In Part 1 and part 2 of this series, we discussed the complex mechanisms behind obesity and the various factors that impact caloric input and output. In the last post of this 3 part series, I will outline my 12 best tips to losing weight based on our understanding of the complex mechanisms behind weight gain.
1) Eat whole foods, especially animal based protein and vegetables.
Although calories matter for weight loss, voluntary restriction of calories by an individual may not always be the best way to approach weight loss. This is because it is not the way we were genetically designed to interact with our food. We were designed to eat when hungry and stop eating when full.
When we were hunter gatherers, food was scarce and when we used to hunt or come across food, we would eat until we were full. This is because we didn’t know where our next meal would come from. Back then, our food was a mix of animals and plants with no processed foods. These foods were very satiating and provided us with calories, however not nearly as much as the calories that come from our processed food these days. From an evolutionary perspective, our bodies were designed to interact with food in this manner due to the threat of food scarcity. We were designed to stuff ourselves full, however food was scarce and the food we pigged out on was not as calorie dense as it is today, therefore weight gain was not an issue.
The idea of caloric restriction to our ancestors was obsolete because food was not readily available where they had to worry about gaining too much weight.
However, nowadays food is readily available and not only that, some of the food choices available to us are extremely palatable and calorie dense. They give us a lot of calories without really satiating our hunger. Our bodies are built to prefer weight gain, hold onto fat as much as possible and our brains are developed to “overeat” on calorie dense foods, due to the fact we were designed to survive in food scarce environments. However, this system has gone into overdrive in our modern world with with the over accessibility of such high calorie, palatable foods that lack satiating properties, leading to overeating. This is why when we are hungry, we much rather opt for calorie dense food. We also are likely to overeat on these foods because they are not satiating.
We were not designed to voluntarily restrict calories and weight gain was never an issue with our ancestors, therefore it is a shock to our bodies when we restrict calories to lose weight. This is why weight loss is so hard because the body fights against it by slowing metabolic rate and increasing food cravings.
Based on this information, we need to find food that allow us to feel full, without a of of calories taken in, therefore allowing us to naturally interact with our food how we were genetically designed to interact with it. This allows us to eat until we are full, without having to count calories and restrict them.
Animal based protein sources and vegetables have the aforementioned qualities, which is why they should form the foundation of a weight loss regime.
If we feel full, we are less likely to give into cravings of calorie dense, nutrient void, rewarding foods.
Animal based protein sources are of particular importance during weight loss as they are low in calories, they require a lot of energy to digest, they stabilize blood sugar levels (preventing sugar lows) and it is our most satiating nutrient. They also help support muscle mass during caloric restriction. When we restrict calories, our body eats away at our muscle mass as a means of decreasing energy demands because muscle is metabolically expensive to keep in the body. This does not happen if we consume adequate amounts of protein.
Muscle is extremely important for longevity and overall health. It also burns a lot of calories at rest because it requires a lot of energy to house in the body, which is why it is important to maintain it during weight loss through the ingestion of protein.
2) Get enough sleep.
Read this post to get the best tips on how to get a good nights sleep. Sleep is the most important factor for weight loss alongside caloric intake.
3) Address emotional and stressful issues that may lead to emotional eating.
Seek out a counsellor to manage any psychological stressors that may be behind unhealthy patterns of eating and look to engage in stress reducing activities such as walking, meditation and yoga. Read this post and this post for more guidance. Distinguish the difference between emotional eating and eating for nourishment (boredom, stress, sadness, grief etc.).
4) Make your home a safe place.
Understanding cravings allows us to manage them more effectively. Since cravings are driven by food-related sensory cues such as the sight and smell of tempting foods, the most straightforward way to beat them is to avoid exposing yourself to those cues. If tempting, unhealthy foods aren’t available in your personal surroundings, not only will they be harder to eat, but you’ll be less likely to crave them. Therefore, create a healthy and supportive home environment. Remove the non-essential foods and drinks from both your fridge and pantry. Make your house a safe haven for healthy eating. Keep your house full of healthy foods and ingredients, rather than packaged and processed food. If you really crave a certain food, you can leave your house to go get some. The increased effort to seek these foods from a store may be enough of a deterrent to getting them.
