Dieting, slimming, weight loss - whatever you want to call it!
It really doesn’t matter what you call it - in fact, forget the word “diet” altogether. The way to a healthy weight and slim waist for the long-term is as simple as living a balanced lifestyle and getting a reasonable amount of exercise. Moderation and variety (both in terms of food and exercise) are your keys to success!
Of course, it is easier said than done. However, it is important to realise that there really is no magic formula or secret behind successful slimming - you already have it within you to shape-up.
Weight management programmes don’t have to be gruelling, confusing or complicated. It is not about focussing on numbers (such as your weight, measurements or calorie intake) in isolation - it is about taking a holistic approach to making a positive change to your overall lifestyle, including the way you look at and think about food and exercise.
Exercise, metabolism and a healthy lifestyle
When you engage in physical activity (such as gardening, walking, jogging, weight lifting, swimming, biking or dance aerobics, for example), you obviously burn more calories than you would otherwise do during times of rest. Clearly, this is what we all need to be doing more of. But did you know that the benefits of exercise can even extend to after the activity has ended? If the activity is strenuous enough, your metabolic rate can remain elevated for some time! Not to mention the fact that movement gets your lymphatic system going, supporting natural body detoxification.
Don’t be put off by the word “strenuous” - what is strenuous enough for you is what you can personally handle (in the context of your health and particular circumstances). It is not about what anyone else can do. Of course, it goes without saying that you will need to push yourself and ensure that you really are putting the effort in. Do what you can, and your body will figure out the rest.
In fact, if you try too much too quickly, your body is most likely going to rebel and tell your mind that this is “just too hard”. This is one of the reasons why so many people fail to stick to exercise programmes for the long term, lose morale and then give up exercise altogether.
The other main reason is that people expect too much in too short a time. It most likely took years to get out of shape - it is important to prepare yourself mentally and accept from the outset that you aren’t going to reverse that in a month. But it is important to hang in there - achieving a healthy weight, exercising regularly and living a healthy lifestyle will pay dividends in the long-term.
Not only will it help you to stave off dangerous health conditions (such as diabetes), it can also have a major impact on your quality of life in terms of how you look and feel about yourself.
By setting yourself realistic and achievable targets, you will boost your confidence when you manage to reach them. This will give you the incentive to continue and will help with staying-power.
The C word: “carbohydrates”
Everyone knows that carbohydrates can make it difficult to lose weight. Although they are an ideal source of energy, a diet too high in carbohydrates can actually have the opposite effect and leave you feeling tired. This is because they can upset the delicate balance of your body's blood sugar level, resulting in fluctuations in energy and mood.
Therefore, as stated above, it is important to ensure that you have a balanced diet. Rather than trying to eliminate carbohydrates from your diet altogether (which is unrealistic and not ideal for your overall health), it is better to balance your intake of carbohydrates with protein, a little unsaturated fat (which contains essential fatty acids) and beneficial dietary fibre. Again, moderation and variety are key.
It is also very important to bear in mind that there are two types of carbohydrate:
These carbohydrates are often referred to as “starch”. They are found naturally in foods and are also refined in processed foods. Examples of foods containing natural starches are: bananas, barley, beans, brown rice, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, oats and potatoes. Examples of foods containing refined starches are: biscuits, pastries, cakes, pizzas, sugary processed breakfast cereals, white bread, white flour, white pasta and white rice.
Simple carbohydrates are also known as “sugars”. They also exist in both a natural or refined form. Natural sugars are found in fruit and vegetables. Refined sugars are found in: biscuits, cakes, pastries, chocolate, honey, jams, brown and white cane sugar, pizza, prepared foods and sauces, soft drinks, sweets and snack bars.
All carbohydrates form glucose when digested, which is then transported around the body via the bloodstream and taken into cells to be converted into energy. The pancreas gland secretes the hormone insulin, which controls the uptake of glucose by your cells. If you have any excess glucose, this is converted into glycogen, which is then stored in the liver or in fat around the body.
When your body needs energy, it releases a second hormone (called glucagon), which converts the glycogen back into glucose, which is then released into your bloodstream for your cells to use. The slower the release of glucose and hormones, the more stable and sustainable the energy levels of the body.
On the other hand, the more refined the carbohydrate, the faster the glucose is released into your blood. This can cause peaks and troughs in your blood sugar levels and less stable energy levels in the body. Complex carbohydrates provide a slower and more sustained release of energy than simple carbohydrates.
In their natural form they contribute to long-term good health, appetite control and sustained energy levels.
A pain in the ... gut: Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and other digestive health problems
Long-term digestive health problems can not only contribute to excess weight, but they can make it harder to lose weight. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), for example, is a chronic gastrointestinal disorder, which results in unusual sensitivity and muscle activity. It is very common, affects mainly women and usually begins before the age of 35.
With IBS, it is thought that the intestines squeeze too hard or not hard enough and cause food to move either too fast or too slowly through the digestive system. In other words, there are two types of IBS - one which leads to diarrhea and another which leads to constipation. This can quite clearly have an impact, not only on metabolism, but also on nutrient uptake from food. IBS also commonly leads to stress and depression - two further factors that can make it harder to lose weight.
Digestive system problems often stem from years of poor diet. It is therefore important to actively tackle any such issues as part of your holistic weight management programme, not only to ensure that you do not have any “hidden” obstacles to weight loss, but to ensure your general health and well-being.
A helping hand...
Living a healthy lifestyle, having a balanced diet, drinking plenty of pure water and taking regular exercise together form the basis of healthy weight loss and successful slimming for the long-term.
However, many find that a little additional support, in the form of health foods and supplements, can be beneficial - particularly:
- in the early stages of a weight management programme (when cravings are at their worst and the likelihood of failure is at its highest)
- where there are long-standing digestive system health issues
- to support the detoxification or colon cleansing process
- where the immune system is weak
- where there is limited food choice (e.g. for vegetarians, vegans or coeliacs), to top-up on nutrients without the calories - for example, through meal shakes and protein powders
- for general ongoing maintenance of overall health and well-being.
* Before changing your diet, starting a new exercise / weight loss programme or taking health supplements, always be sure to consult your doctor or qualified health practitioner (particularly if you are pregnant, breastfeeding or on medications).