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Answers to Your Top 10 Diet Dilemmas

By Steve Edwards
From Team Beachbody - Click here for resources, tools and information to help you to reach your health, fitness and positive lifestyle goals!

1. Do I need supplements to lose weight?

Weight loss supplementsSupplements are often misunderstood. Most of this comes from false advertising, but some of it is legit. A supplement is generally a nutrient that you get in your diet in a condensed form. However, it can also be something more akin to a drug attempting to fly under the FDA radar. But unless you're hangin' around the bench press at your local iron facility, chances are you're never going to hear of this type of "supplement." As a general rule, they are safe and effective when used correctly.

Now we need to define "effective." You definitely don't need supplements in order to lose weight and get fit. And no supplement will get you healthy and fit unless your lifestyle is healthy and fit. That being said, a proper dietary supplemental strategy can definitely aid you in losing weight, especially when you're on a diet.

When you begin to exercise, your body needs more nutrients in order to recover. If you are trying to lose weight, you're probably feeding your body fewer calories. This is where supplements can really help you out. By adding nutrients in a condensed form, you can ensure that your body has ample fuel to recover while you are restricting calories. This can be a huge advantage when trying to lose weight.

Conversely, those trying to gain weight have the same issues—getting enough nutrients from food in order to build mass. It's the same deal. Add enough nutrients to optimally recover and your results will accelerate.

2. Shouldn't I eliminate carbs from my diet?

Should I eliminate carbs from my dietNo. There are only three types of nutrient-rich caloric sources: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. These need to make up around 100 percent of your daily calories and all have a purpose in your diet. Carbs are for energy. Without them, your body is limited in its capacity for not only athletics but for brain function. The amount of carbs you eat should be directly proportional to how much activity you do. At rest, your body probably needs you to eat between 30 percent and 40 percent of its calories from carbohydrates to function at a base level. Assuming that you do some moving around during the day, that number will rise. When exercising all day long, your body will probably need 70 percent of its calories to come from carbs. Therefore, your daily intake of carbs should range from around 35 percent up to 70 percent, with most of us falling somewhere in between. These should be the most variable source of calories in your diet.

Here's something simple to consider. Your body stores fats and proteins in your body's tissue. Only a small percentage of carbs are "stored" by the body in the liver and blood and they must be burned off. Eat carbs that you'll burn. No more, no less.

3. Doesn't eating fat make me fat?

Fat from nutsDietary fat should not be confused with body fat! They are two entirely separate things. Remember, we can only eat proteins, fats, and carbs, and they all serve a function. Dietary fats are essential for health and proper function of your bodily functions. Without them, your body will break down and you'll get sick.

What's important is that you get the right types of dietary fat. The wrong types of fat are saturated and trans fats and the stuff you find in animal products and junk foods. Good fats are found in nuts, seeds, avocados, olives, and other plant sources in raw form. They should make up between 20 percent and 35 percent of your daily calories, which doesn't mean that you'll have between 20 percent and 35 percent body fat!

Fats are also dense. They have more than twice the calories of proteins and carbs, 9 calories per gram compared to 4. So you don't need to eat a lot of fat in order to get enough. But you need to eat some. Choosing low- or nonfat meats and dairy products is a good idea. Get your fats from plant sources.

4. What does 40/30/30 mean?

This is a percentage of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats that your diet should consist of made popular by The Zone diet. When you see a figure like this, it's usually stated in that order and refers to a type of eating plan. Like I said before, the percentage of carbs is what should slide the most. 40/30/30 is a good percentage for someone either trying to lose weight or not highly active. A more active person's diet might be 50/25/25. Someone riding the Tour de France might be closer to 70/15/15, because they're burning about 1,000 calories of carbs per hour during the race. Make sense?

5. Should I try fasting?

Should I try fasting?Many nutritionists don't recommend fasting because you don't get your recommended daily nutrients. I am not of this mold. People have been fasting ever since we've recorded human activity. I think it's a great way to keep your body regulated and minimize cravings. Since most of us eat more calories than we need, our bodies are always digesting. Fasting is a good way to allow your body to finish this process and flush all the excess junk in your system out of your system. Many fasts are called a "flush" and come with concoctions that aid this process. They can help but your body will flush itself anyway. But a guided fast usually ensures that it's somewhat time-tested and, hence, safe.

