While calorie balance continues to be the most powerful approach to weight loss, it’s important to differentiate between weight loss, which is relatively easy to achieve, and its management, which is much harder. A weight loss of only 5–10% can drastically improve your overall health and reduce your risks for heart disease and diabetes. Diet, exercise, and general lifestyle changes continue to be the most important weight loss and management strategies. Have you been trying to lose your holiday weight gain? Do you struggle with yoyo dieting and have a hard time with maintenance? Here’s some information for you to mull over before you jump on another (macronutrient of calorie) restricting diet.
I’m sure you’ve heard of many of the popular diets; high fat, high protein, low carb and so on and so forth. What’s the deal? Which one is better? The answer to that question is unclear and improvements can be found in just about any of them. Diabetes and heart disease improvements are seen in diets with 10–45% fat compositions. High protein diets seem to be particularly strong for reducing body fat, especially in people with diabetes. Low carbohydrate diets have been effective at decreasing fat and LDL cholesterol while raising HDL cholesterol. Although there’s not enough evidence to say low carb diets are superior to other diets, there is growing evidence that it may be effective for improving insulin sensitivity. Although dieters have been getting positive results from macronutrient (i.e. carbs, proteins, and fats) adjustments, is this something that can be continued long term? Are there risks associated with limiting one macronutrient? Lastly, most diets have benefits but only when they are followed; long term adherence is what really makes a diet successful.
What are some factors that strongly influence our weight? Portion sizes and energy densities for one; these factors have huge effects on overall calorie intake which is what it all comes down to. Larger portions of energy-dense foods are a growing problem. Since the 1970s, portion sizes have shot up everywhere, from restaurants to supermarkets and even at home. There’s a supersize meal option in many fast food restaurants; ‘for only a dollar more you get twice as much food’, hard to resist right? The occurrence of obesity has risen in parallel to the rise in portion sizes. Furthermore, there’s a clear relation between the amount served and the amount consumed. For example, when we are given different portion sizes of mac and cheese on different days, our calorie consumption mirrors the served portion size of the day. This is seen both when served a predetermined portion size and when given a different plate size to serve yourself.
Lifestyles are also very influential, this can be seen in the following examples; people who frequently skip meals, watch a lot of TV, eat away from home, or have high sugar and fat intakes are more likely to have a higher BMI. On the other hand, regularity of meals, exercise, and more ordered lifestyle patterns (e.g. work and eating schedule) are associated with more healthy BMIs. Family eating habits and social pressures to eat large amounts of food also plays a role. Individuals in less safe neighbourhoods have been found to be twice more likely to lead sedentary lives, with an average of 2.81kg/m2 higher BMIs than those living in safer neighborhoods. Sleeping patterns are also indicators of weight; sleep deprived individuals have a 35% higher chance for gaining over 5kg over a 6 year duration. Lastly, vegetarians consistently have lower BMI’s, LDL cholesterol, and blood pressure; on average, vegetarians are 1-2kg/m2 lower in BMI than omnivores. Furthermore, BMI was found to increase as meat consumption increased.
Dieting is difficult to maintain adherence because of the strong feelings of hunger and cravings that come with it. Therefore, a more effective prolonged weight management method would not be as restricting. With that said, what is a smarter way to lose weight and maintain it? A lifestyle change! That’s really the only way to go; it’ll be hard at first, but your body will thank you in terms of weight loss and overall improved health.
Clearly we want bigger portion sizes; how can you make that work for you? By adding more lower energy foods (but with higher nutrient density), i.e. eat more fruits and vegetables. Filling up on fruits or vegetables prior to a meal is consistently shown to control hunger and reduce calorie intake. If you eat a lot of grains, potatoes, or other high calorie staples, try halfing your normal serving and replacing it with vegetables. For example, grated cauliflower makes for a great, low calorie filler in rice while eggplant and zucchini shavings go great as either a replacer or filler in pasta. Better yet, bake a spaghetti squash and use that as a replacement. Love mashed potatoes? Try boiling and blending cauliflower instead. All of these are delicious and nutritious ways to keep your portion sizes high, fill you up, and keep the calorie content low.
Try to limit your sugar and salt intake; these can be quite addictive and trigger unhealthy eating habits. If you need dessert, try recipes sweetened by fruits. For example, love ice cream? Try using frozen bananas and almond milk, this makes for a great treat after dinner. Chia seeds can really enhance the flavor of the foods they’re combined with; try making a chia pudding with blended fruit and chia seeds. Protein is another great way to curb your cravings and fill you up, try adding a protein supplement (Sunwarrior is great here!) to your fruit shakes.
And finally, exercise! Although it doesn’t directly cause weight loss (i.e. makes you hungrier), it does come with benefits that will help your efforts. Exercise will increase your ability to burn fat, protect against chronic disease, and improve insulin sensitivity. Furthermore, exercise will help to decrease stress, elevate your mood, and improve your quality of sleep; all of these effects will improve your weight loss and weight loss maintenance success. Where do you start if you’ve led a sedentary life? Take short walks in the morning; morning exercise will help wake you up for the rest of the day. Take the stairs more often or maybe give yoga a try. Join a recreational team or sign up for an aquafit class at your local college or university. Exercise doesn’t have to be ‘extreme’ for you to get the benefits; find something you enjoy so that you’ll stick to it!
Weight loss and weight loss maintenance is tough, but with these tactics you can be more strategic and less restricted. You’ll never find long-term success on a restricting diet—you’ll only end up hungry and miserable, a combination that will only trigger a relapse. Success will be found by showing your body love in the form of a nutritious diet high in plant based foods, and a healthy lifestyle.
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