We all know that eating a healthy balanced diet, reducing our alcohol, sugar and processed food intake, sitting less and exercising more can help us shed the excess pounds. But that is often easier said than done, as willpower and a shortage of time can get in the way.
Spring is often when many of us may think about losing excess weight and getting fit as part of our healthy drive for summer and there is plenty of advice in the form of healthy living cookbooks, foodie blogs and calorie-counting apps. But with all the conflicting information in the media about what we should and shouldn’t eat, it’s hard to know where to start.
The truth about diets
In a 2014 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the results of 48 separate studies on different diets were compared to determine their individual effectiveness. Its conclusion was that there was little difference in the results achieved by the diets and participants’ weight loss success was largely down to what they (over 7,200 of them) found worked for them, showing that the most important factor in identifying the right diet is to find a solution that works for us as individuals and to which we can personally stick to.
As most of us know, there are no true ‘miracle cures’. Crash dieting may have an impact on weight loss in the short term, but in the long term it has been proven to not be a healthy solution. In fact the NHS warn that crash dieting could actually have the opposite effect, slowing down our metabolism while depriving our bodies of vital nutrients and vitamins, as well as making us feel unwell. Modest, positive changes brought about by a long term commitment to a renewed lifestyle and healthy eating habits, however, are more likely to have a continued effect on any desired weight loss and are far healthier in the long run. Having a structured diet however may give us the focus that we need, so it could be a good basis to start with.
Before choosing a new diet, we are advised to speak to a doctor or a nutritional expert, like a dietitian who can ensure that any changes we make are healthy, balanced and will not cause us any harm.
Nutritionists, for example, look at the whole process of what we eat, when and why. They will often ask us to keep a food diary as a way of determining our average calorific intake, as well as our total energy expenditure. This is calculated by determining our basal metabolic rate and thermogenesis (the amount of energy our body needs to complete its basic functions like sleeping, digesting food, breathing etc.), plus any physical activity or exercise we undertake. Once we have this calculation, we can work out what deficit in calories we need to lose weight and how many calories we should eat in a day to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Looking at it broadly, in order to lose a pound of fat, we first need to create a weekly 3,500 calorie deficit which can be achieved either through diet or exercise, or by combining the two. This is a safe amount of weight to lose and maintain over a period such as a week for long term weight loss so this would mean either reducing our intake by 500 calories a day or burning that number of calories more then we consumer each day through additional physical activity or exercise.
Other sources of valuable information include the British Dietetic Association, who produce factsheets on a variety of health and diet related topics and NHS Choices, who offer further advice to help you, your team or your patients reach your individual goals.
‘Magic cures’ and myths
An article published in the New Scientist a few years ago suggested that to eat healthier, we also need to change our eating environment. US based researchers discovered that the colour of our plate often affects the size of our servings, as people choosing foods the same colour as their plate, for example, a red pasta sauce on a red plate or a white pasta sauce on a white plate, added on average 18% more calories to their plate than those people who had a contrasting coloured plate. The same principle also applied to drinks, as studies concluded that those choosing to drink red wine (which is easier to see than white) tended to pour approximately 9% less into their glass. Researchers also found that those who plated their food before sitting down ate 19% less than those who served themselves at the dinner table. Finally, those who kept food in constant view, such as cereals on work tops, were on average 9.5 kilograms heavier than those who kept them out of sight.
There is also a theory that chewing our food slowly is important to weight control, as the process of digestion of food start there. In fact the speed and number of times we chew our food can help to control the amount we eat, as it can take up to 20 minutes for our brain to realise that our stomach is full. By chewing our food over 30 times a mouthful, it could slow us down long enough for our brain to recognise that we are full before we get a chance to overeat. It has also been calculated that about an extra 10 calories are burnt from a 300 calories meal by chewing our food for longer, so in theory we could burn an extra 2,000 calories a month just by chewing slower!
Some people choose to cut fat or carbohydrates out of their diets as both are stored as fat if they aren’t used as energy. However, all food groups are vitally important so shouldn’t be cut out. Carbohydrates, for example, are required for energy (including meeting our daily basal metabolic rate requirements) and essential vitamins such as A, D, E and K are fat soluble, so our bodies can only utilise them if we eat a sufficient amount of fat. We can eat healthy unprocessed fats and carbohydrates such as nuts, olives, avocado and whole-wheat that will keep us fuller for longer - as well as the fact that they are low on the Glycaemic Index (GI); the figure representing the relative ability of a carbohydrate to increase the level of glucose in our blood.
The final word
The better we all look after our health and well being, the more we can hope to get the most out of life. A healthy diet (most of the time), adequate physical activity and an appropriate degree of rest can all play crucial roles in how we feel about ourselves, our health and could get us closer to our ideal weight in a more sustainable way.
References available on request.
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