We're well into the New Year and, for some of us, those New Year's resolutions will already have fallen by the wayside. That's a real concern for the many people who vowed that this is the year they're going to get on top of their weight.
The number of people who could benefit their health with weight loss has never been higher. The newly published Household Survey for England shows 27% of the population is now obese, while 58% of women and 68% of men are overweight or obese. This may not be as high as the USA, who are among the largest in the world with a 36.5% incidence of obesity but it's the fattest we've ever been.
Perhaps not surprisingly, there are diets around every corner, each more bizarre than the last. Of course, there's never a shortage of folk prepared to cash in on a good opportunity, and there are always plenty of people looking for a quick and painless weight loss regime.
But if there really were a diet that worked every time, we wouldn't need hundreds of them. The simple truth is that losing weight successfully isn't effortless, and quick fixes rarely last long. But there are a few tried and tested tips which really could help:
One at a time, please! If you do manage to stop smoking and cut your alcohol and go to the gym regularly and eat 5 fruit or veg a day for more than a few weeks, 99% of people would love to know your secret. The vast majority of people can only sustain one or two positive changes at a time. Setting yourself too many targets all at once is setting yourself up to fail
What are my priorities? Only you can succeed, so you have to be doing this for you. If you're going on a diet just because your girlfriend is nagging you, you're much less likely to stick with it. Think about what positives could come out of achieving your goal, and remind yourself of these every time you're tempted to quit
Can you find some quick wins? Sugary drinks are among the biggest culprits where our current obesity epidemic is concerned. A single can a day provides enough calories to add up to a stone of weight gain in a year. The obvious alternative is to switch to sugar-free versions - but recently there have been concerns that sugar-free versions aren't entirely without health risks .
Know your enemy . There's a reason so many people make New Year's resolutions - because healthy lifestyle changes can be hard to stick to, at least at first. I haven't eaten pastry in any form for over 35 years, and I'm not remotely tempted now - but it was very different for the first few months and I know if I was asked to give up my favourite French cheese completely I'd have dreadful cravings. So think about what might scupper your efforts - do you tend to binge when you've had a few drinks? Do you find it impossible to say no to cakes at coffee time? Work out how you can resist (or ideally avoid) temptation for the first few weeks before you're faced with it
Be realistic. I get lots of patients telling me they're going to lose 5st and have the figure of a supermodel within six months. A very small number of them do, but most don't manage anything like that. Losing even a few kilos can make a real difference to your health - more energy, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and cancer. Alcoholics Anonymous knows how effective it can be if people with alcohol problems abstain 'just for today' and keep renewing their pledge. So set yourself a realistic goal - and if you reach it, give yourself a huge pat on the back and set another.
Beware the low fat option. While fat is extremely high in calories, lots of processed 'low fat' foods just substitute sugar for fat.
Exercise is fabulous, but… Regular exercise will tone your muscles, strengthen your heart, cut your risk of osteoporosis and improve your balance. But you can't expect to lose a lot of weight just by upping your level of exercise. You'll need to look at your diet as well
Don't stint on protein. There's increasing evidence that protein can help keep you full for longer than either carbohydrates or fat, which may cut the risk of you snacking
A new you is a marathon, not a sprint. One of the problems with 'going on a diet' is that most people believe they can come off them. And if you haven't learnt a new pattern of eating in the meantime, you'll go straight back to the same unhealthy habits that caused you to gain weight in the first place. I'd much rather talk about 'adopting a lifestyle'.
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