What should I do to lose weight? How do I get rid of my arm fat? How do I get my lower abs to show? Do diets work? These and many other similar questions are in the minds of many of my clients but also of people in most westernized cultures.
Why do we get fat?
The answer we commonly hear is that we eat too much and do not exercise enough. Although partially true, this simplistic view cannot explain why 70% of men and 64% of women. are overweight or obese among adults in the U.S. (data from the World Obesity Organization).
There are some hereditary factors that play a role. Some people are more predispose to gain weight than others depending on your family history and ethnicity. However, genetics account for only about 25% of hereditary fat mass (Bouchard, 1993). Even if obesity runs in your family, it does not have to be your destiny.
There are several eating disorders that push people to overeat. Furthermore, emotional or psychological problems can arise from being overweight or obese making it harder to overcome mental barriers to find motivation to eat healthy and exercise. In certain cases professional counseling may be advised to overcome psychological barriers and emotional traumas.
Another important factor is the environment you are in. For instance, right now weather conditions in New York City make it very difficult to exercise outdoors during the winter. This may mean that you are more likely to put on some pounds if your preferred physical activity is all done outside. In this case, it is just temporary, but if growing up you never had parks nearby, or lived in a dangerous neighborhood, it might be trickier to sustain an active life.
There are many diets to choose from whether it is the paleo diet, atkins, the zone diet, vegan, or any other, they mostly all share common traits. How do they work? They all come with a set of rules. If your current diet is a free-for-all and follows no particular guidelines, following certain rules will definitely put some order in what you are eating. It will force you to be more mindful about your meals, thus probably making better choices. Most diets will also restrict certain foods for example no starch, limited carbohydrates, no animal products, and so on. If you were eating any of these before and decide to leave them out to comply with the diet's rules it is unlikely you will go out of your way to find replacements, therefore you will probably be eating less in general since you are eliminating entire food groups. Overall diets will also limit the amount of calories you can ingest, whether it is counting them or through a points system. We will go over caloric needs in part 2 of this blog.
Why do diets fail? Eating healthy for a week, a month or even a year will not compensate all the future years of eating unhealthily. Changing your lifestyle needs to be a very gradual process. If you introduce too many changes at once, it may be too difficult to sustain them long term unless you have a very strong will. My suggestion would be to choose a diet that best fits your current lifestyle and adapt some of the principles asking yourself if you could respect them indefinitely.
Stay tuned for part 2. In the meantime if you have any questions, you can ask us on our Facebook page.
Bouchard, C. (1993). Heredity and health-related fitness. President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, 1(4), 1-7.