Being fit is not just about appearances – it’s healthier. If you’re overweight, losing weight can reduce your risk of developing health problems both now and later in life.
There is no quick fix to losing weight (i.e. body fat) and getting in shape. It takes time, patience and perseverance. The best way to approach weight loss is to look at your existing lifestyle habits and make small, gradual changes that you can continue over the long term. Think about positive lifestyle changes that you can realistically follow, right up to your senior years.
The ‘lifestyle’ approach to weight management
Most dietitians and doctors will agree that weight loss involves some form of lifestyle change. Adopting a holistic approach to weight loss which combines dietary change, increased physical activity and a positive attitude, will give you the best results.
The key is to make lifestyle changes that can be maintained for life. Avoiding your favourite treat (e.g. hot chips) for the rest of your life is unrealistic. But limiting your favourite treat to once a fortnight or once a month is realistic and achievable. The aim is not to remove all of the pleasures and treats in life, but to achieve balance with your lifestyle habits, by still maintaining enjoyment and pleasure in the things you do.
Eating according to your needs
People have different dietary requirements. Men generally require more energy and nutrients than women, however, there are some exceptions to this rule. Pre-menopausal women for instance need more iron than men due to the fact that they menstruate and menopausal women need more calcium than men to maintain bone strength at this later stage in life.
It is not always easy to know how much energy (i.e. kilojoules / calories) our body needs. Learning to eat when we are hungry and stop when we are full is an important part of weight control. Eating out of boredom or habit, rather than when you are hungry, is a common cause of weight gain.
A guide to balanced, enjoyable eating
No single food can provide a nutritious and balanced diet. Eating a wide variety of foods from the core food groups is the key to healthy eating. This eating guide applies whether you are within the healthy weight range or overweight and trying to lose the extra kilos.
Restricting the variety of foods eaten, as seen in many ‘fad’ or ‘crash’ diets, not only limits your intake of essential vitamins and minerals, but it dampens the enjoyment of eating. An eating plan that is based on a variety of foods is far more appetising and enjoyable than one that severely restricts whole food groups. People who are happy with their balanced eating plan are far more likely to stick to it than those who feel restricted by the foods they can eat.
The importance of eating regularly
Our body needs energy to get through the day and this energy comes from food. It is important to eat regular meals to ensure your body gets the energy it needs to perform.
To prevent big hunger pangs between meals and overindulging at main meal times, spread your food intake over five to six smaller meals and snacks, rather than eating three large main meals a day.
Skipping meals won’t help you lose weight. You’re more likely to make up for it by eating more at the next meal. A better way is to cut down the size of your meals a little.
You’ve probably heard before that breaking the overnight fast (i.e. eating breakfast) is important. Eating breakfast is like refueling the car before a long trip – without the fuel, you won´t go very far. As well as the fuel that breakfast provides, it gives essential vitamins and minerals. People who skip breakfast often struggle to make up these missed nutrients later in the day.
At breakfast, aim to include:
- A drink to replenish the fluids in your body
- Wholegrain breads and cereals to give you energy and keep your bowels in good working order
- A low fat dairy product, to help maintain your bone strength
- Some fresh or canned fruit to boost your vitamin and mineral intake
Variety and flavour is the key
No single food provides all the nutrients we need, so it is important to eat a wide variety of foods to get the best nutrition possible. Eating a wide variety of food also gives us the opportunity to sample many different flavours and textures, which can make meals and snacks more exciting.
Do all slimming diets help you lose weight?
Most diets, including ‘fad’ diets, can help you lose weight... that is, in the short term. But not all diets and eating plans help you maintain your weight in the long term. The best weight loss strategies are those that help you to lose excess body fat and keep the weight off for years thereafter.
Which diets work best?
Unfortunately, there are no ‘miracle’ diets that allow you to lose weight without effort or carry on eating whatever you like. The only way to lose weight and keep it off in the long term is to adopt a balanced lifestyle approach by consuming less energy (kilojoules) and increasing your level of physical activity.
How much weight can I safely lose each week?
A gradual weight loss of 1/2 to 1kg per week is considered safe. A slow and gradual drop in weight will help you maintain your ‘goal weight’ once it has been reached.
What are the dangers of an unbalanced diet?
Unbalanced diets and restrictive food plans could lead to low levels of vitamins, minerals and energy. In the short term, these deficiencies may not be noticeable, but in the medium to long term, they can have health consequences.
Are any weight-loss diets suitable for children?
Children require a certain amount of energy, protein, vitamins and minerals to grow properly. Any restrictions to their food intake must be made with caution. However, if your child is overweight, you should seek the advice of your doctor or an Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) in Australia or Registered Dietitian (RD) in New Zealand. These professionals can provide advice and guidance on how to manage the weight problem.