We all come in different shapes and sizes but the basic guide for healthy weight control is to balance the energy gained from our food and drink with the energy we use in daily activities.
How is it done?
The best way to lose weight is to eat slightly less energy (from food & drinks) than you need and increase your level of activity to help burn up the calories – rather than store any excess as fat.
That sounds too simple!
Well, yes and no. Knowing what to do can sometimes be easier than putting it into practice. You want to change long-standing habits of eating unhealthy foods or more than your body needs and create healthier habits that you can keep.
It is important to find ways to stay focused and motivated to choose healthy options day after day, week after week and work towards a healthier weight. There will always be some days that are better than others so don’t be too hard on yourself if you have a few unhealthy meals and snacks during the week. The goal is to eat well most of the time.
What are the benefits of losing weight?
Losing weight can help lower your risk of many major diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis and some forms of cancer. It can also give you a greater feeling of wellbeing. You may also find regular, moderate exercise increases your overall energy levels.
How do I control my weight?
The key to losing weight is to have realistic expectations, follow a healthy, balanced diet and exercise regularly. Introduce changes to your diet and exercise regime slowly so you can stick to them.
Having realistic expectations
To stick with a weight control programme the changes you make need to be ones you can maintain in the long term. Start with small steps, such as limiting the number of times a week that you buy takeaways – if it is currently 4 times a week, cut this back to two and try to choose options that include vegetables; or cutting back on the number of biscuits you eat with your cup of tea during the day by eating a piece of fruit instead.
Always combine changes to your eating pattern with an increase in physical activity such as going for a 10-15 minute walk on your lunch break and slowly increasing this amount week by week. Once you have got the hang of the first few goals and your weight has started to drop, you can add in some more goals but be realistic with how much you can do at once.
A realistic weight loss for most people is around 0.5kg per week. Some people may lose more than this at the beginning but after a few weeks this should reduce and if you are losing too much weight it will likely be fluid and muscle mass loss rather than body fat. Weight loss on its own for some people can be a poor measure of total fat reduction (and resulting health improvements), so try not to focus only on the numbers on the scales. Instead, think about how your clothes feel, how your energy levels are improving and maybe how you are noticing a change in your mood. Take compliments from others who see the positive changes and don’t forget to compliment yourself for the progress you are making!
Many people today eat too many processed and takeaway foods. These foods can be high in fat, added sugar and salt, and are not part of a healthy diet. Losing weight is much easier with a balanced diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, grain foods (rice, pasta, bread and cereals), protein sources (legumes, eggs, nuts and seeds, fish, poultry and lean meat) and low-fat milk and milk products.
Long term, a balanced, healthy diet can result in better weight control than fad or ‘crash’ diets that are hard to stick with, can leave you feeling permanently hungry and may be unhealthy.
The best way to lower your energy intake is to cut down on foods that are high in fat and added sugar. Foods with plenty of fibre such as wholegrain bread help you avoid hunger without piling on the calories.
You can delay meals if you are not hungry or save a portion for later, but don’t get over-hungry as this can result in choosing unhealthier options that are quick and instantly satisfying. Try to plan your meals so that you have food available when you need it throughout the day.
Alcohol is also high in calories, so limiting this can help with weight loss and lowers the risk for alcohol-related ill heath. A real problem with alcohol is that it increases the tendency to snack.
|Food||Serving||One serving being|
|Vegetables||At least 3||½ cup cooked vegetables, ½ cup salad, 1 medium potato or piece of kumara|
|Fruits||At least 2||1 apple or orange, 2 small apricots, ½ cup fresh fruit salad, or ½ cup stewed fruit (in juice)|
|Grain foods, mostly whole grain and those naturally high in fibre||6||1 whole grain bread roll, 1 slice bread, ½ cup muesli or porridge, 1 cup cooked pasta or rice|
|Milk and milk products, mostly low or reduced fat||2||1 glass of milk, 1 small pottle yoghurt, 2 slices cheese, 1 glass calcium fortified soy milk.|
|Legumes, nuts, seeds, fish and other seafood, eggs, poultry or red eat with fat removed||1-2||¾ cup dried beans, split peas or lentils, 30g nuts, 1 medium fish fillet, 1 egg, 2 chicken drumsticks, 2 slices cooked meat, ¾ cup mince or casserole.|
Starting to exercise
You can start with 15 minutes of gentle activity a day (e.g. walking, swimming, gardening). Over time try to increase this so that you are doing at least 2 ½ hours of moderate or 1 ¼ hours of vigorous physical activity across the week. Moderate activity means you should be breathing hard but be able to hold a conversation.
It is okay if you can only manage this only in short bursts and you may do so by taking the stairs not the lift or walking the long way to your car, and it can add up throughout the day. The trick is to find an activity you enjoy doing and to put a little more physical effort into each day. As you tone up your muscles they burn more and more energy, helping you lose weight and look trimmer.
Take your time and notice what you eat – “Be mindful”
Eating fast, on the run & while distracted can lead you to eat more food than you realise or need.
It takes 30 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain it’s full. Slow down and wait for meals to digest.
Sit at the table, with friends or whanau and minimise distractions such as TV, laptops and phones, and enjoy your food.
Some people find it helpful to write down what and how much they eat – and how they feel before and after. You could keep a paper food diary or there are lots of apps to use on your smart phone to collect this information.
Where can I get help?
There are lots of people who can help you get on track and stay motivated. Even if you are just starting to put on weight, it is better to get in control of it early on.
If your eating is out of control or you are depressed or distressed, talk to your doctor. If you have a health problem, are taking any medication or plan to lose a large amount of weight also talk to your doctor about losing weight. Your doctor may suggest additional help from a dietitian or a counsellor to help develop healthier eating habits.
Inspiration for meals and snacks Health Food Guide
Free healthy cookbooks Heart Foundation, NZ
Feel good for life (book) Claire Turnbull, Nutritionist, NZ
Lose weight for life (book) Claire Turnbull, Nutritionist, NZ
If not dieting, then what? Books On Prescription, NZ
Lose weight for life: Ditch dieting & lighten up Books On Prescription, NZ
Eating and Activity Guidelines Ministry of Health, NZ