts to "balance out" this deficit by decreasing metabolism - the rate at which the body utilizes fuel (a.k.a. calories)!

The body is very resourceful when it is stressed, so it also dips into its fuel reserves.  Although these reserves include fat stores, the body views muscle as a good fuel source too!  As the body utilizes its own muscle, thus decreasing lean body mass, metabolism further decreases.  The individual loses interest in the restrictive diet and returns to a typical eating pattern.  However, this time around, since their body has less muscle mass and a lower metabolism, they actually gain weight and surpass their initial starting weight!  The vicious diet cycle has been set up and repeated failure with this approach is imminent.

There are two major ways to combat this no-win situation and put the odds back in your favor.  One is to never drastically cut back on calories.  It's equivalent to raising a red flag alerting forthcoming starvation.  Calorie reduction should be slow and minimal - about 250 calories a day less than you're accustomed to consuming.  Look back over your food journal and identify small areas that you can adjust to cut calories.  Guess how many calories that 20oz bottled soda that you typically have with lunch has - 250 calories!  Replace it with bottled water and you've made a change that won't leave you feeling too deprived.  Need fizz?  Try some carbonated water… there are many great ones on the market now.  Some even contain "fruit essence" to give them a slight flavor but without the calories.

The other key ingredient to outsmarting your body's defense against starvation is exercise!  If you are actually using your muscles by engaging in exercise, your body will not regard them as a primary means of fuel anymore.  Utilizing your muscles relays the signal to your body that you NEED them and that breaking them down for fuel to meet the needs of the rest of your body is NOT a good idea.  In addition to maintaining or even increasing your muscle mass, exercise also gives your metabolism a jumpstart. This boost in metabolism typically extends beyond the exercise session and can help you burn even more calories.

If you utilize 250 calories a day by exercising, and decrease your caloric intake by approximately 250 calories a day, your total caloric deficit is 3500 calories for the week.  This will result in a loss of one pound per week.  Ah Ha, you say.  So that's where that 1 lb per week recommendation comes from!  And guess what, it's one pound of fat - not lean body tissue!  Remember, slow is better when it comes to weight loss.
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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.
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