USING DIET AND EXERCISE TO MANAGE YOUR WEIGHT
What is weight management?
For many people, weight management, slimming, dieting, shaping up (whatever you want to call it) is a lifelong challenge and brings with it much confusion and, often, anxiety, a sense of hopelessness and loss of confidence – particularly as time passes and brings with it only repeated failed efforts.
However, being in control of your weight is not only useful from a confidence standpoint; more importantly, it is also central to ensuring long-term good health. Excess weight has been linked to a range of health conditions, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gallstones, breathing problems, liver problems, digestive complaints, arthritis and many others.
Thankfully, achieving this control is not actually as difficult or complicated as you might think, or might have been led to believe (for example, through the media). The key is to manage your weight in a way that:
1. is balanced and healthy
2. is sustainable for the long-term (both in terms of nutritional intake and psychologically)
3. and involves permanent lifestyle changes (such as the breaking of long-standing bad habits and the creation of new, good habits that support your goals).
Just as important is the avoidance of “quick fixes” - so-called short-cuts to weight loss, which promise rapid fat burning or the like. While such fad diets or products may deliver results in the short-term, they are likely to do so in a way that is dangerous, unhealthy and/or unsustainable.
For instance: drastic calorie reduction, starvation methods, an unbalanced diet, reliance on a drug etc. The end result is also usually that any weight that was lost during the program simply piles back on afterwards, potentially leading to even more weight gain and perhaps even other problems.
While there are certainly many effective dietary tools, methods and supplements out there that can support your weight loss efforts, it is important to recognise that ultimately there is no magic cure that will help you to shed pounds that have taken months (if not years) to put on.
The simple formula for healthy weight management and long-term weight loss is a smart combination of: good diet, exercise, hydration and a healthy mind and body. Together, these factors will help to ensure that your body is best placed (and well-fuelled) to sustain a weight that is ideal for you. It may take a little longer to achieve your target weight, but it is far more likely to stay at that level afterwards.
Weight has been one of the major health concerns of the Western world for many years now, particularly in the UK where obesity levels are fast approaching the chart-topping statistics of the USA.
According to the University of Birmingham, obesity rates in the UK are the highest in Europe and have increased dramatically over the past few years to such an extent that in excess of 20% of the population are now obese. The resultant cost to the UK economy exceeds £3 billion per year.
The high prevalence of obesity in adults in England is alarming, with national averages of over 40% of males being overweight and more than 20% obese in the 16-75 year age range, while in women the averages are lower for the overweight classification but higher for obesity.
And it's not just the adults that are getting bigger - child weight management is a growing concern too. The World Health Organization regards childhood obesity as one of the most serious global public health challenges of the 21st century. Obese children and adolescents are at an increased risk of developing various health problems, and are also more likely to become obese adults.
The National Child Measurement Programme (NCMP) measures the height and weight of around one million school children in England every year, providing a detailed picture of the prevalence of child obesity.
The figures for 2013/14 showed that just over 19% of children aged 10-11 were obese and a further 14.4% were overweight. Of children aged 4-5, 9.5% were obese and another 13.1% were overweight. This means a third of 10-11 year olds and over a fifth of 4-5 year olds were overweight or obese.
The bottom line? Healthy weight management is an important issue for the whole family.
How to lose weight healthily
As already mentioned above, healthy weight loss is not about extreme diets or following weight loss trends. Proper weight management is about much more than just focusing on arbitrary numbers, like your calorie intake, Body mass index (BMI) or measurements. While they can be useful indicators, if not analysed properly, they can also give a misleading picture.
For example, just because a food is high in calories does not mean that it is unhealthy or inappropriate for healthy weight management. It depends on whether they are “empty” calories (associated with sugar or refined carbohydrates), or healthy calories that are going to help fuel your body, keep it energised and help to maintain a healthy metabolism while keeping you feeling full.
Similarly, BMI is a very basic measure of body fat based on your weight in relation to your height. While this can be a useful tool for nationwide comparisons (e.g. use by the NHS), it is not particularly helpful at an individual level, because it doesn't take into account factors such as muscle mass, lifestyle, underlying health conditions and other personal characteristics.
