Weight Loss-The Real Skinny

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This week, many of us watched as prominent TV personality and “health expert” Dr. Oz was taken to task by Congress for his direct and implicit endorsements of certain products as “weight loss miracles”.  Congress, in the hearings, reminded Americans that weight loss and a healthy lifestyle are only products of a combination of exercise and a proper, balanced diet.  In other words, there are no shortcuts. With everything going on in the world today, why should Congress focus on the weight loss claims of one TV figure? Quite simply, because, indirectly, he is killing Americans. How so? Because he is an M.D., and is featured on television programming, most viewers assume him to have a high level of knowledge and credibility, so his words ring as fact in many ears. As a result, viewers buy into the theory that there is an easy, gimmicky way to lose weight and get healthy, so they pursue that avenue as opposed to one that works. By not making the proper choices, they put themselves at risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and all of the other health dangers that obesity contributes to, and that can be fatal in the end.

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You also may have recently seen that the FTC has charged and/or fined companies like L’Occitane, Skechers, Reebok, Ab Circle Pro and sellers of various supplements (green tea, acai berry, yogurt, etc.) that have been deemed as gimmicks, with no medical or scientific foundation to their claims whatsoever. The supplement industry is estimated to be a $25 billion per year market, and is growing rapidly in recent years as consumers attempt to manage their own healthcare in a down economy. This opens the door for miracle claims and so-called easy solutions that are actually driven by a profit motive, not genuine or proven effectiveness.

Read the list of FTC actions against phony claims (here).

See the list of claims most used to promote phony weight loss products (here).

Let’s look at the cold, hard facts concerning weight loss. There are many other factors involved in the equation, but in general terms, a pound of fact consists of approximately 3,500 calories. To lose one pound of fat, one has to burn 3,500 calories more than is taken in. The first thought most people have upon learning this is to cut calorie consumption to accomplish that goal. Not so fast. By lowering your body’s nutritional intake, you then will slow your metabolic rate, causing your body to go into sort of a storage mode. When your body perceives a deficiency in food intake, it begins to store available nutrition as fat, since fat stored in the body has 9 calories per gram, as opposed to protein and carbohydrates, which each have 4 calories per gram.

So we then need to look at what it takes, exercise wise, to burn a pound of fat. Let’s assume you are a 50 year old man who weighs 200 pounds. If you walk at 3 mph for one hour, you will burn 396 calories, so you would need almost 9 hours of walking at that pace to burn the calories to lose one pound. At an hour of walking per day, six days a week, you could conceivably lose just over 3 pounds in a month. If you are 50 pounds overweight, that would mean over a year and three months to hit your ideal weight. That sure seems like a daunting task. How about those ab products that promote your “six pack” Fifteen minutes of crunches burns only 68 calories, so that would be an even slower process to drop pounds. A 155 pound person only burns about 298 calories in an hour doing yoga, so that isn’t the weight loss answer, either.

What, then, is the answer? How do you get fit and lose weight in a faster time frame, but in a safe fashion, and in a way that will help you stay healthy after you reach your goals? For most, it involves getting the right direction and guidance from a qualified professional. Yes, you may have lifted weights in high school, or have been an athlete or cheerleader, but those times are decades in the past for most of us, and what worked then isn’t necessarily the right answer for today. First, you should consult your health professional and be sure there are no impediments to you beginning an exercise program. When you get the green light there, you then need to start determining the plan to get you to your fit goals. A fit lifestyle consists of five components: resistance training, cardio training, balanced nutritional plan, proper hydration, and sleep/recovery. The first step is to begin building a base of strength, cardio capacity and endurance which will then allow you to complete a more intense and demanding exercise prescription, some of which can burn upwards of 1,000 calories in an hour. Think of it as being like building a house, in that a proper foundation is necessary before the rest of the project can move forward.

The cold fact is this; you most likely will not succeed on your own. This is evidenced by the New Year’s resolution crowd. Every year, gyms are packed in January with those committing to losing pounds and getting fit in the New Year. By Valentine’s Day, most are long gone. Why? Simply because they don’t make progress, because they don’t know what to do. Those who commit to training with a professional trainer, or make a solid, longer term commitment to specific classes have a much higher success rate than those attempting to get fit on their own. Does it cost money? Sure it does, but so do high insurance deductibles, co-payments, pharmacy visits, lost work days and the higher medical expenses incurred by those who aren’t fit.

The end result is this; there are no healthy shortcuts to being fit. The upside, however, is that you can really enjoy the process. The adrenaline and endorphin produced during exercise are quite addictive, and once you begin to see the progress you seek, commitment to the process becomes much easier. Remember, you don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great!

Jim Harris