Two Weight-Loss Enemies (Plus a Weight-Loss Booster)

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Last week I recommended My Fitness Pal, a free app that helps you track what you eat. One of the things I love about My Fitness Pal is that it automatically calculates your intake of calories, sugar, and fiber—three stats you need to pay close attention to if you want to lose weight—on both a daily and weekly basis.

Calories: There’s No Way Around It, You Need to Eat Less

Forget fad diets and weight-loss secrets—burning fat is a simple math equation. For every pound you want to lose, you need to cut approximately 3,500 calories. You can eat less, move more, or do both.

While physical exercise is an important part of any weight-loss plan, the reality is that burning calories is typically harder than dieting. For example, to burn 3,500 calories in a week you would have to run five miles every day. Most people would prefer to cut their caloric intake by 500 calories per day, which is the equivalent of two soft drinks and a dessert.

Of course, your specific caloric needs should be taken into account before starting any diet. I strongly recommended you speak with your nutritionist or personal physician about your weight-loss goals first.

Sugar: Calorie-Dense Sweets Pack on the Pounds

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When losing weight, it’s important to consider what you’re eating, not just your overall caloric intake. Gram for gram, sugar is very high in calories and very low in nutrients. If you’re on a reduced-calorie diet, there really isn’t room for empty calories like those found in sugar. To make sure your body gets everything it needs while dieting, you need to focus on foods that are low in calories and high in vitamins and minerals. Vegetables are a great option.

Some experts believe that sugar is far from a neutral substance. They argue that it is positively toxic to our bodies. The explanation is too complex for us to discuss here, but if you’re interested in learning more, check out Dr. Robert Lustig’s video lecture, Sugar: The Bitter Truth, or his new book, Fat Chance.

In addition to avoiding added sugars, keep an eye on your intake of natural sugars. It’s easy to go crazy and substitute our usual cookies with too much fruit, honey, and other sources of sugar that we would normally consider healthy. As a general principle, I suggest that my clients limit their overall sugar intake to 24 grams of sugar while dieting. If that feels absolutely impossible, under 40 grams a day is still an accomplishment.

Fiber: Finally, Something You Can Eat

Last week we looked at the importance of fiber. This often overlooked nutrient plays a key role in weight loss. It can make you feel more full, which may help you eat less. It also curbs blood sugar spikes—the principle culprit behind those cravings that make dieting so difficult.

Most adults need 25 to 30 grams of fiber per day, which you can get from fruits and vegetables as well as fiber supplements. I actually like my clients to eat a bit more fiber than the daily recommended value: fiber is so good for you, and you really can’t have too much.

Andrea Tagalog is a personal trainer in Carlsbad, California, who serves clients throughout North County San Diego, including in Vista and San Marcos.