The advice available for those wanting to lose weight has become rather complicated. Evidently eating less is no longer enough. It is now equally important to eat the right stuff. So then what is an appropriate diet for those who want to lose some weight?
First, it is important to decide why you want to lose weight. If it is all about looking good for an upcoming event then there are many commercial diets available that can help you lose whatever weight and ‘inches’ you need to lose (within limits) for the big day. Of course once the big day is over and you stop the diet, the weight will come back on.
The mainstay of almost every plan to reduce weight is based on the simple idea that the number of calories consumed over a period of time should be less than the number of calories being used up by the body. And this imbalance will eventually produce a decrease in body weight since the body will ‘burn’ up the stored fat and that will cause a weight loss. Of course to succeed this requires calorie counting and monitoring portion size, and that can be difficult.
Newer studies seem to suggest that for weight loss, calorie counting is not necessary as long as the ‘right’ type of diet is being consumed (The key to weight loss is diet quality not quantity, a new study finds, New York Times, Feb. 20, 2018). Sticking to a ‘right’ diet is in itself a hard change for many people. The article suggests that people who cut back on sugar, refined grains and highly processed foods and instead consumed a lot of vegetables and whole foods lost weight over a period of time without counting calories or worrying about portion size.
Point then basically is that if you stop eating high calorie foods and start eating low calorie foods, portion sizes won’t matter quite that much. That makes sense and is quite in line with most recommendations for weight loss. Perhaps then it is important to put together the basic recommendations in one place. It is important to understand here that if the idea is to lose weight and keep it off then a lifestyle change has to be made.
Before going further, I do want to emphasise that being overweight has many medical disadvantages besides any perceived cosmetic unpleasantness. The best accepted measure of appropriate body weight is the Body Mass Index or BMI. This is calculated by the weight in pounds divided by the height in meters squared (your cell phone calculator can do this for you). Any BMI between eighteen and twenty four is probably just fine. Above thirty is in the obese range. And anybody that can read what I have written and has a BMI less than eighteen needs to see a doctor pronto.
The medical disadvantages of being overweight are many. The more important ones are an increased chance of developing high blood sugar (diabetes), high blood pressure, heart disease and many different types of cancer. It is important to point out that an increased risk does not mean that an overweight person will definitely develop any of these problems. However, these increased risks plus the fact that you do not like what you see in the mirror are good enough reasons to try and lose some weight.
Also in obese people that have developed high blood pressure and diabetes, losing a significant amount of weight can sometimes reverse these conditions. And if not reverse, at least losing weight makes treating these conditions much easier.
First then about the type of diet that helps in losing weight and is also generally considered healthful. Most important part is to increase the amount of vegetables being consumed. Once more vegetables are eaten automatically the total amount of other things being eaten becomes less. The second important change is to cut back on the amount of sugar and sugary stuff that is consumed. Third, switch from refined starches to whole grains and other whole foods. Four, get rid of if possible all processed food (anything bought from a store that was cooked and preserved). And, vegetable origin oils and fats are generally healthier than animal origin fats and oils.
About meats, if possible add fish in the mix and cut back on red meat though a lean beef steak once a week is just fine. However, it is important to emphasise that nothing is totally banned as long as it is something you have eaten in the past. About milk, if you only use milk in your tea or coffee then whole milk is fine. And it is better to eat fresh fruits rather than dried fruits or drinking fruit juices. And most importantly for children and young adults cut back on eating fast food to at best once a week. Fast food in essence represents all that is bad about modern diets.
And one important addition to diets that is becoming more important is the consumption of ‘probiotic’ foods. These are foods that contain good living bacteria. These bacteria replenish the normal and healthful bacteria in the intestines. The most common food in our local diet that fulfills this requirement is homemade or full culture yogurt. Even though ‘fibre’ is a rage these days, consumption of larger portions of vegetables fulfills this need.
After diet the next ingredient to losing weight and keeping it off is physical activity. A brisk walk for twenty minutes five or six times a week is very beneficial from a health point of view though it does not play a major part in a weight loss regiment. The important thing about moderate exercise is that it provides many health benefits and assists in weight loss by burning up some calories but more importantly by kicking up the rate at which the body consumes energy (increased metabolic rate).Yoga is not exercise but it does help some people in losing weight and keeping it off.
For people with very high body weights, most diet and exercise regimens are only effective for short periods of time and even if they lose weight they will almost always put it back on. For such people increasingly a special type of surgery has been offered. This is called ‘bariatric surgery’.
What bariatric surgery does is that it rearranges the size and connections of the stomach and the small intestines so that the food is not fully absorbed and the feeling of fullness (satiety) is achieved quickly. These operations are very successful in providing significant weight loss and maintaining it also.
The problem is of course that these operations are irreversible and people that have these operations will need medical follow up. Over the last decade or so bariatric surgery has become a more frequent recommendation for obese people that have failed multiple dietary regimens.
Finally, an obese child will grow up to be an obese teenager and eventually an obese adult. By then it is often too late to prevent many of the medical problems mentioned above. The best antidote to child obesity is home cooked food.