It seems that every magazine cover, news story or Instagram feed includes details of how to lose a huge amount of weight in the shortest amount of time. The shiny images advertising healthy, colourful food and trimmed, toned beach bodies are the Holy Grail of those wanting to lose weight. They provide a sense of hope to those who have tried and failed, but still dream looking like the airbrushed gods and goddesses on the glossy magazines covers. But how realistic are these stories and is there any research behind these amazing declarations? Or do they just encourage unhealthy eating and faddy diets, all in a bid to sell a magazine?
Firstly, let’s look at the maths…
One pound of fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories. So to lose one pound of fat per week you need to drop 500 calories from your diet every day. This is an achievable and a healthy rate of weight loss. Therefore, as one stone is equivalent to 49,000 calories, you would need to drop 7,000 calories from your diet each day. As most people eat only a third of this, it would be impossible to lose 4 stone in 4 weeks. Ok, so this may be an extreme example, but it is intended to give context to how unrealistic and unattainable some of the current weight loss claims are.
Why is dieting so difficult?
Unfortunately a lot of the evidence around dieting and weight loss is showing that, diets don’t work! As depressing as this sounds, there are many good reasons for it.
- Dieting promotes temporary eating habits which cannot be maintained long term.
- It requires iron clad will power as you change not just your eating habits but your exercise regime and current social habits, in an attempt to improve your body and avoid temptation.
- Dieting triggers hunger hormones to be released. These are cleverly designed through evolution to encourage you to eat when you are hungry, for the purpose of survival.
- The quicker you try to lose weight, the more hunger hormones are released and the more difficult it will be for you to succeed.
- The less you eat the slower your metabolism will be. In order to conserve fat stores, your body will slow the rate of converting food into energy, so you will feel lethargic, burn less energy and lose less weight.
So how can we lose weight?
Slow and steady wins the race! Think of it as tricking your body into losing weight and sneaking those pounds off whilst your body isn’t looking. Don’t drop the carbs, not only are these a great source of fibre and nutrition but your brain runs only on carbohydrates. If you stop eating them, your body is going to notice! Don’t choose a faddy diet! These are not nutritionally balanced so you are merely depriving your body of important nutrients to keep it healthy and functioning at an optimum level.
Start by slowly introducing healthier food choices at each meal. Chose a nutritionally balanced diet based on wholegrain carbohydrates, a small portion of lean protein and plenty of colourful fruits and vegetables. The reason for the array of colours is that they provide a variety of vitamins and antioxidants to keep you healthy.
Only decrease the calorie intake by around 500 calories per day, which should allow you to lose weight at around a pound a week, depending on your activity level. A safe rate of weight loss is between half a pound to two pounds per week, any more than this will be near impossible to maintain long term and could trigger yoyo dieting.
Introducing regular exercise will help you lose weight and improve your physique, but if this is a new addition to your routine you may want to introduce it slowly. If you start to get hungry or low on energy, you may need to increase the calorie consumption to get the most out of the additional exercise.
How can you adapt your lifestyle to lose weight and keep it off?
You can’t teach an old dog, new tricks! Or can you? In fact you can, it’s called neuroplasticity and refers to our brains ability to continue learning and developing as we age. Neurons that fire together, wire together! For example, if you eat dinner whilst watching TV, you will always associate food with TV and therefore, every time you watch TV you will want to eat. The good news is that in the same way as old habits developed, you can create new habits. To do this, try to make associations between positive behaviours such as; exercising as soon as the alarm goes off in the morning or stop snacking and only eating at meal times, or only eating whilst sat at the dinner table. As difficult as it may be at first, within just 3 weeks, this will become habitual behaviour. All these small but positive changes will contribute to the weight loss process and make it easier to maintain.
So, unfortunately it is not possible to lose 4 stone in 4 weeks, but you can change your lifestyle so you don’t ever have to diet again. By making small, maintainable changes to your lifestyle, you will be able to lose weight long term and keep your body fit and healthy without too much effort.
Remember slow and steady wins the race!
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