Tips on how to lose fat the right way are given together with an explanation on why people accumulate fat. The tips include activities to be avoided and advise such as ‘eat low fat,’ and ‘exercise.’

“It is a hard matter, my fellow citizens, to argue with the belly since it has no ears.” – Cato the Elder.

But, argue with the belly we do, constantly. Weight control is a multi-billion dollar industry of widgets, gimmicks and programs, some legit, some less so.

Usually, weight control is also a dismal failure. People trying to lose weight lose muscle, bone, water and electrolytes but not an appreciable amount of fat. When they regain the weight, as most dieters do, they gain back fat. Plenty of people want to put on lean weight but wind up putting on fat weight. The body is designed to survive. Fat helps to a degree, so the body holds dearly to its fat. What if you don’t like the idea of holding dearly to your fat? If you and your physician have determined you have more than enough of a good thing, what can you do about it? If you have New Year’s resolutions about losing fat, here’s what to do to lose a little, what not to do and why we even have body fat at all.

Fat’s Not All Bad

Within a range, body fat is healthy and helpful, particularly to divers. Study after study confirms a direct relation between body fat and keeping warm in cold water. A little fat on your legs lets you float more horizontally as you should for good trim in recreational diving. Skinny legs sink, ruining streamline. Fat’s an obvious help to buoyancy. Fat pads the discomfort of carrying heavy equipment and cushions blows to your internal organs.

Because of the extra work of carrying around extra fat, a heavy person generally develops extra muscle mass. Heavy people not only have more pounds of fat than lighter people but more pounds of muscle. Extra muscle comes in handy in external work like lifting things. Consider the extra fat as a built-in daily weight lifting regime.

Too much fat has drawbacks. I’ve detailed the cardiovascular, orthopedic and endocrine problems in past columns. One of the numerous examples of problems with extra fat is most easily apparent in daily life. As just described, it takes more energy, work and calories to carry extra fat. On one hand, you could call that work free exercise and be happy about it. For heavy people in good physical shape, the extra work falls within their comfort range. If in so-so to poor shape, on the other hand, they will have to work harder than lighter people to do normal physical activities. This is why a heavy man may work harder and closer to his maximum than a lighter man or woman to do physical activity that moves his body against gravity – for example, walking, running, climbing a hill, ascending stairs and dancing. This work is sometimes beyond the capacity of the out of shape heart to supply itself and the body with oxygen, beyond the capacity of fat narrowed blood vessels to conduct enough blood, or past the ability of the joints to chronically support the weight.

Why You Have Fat And Plants Don’t

You don’t often see a fat plant. With few exceptions (avocados and coconuts), plants don’t store their energy in the form of fat. We do. Why is this?

Being fat is often equated with being heavy, ponderous and weighty. Yet, fat is lightweight compared to protein and carbohydrate. The same volume of fat weighs less than muscle protein. One of fat’s famous traits is being light enough to float.

Fat has twice the calories as the same quantity of carbohydrate or protein by weight. In that way, fat stores more energy than carbohydrate or muscle. This lightweight, energy dense storage form is the reason animals use fat as a storage vehicle. If you have to carry your energy around with you, it makes sense to make it a lightweight package.

Animals store very little energy in the form of carbohydrate. Meat has, for all practical purposes, no carbohydrate. This is true even though your muscles stock a carbohydrate called glycogen that you use in short bouts of exercise. Your carbohydrate cache is so small that your muscle, and the muscle you eat if you are a meat eater, is partly protein. There is a good deal of fat in even the leanest cuts of meat but no carbohydrate that makes any difference nutritionally. By the way, that meat has no carbohydrate means it also has no fiber, since fiber is the most complex of complex carbohydrates. But, that’s for another article.

Why People Get Fat

So, humans have fat but why so much in some cases? Being fat almost always results, not from too many calories, but too little exercise.

There are studies that show fat people don’t eat a whole lot more calories than thinner folk. The difference is mainly in the amount of exercise they get and the kind of food they eat.

It’s easy to be sedentary, particularly in a suburban setting geared around the automobile and television. Diving is usually not an active sport compared to other physical activities. Recreational divers rarely dive enough for this to count as regular exercise. It’s easy for divers to pack on a few pounds if they don’t routinely exercise in other ways.

How To Lose Fat: What Not To Do

People flock to outrageous weight loss regimes, programs, gizmos and outright hoaxes. Why are starvation, dehydration, stomach stapling, fad diets promoting malnutrition, vibrating machines and amphetamines considered acceptable while exercise is avoided as extreme? Avoid gimmicks in favor of a healthy lifestyle.

DON’T DIET: You usually lose muscle and gain back fat after going off a diet. Fad diets restricting you to limited nutrition are not healthy and don’t keep the weight off in the long run. Calorie restriction by itself is rarely successful and hard to sustain.