5) Engage in exercise 3-4 times per week.
Anything is better than nothing. Do what you enjoy. However, ideally an exercise regime should include some cardio, some strength training and some walking.
6) Food prep is key.
If hungry, stressed and time poor, you will likely eat sugary, easy to make, calorie dense, palatable food. If healthy food is not available, it is unlikely you will stay on track. This is why food preparation is key. Cook in bulk to allow for leftovers that can be eaten while away from home. Sunday is a great day to plan and cook your meals for the week. Also, you can freeze your meals as a back up plan when you are time poor and hungry.
If we are hungry, we are hard wired to opt for calorie dense, processed food! This is an evolutionary mechanism as the body thinks it is starving.
7) Become accountable.
Tell friends and family about your weight loss goals so that you feel continuously motivated and accountable to them. You may not want to let them down, which will keep you on track. Maybe you can incorporate them into your weight loss journey. Make sure you surround yourself with people who are going to support your journey and not sabotage it. It also may help to surround yourself with people who are also health conscious.
8) Don’t grocery shop when you’re hungry.
This will increase your temptation to buy unhealthy foods and give into cravings.You may buy foods that are not good for your weight loss journey that may even be eaten when you get in the car. In weight losses phases you become obsessed over food as your body wants to increase caloric intake to bring you back to your set point. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you may give in to those cravings.
9) Incorporate the 80/20 rule.
Try to make 80% of your meals, healthy, whole food meals that look something like this. The other 20% (approx 2 meals/foods/drinks per week) can be used for indulgences and special occasions (within reason). Food is awesome and the unhealthy varieties of food should be enjoyed within reason and can help compliance to a healthy eating regime. Ideally enjoy these foods amongst friends and family. Food brings people together and it is well known how important social connection is to our health.
10) Don’t be so hard on yourself.
If you do go off track with your eating, recognise it, accept it, acknowledge it, move on and do better with the next meal or next day. Show some self compassion. Don’t let one bad meal or day wreck your progress! Studies show that self-compassion during dieting improves people’s relationship to food and increases weight loss outcomes.
Your diet and lifestyle is not all or nothing. If you slip up in one aspect, the rest of the plan doesn’t have to fall to pieces. Don’t let a slippery slope occur. In the context of your whole life, one meal or a few meals is not really a huge deal. Differentiate between shame and guilt in response to you “falling off the wagon.” Guilt is “I failed in one aspect of my weight loss journey and feel guilty for it.” Shame is “I am a failure and I am ashamed of my mistakes.” As you can see guilt is better than shame as guilt disassociates a behaviour with how one feels about themselves. Shame is associated with weight gain.
Lastly, remember that falling off the wagon is not completely your fault. Your body is fighting against you to increase its caloric intake to regain its set point (e.g. food cravings, lack of energy).
11) Low carb or low fat? Make sure it is high protein though.
It doesn’t matter, as long as you burn more calories than you ingest, you will lose weight.
Over a 12-month period, low carb diets showed no more benefit to weight loss than low fat diets, if calories and protein intake were matched. Being in a caloric deficit is what matters the most.
However, low carb diets by default lead to increased protein intake and decreased processed carbohydrates, which in turn is more likely to increase overall satiety and improve muscle mass, which may accelerate weight loss. This may be a reason as to why low carb diets tend to show a faster rate of weight loss compared to a low fat diet.
13) Incorporate daily movement into you day in order to increase caloric output.
- Use the stairs at work instead of the elevator
- Walk to ask a co-worker a quick question instead of sending an e-mail
- See if your company would accommodate standing desks as part of a health-promoting program
- If standing desks are out of the question, use a yoga ball instead of a chair to engage more trunk muscles
- Walk to a different floor than yours to use the bathroom
- Start a walking group for before or after lunch instead of spending more time sitting around
- Set up computer prompts or alarms to remind you to get up and move around every hour
- Initiate a fitness challenge at the workplace
- Walk after dinner instead of plopping on the couch for another hour of TV
- Go on a family hike or walk instead of watching a family movie
- Park further away from work or your destination
14) Don’t drink calories.
