Trying to lose a few pounds and attempting to whittle down the waist and hips is not a 21st century phenomenon. Getting to what is considered the ideal fit shape has been the goal of people as far back as 3 B.C. The ancient Greeks, for example, considered being overweight as harmful to one’s physical and moral well-being. They refused anything that increased their desires or appetites to excessive levels. Hippocrates, Greek physician and father of medicine, advised his followers to consume a diet made of light and soft foods. He also recommended slow running and wrestling for physical exercises. Judging from its modern-day relevance, weight loss, it seems, remains a time-honored endeavor.
What is Weight Loss?
Weight loss is the reduction of one’s body mass, as a result of the loss of any or a combination of the following: body fat, muscles, tendons, connective tissues, and fluid. It could occur as a result of poor eating habits, lack of nutrition, or disease. It may also be the result of the deliberate restriction of food intake, such as in the case of overweight or obese individuals.
Deliberate or intentional weight loss is usually done to improve one’s health and level of fitness, and to improve one’s appearance. Today, the weight loss industry is a multi-billion dollar market catering to people around the world. Weight loss products are among the most lucrative in the market, ranging from supplements and prepared food to specific exercises and equipment.
Benefits of Weight Loss
Losing weight is associated with a number of health benefits. It is known to aid in the treatment and/or prevention of:
- heart disease
- blood pressure
- blood sugar
- high cholesterol levels
- certain types of cancer
- joint pain
- back pain
- sleep apnea
- mobility issues
Weight loss can also help improve one’s lifestyle. People who have lost weight, for example, report that they have developed better confidence, experienced improved energy levels, enjoyed better sex, and felt better about themselves. Many have also reported improved mood, vitality, and body image.
Elements of Effective Weight Loss
Effective weight loss does not only show results but is also safe and doable. There are several components that make up effective weight loss. These are:
In Classical Greek language, the term “diaita” means way of living. In the term’s original context, it was not about consuming certain foods to lose weight. Instead, it was all about a whole lifestyle that encompasses food and drink, exercise, and general behavior. The ideal (healthy) Greek body was slim, lithe, athletic, and muscular. The Greeks were so enamored by this ideal physique that they sculpted statues of their gods showing this physical ideal. They achieved this ideal through a combination of healthy food, exercise, and sports.
While the context of diet as the Greeks originally meant it has evolved throughout the years, the idea of consuming only healthy foods remains relevant to this day. In fact, diet (the consumption of certain types of food) is considered the most important element of a successful weight loss and management program.
In general, the best diet is one that is balanced – one that includes a variety of foods. These foods must be chosen from the recommended food groups which include:
- Carbohydrates (whole grain rice, pasta, or bread, potatoes)
- Protein (lean meat, fish, eggs, soy, beans)
- Fat (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as olive oil, canola, nuts, sesame, and nuts)
- Dairy (low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese)
Physical exercise is recommended by medical professionals and fitness experts as an effective weight loss approach to be used in tandem with a balanced diet. Studies have shown that regular exercise helps boost metabolism or the ability of the body to maintain the ideal state of its cells. This process involves molecule breakdown to gain energy and the synthesis of compounds required by the cells.
Exercise also helps lower levels of cholesterol and blood pressure, and it has been proven to help prevent the effects of certain conditions and diseases. In some cases, it can even reverse these effects. Regular exercise helps strengthen the cardiovascular system and build muscles. When you exercise, the body uses up a higher amount of calories to fuel the body’s activities. When these calories are spent and fewer calories are consumed as a result of a balanced diet, this creates a state known as “calorie deficit”. This, in turn, promotes weight loss.
Although weight loss is mostly the result of a decrease in the intake of calories from food, evidence has shown that exercise is most effective in maintaining weight loss. The recommended number of minutes of moderate exercise is 150 minutes per week. This should be combined with 75 minutes of high-intensity aerobic activity weekly. Studies have shown that a combination of aerobic and weightlifting activities, even moderate ones, can help maintain weight at a healthy level.
Examples of moderate exercises include: brisk walking, biking using a casual pace, light yard work, and snow shoveling. Moderate exercise should cause a faster heart rate but should still allow one to maintain a conversation. Vigorous exercises, on the other hand, should increase the heart rate and breathing to such a degree that it may be difficult to maintain a conversation. Some of the most common and effective vigorous exercises include running, jogging, swimming laps, jumping rope, skiing, and competitive sports such as basketball, soccer, football, and volleyball.
Individuals who are trying to lose weight should consult with a medical professional prior to embarking on an exercise regimen. A general checkup will help rule out any diseases or conditions that may be exacerbated by physical exercise. This will also be critical to ensure that the exercises are performed correctly and for a safe period of time.
Prevention and Maintenance
Without proper prevention and maintenance, weight loss is temporary. Weight can be regained within a short time period if the diet and lifestyle changes that have provided results are not kept. While a highly stringent diet and exercise regimen could help prevent weight gain, it may be too restrictive for some individuals to maintain as a lifestyle choice. What experts recommend is a conscious effort in choosing the types of food and drink consumed, and the types of physical activities performed.
It is also important to have a support system that will aid in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. This support system may consist of using a program such as one offered by a fitness expert or having friends and family members as part of a support team. Social support has played a significant role in ensuring successful and effective weight loss for many individuals.
How Much Weight Can You Lose Safely?
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the safest figures to go for when it comes to weight loss is 1-2 pounds (0.45-0.90 kg) a week. This translates to about 4-8 pounds (1.8-3.6 kgs) a month on average.
Why Rapid Weight Loss is Unhealthy
Recent studies show that losing weight too fast is unsafe and even dangerous. Rapid weight loss can increase the risk of certain health issues such as muscle loss, decrease in metabolism, and gallstones. It could also lead to unnecessary nutritional deficiencies in vulnerable individuals. The most common method that people use to lose weight within a short period of time is crash dieting, wherein they consume less than 800 calories daily. People take this approach because in general, weight loss is easier to achieve through restricted dieting than through physical exercise.
The problem with this approach is simple: the body stores calories as fuel to be used for different functions of the organs and the musculoskeletal system. Each time we move or do something, the body burns these calories. When there are fewer calories available for the body to burn, it begins to consume stored energy called glycogen. Since glycogen is tied to water, the body also begins to lose water weight. This explains why you will experience significant weight loss initially, particularly during the first week or so. However, once the stores of glycogen are depleted, an individual will no longer lose as much weight as he/she once did.
Crash dieting may be an attractive option but its effects are last for a short period of time. People who go on a strict diet often regain 50% of the weight they lost in just 12 months. Most of them also regain all the weight they lost within just five years.
Although rapid weight loss is not recommended for everyone, there are people for whom this approach may be effective. People who are obese, for example, may need to lose a certain amount of weight within a set time period for health reasons. They often undergo what is known as VLCD or Very Low-Calorie Diet, in which they only consume around 800 calories a day. This allows them to lose as much as 5 lbs. (2 kgs) a week. However, this is considered safe and effective only if it is supervised by a medical professional. Any rapid weight loss endeavor should have support from a physician and a dietitian to ensure that correct food intake and choices are made. This will help increase the likelihood that weight loss is safe and effective.