One of the most common and difficult health issues for many people is losing weight. With so much information (and misinformation!) around, losing weight or even knowing where to start can be daunting. Although diets and weight loss can be complex and varied, there are some really simple facts you need to know to help you get started or stay on track with your weight loss journey.
Understanding the weight loss challenge
The basic concepts of weight loss are perhaps best understood by first picturing our body as a machine, and the food we eat as fuel which contains a certain amount of energy. Although there is much to understand about food, this article focuses on the foundation principle of weight loss – energy.
Every type of food contains a certain amount of energy (calories or kilojoules) per gram. There are four macronutrients that give us energy namely fats, proteins, carbohydrates and alcohol. Not all macronutrients are created equal in terms of how many kilojoules they give us per gram, for example fats and alcohol contain more kilojoules than proteins and carbohydrates.
If the amount of energy you consume is equal to the amount of energy you burn (Energy in = Energy out) your weight will remain stable. It follows then that if you consume more energy than you burn (Energy in > Energy out), the excess energy is stored as fat.
If you are in the latter category and have found yourself carrying excess weight, you may have considered ways to “use up” this stored energy, or in other words, burn some fat. The following simple principles provide the essential key to achieving this outcome.
In order for us to lose weight we need to create a difference between how much energy we need to fuel our body and how much energy our body burns. How do we create this energy deficit? The answer is that we must either decrease the energy coming into the body (through eating or drinking), or increase the amount of energy our body burns. The equation is Energy In < Energy Out.
It is possible to reduce the ‘energy in’ by eating foods lower in energy or reducing our portion sizes. Generally speaking, unprocessed foods such as fresh fruit and vegetables have a much lower concentration of energy compared to processed foods. It is therefore more difficult to consume excess kilojoules if you eat a higher percentage of raw or natural foods. Always remember that the types of food you eat and the frequency of when you eat have a direct impact on your metabolism and weight.
Unfortunately though, finding the right balance of ‘energy in’ versus ‘energy out’ is not necessarily simple. Dietitians often hear, “But I’m hardly eating anything and not losing weight!” This can happen if you make the energy deficit too big. When this occurs, your body slows down your metabolism, immune system and other functions meaning you’re burning less energy. Your body does this to make sure it still has enough energy to keep the essential systems (like breathing, circulation) going.
For a more detailed and personalised guide on energy sources and nutrition, you should consult with an accredited dietitian.
Having looked at the ‘Energy in’ side of the equation, we now turn to the other side of the equation – ‘Energy out’ or output. To increase the body’s output you need to make it move or work. There are many ways to do this, the obvious way being through exercise. Interestingly, it is even possible to slightly increase our output by spending more time on our feet rather than sitting or lying down. It is important to remember though, that it is much easier to increase our energy intake than it is to increase our energy output, so don’t fall in to the trap of thinking, “I have worked hard, I deserve a treat” without first considering the energy implications. Remember that it takes about an hour of walking to burn the energy of a single biscuit! Therefore, the best advice is to work a little on both sides of the equation.
As well as the energy equation you need to give yourself TIME! Weight takes time to go on, so you need to give yourself time to take it off. Trying to lose too much, too fast often results in ‘artificial weight loss’ and weight regain.
“If only it was so easy!” – As simple as it sounds, the human body is complex and our emotions, genetics and social stress also impact on our weight loss efforts.
Simple tips to reduce energy intake.
Trying to eat a bit less doesn’t mean having to cut out all the foods you love to eat. Here are a few simple ways you can reduce your energy intake:
1. Hide it away!
If it’s in sight, it’s in mind. Let’s face it, we’re more likely to give in to temptation if we have to keep looking at that tasty treat! So reduce the temptation by putting those high energy foods out of sight.
2. Change that plate.
Using a smaller plate or bowl is a great way to reduce portion sizes – you will consume less and still feel that you’ve eaten a full plate full of food.
3. Slow down!
Eating is not a race. Take your time between bites or use a smaller spoon or fork to take smaller bites and make your meal last longer.
4. Seconds to Minutes
If you’re still hungry straight after you’ve eaten, wait 20 minutes. There is a time delay between our brain and our stomach, so give the mind time to register that you’ve eaten.
5. Am I hungry?
There is a difference between being hungry and not being full. Get in touch with your hunger cues by asking yourself “Am I hungry?”
We are here to help!
If you’re after support, assistance or just a little bit of guidance with your diet or weight loss journey, Julia Bone can help you. As an Accredited Practising Dietitian, Julia can provide you with specific diet plans and suggestions which are tailored to your personal needs and lifestyle – giving you the best possible chance of achieving your goals.