Drinking calories can sometimes be the hidden cause or a large contributing factor behind weight gain. Our brains are not very effective at registering satiety signals in response to high calorie drinks, therefore one can easily overshoot their caloric intake during the day by drinking too much of these sugar sweetened beverages and not feel full.
Not only do these drinks contribute to weight gain, but they are not beneficial (even harm) to our health. Furthermore, most of us don’t drink enough water because we drink too much of these high calorie drinks.
15) Eat slower.
It takes approximately 20 minutes for our satiety signals to kick in, which tell us we are full. Therefore, taking our time to eat meals will make us feel fuller quicker, without overshooting our caloric intake. Most of us eat on the run. Prioritise 20 minuets out of your day to sit down and eat! It’s important.
16) Keep a food diary.
Humans are notoriously bad at remembering what we eat and usually underestimate the amount of processed food we eat and overestimate the amount of whole foods we eat due to falling for our own confirmation biases. Therefore, if you feel like your weight is not budging, it may be due to a lack of compliance to your eating plan. Keep a food diary to track exactly what you eat.
17) Slow and steady wins the race:
Ideally you want to aim for 0.5 – 1kg of weight loss per week may not feel huge if you have a lots of weight to lose and it may take a while for you to notice changes in your clothes, however it is sustainable. It also will lower your set point gradually, therefore making it easier to keep off the weight and not suffer all the negative metabolic effects of eating below your set point.
A 05.-1kg weight loss per week, especially if you have a lot of weight to lose (more weight = increased difficulty), doesn’t send the body into panic mode where it up-regulates all of the evolutionary mechanisms to prevent weight loss because it thinks it is starving (e.g. low energy, lowered metabolism and hunger). This means that once you lose weight in a gradual manner, each small and incremental loss of weight actually has a change in the set point. Therefore, even if you lose 5-6 kg in 5-12 weeks, despite this being very slow, it is unlikely your body will rebound back to your original starting weight as the set point would have re-adjusted to a new point, which is 5-6kg lighter. This means that even if you may have a “binge” you will feel full once your body takes in enough calories to bump your weight back up to your new set point, which is already 5-6kg lighter than when you started.
Depending on your starting weight, the amount of caloric restriction you choose and your compliance to a healthy diet and lifestyle plan, will determine the amount of time for desired weight loss to occur. Weight loss may take 1 year to 18 months. As mentioned above, it is important to do it gradually so it is sustainable. Although this feels like a long time, think about all the other things you have done in your life that took more than 18 months of consistent work and commitment (e.g. parenting, finishing a degree). In the context of your whole life it is a small time and it could impact the rest of your life. This is rather than going through yoyo diets that are never sustainable.
Weight loss will suck, but it needs to be a bearable suck. Anything worth doing in life takes time, motivation, sacrifice and effort. One can make diet and lifestyle changes as sustainable/achievable as possible, however it does require some sacrifice, motivation and effort. You need to put in the work. Weight loss is about doing the right things, consistently, over an extended period of time. Treat weight loss as a marathon, not a sprint. Like anything worth doing in life, it is not usually easy, which makes success all the much sweeter.
Don’t try to change all of your diet and lifestyle habits at once. Start small and each week or every fortnight implement one new habit. Whether that may be around your diet, sleep, exersize or stress, set out a plan of attack on how you will gradually and sustainable change your diet and lifestyle. Introducing new habits incrementally until you have mastered them ensures sustainability over the long term. You may also need the support of a diet and lifestyle coach for this.
We live in a world of quick fixes and instant gratification. Even the medical model is built around the idea of quick fixes by giving a pill for every ill. However, good health takes time, effort and consistency, which most people are not used to in our modern world.