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With the comforts offered by the modern technological innovations and the decline of labor-intensive jobs, staying fit and active has become a major challenge.  Rise in cases of obesity and diabetes has created immense pressure on us to constantly adopt life-style changes to stay lean. The flood of slender models and bulked-up dudes on electronic and print media doesn’t help either. In wake of this, the health conscious and even the not-so-conscious try almost everything, they hear or learn from friends and internet about weight-loss, in bits and pieces- dieting, gym, running and what not. And most of the time, even after days and weeks of struggle with their cravings and laziness, they are left disillusioned. So what goes wrong?? Why is losing those few extra pounds so difficult?? The answer is – the lack of understanding of the mechanism of loss. The absence of the complete picture is a major reason why people often make wrong choices while deciding their plan of action. But you need not worry. Coming up in the paragraphs to follow is everything you need to know about body weight, fat and how our body responds when we lose weight.

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The energy generated in our body, from the food that we eat, is utilized for various internal and external activities like walking, running, maintaining metabolism etc. The excess energy that remains unutilized even after successfully carrying all these activities is stored as fat in specialized cells called fat cells or Adipocytes. The fat cells develop in our body during childhood and for the rest of our life, their number remains almost constant. Thus, weigh gain is associated not with the number of fat cells present (since their numerical count remains constant even when we lose/gain weight) but rather with their size. When the body consumes more food than is required and consequently produces more energy than it dissipates (via various physical activities or body functions), more of it gets stored as fats. This causes the fat cells to swell up and appear as bulk.

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Apart from the stored fat, the body has another source of energy stored in the cells called glycogen which is nothing but excess blood sugar acted upon by the enzyme insulin (responsible for regulating blood sugar levels). Whenever, energy shortage occurs in our body, the body first uses this glycogen followed by the utilization of stored fat. The released fat is acted upon by various processes and finally converted into heat, water, carbon dioxide and ATP i.e. adenosine triphosphate (energy). ATP is used by the body to meet its energy requirements, water leaves the body as sweat and urine and carbon dioxide is exhaled. This explains where the lost fat “goes” when we lose weight. So, in order to devour fat, we need to create an energy deficit in our body which can be accomplished in two ways- by consuming less food or by dissipating more energy. This brings us to the universally known mantras of weight loss i.e. dieting and exercising. So far so good.

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Then why these obvious methods don’t seem to work that smoothly?? Why is losing weight so frustrating, so say the least?? Well the answer is that there are related mechanisms that interfere and affect the whole process and if not understood clearly, can greatly reduce the benefits of dieting and exercising.

1. Firstly, after the commencement of dieting, your body first loses water weight before glycogen and fat is burnt. This is why it is fairly easy to lose weight in the first few weeks and after that, it gets increasingly frustrating each passing day. The key to success here is to stay resilient and not stray in the times of difficulty. Patience always pays off.

2. When the body senses that it is getting fewer calories, it responds by storing more fat to prepare itself for famine-like situations. So, cutting too many calories or eating too less can prove to be suicidal in these situations. Don’t starve yourself, instead eat healthy food.

3. Eating too less or not indulging in weight training can make you lose muscles along with fat. This is not good news. Always remember- excess of anything, dieting included, is bad!!

4. Recent studies also suggest that high calorie and high fat food evoke responses from the brain that are similar to cocaine addiction. Consuming them in greater quantities causes compulsive eating habits. So, abstaining from such food causes very strong cravings for them. Therefore, one must not lose control during the tough times and stick with the diet plan. An alternate way is to never really turn away from such food items completely, rather cut their quantity and restrict their consumption to just once a day.

5. Weight loss has many other related implications.  It might make you feel sleepy or cause you to lose sleep. Like mentioned above, weight training stresses our body. So, one need not fight sleep too much. Lying lazily for long hours should definitely be avoided but a minimum of 7 to 8 hours of sleep must be ensured so that the body gets the rest it needs. On the contrary, if you are not consuming enough calories, you will find it harder to sleep. A good solution to this problem is to have a hearty (and healthy) dinner or a glass of almond milk before you doze off.

6. Dieting can cause physical and mental stress. All this can trigger the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol.Thus, it is essential that one indulges in some sort of stress management activity like yoga or meditation.

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With a little bit of self-control and discipline, you can easily get that flat belly you always wanted. So the next time you decide to put on a saree at a wedding or a bikini on beach, you don’t have to feel conscious. And remember, nutritious and tasty food choices are not mutually exclusive. They can and do go hand-in-hand. Nature has rewarded us with a host food of products that are delicious and healthy at the same time. The choice is ours to make.