A little weight gain is no shocker this time of year. The indulgences of Christmas and New Year take their toll, but we can usually settle back to our usual weight without too much work. But if you’re finding the scales are refusing to tip your way long term, you could be making some crucial mistakes. Managing your weight isn’t about gym time, the latest fad diet or counting each calorie. Obesity expert Dr Sally Norton suggests better ways to stay in healthy shape:
1 Crash dieting isn’t worth it
A study from the USA’s National Institutes of Health proves it. It examined contestants from TV show The Biggest Loser six years after they lost their weight. Not only had just one of them kept the pounds off but, more worryingly, the sudden weight loss had permanently affected their metabolisms. So, if you want to lose weight, do it slowly.
2 An outside workout is best
It might be chilly out there right now, but that’s the whole point. Exercise done in cold conditions boosts the conversion of normal, white fat cells into a type called brown fat that burns rather than stores energy. It’s now suspected that this brown fat is essential when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight.
3 Count nutrients, not calories
When all you focus on is how many calories a food contains, it’s very easy to eat a diet low in healthy fats, vitamins and minerals and actually end up mildly malnourished. Instead, before you eat, ask, ‘Will this food benefit my health as much as my weight?’ If the answer is no, it doesn’t matter how many – or how few – calories it contains, there’s a better choice you could be making.
4 Sleep matters
One of my favourite studies was by researchers at Uppsala University, Sweden. A group of tired men were sent shopping, and came back with trolleys piled with junk food. It showed if you’re exhausted, you’re prone to choosing high-fat, sugary foods. Seven to nine hours is the ideal amount of sleep – both less and more are linked to weight gain.
5 Weight loss isn’t your goal
Focusing solely on reducing calories or exercise to make the scales go down means it’s easy to give up if nothing changes fast. Instead, choose goals that will ensure weight loss naturally follows, such as eating fresh, healthy food, limiting alcohol or sugary snacks, or training for a 5K.
6 Hip fat still matters
Many of us now know fat round the middle is more dangerous than that on your hips and thighs. But while tummy fat is known to increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes, don’t think you’re off the hook if you’re only carrying extra weight on your hips. Those pounds put pressure on joints and increase the risk of numerous cancers.
7 There’s no magic diet
A study in the New England Journal Of Medicine compared the results of low-fat, low-carb, high-fat and high-protein diets. They found they all helped people achieve the same weight loss of around 9lb in two years. Their conclusion: what you eat doesn’t matter, the diet that works best is one you stick to.
8 Scales are misleading
They don’t account for changing fat-to-muscle ratios. If you’re doing more exercise, particularly strength training, you’re likely to gain pounds as muscle is more dense and compact than fat. So, your weight may go up as you add compact, tight muscle mass, but you’ll look trimmer.
9 Every little counts
Studies show losing just five per cent of your body weight (9lb if you weigh 13st) can significantly lower your risk or diabetes and cancer, as well as reduce cholesterol levels.
10 Start with your mind
In a Harvard study, people taught healthy eating habits for six months had their brains’ reward centres scanned after. While the control group’s brain lit up for images of junk food, those taught healthy food benefits lit up for a salad! Proof that we’re not born to see chips as a reward, we learn it – and can change our thinking.