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Energy Zen Body Weight Solution

by Paul Scott - from OutsideOnline

Don't Restrict Calories

Using willpower to deny yourself food, what the nutritionists call "restricting," will only lead you to pile on more pounds. Judging by how long some wait to eat, obese people have extraordinary willpower, while some of the country's more whippetlike folk are spineless when it comes to temptation. What gives? When you restrict yourself, your body goes for too long without an energy source, and it responds by temporarily slowing your metabolism. When you finally do eat, your body responds viscerally, hoarding calories and urging you to consume more calories than your body can burn. What's more, exercising on top of restrictions will result in an even more sluggish metabolism—anorexics who exercise actually lose weight more slowly than those who avoid working out. Don't mess around with this powerful internal energy shut-off mechanism: Steer clear of crash diets.

Rev Up Your Metabolism

We're sorry to report that metabolism naturally slows down as we age; that's why weight gain creeps up on us beginning with college graduation. "You are losing muscle every year past 20, and this is causing your ability to burn energy to decline," says Jim Karas, author of The Business Plan for the Body and proprietor of Solo Sessions, a weight-loss and exercise program in Chicago. Since muscle burns up to 25 times more energy than fat does, its presence is essential to keeping your metabolism humming. But not only does your body naturally lose muscle as you age, every time you lose weight through food restriction, it comes out of muscle. When you put the weight back on, it goes on as fat. The result is a continual decline in metabolic efficiency. You're going to need to raise your metabolism each year just to stay even. Like planning for retirement, now is the time to habitualize exercise.

Lift Weights

Your body burns nearly three-quarters of your daily energy while you sit around twiddling your thumbs. Indeed, your body has the potential to burn far more calories in between your daily bike rides than on the rides themselves. The key is to raise your resting metabolic rate (RMR), and the best way to do this is through strength training. (Remember, muscle is the key to burning more energy.) You may loathe the gym, but Karas advocates three 30- to 45-minute sessions of strength training per week: "You get a 7 to 15 percent boost in basal metabolic rate from increased lean muscle tissue," he says. "It's the one area in our metabolism we can control."

Be Mindful when You're Hungry

The body's energy-depletion alarm system is a throwback to our hunter-gatherer heritage, when uncertain food supplies necessitated slowing the engine to get through lean times. But now that we live in hamburger-rich environments, that familiar coiling in your stomach is weight management's greatest enemy. Why? By the time you salivate, you're much more interested in a 700-calorie brownie than a more sensible high-fiber food like wheat crackers. Not only that, but you'll consume more because you've diminished your capacity to feel satisfied (see #1: "Don't Restrict") and are more likely to make poor food choices. Once your stomach starts telling you it's empty, be more conscious in your selection and portion sizes. If you simply go with your gut, you'll fall victim to your body's Stone Age agenda.

Eat Often

"When it comes to weight, all the nutritional advice, like the food pyramid, may be barking up the wrong tree," says Dan Benardot, associate dean of research for the College of Health and Human Sciences at Georgia State University and one of the first nutritionists to look at how subtle energy fluctuations during the day affect body composition. In a study of gymnasts and endurance runners, Benardot found that the more athletes let their energy levels dip below a certain pointin short, the hungrier they got before eating each mealthe higher their body fat. "Frequent eating is linked with lower body-fat percentage, less stress hormones, and less insulin response," says Benardot. "More food intake does lead to more weight, but not in an equal fashionit depends on how it is consumed." Don't let your fuel tank fall into the red. Benardot advises eschewing the typical 600-, 800-, 1,000-calorie meal plan for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Divide your meals in half, and eat approximately every three hours. Keep your largest meal under 800 calories.

