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With society’s standards of beauty paired with the national obesity epidemic, it’s no surprise that millions of Americans clock to fad diets and dietary supplements in order to achieve the “perfect figure.” Unfortunately, many individuals jump on the weight loss bandwagon and consume dietary supplements (for weight loss) and participate in vigorous exercise routines without the proper research. As it turns out, these supplements often do more harm than good, wreaking havoc on their bodies and leading to weight “regain” over the long term.

What people don’t realize is that these so called “quick” ways are entirely unsafe and very rarely lead to a healthy lifestyle. Truth be told, there is only one way to lose weight, and as redundant as it sounds, it’s through healthy eating and a daily exercise routine.

The Secret Is a Calorie Deficit

A calorie deficit is the only answer to weight loss. Without a calorie deficit, you cannot lose weight. So, what exactly is a calorie deficit? Well, it basically means that each day, you burn enough calories so that you have some “left over” at the end of the day (or week). This does not, however, mean that you must burn as many calories as you consume per day.

You see, every individual has a “Daily Energy Expenditure” which is the amount of calories they burn each day, based on age, gender, height, weight, and daily activity levels. For example, a 25-year-old male, 6 feet tall and 200 pounds, living a sedentary lifestyle might have a Daily Energy Expenditure of around 2800 calories. In other words, he burns 2800 calories per day, even though he is generally inactive. To lose weight, he would need to reduce his daily caloric intake either by diet, exercise, or both. To gain weight, he would need to increase his daily caloric intake.

It should be noted that when dieting, the more calories you burn, the more you’re allowed to eat. With that said, you should never have to starve to lose weight.

Cardio Exercise vs. Strength Training

Losing fat is dependent on cardio exercise, whereas gaining muscle mass is dependent on strength training.

However, you cannot target fat loss. You can, however, target muscle gain and definition.

In other words, jumping rope seven days a week may shed fat, but you cannot dictate where you will lose that fat. It may first shed in your face, then your arms, and so on. However, with strength training, you can target muscle gain. For example, doing push ups will strengthen the pectoral muscles and the muscles in the arms.

A woman trying to lose “baby weight” after giving birth might think that cardio exercise is all it takes to “snap back” to her previous body, but that is not true. Cardio will help to drop fat, but it will not increase muscle mass in the way that strength training does. So, while the woman would lose fat, her stomach may remain flabby. With strength training and cardio, however, she could increase muscle tone, while also reducing her body fat percentage.

Muscle vs. Fat

You may have heard the saying, “Muscle weighs more than fat.” This isn’t exactly true. You see, a pound of muscle is the same as a pound of fat. However, if you were to take a cup of fat and a cup of muscle, you would see that in that case, the cup of muscle WOULD weigh more, simply because of the density.

Getting the Nutrients Your Body Needs

It is very important to make sure that your body is getting the nutrients that it needs in order to function properly and keep up with your weight loss routine. For example, if you’re vigorously exercising, your caloric intake should be high enough to support the energy you’ll be using, but not so high that you are unable to reach a calorie deficit.

A balanced diet full of fruits, vegetables, lean meats or other proteins such as nuts and seeds, and whole grains is ideal. Plenty of water is a must, with a reduction in your sugar intake. Foods laden with chemicals such as MSG and processed corn products should only be eaten in moderation, if at all. Eating as healthy and as clean as possible will help to lower your daily caloric intake while still having the sustenance you need to get through a day without excess hunger.

Excess hunger typically leads to overindulging. Some people flock to appetite suppressants as they find themselves wanting to indulge each and every day. Instead of attempting to suppress your appetite, consider eating foods that keep you full until your next meal, with healthy, filling snacks on hand to curb cravings. Studies show that people who completely cut out foods from their diet are more likely to feel negatively about weight loss. Those who reward themselves from time to time tend to be more successful.

Pay Attention to Cravings

Some people flock to appetite suppressants, to prevent overeating. However, paying attention to our cravings may actually help us take care of our bodies. Certain cravings may indicate vitamin/mineral deficiencies. For example, if you crave salty foods, you may need more sodium. Sugar cravings could indicate low blood sugar levels. Craving carrots may indicate a lack of Vitamin A.

Talk to your doctor if you’re worried about cravings.

Eating Disorders

Reducing your caloric intake to dangerously low levels can cause you to lose muscle mass, and may also cause other health problems related to malnutrition and vitamin/mineral deficiencies, including irritability, hairloss, immune system suppression, and more.

If you suspect that you may have an eating disorder, please talk to your physician.

Planning Meals

Planning meals is a great way to stick to your routine and curb cravings. If you eat out quite a bit, start preparing your meals in advance each week to avoid impulse eating. Large, fresh salads full of greens and fat free dressing make for filling, tasty meals. Add lean meat or nuts for protein, or even a boiled egg or two. Fruit smoothies made with fresh fruit, nonfat Greek yogurt, and reduced fat whipped topping make for a nice midday snack. A few dark chocolate squares allow you to indulge in your chocolate craving without going overboard. Remember, appetite suppressants are not needed to lose weight.

Being a society of consumers means that we’re often captivated by the claims made about specific products, or the words written on labels. However, the more you get to know your body, the more you will realize just how easy it is to take care of it. Losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle starts with paying attention to detail. Learn about what your body needs, what foods you can get it from, and how many calories you need to burn each day to maintain a healthy body.

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