DON’T RESTRICT WATER: Water is not fat. Losing water weight has no effect on fat loss. You need water to be healthy. Don’t restrict water in hopes of losing weight. There is some evidence that dehydration may increase your risk of decompression sickness. There is firm evidence that dehydration is unhealthy in general for your body, lowers your exercise capacity and your ability to thermoregulate. For those who eat when they’re not hungry, a glass of water is a good substitute.

DON’T LOSE WEIGHT QUICKLY: Quick weight loss usually returns just as quickly. It’s also tough on your heart. Avoid rapid weight loss unless your physician has determined the benefits outweigh the risks.

DON’T BELIEVE CLAIMS OF SPOT REDUCING: If spot reducing (the myth of losing fat from a specified area by repetitive movement of that area) were possible, the people selling spot reducing devices would have very thin mouths. Bicycle riders don’t have skinny legs. Overeaters don’t have skinny jaws. If you want to lose fat, do aerobic exercise such as walking, running, biking, cross country skiing, rowing or swimming.

REMEMBER ERROR OF MEASUREMENT: Don’t believe health club personnel who measure your body fat with calipers at intervals and say that you have lost two percent fat, five percent fat or whatever percent since starting their program. The error of body fat measurement inherent in caliper testing is too high to compare over time. Trust the fit of your clothing.

DON’T HATE YOURSELF: Accept yourself if you have a little more to adore. If you are meant to be big, appreciate the advantages. Exercise and trim fat for health. Anorexia and starvation are passe. Being big isn’t for everyone but neither is being too small. There’s no reason you can’t be big boned, large, healthy and happy, too.

How To Lose Fat: What To Do

There are plenty of easy, even fun ways to lose fat.

GIVE PEAS A CHANCE: Remember, animals have fat and plants generally don’t. Eat plants. Meat, even the leanest cuts, has more than the maximum amount of fat recommended by the American Heart Association. Vegetables and grains are a good source of carbohydrate that fuels your body. Plants are a good source of protein but, unlike meat, have no cholesterol and little fat. It used to be thought that plant protein was not as good as meat protein. In the modern diet there is little chance of not getting enough of the different kinds of protein you need from vegetable sources.

EAT LOW FAT: So-called sensible eating means not starving yourself. Just exchange a few bad habits for healthier ones. Find low fat substitutes for habitual high fat snacks. The November 1993 Scuba Fitness column explained how to tell how much fat is in the foods you eat and listed the fat contents of common foods. Eat primarily carbohydrates for the calories you need for exercise and daily activities.

SEE YOUR PHYSICIAN: See your physician for a determination of your general state of health and a body fat determination.

RECLAIM BUILT-IN EXERCISE: Many activities of daily living are built-in exercise. Devices like garage door openers greatly benefit those with health problems that would be aggravated by opening the heavy door. For others, why not enjoy the extra muscle and loss of a few pounds of fat per year that opening the door twice a day, so many days per week would give you? You can find many other examples throughout your day like swapping walking for driving, steps for elevators, push mowers for power mowers, carrying your own tanks and gear – you get the idea.

READ SCUBA FITNESS: Get educated. Read all you can.

SWIM WITH FINS: Swimming with fins is good exercise for diving.

LIFT WEIGHTS: Weightlifting is important to scuba fitness. Lifting weights alters your body composition toward the lean, to burn calories, get fit and have fun. See the December 1992 issue of scuba fitness for specifics of what kind of lifting gives what kind of results.

GO DIVING: Don’t forget to go diving and supplement this with other exercise as well.

HAVE FUN: Find an active pastime you enjoy and count it as exercise. Like to go dancing? Live it up once a week and count it as one exercise class. Walk to the grocery store and carry home packages. That’s two.

BE HAPPY: Why not?

How To Lose Fat: What Not To Do

* Avoid gimmicks. Why are starvation, dehydration, stomach stapling, fad diets promoting malnutrition, vibrating machines and amphetamines considered acceptable while exercise is avoided as extreme?

* Don’t diet. You usually lose muscle and gain back fat after going off your diet. Don’t starve yourself. Eat less fat. Snack on healthy alternatives.

* Don’t restrict water. Dehydration is unhealthy in general and for diving. It has no effect on fat loss.

* Don’t lose weight quickly, unless your physician has determined you are in such need of high weight loss that the benefits outweigh the risks.

* Don’t believe claims of spot reducing. If spot reducing worked, the people selling spot reducing devices would have very thin mouths.

* Don’t believe health clubs that measure your fat at intervals and tell you that you have lost two percent fat or five percent fat since starting their program. The error of body fat measurement inherent in the tests is too high to compare over time.

* Don’t hate yourself if you have a little more to adore. Work on health and happiness whatever your size.

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