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Battle of the bulge

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How to slim down for summer

While any insomniac with extended cable can probably rattle off the names of 10 different mail order ab-busters on the market, the same dilemma hits many of us every year – what’s the quickest way one can shed all that winter flab so we can take our clothes off at the beach?

The problem is not the lack of information, or of products that we can purchase with three easy payments of $39.95 and fold up neatly to slide under our beds. The problem is too much information between A) your actual body, and B) a body by Baywatch.

When you throw the time element in, things get even more confusing.

There are hundreds of different diets and programs available, and all of them will swear that they can help you get results. If you read the fine print, however, all of them will insist that you consult a physician before undergoing any diet or fitness program. Most will advise against the quick fix.

One of the most comprehensive examinations of fat, what it is and how to lose it, is available at www.howstuff works.com.

Fat is also known as adipose tissue, and is found beneath our skin, on top of our kidneys, in our liver and muscles, and in a few other places dependent on our sex. Men tend to carry body fat in our chests, abdomens, and buttocks although we are often accused of having a surplus in our heads as well.

Women carry fat in their breasts, hips, waist and buttocks, and not necessarily in that order.

There are two types of fatty tissues, white fat, which is important for energy metabolism, heat insulation, mechanical cushioning, and balancing beer cans on our stomachs watching hockey games.

Brown fat, found mostly in newborn babies between the shoulders is important for making heat. Nobody avoids the beach because of brown fat.

Fat tissue is made up of unique cells that are designed to store fat. The first are formed as the fetus develops during the last three months of pregnancy, and again at the onset of puberty when our sex hormones kick in. Fat cells, contrary to popular belief, do not multiply after puberty, they simply get bigger.

The key to weight loss is shrink these cells. They don’t like that, and may send signals to your brain to get you to eat more fudge. It’s part of our survival mechanism.

Fat enters the body through the food. Through television and labels you’re probably already aware of the different kinds of fat found in foods, including saturated fat, unsaturated fat, polyunsaturated fat, mono-unsaturated fat, fatty acids, essential fatty acids, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids and partially hydrogenated fat.

With the right five course meal, you can probably get a little of each in a single sitting.

Once in your body, fat droplets mix with bile salts from the gall bladder in a process called emulsification. In other words, the large drops are broken into smaller drops that increase the fat’s surface area.

The pancreas secretes enzymes, called lipases, that break the fats down to their parts, glycerol and fatty acids. From there the fats are absorbed into cells lining the intestine, where they are reassembled into packages of fat molecules with a protein coating that makes them easier to dissolve in water. Through our lymphatic systems, these molecules, called chylomicrons, pass into the blood stream.

While there, they are broken down a second time into fatty acids by lipoprotein lipases. These fatty acids are then absorbed from the blood into fat cells, muscle cells and liver cells, and with the aid of insulin hormones, they are converted once again to fat molecules and stored.

That’s how the fat got there. Here’s how your body breaks it down.

According to Dr. Craig C. Freudenrich, the author of the How Stuff Works piece, whenever you’re not eating, you’re exercising. Even breathing burns calories.

The first place your body burns for energy is your carbohydrates, breaking them down into simple glucose molecules. Next your body breaks down fats into glycerol and fatty acids, which can either be broken down into energy or converted to glucose.

Your weight is determined by the rate you store energy from the food you eat, and the rate you burn that energy. That’s why it’s better to take a holistic approach to weight loss than to rely on an individual diet or exercise program.

The first thing to do is to make sure you eat a well-balanced diet with the appropriate amounts of glucose, fat and protein. The second thing is watch your calorie intake. The third thing is to exercise regularly.

In the United States, the Internal Revenue Service recently recognized obesity as a disease, and as of April 2 cleared the way for taxpayers to claim weight loss expenses as a medical deduction. To take the deduction, taxpayers will have to enroll in recognized weight loss programs. Diet foods and gym memberships don’t qualify.

The U.S. Food and Drug Association has an information sheet on losing weight safely that asks people to start by reading food labels.

