Despite warnings about extreme methods of weight loss - headaches, dizziness and weakness, followed by a slowed metabolism, reduced muscle mass and fast weight gain - if last year's bathing suit is feeling a little snug, a crash diet may seem like your only recourse.
Many diets that promise fast weight loss are unhealthy, but nutrition expert Ara Wiseman says a plan researcher's call 'calorie restriction with optimal nutrition,' or CRON, can be quite beneficial to your overall health.
"Substantial research indicates that a calorie-restricted diet helps you live longer," Wiseman says. "Obviously, losing excess pounds means less strain on your system, controlling weight, and decreasing your risk for heart disease, cancer, and stroke from obesity - a major risk factor for all of these illnesses.
"The other part of the story is to make every one of these (fewer) calories count by choosing the healthiest foods and the right amount for your body."
If you like your calories too much, there are some simple techniques for quick and effective fat burning.
--To keep metabolism high, graze rather than gorge. Three medium-sized meals and two to three snacks will keep your digestive system active, an important mechanism of calorie burning. Eat most of your calories at breakfast and lunch, not at dinner. After all, food is our source of nutrients, which are needed during the day while we're working, exercising or out-and-about with our kids.
--When you're planning meals and snacks, be sure to skip the starch after 5 p.m. Pasta, bread, rice, potatoes and even popcorn break down to glucose, a simple sugar, which is stored as fat while you're asleep. They also cause water retention. Instead, combine a lean meat or other protein with non-starchy vegetables such as broccoli or asparagus and a large salad. Try chicken, fish or turkey with steamed mushrooms, green beans and spinach and a large mixed greens salad topped with low fat vinaigrette.
--Exercise is another key component of healthy weight loss. If fatigue is your main excuse for an inactive lifestyle, fitness trainer and nutritionist Trionne Moore says exercise will actually increase overall energy.
"The body is meant to move purposely every day," Moore notes. "Within minutes of exercise, we feel better, activate blood flow, mobilize our lymphatic system, (and) ward off food cravings and initiate fat loss. Consequently, no one ever regrets having exercised."
--If that doesn't motivate you to get off the couch, try a glass of water with a generous squirt of fresh squeezed lemon juice first thing in the morning. Not only will this provide an energy boost, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition in 2008 revealed the polyphenols in lemons improve liver function and reduce weight gain and fat accumulation.
--A high fiber diet is also a key component of healthy weight loss. Wiseman recommends increasing fiber from the average 10 to 15 grams per day to 25 to 35 grams per day.
"Fiber stabilizes blood sugar which will control your appetite," she says. "Just make sure to increase water intake and increase fiber slowly to prevent feeling bloated."
Fiber also promotes a feeling of fullness, reducing the amount of food you'll eat during a meal, plus it keeps you satisfied longer. Rather than loading up on grains and starch, introduce at least four servings of beans, lentils or peas each week.
--Wiseman also suggests a weekly vegetable juice feast, in which you drink only vegetable juices for a day. "Vegetable juices are alkalizing and very healing, and will also give your digestion a much needed rest."
That means no meat, dairy, eggs, fish, bread, rice or sugar, "just delicious vegetable juices all day, (and) as many as you like," says Wiseman. "That is why I consider it a 'feast' rather than a fast because you can have as much as you'd like."
In a world where most everything is available at an instant, it's important to recognize body fat refuses to be rushed. Crash diets rarely work. Healthy weight loss occurs at a rate of one to two pounds per week. Like anything else that's worth waiting for, a svelte shape will take a little time.
(Lisa Tsakos is a Registered Nutritionist and educator, specializing in weight management. Co-founded by Andrea Donsky and Randy Boyer, NaturallySavvy.com is a website that educates people on the benefits of living a natural, organic and green lifestyle. For more information and to sign up for their newsletter, visit NaturallySavvy.com.
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