Fitness expert James Fell says trendy diets don't work for long-term weight loss, and says the best way to lose weight and enjoy optimal health is to eat sensibly and exercise regularly.
In an exclusive interview Dec. 23, Fell detailed his simple, no-nonsense diet and workout principles and explained how regular exercise enhances muscle tone as well as brain functioning.
"I am a big fan of exercise," said Fell. "Exercise is the fountain of youth."
James, a certified strength and conditioning specialist who has an MBA, is a syndicated fitness columnist for the Chicago Tribune and Tribune Newspapers and the author of the upcoming book, Lose It Right.
Surprisingly, the ripped James is a former couch potato who lost 50 pounds and has kept it off for over 15 years. He qualified for the Boston Marathon in 2013 — something the once-sedentary Fell never imagined he'd ever be able to do.
While anyone can lose weight on a low-calorie diet, Fell says exercise (particularly rigorous aerobic exercise) changes the way your brain works by enhancing its strategic planning, decision-making, and motivation centers. As a result, regular exercisers are better able to plan a healthy menu, stick to their diets, and adhere to a regular workout plan.
By contrast, losing weight on a starvation diet depletes brain power, willpower and motivation, which is why quick-fix diets always result in rebound weight gain.
"Burning calories is the least important thing that exercise does. Exercise changes your brain. People who maintain weight loss over the long haul all exercise regularly."
Fell suggests starting off with 10-minute sessions twice a week and then gradually building up to about four hours a week combining cardio and strength-training. High-intensity exercise is best, he says, but walking is also a fantastic way to slim down and stay healthy.
Of course, weight loss also requires eating well. Fell is not a proponent of any particular diet, but is adamant about avoiding processed foods, especially artery-clogging trans fats.
James says a healthy diet includes lots of vegetables, high-quality meats, dairy, fruit, and some grains. Obsessive calorie counting isn't necessary if you eat whole, natural foods, but portion control is an important component of weight loss.
“My diet philosophy is similar to that of fitness author Michael Pollan: 'Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,' ” said Fell.