Maintaining a healthy weight is a key consideration for good health. However, when many of us try to drop a few pounds we go about it in the wrong way. Victoria Taylor, senior dietician at The British Heart Foundation, talks diet myths, how to lose weight the right way and how to keep it off for good...
Your weight can make a difference to your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Being obese (having a BMI of 30 or greater) is a risk factor, but weight is also linked to other conditions like high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, which can also increase your risk of CHD.
If you’re not sure if you need to lose weight then knowing your BMI can be a good starting point and help you figure out whether you are the right weight for your height. Check your waist circumference too as your body shape is also important. Carrying too much weight around our middle increases risk, even if BMI is within the healthy range.
When it comes to getting the weight off, everyone wants to lose weight quickly, and there are many diets out there promising instant results. But while they might work in the short term, more often than not they are difficult to stick to and so the weight quickly comes back on. Look out for some of these common diet myths and fads to help you tell the difference between a faddy crash diet and one which will help you lose weight at a sensible rate and keep it off...
Myth 1. Skipping meals will save calories
Skipping meals, can make you feel tired and hungry, meaning you'll be more likely to reach for high-fat, high-calorie snacks, or compensate with bigger meals when you do eat. It’s also harder to make a healthy choice when you are very hungry. Get into a regular pattern when it comes to your meals and plan ahead to make sure you look forward to tasty and healthy options.
Myth 2. Restrict certain foods
If you eat nothing but celery or oranges all day long for a week you will, of course, lose weight. But fad diets will quickly become boring and won’t be effective in the long run. That’s just as well as while they will be low in calories, they are often lacking in the full range of nutrients your body needs to function properly in the long term. If you need to take vitamin and mineral supplements alongside a diet plan then that’s a clue that it might not be providing you with all the nutrients you need. It’s not necessary to starve to lose weight - making small changes you can stick to is the key to long term success.
Myth 3. No treats
Depriving yourself of all the foods you enjoy won’t work and banning certain foods often makes us want to eat them even more. You’ll eventually give into temptation and abandon your efforts and this can lead to feelings of guilt and failure. Remember, one slip does not have to mean a fall and there's no harm in allowing yourself a treat now and again. Plan to have small amounts of the foods you love and savour every mouthful.
Myth 4. No eating after 8pm
It doesn’t matter when you eat if you are eating too much – a calorie is a calorie at any time of the day! It's healthier for your digestive system not to eat a heavy meal before you go to bed but a late dinner will not make you any fatter than an early one.
Myth 5. Lose your belly fat / bingo wings / thunder thighs
As unfair as it may seem, we can’t pick and choose where we gain or lose weight from. When the body loses fat, it is lost throughout the body. Focusing on one area of when exercising may develop better muscle tone in that area but it will not remove more fat.
Myth 6. Certain foods help you burn fat
No foods can actually help you to burn fat. The important thing is eating less calories (energy) than you are using, rather than eating specific foods that are thought to have special properties.
Myth 7. Carbs are fattening
Gram for gram, carbohydrate has less than half the calories of fat. However, you do still need to keep an eye on your portion sizes and choose the right types of carbohydrate. Opt for wholegrains like oats, brown rice and wholemeal bread and pasta rather than white versions or sugary food and drinks. Watch out for high calorie additions too. Fillings and toppings commonly added such as creamy sauces on pasta and butter or cheese on baked potatoes.
Myth 8. No snacking
Planning healthy snacks between meals can help you to control your appetite. Fruit, vegetables, crudites and low-fat yogurt are great choices.
Myth 9. Low-fat only
Don’t rely on low-fat meaning low-calorie. Replacing fat with other ingredients can still result in a product with a high calorie content. Don’t be fooled – check the label. Quantity is also important, you won’t cut back on calories if you eat twice as much of a low-fat product as a full-fat one. Pre-packaged, low-fat foods are also often high in sugar and preservatives, which can be detrimental to health. Natural fats found in nuts, seeds, fish and avocados are actually key for glowing skin and reducing the risk of heart disease.
Myth 10. Intense exercise regimes
You don’t have to run a marathon to benefit from being more active. Even low intensity activity will help use up more energy. Walking, gardening or doing housework can make quite a difference
So how do you lose weight for good?
While any weight loss will require a change to eating habits, it shouldn’t mean missing out on nutrients or cutting out whole food groups. Aim for regular meals and a balanced diet but also take care with your portion sizes. You might be eating a healthy balance of foods, just too much of it. Changes to your food aren’t the only thing to consider either. The most effective weight loss approaches combine changes to diet with increased physical activity and also address some of your behaviours around food to help you understand your own eating pattern and responses to food at different times or in certain situations.
Diets that involve removing – or severely limiting – specific foods or food groups that are nutritionally important are not going to be a long term solution. The more extreme high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets limit fruit, vegetables and fibre, particularly in the early stages, while faddy diets based on single foods (cabbage soup, anyone?) involve eating a lot of one type of food and not much of others. Some diets also drastically limit calorie intake so you get results fast. However, a very low-calorie intake can leave you tired and hungry, so you give up, regaining the weight as quickly as it came off.
National guidelines recommend that, for sustainable weight loss, a reduction in calorie intake of about 600 a day is needed. This could lead to a weekly weight loss of around 0.5kg (1lb). While it may not sound a great deal next to the promises of many quick-fix diets, it allows you to incorporate healthy eating habits into your lifestyle permanently, so you’re more likely to keep it off for good.
More on diets and weight loss
For more information on heart health, visit bhf.org.uk
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