Doctor John Briffa's guide to wellbeing

Ten tips for healthy weight loss

1 Forget fat

Conventional dietetic wisdom dictates that the prime way to lose weight is to eat less, and in particular, to eat less fat. Gram for gram, fat contains about twice the calories of carbohydrate, and this fact is often trotted out in support of the low-fat approach. The reality is that research shows little or no relationship between the intake of dietary fat and body weight. Also, several studies show that long-term restriction of fat is quite ineffective for weight loss. The notion that eating fat makes us fat simply carries no weight from a scientific perspective.

2 Cut back on carbs

Starchy carbohydrates such as bread, potatoes, rice, pasta and breakfast cereals are often recommended as staple foods in a weight-loss diet. However, these foods tend to give quite a brisk release of sugar in the bloodstream, one effect of which is to stimulate the body to secrete the blood sugar-lowering hormone insulin. While insulin is essential to life, too much of it tends to promote the accumulation of fat in the body, particularly around the midriff. Also, when carbohydrates are eaten, it stimulates the body to burn carbohydrate as fuel, and this can be at the expense of the body's fat-burning potential. Cutting back on refined sugar, potatoes and grain-based carbs does seem to be an effective and sustainable strategy for the vast majority of individuals looking to lose weight.

3 Eat breakfast

Skipping breakfast may destabilise blood sugar levels, and appears to increase the risk of over-eating later in the day. Also, any extension of the fast that follows supper the day before will do nothing to maintain the metabolism. These factors may help to explain why individuals who skip breakfast have been found to be more likely to be overweight. Fruit, nuts, plain yoghurt and eggs (perhaps with a little wholegrain cereal or toast) are all good foods to fill up on in the morning.

4 Graze, don't gorge

Conventional dietetic advice is usually to avoid snacking between meals, on the basis that this just adds to the calorie count for the day. However, snacking can help quell the appetite, which reduces the risk of individuals gorging themselves on none-too-healthy foods. Regular eating helps to stabilise the level of insulin in the body, which reduces the risk of food being sequestered as fat. For those looking to lose weight, it's better to graze than to gorge.

5 Eat nuts

Nuts' intensely fatty and calorific nature means that they are generally seen as verboten on weight loss programmes. However, eating nuts helps to sate the appetite, and studies suggest this tends to lead to a reduction in our intake of other foods. Also, eating nuts seems to stimulate the metabolism: one study found that regular feeding with peanuts increased individuals' basic metabolic rates by an average of 11 per cent. Unroasted nuts such as almonds, cashews, pecans, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts and walnuts make an ideal snack food for would-be slimmers keen to get cracking.

6 Eat fruit

Ensuring a decent crop of nutritious foods such as fruit in the diet does generally help to keep the lid on our intake of less healthy fare. One study found that the addition of fruit to the diet helped keep women from going the shape of a pear.

7 Drink water

Keeping well topped up with water is believed to help sate the appetite and may also assist in the elimination of bodily toxins that may have a role to play in weight gain. To ensure you're getting enough of this most fundamental of fluids, drink enough to keep your urine pale yellow and relatively odour-free throughout the course of the day.

8 Breathe deep

Oxygen sparks life into the reactions that burn food to make energy. For the most efficient weight loss, it can help to practise a deep-breathing technique each day. For more details on breathing exercises, see The Breath Book by Stella Weller (HarperCollins).

9 Exercise to get fit, not to lose fat

Regular exercise has a number of benefits for the brain and body, but weight loss does not appear to be one of them. Studies suggest that exercise provides little if any additional weight loss benefits when coupled with dietary change. It may, however, help maintain weight loss. For benefits here, it seems as though the body needs to get through about 2,500 calories worth of exercise per week, which is roughly equivalent to 75 minutes of brisk walking a day.

10 Indulge yourself

Striking foodstuffs such as alcohol and chocolate off the menu may bring short-term gains, but may also trigger dietary revolt. For many, it's better to leave odd treats in the diet: this can help keep feelings of deprivation at bay, and often turns out to be a more successful slimming strategy in the long term.

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