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Sunday, March 8, 2009

Success Strategy #2: Cut calories

I was watching Biggest Loser last night (on demand - I work out Tuesday nights so I never get to watch it live), and one of the questions asked of the contestants was whether it was better to cut fat or cut calories. The answer was...cut calories! And it's so true.

Now there's a new study that cutting calories matters more than what style of diet you follow (low-fat, low-carb, etc.). Read about the study here: Study Finds Calories Count More. In fact, the key really is to find a diet that works for you, that you can stick to, and that creates a calorie deficit.

Two gurus I follow didn't need this study to know this is true. The first, Michael Pollan, is a writer for the NYT and author of some fantastic books like "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and "In Defense of Food." Pollan points out that Americans have been advised to eat more low fat foods, more fruits, and more vegetables. In fact, he thinks it would have been better advice to tell people to eat LESS meat and animal fats. Because what happened? Well people took the same diet they had all along, and ADDED low fat foods to it. So while they lowered their fat intake as a percentage of their total calories, they also added calories. And so they gained weight.

The other guru, professional trainer and Men's Health contributor Craig Ballantyne, has the mantra, "You can't out-train a bad diet." Boy do I wish someone had given me this advice early on. I can't ennumerate how many times I justified ordering a cheesesteak and french fries by thinking about how I'd stuck to my workout plan for the week. And guess what? It didn't matter how hard I worked...my calorie intake always got in the way.

So when I started SERIOUSLY trying to lose weight, the simple fact is that diet was a huge help. I cut an average of 500 calories per day from my weekly intake. At the beginning, I did this by having a "diet shake" for breakfast, soup and salad for lunch, and a sensible dinner. Lots of people are successful this way, and I was too. I lost ten pounds in two months, going from 135 to 125. Clearly, cutting calories works. If you are having trouble getting motivated to exercise, or feel like your exercises aren't intense enough to lose weight, or maybe are struggling with injury, DON'T WORRY. Sure exercise will help your progress, but diet will help even more. So create a reasonable calorie deficit that won't leave you starving (and cheating). Ladies, that means don't go below 1200 calories per day, on average.

Start with diet, get that down, and then move on to exercise to increase the speed with which you get results, and improve your overall health.

I feel compelled to say that I don't have diet shakes, salads and soups every day now. In fact, I lost the last 10 pounds after making some more changes to my diet later that worked even better for me than my initial approach. I'll talk about them in a future post.

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