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Why Getting Fit Doesn't Always Mean
Cutting Calories
By Jean Lam

If you've been cutting calories and starving yourself in order to get to an ideal weight, stop.

On the surface, it sounds like a simple equation: eat less, and you'll lose weight. Many dieters follow a "starvation" tactic, counting calories and sometimes drastically reducing their intake to lose weight. But the body is complicated, and sometimes the simplest diet plan isn't the most healthy.

You will lose a lot of weight if you drastically reduce your calorie intake. But it will be a long and painful process-and you won't develop healthy muscle tone as you go. Here are a few reasons calorie counting alone isn't going to get you to a healthy state.

Cutting calories means working against your body. Our bodies are designed to fight back when we cut calories. When you cut down on your calorie intake, your body resists by slowing your metabolism, allowing you to get more energy from each calorie you consume. This keeps your body from having to cut into its fat deposits in order to survive. This is an evolutionary development that helped us survive in times of famine long ago-but it gets in the way of weight loss efforts today.

Cutting calories means less energy. Calories are essentially units of energy. The fewer calories you eat, the less energy you'll have to pursue a rigorous exercise program. Healthy eating is only one piece of the fitness puzzle-you also have to exercise and lead an active lifestyle in order to optimize your health, and you can't do that if you limit your calories too much-you won't have enough energy to pursue physical activity.

Cutting calories means fewer nutrients. Food doesn't just give you fat. It also gives you the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients your body needs to survive. Cutting your calories drastically means reducing these essential nutrients as well. Anorexics, who generally follow the starvation method to its extreme, often have dull hair, bad skin, brittle nails and fragile bones-all because they've limited the amount of healthy vitamins they eat in addition to the amount of fat. If you lose weight this way, you won't necessarily get more attractive and you also aren't likely to feel good.

Cutting calories means losing strength. When you go into "starvation mode," your body doesn't just digest fat to survive. It also goes after muscle, reducing your muscle weight and limiting your strength as your diet progresses. If you pursue an exercise plan while not eating enough to sustain your activity, you could speed up the muscle reduction process-and you could lose strength and muscle definition instead of gaining it. It's crucial to keep up a diet plan that allows for the activity you're pursuing and the goals you've set.

Cutting calories means starving muscle. Muscles need nutrients to grow and become more developed. When you limit your calorie intake, you limit the nutrients your muscles can use to get big and well defined. This can lead to a thin, malnourished look instead of a healthy and strong physique, even when you're pursuing a good exercise plan.

Instead of simply starving yourself, you'll need to eat enough of the right foods and on the right schedule in order to boost your metabolism, nourish your body and give your muscles the nutrients they need to grow and develop. Here are a few weight loss tactics to follow if you want to lose weight the healthy way.

Eat clean. Clean eating doesn't involve cutting down. Instead, it involves eating the right foods-lean proteins, mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, and unrefined sugars and carbs. It also involves avoiding processed, canned, frozen, concentrated and boxed foods; eating clean means eating foods as close to their fresh, natural state as possible. It also means avoiding alcohol, sweets, and refined carbohydrates like white rices, pastas, and breads. While eating clean requires significant discipline, it's not as tough as following a starvation diet-and you'll get healthier results.

Follow a consistent exercise routine. Losing weight by diet alone is rarely effective. You'll also need to follow an exercise routine that involves both weight lifting and cardio workouts. Talk to a personal trainer, doctor or fitness expert to design a program that will fit with your fitness goals and lifestyle.

Increase your metabolism. Cutting calories will slow your metabolism down. Building muscle will speed it up. So will changing your eating habits so that you're eating less per meal, and more frequent meals per day. Many body builders eat six or more small meals per day instead of the three or fewer regular meals most people sit down to. Limiting your portion size is key, but so is increasing the number of meals you eat-this will cut down on the amount of time your body waits for its next meal, so it won't feel the need to conserve calories between meals.

Losing weight shouldn't be a goal in itself. Starving your body means working against its natural inclinations, as well as depriving it of important vitamins, minerals and other nutrients that will help your muscles grow and develop. Instead, your goal should be to get fit and healthy, with weight loss as a natural extension of that goal. If you work with your body to boost metabolism, change your eating habits for optimal health, and stick to an exercise program, you're likely to feel better, look better, and develop healthy habits that will last you for life.

About the author

Jean Lam is the webmaster of Body Building Resource which provides articles on weight training, nutrition and fitness, body building book and DVDs.


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