Amongst the rising rates of obesity and increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, millions of people around the globe are doing their best to lose excess weight to save their health. However, a growing body of evidence is coming to light regarding how the negative health impact from excess weight can be reduced - simply by following a healthy diet.
It seems that if you are overweight yet have a healthy eating pattern (more fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, and less saturated fat, added sugars, heavily processed, high salt foods) you are not necessarily more likely to head to an early grave than someone who is of a healthy weight. In fact, you may have lower health risks that someone who is slim, yet eats an unhealthy diet.
This research is very much in support of the HAES movement (Healthy At Every Size). If you haven't yet heard about it, this movement encourages people to stop focusing on weight and instead focus on healthy dietary patterns to reduce risk and support longevity. This is an inspirational change to ensure everyone at every size feels accepted and that their healthcare is not restricted simply to cutting calories.
While I support a move away from a weight focus, I also want to ensure that we aren't ignoring it altogether. For people out there who find it difficult to stand for long periods of time, or who have joint issues, or breathing difficulties because of their size, they are perfectly entitled to want to talk about their weight. Weight also has implications for body image and self-confidence for many people. Everyone has different needs and desires, so we need to broaden our understanding of what we can do to reduce our health risks, and give people the choice of whether or not they want to talk about weight.
On that note, I've popped together A Few Things about health & weight loss which I hope strike a balance between a health focus and a weight focus. My intention was to be inclusive, provide encouragement, and help people to make the right decisions when starting (and staying) on their health &/or weight loss journey.
The First Thing
Whichever approach you choose, it's important to pick a sustainable approach to health and weight loss. It's common for people to pick an eating plan and decide they are absolutely going to stick to it, no matter what. Unfortunately, this approach means there is no flexibility allowed in your future eating habits. Placing restrictions and rules around our eating fosters a very unhealthy relationship with food and if the new approach to eating isn't right for you, then you will undoubtably struggle. It's important to acknowledge what is realistic for you so you can work within your limits. "Diets" as we refer to some eating patterns today (e.g paleo, keto, 5:2) are often rigid and unforgiving, and more often than not involve cutting out certain foods. Dont be fooled - these restrictive "diets" can be effective for initial weight loss, however, there is no evidence to suggest that they are effective long term for keeping the weight off. Many of these diets can also be lacking in a variety of nutrients because of their restrictive nature, so long term they can be harmful. Be open to the idea of adjusting your approach so you can stay motivated the whole way through your health & weight loss journey. You also shouldn't feel you have to drastically change your eating patterns to see improvements. Dietitians support small but impactful changes to eating patterns, allowing clients to build new, healthful habits that will last long-term.
A Second Thing
Ironically as it sounds, you could be struggling to lose weight because you're focusing too much on what your see on your bathroom scales. People often place too much emphasis on this and don't look at other success measures. Scales tell us how heavy we are. What scales don't do, is tell us how much our energy levels have increased, if we feel stronger than before, or if our skin has improved. Scales don't tell us when we've lost fat and gained muscle - you could actually be heavier and healthier than you were before. If you see the scales going up despite your efforts it can be incredibly demoralising - however it could simply be that your gym sessions are working wonders and you've built muscle since the last time you weighed yourself. Also, don't under-rate how great it makes you feel to know you are doing something good for yourself. Focus on the positive, celebrate every achievement no matter how small, regardless of what the scales are telling you. If it helps, chuck them out.
A Third Thing
A habit that can compromise health & weight loss is labelling food as good or bad. This leads to an association of guilt when "bad" foods are consumed, or an obsession to only eat "good" ones so you end up constantly denying yourself. Eating foods you love should never make you feel guilty. We always want something more when we can't have it - it becomes less alluring when it's no longer forbidden. Understanding how food contributes to an overall eating pattern is really important for you to know how eating certain foods (even if they are the "bad" ones) will do you no harm, and will actually support a healthy relationship with food. Think about what food is made up of, and what are some things we want more of ( e.g vegetables, fibre, wholegrains, healthy fats) and what we want less of (e.g heavily processed foods, saturated & trans fats, salt). If the food you've eaten today has been mainly made up of the things we want more of, then having an icecream, a row of chocolate, or a packet of chips isn't going to be enough to tip the scales. It's difficult to avoid ambiguity when telling people how much of something they can have before it's too much. The best advice to give is to listen to yourself and use your intuition when it comes to food.
One Last Thing
You likely won't have much success at weight loss if you expect it to be linear. By this, I mean that once people start losing weight, the expectation is that they will keep losing weight in a continuous fashion. There is growing body of evidence to support a theory regarding an internal weight "set point". What this means, is that our body likes to maintain a balance, and our body finds "balance" with a specific weight. Our weight loss attempts challenge that internal balance. This is why, (especially if we have a big weight loss goal) when we start losing weight and get excited about our acheivements, sometimes our weight loss appears to come to a grinding halt. Our clothes feel the same, our waist circumference doesn't budge - it can be quite scary, especially when we know we have been doing all the right things. It's important to remember here that your weight plateuing may not be a sign that your new healthy eating patterns aren't working - it could be a sign that they are working, and that your body has figured it out. The key here is to keep calm and carry on. Even with the continuation of the healthiest of eating habits, your weight may stay the same for a number of weeks, or even go up briefly. What you should do in this instance is relax, focus on your successes so far and check in with your support crew, whether it be your dietitian/ nutritionist, family, or friends. Resist the urge to jump on the scales multiple times a day. I would suggest no more than once a week. Eventually, as your body re-adjusts the weight will start coming off again.
Living a healthier life is exhilarating, though is not without it's challenges, especially before you've formed new habits. If you are currently on a health &/or weight loss journey and want extra support, make sure you ask for it. Get in touch with a nutritionist or dietitian if you want some expert advice, otherwise reach out to your friends and family. Someone encouraging you with a healthier lifestyle (or better yet doing it with you!) can make a world of difference.