Eating a balanced, nutritious diet and being physically active is the best way to stay healthy and help reduce your risk of disease. To maintain a stable weight, your energy (kilojoule) intake needs to equal the energy you use. If you use more energy than you consume, you will lose weight. On the other hand, if you eat more than you use, you will gain weight.
The sensible answer to losing excess body fat is to make small healthy changes to your eating and exercise habits. These changes should be things that you can maintain as part of your lifestyle – that way you will lose weight and keep it off.
Don't skip meals
Skipping meals is not
recommended. In fact, if you skip meals you may find you eat more when you do eat and this may lead to a larger stomach capacity. Studies show that stomach capacity can increase if large individual meals are eaten. This can then increase the amount of food you need at each meal before you feel ‘full’. You do not need to starve yourself if you’re trying to lose weight.
'Yoyo' diets will slow your metabolism
Many people who need to lose weight try crash dieting, which is a short-term solution that will increase your body fat levels in the long term. Continual cycles of dieting, weight loss and weight gain are called 'yoyo' dieting. Yoyo dieting does not help you to maintain a healthy body weight. Your body responds to these periods of semi-starvation by lowering its metabolic rate.
When you lose weight too quickly, you lose fat and muscle. Muscle burns calories, but fat doesn't. So, when you then stop dieting and eat normally again, your body will burn even fewer calories than before because the relative amount of muscle in your body has decreased and your metabolic rate is slower.
This kind of eating pattern can also affect your general health – just one cycle of weight loss and weight gain can contribute to an increased risk of coronary heart disease, regardless of body fat levels. That's why it's important to maintain the weight loss. It is considered weight loss of about 1/2–1 kilograms per week is reasonable and more likely to be maintained.
Think about when and why you overeat
Some of the factors that can lead to weight gain include:
- night eating
- social eating
- emotional eating.
If you can avoid unplanned or habitual eating, and keep to regular meals and snacks, this will help you to lose weight. Keeping a record of what you eat, when you eat and your hunger levels prior to eating can help you identify why you consume certain foods at certain times of the day.
This can be a useful step to try to identify ways in which you could decrease emotional eating, unplanned eating or eating less healthy foods due to hunger or habit. You should try to find healthy ways to cope with stress or emotional upsets.
A healthier approach to food
You can lose body fat by making a few easy changes to your eating habits. It will help you lose body fat if you:
- Avoid yoyo diets.
- Eat a wide variety of food from all food groups. Check that you eat from the following food groups every day – wholegrain bread and cereals, vegetables, fruit, milk and dairy, and meat, fish or legumes and where possible, choose low-fat varieties.
- Increase your fruit and vegetable intake, particularly vegetables, as most are low in calories and contain fibre, which helps you feel full.
- Reduce your intake of foods that are high in added fat, sugar and salt. Make soft drinks, lollies and snack foods an occasional 'extra'. Most adults should eat no more than one or two 'treats' a day. If you are overweight or inactive, you may need to limit treats to less than one a day.
- Try to balance an 'extra' food with extra exercise. The more energy you burn, the more treats you can afford to have. Remember, you should only add extra foods after you have covered your nutrient needs with choices from the healthier food groups.
- Cut down on saturated fats and alcohol.
- Replace sugary drinks with water.
- Avoid using food for comfort, such as when you are upset, angry or stressed. Explore other healthy ways to cope with these feelings.
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating includes information about how much and what types of food you need to eat to maintain a healthy weight.
Exercise is important for weight loss
Exercise prevents muscle loss, so it is important to exercise when you are losing weight. Exercise will protect your muscles and keep your metabolic rate ticking over at a healthy level.
The number of people who are overweight and obese is increasing every year. This is because we have become more sedentary (inactive). For most of us, physical activity is no longer a natural part of our lifestyle, so it must be fitted into our daily schedule.
Get moving – it will give you energy
Some people feel too busy or too tired to exercise regularly, but exercise will actually increase your energy levels and help you to feel less tired. Exercise does not have to be overly strenuous, even moderate amounts of physical activity of about 30 minutes a day can speed up your metabolic rate and help weight loss.
The amount of energy you 'burn up' depends on your age, your gender and your activity level. Young people burn more energy than older people. Men burn more energy than women. More physically active people burn more energy than your average couch potato.
A healthier approach to exercise
The best approach to increasing the level of physical activity in your life is to take it slowly. You can increase your activity levels by simply increasing movement throughout the day. The human body is designed for movement and any physical activity brings benefits.
Moderate intensity exercise – walking, gardening, cycling, and even mowing the lawn – has been shown to help reduce body fat.
Other suggestions for a more active lifestyle include:
- Play a sport that you enjoy.
- Walk instead of taking the car on short trips.
- Get off the train, bus or tram one stop early and walk the rest of the way.
- Play more outdoor games with your children.
- Walk the dog.
- Take stairs instead of lifts.
- Choose exercise activities you think are fun, rather than those you think are good for you. You could try dancing or kicking the footy around with some friends.
Type of help available
If you have been a chronic crash dieter for a number of years, you might need professional help to reintroduce you to a healthy way of eating. If you are overweight, over 40 years of age or haven't exercised regularly for a long time, check with your doctor before you start any exercise campaign.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Dietitians Association of Australia Tel. 1800 812 942
Things to remember
- Yoyo dieting makes you gain more weight in the long run because it lowers your metabolism.
- Obesity rates are on the rise because the Australian lifestyle is becoming increasingly inactive.
- Any type of regular physical activity, no matter how moderate, can help you to lose body fat.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Deakin University - School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences
Page content currently being reviewed.
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