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If we are to succeed in the lifelong quest to look and feel our best, we must become good students and learn from what others can teach us. Sometimes the instruction comes from the laboratory; other times, we learn from individuals who’ve achieved personal breakthroughs. Here are four lessons worth incorporating into your fitness program:

Synthetic Fats Are Not Good for Weight Loss: A study conducted at Purdue University demonstrated that fat substitutes may cause dieters to gain weight. According to researchers, fat substitutes, which pass through the body undetected, interfere with the body’s ability to regulate food intake by changing the body’s natural response to sweet and fatty foods. Although more research is needed, researchers advise dieters to skip the fake foods and lose weight the traditional way—through diet and exercise.

Wisdom from the Ancient Greek Philosophers Aids Weight Loss: Ryan Holiday, an online strategist for America Apparel, credits his weight loss largely to his adoption of ideas set forth by Greek stoic philosophers, such as Seneca, Epicurus and others. In explaining how stoic ideas have aided his fitness efforts, Holiday points to a question that concerned ancient philosophers, just as it concerns us today: how does eating right fit into the good life? In other words, how can we incorporate healthful habits into our daily lives to improve the quality of life? In answering this question, Holiday points to an answer Epictetus articulated: in eating, as in life, a person should be “just, cheerful, equable, temperate, and orderly.”

Holiday incorporates three basic stoic ideas into his own fitness philosophy. First, we should eat ethically (for instance, by eating locally grown food and supporting local farmers). Second, we should be disciplined in our eating habits, maintaining a balanced diet but also eating healthy foods we enjoy. Third, we should adopt healthy eating habits because they contribute to our overall health by making us feel better about ourselves—physically, emotionally and psychologically. By adopting ideas from ancient Greek philosophy, Holiday believes we can improve our fitness—and our lives.

Five Tips to Avoid Overeating: The process of losing weight is frequently undermined by the common habit of overeating. A few simple practices can eliminate the practice. First, eat slowly and savor your food—it takes 20 minutes for the stomach to signal the brain that you’re full. Begin the meal with salad or a tasty broth. Drink a glass of water before eating, and if you find yourself speeding through the main course, set your fork down midway through and drink another glass of water to subdue appetite. Another healthy tip is to chop up vegetables and snack on them throughout the meal. Finally, to resist the temptation to help yourself to second and third servings, wrap up any leftovers after dishing out your first serving.

Spice Up Your Diet! Did you know that adding spices to your diet may help you lose weight? Spices such as cinnamon, tumeric and paprika (and many others) help your body process high-fat meals. In addition to reducing triglyceride response, spices boost antioxidant levels by 13 percent and lower insulin response by 20 percent. For some great-tasting, spicy recipes, go here.

Gaining new insights, testing them against our own experience, retaining some while tossing others, is a lifelong learning process. Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, poet and social activist, said that the “least of learning is done in the classrooms.”

To succeed, first in losing surplus pounds, and second, in not regaining the weight, we must be flexible and keep an open mind—picking up information and insights wherever and whenever we can on topics ranging from nutrition to exercise, from stress management to attitude. We can’t hang on to obsolete ideas nor can we anticipate what future research will show. We can, however, be confident that if, as students, we remain ready to learn, the teacher and lessons will appear.

Photo credit: srqpix on Flickr.

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