Lose Fat, Build Muscle: The Basic Program

Yes, you can restructure your body without dieting. You can lose fat and build muscle without dieting. Consider this: If you walk briskly for an extra hour per day, you will burn about 200 extra calories per day. Over one year, this will add up to 73,000 calories, equivalent to 20 pounds (9.5 kg) of fat. A person who is seriously overweight, could continue doing this for 5 years, losing 100 pounds (45 kg) of fat.

If you want to shed fat this way, there are a few conditions:

  • To lose fat, beware cutting protein because protein is needed to maintain muscle.

  • To lose fat, avoid extreme reduction in food intake. Avoid radical change in the type of food eaten. For most people, big changes are only temporary. Success depends on making the job easy. If you can walk only 5 hours per week extra, you will still lose fat, about 15 pounds (6.5 kg) the first year. Discover what you can do to lose fat and just do it. Keep a diary. Accept small failures, but don't give up. If you have only 10 minutes, do 10 minutes.

  • You don't have to cut calories when you begin this program, but to lose fat, you do have draw on your stores of body fat to supply the energy for the extra walking. So you should eat no more than you do now.

  • As you lose weight, you have less body mass to feed. Every three months, if you lose the expected 5 pounds of fat, you will need to cut your food intake by about 100 calories. (100 calories = 1/3 of a regular portion of KFC chips = 1/5 of one Big Mac = 1/4 of one Quarter-Pounder = 1/3 of a 2oz/60g Mars Bar = 85% of one large egg = 1/2 can Guinness = 5 oz/150 ml dry red wine.) After one year, you will need to cut 400 calories from your diet. To succeed, you need to learn how to cut calories without feeling hungry all the time.

  • As you lose fat, you will need to change your food habits. Reducing calorie intake means reducing slightly the volume of food eaten. To get the same feeling of fullness from eating, you will need to increase the bulk of your food by eating more fiber: fruit, vegetables, beans, seeds, whole grains and other unrefined foods. This process can be as gradual as you wish. During the first year, you might need to increase bulk by 25%, not difficult for people who now eat refined food, white flour and sugar.

  • You will need to judge which foods to reduce. The easiest ones may be "junk foods", the ones you know you should not be eating anyway: sweet drinks, alcoholic drinks in excess of two per day if you are a man under age 60, alcoholic drinks in excess of one per day for all women and men over 60, French fries, foods coated in batter and deep fried, ice-cream and other sweets (candies). Treat yourself occasionally. After the first year, the choices become more difficult, requiring knowledge about nutrition.

Can You Really Lose Fat this Way?

Which is easier: To burn more calories or to eat less? We know that dieting to lose fat usually fails. Perhaps only 5% of dieters succeed in keeping the weight off for more than a year or so. The way to succeed is not to diet. To lose fat the basic program relies on burning off the fat by walking.

Adding resistance training can help you lose more fat and at the same time prevent muscle loss.

Can I really lose fat and regain muscle? Of course you can. Moe did: How a Depressed Obese Mother of Five Shed 76 Pounds of Fat to Become Fit, Trim and Cheerful. An exclusive interview with Moe.

I did too, not as much as Moe, but I am more than twice her age. I did not count calories either, though I did switch to unprocessed foods that are available everywhere, as
Tom Venuto explains.

Although Tom Venuto says that supplements are not needed, I have supplemented with whey protein. Widely available as a supplement, whey protein is a by-product of cheesemaking that helps preserve muscle and cut appetite.

Tips for making the Basic Program Work

Some tips people find useful:

  • Success in anything depends on setting goals and getting mentally prepared. Getting "psyched-up" to win was important to my own mental preparation.
  • Recruit a walking partner, even if it's only your dog. If you haven't got a dog, consider borrowing your neighbor's dog.
  • To lose fat, women might consider joining Curves or other fitness center exclusively for women.
  • Some sports rely on continuous brisk movement. Cycling and swimming are examples. These sports can be used like walking to burn fat.
  • If you find it more convenient to go to a gym, you can use a treadmill, rowing machine or skiing machine.
  • Listen to music or radio or an audio-book as you exercise. The gym I use has six satellite channels TV channels with audio output on all machines. I can ski for 30 minutes while watching National Geographic or CNN. If the program is especially interesting, I transfer to a treadmill and continue to the end of the story.
  • If you are strapped for time, stop at a mall and walk for 15 minutes.
  • Contrary to what some trainers advise, weigh yourself every day. A US national database has shown that people who have lost weight and maintained the weight-loss tend to weigh themselves every day.

Stepping up the Program

When you begin, your only thought may be to lose fat. But why not regain some of the muscle and bone that you have lost and continue to lose? After three months on the basic program consider joining a gym or follow a stepped up program at home.

Not concerned about muscle?
Think again! Muscle loss with age (sarcopenia) is a serious health threat. What's more, you can expect that bone loss will match muscle loss. It's no secret that dieting on its own will cause not only fat loss but muscle and bone loss. So how much muscle and bone are you willing to lose?

I want to lose fat and gain back some of the bone I have already lost. So I take seriously a recent article by Christian Finn, "Are you losing muscle as well as fat?" Christian's article is based on research carried out by a team at the University of Illinois led by Donald Layman.

The study compared women in four groups: two high-protein groups who ate twice as much protein as those in two low-protein groups. The women who ate more protein lost more weight than the women who ate less protein, 20.5 pounds compared with 16 pounds. However, the women who ate less protein lost twice as much muscle, 25% compared with 12%.

  • Women who ate more protein and who worked out with weights lost 21 pounds of fat and one pound of muscle, while women who ate less protein and only walked lost 11 pounds of fat and 6 pounds of muscle.

    Think about it: The object is to lose fat, not bone and muscle. By eating more protein and working out with weights, the women lost more weight and only 5% of that was muscle loss. Women who only walked and who ate less protein, lost less weight and 35% of that was muscle! [The researchers did not measure the amount of bone loss. The estimate for muscle loss probably includes bone loss.]

  • For this study, the high-protein diet included 1.6 grams per kg of body weight of protein per day, 0.7 grams per pound of body weight. For a person weighing 150 pounds (68 kg), this would be 110 g of protein per day. Christian Finn is Britain's foremost fitness trainer. Subscribe to Christian's newsletter to receive tips on how to lose fat and build muscle.

  • Basics Plus

    For a home-based program that goes a little beyond the basics, the first additions might be basic flexibility and strength training. Flexibility can be improved using Pilates (pee-law-tays). Strength training can be started with an exercise ball and an adjustable dumbbell set. All of these activities will help lose fat, but their main purpose is to improve fitness.

    Walking, Pilates and light strength training together form an excellent foundation for more advanced body restructuring. A three-month period of Basics Plus training may be enough for a middle-aged person to prepare for more advanced training. Because I began at age 73, I spent 10 weeks walking, practicing Pilates, and working with an exercise ball before starting with dumbbells. Then I worked out with dumbbells for three months before I felt confident enough to join a gym.

    Did I feel self-conscious when I started working out at a gym? You bet I did! I felt like an old fool. But that did not stop me. Later, when I got to know the younger people at the gym, they said they were amazed that I came at all and could not believe that I was actually increasing my workout time. A typical comment was, "I wish I could get my father to come to the gym. But he says he's too old."

    They may stare at you working out, but they are not thinking you're a fool. Go for it! It's never too late!