Eat Foods That Take Up Space

Any effective food plan has to leave you satisfied. The good news is that studies in satietythe science of dietary satisfactionshow that we subconsciously determine if we've eaten enough based on the volume and weight, rather than the tastiness, nutritional content, or caloric count, of what we eat. In a 1998 Penn State study conducted by nutritionist Barbara Rolls, subjects eating foods of differing density until satisfaction repeatedly chose to eat the same amount of food by weight or volume, not by calories. The group eating a vegetable casserole ate the same amount as a group eating a calorically denser pasta casserole. Thus, the second group ended up consuming more calories to arrive at the same level of satisfaction. "In the past, the approach to diet has been focused on balancing fat, carbohydrates, and protein," says Rolls, author of The Volumetrics Weight Control Plan. "But now we know that water and fiber, which control a food's weight and volume, have a much bigger impact on the amount of calories you take in." Rolls's tips: Avoid foods that are calorie-dense. These include all the usual suspects (fats and sweets), and some not-so-obvious ones like bagels and dried fruits. Don't cut them out completely, but know how they affect you. And meanwhile, eat more foods with high levels of water and fiber, including raw vegetables, whole grains, water-based soups, and whole wheat al dente pasta.

Understand the GI

The glycemic index, or GI, was originally developed for diabeticsit ranks foods on a scale of 100 by how quickly a given carbohydrate is converted to blood glucose. The higher the number, the faster the carb becomes blood sugar. Foods with a high GI rating rush sugar into your bloodstream and initiate an excessive insulin response wherein more carbohydrate is stored as fat, and you feel less easily satisfied and hungrier sooner. While some nutritionists debate the usefulness of the GI, many agree that unless you have just finished a hard workout, at which time a high GI carbohydrate is great for recovery, high-glycemic foods are simply too potentlike filling your Zippo with enriched uranium instead of lighter fluid. As a general rule, when at rest, seek out foods with a GI rating below 80. The University of Sydney's GI Web page ( has more information on how the index works and includes a database listing the GIs of most foods. For staples, pasta is fine if it is cooked al dente. Rice is okay if it is of the parboiled (Indian, or non-sticky) variety. Be careful: Most non-whole-grain breads rank high, as do many popular breakfast cereals. See our chart below for more substitutes.

Separate Your Social Life from Your Stomach

In a perfect world, meetings, gatherings with friends, and dinners out would jibe perfectly with your new six-meals-per-day schedule. In the real world, meetings delay lunch by hours, that nice couple next door pushes dinner back to 8 o'clock, and your favorite restaurant doesn't have a reservation until 9 p.m. Nutritionists call what happens next the what-the-hell effect: Having decided that we've blown our plan already, we subsequently abandon all good habits for the remainder of the meal. "You're running up against the psychology of going out," says Karas. "In the old days it was a treat, a time to break the rules, and so people are still treating it as 'special time,' off the books, when in fact we eat out more than ever." If your week includes a lot of special time, approach meal dates as social events. Eat before you go out, and at restaurants try sharing an entrée, since upscale establishments tend to serve large, decadent meals, not rice and beans.

Eat a Variety of Foods (the Truest Cliché)

Energy intake is jacked up by palatability, that is, the tastiness of foods. Being predisposed to nosh scrumptious items like sweets, meats, and deep-dish pizza is another attribute left over from our Cro-Magnon days, when hoarding fats was important for species survival. But some of the most nutritious foods taste terrible at first. In fact, studies have shown that it is the very bitterness of phytochemicals in low-density foods like brussels sprouts and spinach that signal their cancer-fighting properties. The good news is that you can develop a taste for a variety of textures and flavorsjust like you did with beer and coffeethereby consuming less fat and calories and more nutritional variety. Every time you go to the grocery store make a point of buying foods like vegetables, fruits, and fish that you haven't tried before. Drawing a blank? Try spending a greater proportion of your budget in the bright, leafy outer aisles where the whole foods are, rather than the dark, tempting inner aisles where the processed foods and microwave dinners hold sway.

Believe in the Existential Payoffs of Balanced Energy

When it comes to energy balance, good habits beget healthy metabolism, lean muscle mass, and less body fat. Rapid weight loss inevitably means lost muscle tissue and subsequent metabolic slowdown. Putting weight back on gives you a higher percentage of body fat than when you started losing weight. For all these reasons, change is necessary, and should be permanent. Fortunately, these ten principles are lifelong goals, not an entrance exam, and if you can adhere to just a few of them over time, the subject of weight will no longer be an enigma. Not only that, but by keeping your energy supply stable throughout the day, you'll be less grouchy at four o'clock, less susceptible to cravings, and less at the mercy of the runaway schedule of your life.

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