We’re living in an era of unparalleled access to information. A swipe on our phone can reveal the nutrient value of 100g of fresh salmon or a pizza from a fast food outlet. Packaged food items are labelled with ingredients and nutritional values listed as a legal requirement under consumer law. There are any number of TV shows about food, cooking, diet and lifestyle… not to mention books, magazines and the new breed of social media influencer.
But where has this information got us?
More than a trillion dollars has been spent over the last 20 years on weight loss programs and related products in the industrialised western world, but obesity during this period has doubled. WHY?
Because knowing is NOT the same as doing.
As a medical practitioner with more than 30 years experience in nutritional and lifestyle medicine I have had the great privilege of helping hundreds of people lose weight and maintain their weight loss.
My role has been to act as the facilitator – enabling the transformation of the knowing into the doing. The following forms the basis of what I tell my patients.
1. Weight loss is SIMPLE… CREATE AN ENERGY DEFICIT
Burn more energy (calories) than you consume and you will lose weight. There’s no simpler way to put it – to lose weight you need to eat less (consume fewer calories).
But in order to create an energy deficit with maximum health benefit you should aim is to lose fat, preserve muscle mass and stabilize blood sugar levels. It’s here that understanding the relative nutritional value of calories is important.
A diet for life: low carbohydrate, anti-inflammatory
One hundred calories from eating a slice of bread does not have the same nutritional value as consuming 100 calories from lean meat or 100 calories from nuts.
A simple rule of thumb is that each meal should contain lean protein, low-carbohydrate non-starchy vegetables and quality unsaturated fats in roughly the following ratios…
PROTEIN 30: LOW STARCH VEGETABLES 50: HEALTHY FATS 20.
This means choosing:
- High-quality proteins such as oily fish, lean chicken, turkey, veal and eggs. It can include tofu, and grass fed beef,
- Low-starch vegetables such as leafy greens, zucchini, asparagus, cauliflower and colored vegetables such as capsicum, and
- Healthy oils and fats such as olive oil, nuts (almonds, walnuts, pistachio) and avocados,
When these food groups are eaten in the approximate ratio 30:50:20 (above) the benefits can be as follows:
- Stabilisation of blood sugar levels, enabling the body to use stored fat for energy,
- Preservation of lean muscle mass, and
- Reduction of inflammation at a cellular level – preventing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, some cancers and cardiovascular disease.
Fast weight loss vs. Slower weight loss
There is evidence to suggest that for some people who are approaching morbid obesity or who are carrying excess visceral (abdominal) fat, particularly fat that surrounds organs, accelerated weight loss on a very low calorie diet over a short period of time (eight weeks) is very effective for dramatic fat loss.
Losing weight fast, if done under careful supervision, is very motivating and can help kick-start the longer process of more gradual weight reduction and nutritional re-education.
More gradual weight loss works for most people and is founded on the principles of the low-carbohydrate, anti-inflammatory diet above.
Exercise vs. Diet for fat loss
Diet plays a more substantial role in fat loss than exercise for the simple reason that exercise (even quite vigorous exercise) burns fewer calories than we think.
To burn off a 449 calorie double cheese burger you would have to walk approximately 7.2kms. That is to say, a considerable investment in an energy burning activity would have to be made to counter the calorie load – not to mention the unhealthy food choice.
Exercise, however, does play a very important role in terms of cardiovascular health, maintaining or building muscle mass, and helping keep weight off in the maintenance phase (more on maintenance below).
2. Sleep and weight loss
Eating and sleeping are two deeply entwined biological processes. Recent research has established that the levels of hormones that regulate appetite are profoundly influenced by sleep duration. Sleep loss is associated with an increase in appetite that is excessive in relation to the calorie demands of excessive wakefulness.
Put simply, insufficient sleep influences appetite in two ways. Firstly, it makes us more inclined to make bad food choices (lowers our resistance to temptation). Secondly, it increases our appetite – virtually everyone can identify with the feeling of jet lag and ravenous appetite. How much sleep is enough? There is no fixed rule – for most adults anywhere between six and nine hours of quality sleep is sufficient.
3. Looking AND feeling great – long term weight maintenance
Many of the patients I have helped over the years arrive at their goal weight determined not to regain their hard-won weight loss. It is at this phase in their journey that I emphasise that looking great, although an important outcome, should not be their primary focus.
What was learned during the weight loss process should become the template for weight maintenance. New lifestyle patterns have been created and these behavioural changes, once embedded, should become automatic. Choosing a salad over a burger should not be a dilemma for someone who has internalised the relative values of each.
Crucially at this point I also emphasise that being healthy is a gift – something to be valued. It is too precious to be sabotaged by slip-ups, or an unsupportive family member or friend.
Yes, making a commitment to lose weight and seeing that commitment through is often hard – but in the end, doing it is better than just knowing it.
This blog is general in nature only and should not be relied upon as medical advice. For further information please contact our clinic or your own medical practitioner before commencing any diet or exercise regimen.