The healthiest way to lose weight is neither crash diets nor bursts of exercise. The body likes slow changes in terms of food and exercise.
For example, someone who hasn't exercised for years shouldn't rush into running miles a day or pounding the treadmill. Not only will the struggle to do so leave you feeling disheartened and demotivated, you're also far more likely to injure yourself and set your fitness levels back further.
The same goes for people who suddenly start starving themselves. Diets that severely restrict calories or the types of food 'allowed' can lead you to be deficient in the nutrients and vitamins that your body needs.
So, if you need to lose weight, what should you do?
Energy needs and weight loss
Your body uses food for energy. It stores any excess energy as fat. This means if you eat more food than your body needs for daily activities and cell maintenance, you'll gain weight.
To lose weight, you need to get your body to use up these stores of fat. The most effective way to do this is to:
reduce the amount of calories you eat
increase your levels of activity.
This is why experts talk about weight loss in terms of diet and exercise.
Introduce changes gradually
Small changes can make a big difference. One extra biscuit a week can lead you to gain 5lb a year – cut that biscuit out of your diet and you'll lose the same amount.
You're also more likely to stick to, say, swapping full-fat milk for semi-skimmed or making time for breakfast each morning than a diet that sets rules for all foods.
You should think of weight loss in terms of permanently changing your eating habits. While weight-loss goals are usually set in term of weeks, the end game is to sustain these changes over months and years, ie lifestyle change for life.
Increase your activity levels
Someone who increases the amount they exercise, but maintains the same diet and calorie intake, will almost certainly lose weight.
No matter if you hate gyms – even light exercise, such as a short 20 minute walk, will be beneficial if done most days of the week.
Every single time you exercise more than usual, you burn calories and fat.
There are lots of ways to increase the amount of activity you do. Team sports, racket sports, aerobics classes, running, walking, swimming and cycling will all improve your fitness levels.
Find something you enjoy that's easy for you to do in terms of location and cost. You're then more likely to build it into your routine and continue to exercise, despite inevitably missing the odd session through holidays, family commitments, etc.
Get out and about at the weekend. Leave your car on the drive and walk to the shops. Try to incorporate longer walks into outings to the park, coast or countryside and take a picnic, so you're in control of what you are going to eat that day.
Every extra step you take helps. Always use the stairs instead of the lift, or get off the bus a stop before the usual one and walk the rest of the way.
Use commercial breaks between TV-programmes to stand up and do exercise, or consider using an exercise bicycle in the living room while watching your favourite programme.
Reduce your calorie intake
What is overweight?
Doctors use BMI to assess weight.
A BMI of 18.5 to 25 is healthy.
If you have a BMI of more than 25, you're overweight.
Over 30 is obese.
Over 40 is morbidly obese.
To calculate your BMI, you'll need to know your weight in kilos and your height in metres, then follow the example below.
1. Multiply your height by itself, eg 1.7×1.7= 2.89.
2. Divide your weight (eg 80kg) by this figure.
3. 80 ÷ 2.89= 27.7.
27.7 is the BMI.
If you're overweight, you can't continue with your current eating habits if you really want to lose weight.
Below are ways to reduce calorie intake without having to alter your diet significantly.
Replace fizzy drinks and fruit cordials with water.
Swap whole milk for semi-skimmed, or semi-skimmed for skimmed.
Eat less lunch than usual. For example, make your own sandwich and limit the use of margarine or butter and full-fat mayonnaise (store-bought sandwiches often contain both).
Stop taking sugar in tea and coffee.
Have smaller portions of the food you enjoy.
Avoid having a second helping at dinner.
Cut out unhealthy treats – such as confectionery, sugary biscuits and crisps between meals.
Cut down on alcohol intake.
Health benefits of weight loss
Studies show that overweight women who lose between 10lb and 20lb halve their risk of developing diabetes. For men, the risk of heart problems reduces considerably.
Generally, we gain weight as we age. A few pounds over the years are not a problem, but people who gain more than 20lb compared to their weight as an 18-year-old will rapidly increase their risk of health problems due to that extra weight. In particular, women increase their risk of heart attack and double their risk of dying from cancer.
It may seem like these are problems to worry about in the future, but time flies by and tomorrow becomes today. By keeping your weight in the healthy range, you're less likely to be troubled by illnesses in your later years.
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