It also asks you to consult a physician before getting started. Obtain your doctors’ help in setting realistic goals.

As a rule, people can only safely lose between one and two pounds a week. You can accomplish this by cutting calorie intake between 300 and 500 calories a day, and do about 30 minutes of exercise on most days.

The FDA recommends cutting your intake of fats and sugars, which can be converted to fat. To cut your intake, eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and grain products, avoid all but the smallest servings of high fat or calorie foods, cutting alcohol intake, choosing light foods and skim milk, switching the ice cream in your freezer with frozen yogurt, replacing sour cream with low fat yogurt, trimming the fat off your meat, and broil, roast or steam foods rather than frying them.

Health Canada is the final word in Canada regarding food and fitness.

First and foremost, they recommend increasing your level of activity to approximately 30 minutes or more every day. It doesn’t have to be all at once, and you just need to get yourself breathing faster, not gasping for air.

Exercise burns calories, so they won’t be stored as fat, and burns fat – provided that you burn more than you ingest. It has also been proven that exercise can actually reduce your appetite.

Regular exercise also speeds up your metabolism, allowing you to burn more calories even when you’re resting. Talk to your physician about the kinds of physical activities that might be right for you.

Exercises that build muscle are also good because when muscles are working they require more oxygen, which makes the heart beat faster. This makes your heart healthier.

More muscles also require more energy, burning extra calories. If looking slim is your goal, concentrate some of your exercise time on the affected area. If you want a smaller stomach, do situps, if you want a smaller butt, use your legs, and so on. Fat doesn’t turn to muscle, but muscles will take energy from the fat cells closest to them.

You can also trick your body into doing exercise by doing a few things the hard way, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking or cycling instead of driving, doing yardwork and housework, and going for walks.

The second Health Canada recommendation is to change your eating habits. Add colour to your plate with fruits and vegetables and use herbs and spices to spruce up your food instead of fats.

One tip is to plan your meals around high fibre foods, such as vegetables, fruit, legumes and whole grains. Avoid processed foods where possible.

The Canada Food Guide recommends five to 10 servings of vegetables and fruit per day and five to 12 servings of grains. Mix it up a little, and go for whole grains – oatmeal, barley, brown rice, whole grain breads, and whole grain pasta. Dried beans and peas are also high in fibre and a good substitute for meat.

Don’t fast or skip meals. You often make up for it later, or your metabolism will slow down. Eat at the table, not in front of the television – you tend to eat more when you’re distracted.

Eat slowly and take smaller bites so you don’t overwhelm your metabolism, and start with something filling, like a piece of fruit or soup, so you don’t fill up on the main course.

The third recommendation is to cut down on fat. One gram of fat has nine calories while one gram of sugar has just four.

The easiest way to do this is to cut down your intake of butter, margarine and oils. Use half the amount, or use them half as often. Choose low-fat alternatives at the grocery store.

When you’re cooking, don’t fry your food. Try to elevate your meats from the pan when you’re baking or broiling so the fat will run off – insomniacs may already have ordered the George Foreman Grilling Machine. Use it.

Health Canada also recommends cutting back on meat, choosing lean varieties, and switching to chicken and fish. As a rule, vegetarians are slimmer than meat eaters, so don’t try to have a little meat with every meal.

Dairy is a big source of fat, so choose non- or low-fat alternatives.

The fourth Health Canada recommendation is to cut down on "empty" calories, such as sugar and alcohol. Cutting your fat intake is a good start.

Their last recommendation for weight loss is to keep a food and activity record.

Not only will this tell you what, when and how much you are eating, you can also record how active you are, what you weigh, and how you feel, both mentally and physically, which is important to consider with any program.

If you get an upset stomach every time you eat one type of food, for example, then you might have a food allergy. If you have more energy in the morning when you have a light dinner at six o’clock than when you have a large dinner at eight o’clock, that’s important, too.

There’s a lot of useful information on food and exercise at the Health Canada Web site at www.hc-sc.gc.ca.

See you at the beach. Or not.

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