Diet AND exercise – the ‘proper’ way to lose weight

With the endless options for losing weight today – from slimming pills, to liposuction, to dieting – can leave one feeling rather overwhelmed and confused. The latest dieting trends all purport to be effective, but surely only we, as individuals and rightful owners, know that our body’s needs are different. We all have an individual, physiologically programmed formula for weight-loss success.

While not all of us can afford to hire dieticians and personal trainers to whip us into shape (even if we could afford to do so, not all of us fancy being told what we should eat and do), there are ways in which we can incorporate a health-conscious goals into our lifestyle. If we know the basic principles of nutrition and health, we should be allowed to make up our own rules. In a world of absolutes – no carbs, no fats, no sugar – proper dieting can seem impossible and hard to understand. There has to be some level of compromise in order to find true balance.
As individuals, we should all take our health goals seriously and personally – not leaving it to professionals to ensure that we are physically fit. Being healthy is all about having a healthy mindset and that comes with self-discipline and control. Specialised, sustainable diets and exercise programs must be individually considered, monitored and must take into account the individuals’ health problems and potential risks of adopting a new health regime. So often, the answer to weight loss does not lie with doing just one thing right, but in doing several things right.
For ultimate, sustainable weight loss, diet and exercise must go hand-in-hand.  The combination of the right diet and the right type and amount of physical activity is important. Once you understand this and are committed to fulfilling your health goals, you’re on your way already.
Dieting alone to lose weight, without sufficient exercise, is not a healthy practice. Exercise has been scientifically proven to raise levels of neurotrophic factor or positive signals in the brain, leading you to feel good about yourself and helping you lose weight at the same time. Exercise also strengthens bones and maintains muscle strength, reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, colon and breast cancer, obesity and diseases such as Alzheimer’s, depression and anxiety. (MEEUSEN, R., 2014)
‘Exercise training can also influence brain morphology at older ages. Hippocampal (the centre of emotion, memory, and the autonomic nervous system) and medial temporal lobe volumes are larger in highly fit adults, and physical activity training increases hippocampal perfusion.
A 1-year randomized trial with 120 older adults showed that aerobic exercise training increased the size of the anterior hippocampas, leading to improvements in spatial memory. Exercise training increased hippocampal volume by 2.5%, effectively reversing age-related losses in volume by 1 – 2 years.’ (MEEUSEN, R., 2014)
Isn’t it fascinating? The advances that have been made in science in the fields of biochemistry and medicine that have helped us understand what exactly is beneficial about exercise?
Exercise is an important indicator for quality of life and general health. The key to starting is to start small, and slowly grow the exercise habit; strengthening our muscles and training our bodies, so that it becomes part of our lifestyles.
The WHO recommends that:
Adults aged 18–64 should do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or do at least 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity throughout the week or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity activity.’
In early life, a lack of exercise does not display any obvious symptoms. If an unhealthy lifestyle continues, the effects play out much later. Think of your body as an engine: the less you use it, the more likely it is to break down. Oiling and working the machine regularly will maintain your physical and mental health and prevent health problems in the future. It’s funny how people often only discover that their lack of physical activity creates problems for them when it is too late.
Exercising is one way to stay healthy, but in order to have maintain optimal body weight (according to BMI), which is essential for measuring one’s health, individual diet is of equal concern. Of course when it comes to dieting, we all should know our limits: intentional starvation or limiting of certain nutrients can lead to nutritional deficiencies, and eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. (SPEAR, B. A., 2006)
When dieting, reducing carbohydrate intake without increasing protein intake is not recommended. You have to be careful because carbohydrate is the body’s preferred fuel source during exercise and glucose is essential in the brain, kidney and red blood cells. The body will use up carbohydrates first before using the protein in muscle for energy and in order to prevent ketosis (a state where the blood is filled with ketone bodies), one should aim to take at least 150g of carbohydrates a day. (WESTMAN, E. C. et al., 2007) While ketosis is not a dangerous state to be in for healthy, non-diabetic individuals, it can lead to ketoacidosis in diabetic persons, which can lead to death. But if you are at risk of diabetes, a low-carbohydrate diet can improve your lipoprotein levels. (BRINKWORTH, G. D. et al., 2009)
1-year analyses of participants partaking of a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet and a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet have delivered similar weight-loss results, but with different blood lipid measurements. Low carb diets have been shown to reduce total cholesterol, while increasing both HDL (high-density lipoprotein) and LDL (low-density lipoprotein) count. (BRINKWORTH, G.D. et al., 2009). Weight loss at the end of a year on the other hand equals to a low-fat, high carb diet’s, suggesting that a low-carb, high-protein diet may be difficult to maintain in the long term. (NOAKES, M. et al, 2005)

The relationship between fat and carbohydrate metabolism is well-studied, but scientists do not have all the answers yet. What we do know, however, is that reducing the availability of carbohydrates reduces glycosis (conversion of glucose into energy) and increases fatty acid metabolism by the skeletal muscles in the body. SPRIET, L. (2014) This explains why low-carb, high-protein diets are so effective in the short term.

‘The interaction between carbohydrate and fatty acid oxidation at a given exercise intensity is dependent on the intracellular and extracellular metabolic environments. The availability of substrate, both from inside and outside of the muscle, and the exercise intensity and duration will affect these environments.’ (SPRIET, L., 2014)

However, while a low-carb, high-fat diet can prove to be most effective for short-term weight loss, the long-term health consequences are unknown. And weight loss is not so much about the specific macronutrient consumption, but rather, the overall energy intake i.e. total calories consumed. Net excess calorie consumption (intake – energy output) equals weight gain.
Generally speaking, it is more practical and healthier to start exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, slowly reducing body fat mass, and then maintaining a new, health-conscious regime with a balanced diet – especially if you are only slightly overweight and are young.

Remember, being healthy starts with thinking healthy. So instead of ordering a soft drink, fruit juice or alcohol the next time you go out for a meal, why not try plain, good old water? Swap white grain foods like pasta and bread for wholemeal, fatty meats for lean, choose steamed/baked foods over fried/barbecued options – and eat more vegetables and fruit than you normally do. Often, it’s the small habits we make today that make a significant different in our health tomorrow, right?

BRINKWORTH, G.D. et al. ‘ Long-term effects of a very-low-carbohydrate weight loss diet compared with an isocaloric low-fat diet after 12 mo’, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
MANNINEN, A. H. (2004), ‘Metabolic Effects Of The Very Low Carbohydrate Diets: Misunderstood ‘Villains’ of Human Metabolism’, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: 1(2): 7 – 11, 2004
MEEUSEN, R. (2014), ‘Exercise, Nutrition and the Brain’, Sports Med (2014) 44 (Supl 1): S47 – S56
NOAKES, M., KEOGH, J.B., FOSTER, P.R., CLIFTON, P.M. (2005), ‘Effect of an energy-restricted, high-protein, low-fat diet relative to a conventional high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet on weight loss, body composition, nutritional status, and markers of cardiovascular health in obese women’, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: July 2005
SPEAR, B. A. (2006), ‘Does Dieting Increase the Risk for Obesity and Eating Disorders?’, American Dietetic Association
SPRIET, L. (2014), ‘New Insights into the Interaction of Carbohydrate and Fat Metabolism During Exercise’, Sports Med (Suppl 1): S87-S96
WESTMAN, E. C. et al. (2007), ‘Low carbohydrate nutrition and metabolism’, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 86:276-84.

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