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January is diet month, when many people search for motivation to get active and lose weight. And now, more than ever, the scales tell us it's time to make this serious commitment to our health and well-being.

January is diet month, when many people search for motivation to get active and lose weight. And now, more than ever, the scales tell us it's time to make this serious commitment to our health and well-being.

Fifty-six per cent of Canadian men and 39 percent of Canadian women are overweight or obese, according to Statistics Canada's recent Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS). Childhood obesity doubled in this country from 1981 to 1996. As the prevalence of being overweight and obese has increased, so have related health-care costs. A 1999 study in the Canadian Medical Association Journal estimated that in 1997, the total direct cost of obesity was more than $1.8 billion, or 2.4 percent of total health-care costs for all diseases. Just a few health problems associated with being overweight or obese include diabetes, heart disease, stroke, hypertension, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis (degeneration of cartilage and bone of joints), sleep apnea and other breathing problems.

Fat Factors

Even though it's used extensively, "overweight" is an extremely loose and subjective term. Cory Holly, Canadian Health Food Association ambassador of sports nutrition, health and fitness, uses the term "over-fat" (or "under-muscled") instead of "overweight" because it is excess fat, not muscle, that increases disease. It would be more accurate to say that many Canadians are over-fat and lack lean muscle mass.

"Obesity," meanwhile, is a chronic metabolic disease caused by many complex and inherited factors, including inappropriate caloric intake, insufficient physical activity and genetic influences. Excess body fat is ultimately created by consuming more fuel than the body needs and the epidemic continues to rise.

In Canada, a staggering 2.8 million adults are overweight; 6.1 million are obese. And obese people the ones most in need of physical activity are generally the least active. Only one in three obese people participated in moderate physical activity in 2000/1, according to CCHS.

Facing The Fat

So if you've decided it's time to face the fat, listen up. The ideal approach to permanent weight loss incorporates emotional, physical and nutritional strategies.

Physical Strategies

Millions of North Americans claim they have "no time" to exercise amazing feedback from a society driven by convenience! Lack of energy is right up there as a big reason and a common excuse, depending on how you look at it. But the paradox is that you will actually have more energy if you move your body and expend some energy. Exercise demands time, energy and commitment.

The best way to permanently lose weight is slowly and steadily. Unfortunately, most diets cause water and muscle loss, especially when people don't incorporate any resistance training (or weight training) into their physical routine. Resistance training is a weight-bearing anaerobic activity, which means it works the muscles but doesn't necessarily get the heart rate up. It increases our fat-burning capacity by improving muscle tone and strength. (Weight training also preserves bone mass and lowers cholesterol.)

At the same time, aerobic exercise is equally important. We want to increase our aerobic metabolism, which uses fat as a principal fuel source, by performing low-intensity aerobic activities that get the heart working, such as walking, jogging or swimming. The combination of aerobic activity and resistance training is the surest way to change your body composition over time; eventually, by sticking with it, you'll lose fat and increase muscle.

Nutritional Strategies

Understanding the impact of food in terms of both quality and quantity is valuable for general health and absolutely imperative for successful weight management. Eating small meals more frequently throughout the day allows the body to use food more efficiently by decreasing waste and increasing absorption. And when you know you can eat in two or three hours, you do not feel the urge to binge or overeat.

What you eat also counts. Simply eating more high quality, low-fat protein will raise fat metabolism and, hence, your fat loss potential. Protein has a much stronger thermic effect than carbohydrates and fat, and can therefore boost the body's metabolic rate by up to 200 calories a day. I recommend avoiding dairy products that are high in fat and suggest substituting live foods full of fibre and complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, fruit and whole grains. The key with complex carbohydrates is that they are digested slowly, which keeps your blood sugar levels stable and doesn't give you the energy "highs and lows" associated with simple, refined carbohydrate foods such as sweets, white rice and white-flour products. People who are over-fat can increase their metabolism almost immediately--just by lowering their consumption of foods that are cooked or full of simple carbs (white bread, pasta, bagels and muffins) and replacing them with an equal volume of fresh green and multi-coloured vegetables.

Remember to Drink Water

Water is one of the most neglected and essential components of nutrition. Your intake of water must be equal to your loss through respiration, sweating, urine and feces. However, only 25 per cent of Canadians drink sufficient amounts to replenish lost fluids. The rest of us are in a steady state of dehydration and fatigue, which interrupts the body's energy activities, delays excretion of waste, slows recovery from exercise and impedes weight loss.

Make water consumption a top priority. Add to your regular intake an additional one to two litres per day for each hour of sport, exercise or physical activity. Remember, most tap water is polluted, so carry filtered or bottled water everywhere you go.

In Closing...

Join a gym, play a team sport, visit a health food store, attend health and fitness lectures, and read uplifting books and magazines that help support your lifestyle goals. What you'll discover for yourself is this: the combination of exercise, optimum nutrition and hydration not only helps you reduce body fat and gain lean muscle mass, but it also directly enhances your sense of well-being, improves your immune system and enables you to participate more actively in life.

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