Transforming Your Health: A Long-Term Plan for Healthy Weight Loss in the New Year
The secret to long-term healthy weight loss.
The secret is…. there is no secret. It is just that the answer doesn’t get much attention on social media feed. Most people want weight loss to be fast. But this can lead to extreme and restrictive diets which are difficult to sustain in the long-term and may also push your weight loss goals further away.
The truth is that weight loss isn’t fast. It takes time for the body to breakdown fat to be used for energy and it also requires us to be relatively well nourished. To lose weight in the most effective way and direct way possible, the body should be in a slight calorie deficit which equates to about 500Kcal/2000kj less than we need each day to promote gentle and healthy weight loss.
Highly restrictive diets may tell you to cut out whole food groups or reduce your calorie intake well below your needs. However, when you do this your body will start to find ways to reduce its metabolism to conserve energy. This is the body’s basic and primal protective mechanism against starvation or when food is scarce. So, gritting your teeth through hunger and extra workouts may end up being a lot of unnecessary work for very little payback. Your body simply works out ways to reduce your energy needs so your weight loss isn’t anywhere as much as the apps or media will lead you to believe. Humans haven’t survived for as long as we have without some very clever tricks up its sleeve to withstand today’s version of a famine! This isn’t its first rodeo.
So if highly restrictive diets and gruelling workouts are not the answer to long-term weight loss, then what is?
It is generally accepted and seen in the evidence that slower weight loss is more sustainable than rapid weight loss (Paisey R B 2002). The reason slower weight loss may be more effective is that it gives you time to embed the new eating patterns into your daily habits and therefore making them sustainable.
So which diet is the best for healthy weight loss? Well it is anything that you can sustain for the rest of your life (assuming you want to lose weight and keep it off). Your chosen diet or eating pattern should also provide all the essential nutrients that your body needs. Being well nourished can mean the difference between surviving and thriving. So, if you are going to cut out whole food groups, you may need to think about how you are going to replace the essential nutrients that group provides. For example, if you are going to cut out carbs, how will you replace the fibre, B vitamins, glucose, proteins and iron? If you cut out dairy foods, how will you replace the calcium, protein, Vitamin A, Zinc, magnesium, potassium, riboflavin and phosphorous?
These approaches require careful meal planning and help from a nutrition professional. But most people don’t need to cut out food groups, in fact I would actively discourage you from doing that. Instead I would encourage people who want to maintain a well-nourished life and a comfortable weight to follow the healthiest diet there is.. and it is free for all Australians.
It is called ‘The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating’ and was developed by a team of NHMRC (National Health and Medical Research Council) scientists who reviewed over 55,000 scientific journal articles by to find the eating pattern that will support the health and well-being of the vast majority of Australians. And we don’t need to purchase a best-selling cookbook or pay a subscription fee to access it. It is freely available for everyone to use at www.eatforhealth.gov.au
The guide is easy to follow and can provide an enjoyable and flexible eating pattern that can be used at home or when eating out. The Eat for Health website has a couple of calculators to help you work out your overall energy needs as well as the number of serves of each food group that you are likely to need to meet your nutrient requirements. After you work out your energy needs, take away 500kcal/2000kj to help with gentle weight loss. The calculator on the website will then work out the balance and number of serves in each food group which can be eaten to meet your needs.
The key elements of the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating that help with weight loss are:
Fibre-rich foods are typically lower in calories and more filling, helping you feel full for longer periods. This can assist in weight management by reducing overall calorie intake. Aim for around 10g of fibre at each meal to give you a total intake of 30g a day which is a great start for good gut health as well. If you don’t currently eat much fibre, it is important to increase the amount gradually over a few weeks to give your body time to adjust and so you don’t suffer from excess bloating.
To reach this amount of fibre, you will need to include wholegrains at each meal and fruit and vegetables at least 2-3 times a day. Wholegrains include foods such as wholemeal and seeded breads, high fibre cereals, legumes/lentils, high fibre pasta, quinoa, barley, oats, seeds and nuts.
One of the ways that protein-rich foods help us manage our appetite is that they are digested slowly which helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and providing a longer-lasting feeling of fullness.
Aim for around 20g of protein at each meal to give you an optimum intake that can be fully utilised by the body for muscle maintenance as well as provide the building blocks for most of your hormones, enzymes and many other useful processes in the body. If you don’t have enough protein in your meal or day, you can be left feeling low in energy as well as find yourself hungry again in just a couple of hours.
Fat, like protein and high fibre wholegrains, are digested slowly by the body so if used in the right way, they can be a useful addition to a meal. Fat is very energy-dense so you only need small portions to feel the benefits.
Drinking water with your meals helps to slow down digestion as well as increase your absorption of fluid.
There is no quick fix to weight loss. It is a slow and steady kind of race (that isn’t a race) which starts and ends with balanced eating patterns that include a wide range of nutritious foods alongside regular and enjoyable movement (aka exercise).