An understanding of the way the body reacts when food intake is restricted is helpful for anyone who is thinking of going on a diet. The body stores energy in the form of glycogen, which is a complex polysaccharide carbohydrate and found in the liver and muscles. If food intake is insufficient to supply the necessary amount of glucose for our energy needs then the body will primarily turn to its glycogen stores.
Each molecule of glycogen is made up of a considerable amount of water and this is released by hydrolysis in order to make the glucose part of the molecule available to the body to use as energy.
Water is heavy and during the first week of a diet, three to four pints of it will be eliminated from the body as glycogen stores become utilised. This amount of water weighs 3 to 4lbs and accounts for most of the initial 'weight loss' of a diet but no fat has yet been eliminated!
If you stop the diet after one week, the water weight is immediately reclaimed as the body replenishes its glycogen stores. it is only as the diet continues that the body begins to utilise its fat stores and this is a much slower process which is best achieved at a rate of 1 to 2lbs per week.
It is important to realise that the body's reaction to a restricted intake of food is to lower the metabolic rate so that fewer calories are required for daily energy needs. This process happens quite quickly and is a physiological survival mechanism to ensure that life will be prolonged for as long as possible during times of food shortage. Hence, the body reacts to a restricted calorie intake by attempting to conserve its reserves of fat and other tissue.
This explains why it can be a difficult and slow process to utilise and use up your stores of fat, especially if you're not particularly overweight. Another factor which must be taken into account is that the body utilises muscle, other lean tissue and fat to provide energy during weight loss diets. This is much more likely to happen if dieting is extreme and so emphasis should be on the importance of adopting sensible and sustainable approach to losing weight. At the rate of a pound or two each week, loss of lean tissue is minimal and in accordance with the amount of fat being lost.
Exercising during dieting helps to preserve muscle and burn up calories, and the more lean tissue there is compared to fat, the higher the metabolic rate. Hence exercise can help to counter the natural fall in metabolic rate which accompanies dieting. In general, it will take about three months or so to lose a stone in weight but this varies from person to person and according to their weight, physical activity level and the nature of their diet.
Once the target weight has been achieved and a normal pattern of eating is resumed, the metabolic rate adjusts to its new level. It is normal for a little weight to be regained at the end of the period of dieting but this is water weight rather than fat and is connected with the body's replenishment of its glycogen stores.
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