So try not to over-complicate things! Healthy weight management is just about changing the way you think about food, starting with a healthy routine that includes long-term changes in daily eating and good exercise habits.
Do some research on what healthy eating and a balanced diet truly means, or enlist the help of a qualified nutritionist. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to a diet that represents optimal nutrition. It needs to be tailored to you, to take account of (for example): your metabolism, your genes, your lifestyle, any existing health conditions (including food allergies or intolerances), your ability to exercise, your stress levels and your goals etc. If you thought that a healthy diet meant starving yourself or living on lettuce – think again!
Barring any physical obstacles or medical advice to the contrary, you should similarly spend some time identifying ways in which you can increase your activity levels. This is the other side of the coin, when it comes to long-term weight management. This doesn't mean having to work out 7 days a week; it can involve as little as 30 minutes of physical activity (such as walking the dog or jogging) every other day – whatever is right for you, taking into account your own particular health issues and circumstances. The important thing is to do at least some exercise, regularly.
If it's so easy, why do so many people fail?
One of the main reasons why so many people fail in their efforts to lose weight, or manage a stable weight, is the fact that they can't keep it going for the long term.
We've all been there; every year, we make resolutions to eat more healthily, drink less alcohol, exercise more etc. We start off well and with the best of intentions, but in most cases we slowly revert back to our old habits – even if our efforts are based on what are basically sound principles.
This could be because the changes were either implemented too quickly and radically, and/or it was an unattainable goal for the long-term.
For instance, over-enthusiasm in the early days often leads people to try to permanently remove all “treats” from their diet. This is unrealistic. It is just not plausible to think that you are never going to have, for example, a chocolate bar or packet of crisps ever again. In fact, this approach most often leads to binging as cravings take over, and with it resultant weight gain.
Similarly, not many people are going to be able to sustain going to the gym 7 days a week, and it's simply not necessary.
In other words, people often set themselves up to fail despite their best efforts and intentions, and lose morale as a result. Don't fall into the same trap. Do some planning, make some smart and reasonable adjustments to your lifestyle, diet and exercise regimen – and do so gradually. Most importantly, don't forget that life is for living and you still need to be able to enjoy yourself from time to time!
One of the common misconceptions about weight management is that the foods you can eat are limited; this is not true. While you will obviously need to limit your intake of certain foods (particularly those high in saturated fats, refined carbohydrates and sugar), you are not necessarily barred from enjoying the particular foods you love from time to time.
A nutrition professional can help you to better understand what types of foods you should eat on a regular basis for a healthy, balanced diet, and which you should view as treats, to have on the odd occasion. Meal plans can often assist in the early stages, while you get used to the new routine and break old eating habits.
Variety and moderation are the keys to your success.
A little extra support...
As already mentioned, there is nothing wrong with taking advantage of certain tools or products to help you achieve your weight loss goals, provided they are of a high quality and genuinely offer support for your health. The trick, of course, is distinguishing the fads from the real deal.
For instance, there are a range of weight management support supplements out there. Apply the same principles that you would to your new diet: keep it natural wherever possible (carefully read the ingredients and steer clear of chemicals and drugs); view it as part of a larger picture; and everything in moderation.
Many slimmers find that they benefit (and achieve better results in a faster time) from using, for example:
- protein powders (to support their metabolism and energy levels)
- meal shakes (to support the intake of healthy calories, which keep them full and well-fuelled)
- cleanse and detox supplements (to remove toxins that may have accumulated over time, from years of poor diet)
- and digestive health supplements (digestive complaints, intolerances and allergies can all represent obstacles to weight loss).
Alternatively, you may just want to top-up on additional vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients to support your body through the weight management process.
You will want to keep your immunity high and your body strong, as you try to lose weight. This will keep you in the best frame of mind and physical state to, for instance, exercise more and approach your new diet with a positive attitude. Omega oils, antioxidants, phyto-chemicals, probiotics and dietary fibre, can all be of invaluable support in this way.
In contrast, a body that is under strain from the process can leave you feeling fatigued, apathetic and down – not ideal for ensuring long-term success.
Whatever you choose, remember that these products only work effectively when taken in conjunction with a balanced diet and sensible exercise regime. Any that claim otherwise are probably not reliable.