One thing to keep in mind is that you can't exercise much during a fast. Sans fuel, your body cannot recover from the breakdown of exercise and you'll do more harm than good. Therefore, long-term fasts are not recommended for fitness. They are usually spiritual journeys more than anything else. But you can fast one day per week without problems. Just make it your rest day.

6. Are protein bars and shakes good for me and how often should I eat them?

Protein shakesThese are called "food supplements" and are basically condensed foods, like a supplement that you eat. They are designed, generally, for three situations. One is to add protein to one's diet without the additional fat and calories usually found in meat sources, which is important for those on a restricted-calorie diet. Second, they are easy and quick to eat, making them an easy choice for people on the go. Third, they can add dense calories for those attempting to gain mass who need to recovery from highly intense exercise.

That's it. They're just food, basically, and you could live off of a diet of protein bars and shakes provided you made sure that you covered your nutritional requirements (which would require some homework). This isn't a practical or fun idea for most of us, which is why we call them food supplements.

7. I don't like to cook. Which frozen foods are good for me?

Frozen foodsLearning to read food labels is one of the most important steps in your transition to a healthy lifestyle. Most frozen foods are awful. Some, like Weight Watchers, etc., are pretty good. There are now many new and healthy frozen food companies joining the market as well, but the only way to tell is by reading the label.

The big offender in prepared meals tends to be sodium. If you eat a lot of frozen food, it's easy to get 10 times your daily allowance of sodium. And, by the way, like carbs, your sodium needs vary greatly with exercise. You lose sodium as you sweat. The RDA is set at a random 2,500 mg a day but you'll need more if you're sweating a lot—you can lose over 1,000 mg an hour in warm conditions—and less if you don't. About 500 mg a day will run your standard body functions.

8. What is fiber, why do I want it, and where do I get it?

Fiber is the indigestible part of a plant and essential for regulating your digestive system, eliminating waste products, and regulating your cholesterol levels. This is a good reason to make sure that you get plenty of fruit, veggies, and whole grains in your diet, which should consist of 25 to 40 grams of fiber a day. Remember that juices and processed grains lose their fiber. You need to eat whole foods.

9. Is caffeine okay to lose weight? How about Diet Coke and stuff?

Caffeine for weight lossCaffeine is a natural diuretic and energy booster. Therefore, its effect on your diet and weight loss will be positive given all other factors surrounding it don't hurt you. First of those could be loss of sleep. Sleep is extremely important as your body does most of its healing and rebuilding during this time. If caffeine affects your sleep, that will offset all of its positive effects. Next are its additives. The things we tend to mix with coffee or tea, like sugar, cream, and other assorted flavor enhancers are generally all terrible for you and highly caloric.

Next is the diet soft drink question. Here caffeine is mixed with a blend of phosphates, acids, and other non-caloric goodies designed to give you a rush. The downside is the alteration of your body's pH level, which affects your ability to absorb nutrients. Habitual diet soda drinkers generally lose weight when they get off the stuff, showing there is more to weight loss than calories alone. If your body can't use nutrients, it's malnourished, no matter what you eat. So messing with your pH level by drinking diet soft drinks is generally not in your best interest.

10. What's with all the hippie stuff, like organic and raw foods? Should I be a vegetarian?

Organic and raw foodsCertainly, obesity would be less of a problem if everyone were vegetarian. But being a healthy vegetarian isn't a totally brainless activity either. Many vegetarians eliminate meat but don't alter the rest of their diet and opting for only fries and a Coke and dropping the Big Mac is not a positive trade in your diet. Meat is easy because it's loaded with nutrients and plenty of protein. It's also loaded with calories, cholesterol, and saturated fat which are direct links to obesity and heart disease.

Organic is just a labeling process that usually means the food has been tampered with less—a good thing. While difficult to do, a raw diet will ensure that your foods are less tampered with. Of particular interest here are enzymes that help you break down and utilize the nutrients for foods. Cooking and processing destroys these, which is the best argument for a raw diet.

While all of these things are great, all require a fair bit of work. You need to understand a bit about nutrition, and you should, too, in my opinion. I mean, it's the most direct link you have to living a healthy life, why not put a little time into it?

The best solution, for even the laziest of us, is to make sure that your diet includes a lot of raw whole foods, many from plant sources, and to try and buy organic when you have the chance. If you just do this, you'll be a lot healthier and can even avoid being labeled a hippie as well.

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