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For a lot of people, getting in shape involves weight loss. The same basic principles apply whether you're a first timer in the gym or an experienced lifter cutting to get more definition - The energy that goes in must be less than the energy going out. Let's look at some of the ways to go about this.

Weight Loss Programs

There is a mind-boggling array of different weight loss programs out there, and trying to choose one can be overwhelming. Although there are many products on the market that can enhance a weight loss program, here are no miracles or short cuts when it comes to losing weight. A good program will concentrate on both exercise and diet. While it is possible to lose weight through diet alone, there are a number of good reasons to incorporate exercise into your weight loss program.

* Exercise burns kilojoules – This is obvious, but important to mention. The basis of weight loss is a creating a kilojoule deficit, most often through restricting the diet. Because exercise burns kilojoules too, a program that includes exercise can help you meet weight loss targets faster, or allow you to consume more food while still maintaining the kilojoule deficit that the program stipulates.

*The metabolic rate is raised after exercise – There have been a large number of studies showing that doing exercise raises the body's metabolic rate in the hours after the exercise is performed. The metabolic rate is the rate at which the body burns energy, so raising the it means that more kilojoules are burned (1). Experiments show that this effect is related to the intensity of the exercise, so those people who perform strenuous exercise will see a greater increase than people who engage in more moderate activity (2).

*People who exercise regularly burn more energy at rest – Exercise builds up the amount of muscle in the body. Because maintaining muscle requires energy – more energy than fat – the body will have a higher resting metabolic rate, burning more energy in the long term (2). Weight loss programs that cause muscle wasting through too low an energy intake or neglecting exercise can lower the metabolism in the long term, making the loss of fat less efficient (3).

Weight Loss Workouts & Exercises

There are a huge number of conflicting opinions on what the best type of exercise is for fat loss. It is hard to know where to start or who is right. The best answer to this question is that any exercise is better than no exercise. Studies have shown that people who have an exercise program they can stick to and manage lose the most weight (4).

Let's look at a number of exercise methodologies that are popular for weight loss.

*Cardio – Cardio has always been seen as the "classic" exercise for burning fat. It is mild enough for anyone to participate in and unlike some exercises, it can be done for a long period of time, which burns more energy.

*Resistance training – As weight training moves further into the mainstream, the fat loss benefits are becoming more apparent. Building muscle increases the metabolic rate, and resistance training does burn calories.

*High Intensity Interval Training – Recently popularised through the "four minute workout", this form of exercise relies on short bursts of super intense exercise. High Impact Intensity Training has been shown to be effective in promoting weight loss, and the fitness gains that are made through intense exercise make lower intensity endurance exercise easier to tolerate (5). High Intensity Interval Training is great for time-pressed people with good fitness levels.

*Endurance – Endurance exercise is the opposite of high intensity training, and is a low intensity form of exercise done over a long time. This is a lot easier that high intensity exercise those people with lower levels of fitness.

Weight Loss Foods

The best food options for weight loss are low in kilojoules, but because less food is taken in on an energy restricted diet, they must also be high in nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are the obvious candidates for this description. It is important to eat enough protein to maintain muscle mass and keep the metabolism running effectively, and protein also increases feelings of fullness. Low fat sources of quality protein include egg white, grilled poultry, lean cuts of meat, non-oily fish, legumes, tofu and soy products. Low GI carbs, like those in whole grains prevent the peaks and trough in blood sugar that can cause food cravings.  On top of this, there are some food items that can directly influence weight loss - Caffeine in coffee, tea and chocolate is known as an appetite supressant, and the chemicals in Green Tea may speed the metabolism through thermogenesis.

Weight Loss Diet

There are so many different diets around and it can be hard to choose the one that is right for you. It has been shown that the success of a diet is related to how easy it is to follow (4). When choosing a diet to follow it is important to consider factors that could cause you to stop following it, like inconvenience, cost, taste or boredom. It is also important to consider what will happen when you reach your goal weight. Will it be easy to adapt the diet into an every-day healthy eating plan, or is there a chance you will relapse and gain the weight back. Let's look at some popular diets and explore their pros and cons.

*Calorie counting – This is a very traditional way of dieting, and involves setting a daily kilojoule goal and closely monitoring and recording everything you eat and your exercise. On the positive side, it is a precise method, and you can choose what you eat, as long as it does not exceed your daily limit. On the downside, you need a lot of information and a head for numbers to record this information successfully. The Weight Watchers "Points" system is a type of calorie counting diet.

*Meal Plans – These are diets where every meal is specified, and often include recipes. They take the uncertainty out of dieting by specifying each meal, and can teach the dieter healthy cooking techniques, however they can be inflexible and restrictive. Pre-made meal plan diets, like Lite'n'Easy and some Jenny Craig programs maximise the convenience of weight loss because there is no cooking, the portions are exact and calorie controlled, and sometimes even home delivered. On the downside, meals can be poor quality or unfulfilling, and it can be expensive.

*Intermittent fasting – Intermittent fasting diets alternate days of unrestricted eating with fasting days, where the dieter eats nothing, or severely restricts intake. Many people say that these diets easy to stick to, because most days the dieter can eat anything they want, but the fasting days can be difficult to get through due to poor concentration and energy. These are popular with bodybuilders, because intermittent fasting has been shown to increase levels of IGF-1, a catabolic hormone. The 5:2 diet is an example of a popular intermittent fasting regime.

*Zero Carb – Most people have probably heard of the Atkins diet, which has taken the world by storm. There is a lot of science behind this type of diet, but the basic idea is that fat loss is inefficient when the body is also burning off carbs. These diets force the body to directly access fat for energy and have been adopted not just by dieters, but by many endurance athletes. On the down side, the initial stages of the diet can leave people feeling washed out, lethargic, and craving carbs, eating such a high protein diet can be expensive, and as with any strict diets, eating out can be difficult.

Supplements can help with weight loss. Fat loss supplements are very popular and work in a variety of different ways to encourage the body to burn fat. Protein supplements are a great help for retaining muscle, and Shredding Protein combines the best of both worlds.

The best weight loss tip is to eat well, exercise, and do what feels right to you, because this is always the strategy guaranteed to give the best results.

(1) Speakman JR, Selman C. Physical activity and resting metabolic rate. Proc Nutr Soc. 2003 Aug;62(3):621-34.
(2) Poehlman ET, Melby CL, Goran MI The impact of exercise and diet restriction on daily energy expenditure. Sports Med. 1991 Feb;11(2):78-101.
(3) Little JP, Phillips SM. Resistance exercise and nutrition to counteract muscle wasting. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2009 Oct;34(5):817-28
(4) Shay LE. A concept analysis: adherence and weight loss. Nurs Forum. 2008 Jan-Mar;43(1):42-52
(5) Hunter GR, Weinsier RL, Bamman MM, Larson DE. A role for high intensity exercise on energy balance and weight control. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1998 Jun;22(6):489-93.

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