Bianca Dualan is FemaleNetwork.com's #FNRealDeal expert for the month. As a licensed nutritionist, she gives us the lowdown on how to achieve proper weight loss in your 30s.

#FNRealDeal is a special FN series where an expert addresses the most pressing concerns of our 30-something readers, based on comments and feedback on social media and Girltalk. If there's any topic you'd like us to discuss (fashion and beauty, career, finance, travel, relationships) or any questions you've always been afraid to ask, feel free to reach out to us via Facebook, or send an e-mail to female.network.editors@gmail.com with the subject "#FNRealDeal Question." Senders will remain anonymous.

Do dietary supplements like L-carnitine really work for weight loss in your 30s? How do you know which ones to avoid and which ones are safe to take? Or are there better alternatives to consider altogether?

As we age, weight management concerns become more and more of a concern for most individuals. This is due to the individual’s metabolism slowing down and overall decline in cellular performance. The key to achieving and maintaining one’s desired figure lies in understanding first, the difference between weight loss and fat loss, and second, the concept of energy balance.

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Weight loss does not equate to fat loss. When we lose weight, this could be water, fat, or muscle. Ever wondered why sometimes your clothes just seem to fit better even if your weight on the scale barely moved? This is because fat is very light. You may lose fat around your belly and thighs, looking super good in the mirror without making much of a difference on your weight. At the same time, you may lose a lot of weight but still have a lot of fat. That could be because of a drastic action that led to muscle loss—crash diets, unsupervised and self-administered fad diets, liquid diets, etc. The focus should be on how to lose fat safely, instead of generally just losing weight. This is important to note when considering all of these pills and supplements sold in the market that appeal to our frustrations about getting yesteryear’s body back.

Next concept to tackle is that of energy balance. The body uses food to fuel the different metabolic processes that occur within us such as breathing and digesting. We also use food to fuel the body to do work like walking and other movements. Whenever there is energy from food that is not used up in performing these internal or external processes, the body stores it as fat.

Weight management is all about striking a balance between what you eat, and what your body burns in a day, considering if you work out or not. To lose weight, eat less than what you burn. To gain weight, eat more than what you burn. There is no magic pill or supplement that can “burn” or “melt” fat safely and effectively. The way to go is to understand if you want to lose, maintain, or gain weight, and focus on how much you are eating, in relation to how much energy you are expending.

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Supplements that promise to burn fat for you while you maintain a positive energy balance (eating more than what you burn) have no scientific basis for their claims. Take L-carnitine, for example. This is a naturally-occurring compound in the body—it is made by the body and is found inside the cells. The reason why it is marketed as a fat burner because in the cell, L-carnitine has a vital role in energy production. It is responsible for transporting fatty acids into the cells, to be burned and used as energy to fuel cellular functions. However, there is no evidence that supplementing L-carnitine to increase its concentration in the body can improve performance or burn more fat. The body is very effective in regulating the concentrations of the hormones and chemicals in the body, which means that excess amounts of L-carnitine are simply excreted via urine, to maintain normal blood concentrations. This is also the reason why when you take vitamins, your urine becomes yellower (too visual, I know.)

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We've heard good and bad things about detoxing. When should a woman consider going on a cleanse and are there any types of detox programs to avoid?

The body is well-equipped with its own detoxification system—the liver and kidneys. These organs work by filtering out wastes from the blood and fluids, allowing only clean material to recirculate back into the system. There is no evidence that detox programs (like juicing for days without food) work any better than plain water (and still eating) to help carry out wastes from the body. It is understandable that we sometimes feel bloated after binge eating or drinking, and we want a quick solution to it. The best way to deal with this is to hydrate to fix the fluid balance inside our cells and prevent water from being stored within the cells.

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From famous trends like keto and intermittent fasting, to older ones like Atkins and South Beach, what's the best way to determine the right diet for your body? And what’s your best advice on how to sustain the weight loss you experience from these programs?

There are a lot of diet trends that have sprouted up in the past couple of years. From high-fat diets, to no-carb diets, what all of them have in common is that they are not balanced diets. When done without the guidance of a nutritionist or a physician, it may prove dangerous to one’s health, especially for individuals who may have underlying diseases. Before trying a certain diet, it is best to consult with a health practitioner and be cleared before starting. The reason for this is that making differences in one’s diet may prove detrimental to the health of someone who is predisposed to certain illnesses. For example, a person who is predisposed or more prone to developing gout cannot just start shifting to the Atkins diet unsupervised. Eating the wrong kinds of protein may trigger an attack and cause the individual to suffer pain and have a decrease in productivity.

Certainly, most of us are too busy to take time off to seek professional advice before following a certain diet. We just want to fit back into our jeans, right? The safest thing to follow, which won’t give you any side effects, is to simply cut back on the unnecessary calories and shift the energy balance to negative. A good target number for weight loss is about one to two pounds per week. Losing one pound a week is easy, that’s just giving up about two cups of rice a day. Start small. The best way to lose weight and not gain it back is to avoid doing drastic changes (like starving yourself) that you can’t sustain. This will help you avoid yo-yo-ing or losing and gaining weight repeatedly. This is especially bad not only physically but also psychologically because it adds frustration to the mix and hinders you from reaching your target body.

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*Bianca Dualan is a licensed nutritionist who graduated from the University of the Philippines Diliman. She has undergone training in clinical nutrition under the Philippine General Hospital. Today, she continues to specialize in functional nutrition and individualized nutrition programs.

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