Losing weight is often the easy part of a weight loss journey; keeping it off is trickier. Often people gain the weight (and more) back when they return to their usual diet.
With so many different diets available, and everyone from your granny to the latest social media health guru having an opinion, choosing the best diet to lose weight can be confusing and difficult.
Firstly, losing weight does not necessarily lead to a better life, improved health or even being happier. Yes, losing weight is associated with long-term benefits and reduced disease risk, but some weight loss diets can result in poorer health outcomes such as raised cholesterol/blood lipid levels, or reduced micronutrient and fibre intake due to the types of foods that are encouraged or limited. Following a regimented diet with no flexibility or enjoyment can become obsessive and promote a negative relationship with food. Do not chase a number on the scale at the expense of your overall health.
Losing weight is often the easy part of a weight loss journey; keeping it off is trickier. Often people gain the weight (and more) back when they return to their usual diet. The evidence suggests that whichever diet you can stick to in the long-term to maintain a healthy weight, is the right one for you. Aim for your new way of eating to become the norm i.e making new habits and embedding these into your lifestyle so that you do them subconsciously. We are all individuals, and choosing the right way to drop the extra kilograms depends on your personal circumstances and lifestyle. For example, if you have a limited budget, then a high-protein diet consisting of lots of expensive meat is probably not going to work for you. It is certainly true that one approach does not fit all. Choose a diet or incorporate a few dietary changes that you can follow forever (or at least longer than a few weeks/months).
Of course, what you eat is just one side of the energy balance equation. How active you are on a day-to-day basis is just as important, so that a sustainable and realistic calorie deficit can be created. Setting an activity goal will depend on your starting point – if you are currently sedentary, a daily 20mins walk or a step-count challenge to move more is hopefully achievable. Whereas if you already exercise regularly, upping the intensity, duration, frequency or type of exercise will be necessary in order to expend more calories. The key message is to choose an activity that you enjoy then it doesn’t feel a chore.
Sometimes clients wonder why they’re not losing weight. They are eating a healthy diet, and have increased their activity levels, so why is their weight not budging? Portion sizes may be the answer. Although the food choices are healthy, the amount consumed is too much! Energy intake must always be less than expenditure to lose weight. Some clients like to use smaller plates to reduce the amount being served, others realise that they have been eating too fast and not giving the satiety feedback loop time to recognise that enough food has been eaten. Removing distractions such as the TV or mobile can also allow more mindful eating and recognising when we’re full and to stop eating (it’s ok to leave food on the plate). Intermittent fasting, where eating is only allowed between certain times of the day (e.g 16:8 method) or limited on certain days of the week (e.g 5:2 diet) is essentially a way of limiting how much food is consumed and can fit with some people’s lifestyles.
Most people know to aim for 5 portions of fruit and veg per day. But did you know that Canada and Japan both promote 7 portions? In France, the goal is 10! They contain an array of vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants and are rich in fibre. Make sure half your plate is full of veg or salad at mealtimes, and reach for a piece of fruit at snack time rather than a biscuit.
Nuts, seeds, avocado, oily fish and plant-based oils should all have a place on your diet. Don’t be deterred by the old “eat low fat” message which has now thankfully been kicked out. Unsaturated fats have been shown to be beneficial for heart health, promote weight loss, reduce cancer risk and reduce inflammation.
Many people needlessly avoid carbs when losing weight. Choosing the right type is important to avoid feeling lethargic, having brain fog and being low in energy. Wholegrain, high-fibre, unprocessed carbohydrates e.g. oats, beans, brown rice and pasta, and wholegrain bread are great choices.
Studies show that protein can reduce appetite as well as boost metabolism. It is particularly important if you’re exercising to support muscle maintenance/growth too. Make sure to include foods such as eggs, lentils, beans, dairy, fish or meat in your diet.
The best diet for weight loss is the one that you can stick to in the long term. Ideally, it should incorporate plenty of fruit and veg, 30g of fibre from wholegrain carbohydrates and some healthy fats and protein. Getting more physically active will also burn extra calories and have wider health benefits for the heart, lungs, bones and mental health. Being active can also support improved sleep and stress management; both of which are also important for weight loss.