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10 things to weigh up when you are trying to lose weight

Published 27/10/2015

Scaling back: keep an eye on your weight loss
Scaling back: keep an eye on your weight loss

Obesity is one of the biggest health challenges facing people today, but how do we fight the flab effectively? Ailin Quinlan separates the facts from the fads.

1. The Energy-in, Energy-Out formula isn’t as simple as you think

Eat less and move more — it’s an important guide, but over-simplistic, believes obesity expert Professor Donal O’Shea.

“Everyone thinks that the simple equation of energy-in, energy-out should mean that if you eat less and move more, you lose weight.

“However, as you lose weight, your body moves into a defence against the weight loss because it sees it as a threat and conserves energy, so it turns down its energy burn. Thus, the initial changes you make to lose weight stop being effective after a while.

“They need to understand that they will have to keep their weight steady until the body is ready to lose weight again or until they are ready to amend their energy-in, energy-out routine.”

2. Each person deals with a calorie differently

A calorie taken in by a fit, lean person is processed more efficiently than a calorie taken in by a very underweight person or a very overweight person, says Professor O’Shea.

“The body functions very well at a healthy weight, but as soon as you go outside that healthy weight, it functions less efficiently in terms of how it handles calories.

“The lining of the gut is full of bacteria which has a lot to do with how your food is processed.

“We know that overweight, obese people have a very different bacteria in their gut to that of lean individuals, and this affects how they handle calories”.

3. Twenty minutes less sitting around per day will give you a longer, healthier life

“Physical activity is very good for you, but it also turns out that physical inactivity is bad — so less sitting around will improve your health, quality of life and longevity,” advises Professor O’Shea.

4. The cause of obesity is 70% environmental and 30% personal

The challenge, believes Professor O’Shea, is that the solution is the reverse — 70% personal and 30% environmental.

“People blame themselves or their parents for their weight, but it’s not that simple. Some 70-80% of the problem is the environment in which we live. People must understand that the environment around them is a major cause of their obesity, and that they need to have enormous personal responsibility and willpower to buck that trend.

“Childhood obesity is also a social class problem — children aged three from the lowest socio-economic group are three times as likely to become obese than children from a high socio-economic bracket.”

5. Don’t just focus on sugar

When you’re focusing on weight loss, total energy content, not just sugar, is the most important information on a food label. “Too many people only look at the sugar content of a food when they are trying to lose weight,” warns Professor O’Shea.

Instead, he advises, study the total energy content — sugar, fat and protein together.

6. Check your weight regularly

Checking your weight regularly is one of the best things you can do to help yourself if you’re trying to lose weight, he says.

“Research has shown that weighing yourself once a week and tracking your weight is a major factor in weight loss and maintaining that weight loss. It works because it develops weight awareness and a commitment to tracking weight. You must know your weight and what happens to it in order to manage it.”

7. Select replacement foods carefully

The replacement foods you eat matter as much, if not more, than the foods you cut out when you’re trying to lose weight.

“Therefore, for example, replacing a full-fat yoghurt with a low-fat yoghurt will not, on its own, help you to lose weight because the energy content is the same.

“The low-fat yoghurt has a lot of sugar making up the different in the total energy content.”

8. Why 90% of weight gain is irreversible

Ten percent weight loss is the most that 90% of individuals can achieve — and while that is great for overall health, says Professor O’Shea, it’s simply not enough for the people attending weight-management clinics.

“Once you have put on weight, it is 90% irreversible for 90% of people and that underlines the importance of preventing weight gain.

“Do not allow your child to put on weight — because it is simply too difficult to lose.”

9. Cultivate Mindfulness

Mindfulness has been shown to significantly help in managing lifestyle changes for people.

“Eat mindfully and more slowly — eating with the TV on or while on the move is part of today’s culture, but it is really bad for you.

“It’s important to be sufficiently in tune with the body to know when it has had enough to eat.”

10. The younger you put on weight, the heavier you will be as you grow

The younger you put on weight as a child, the bigger you are likely to be as an adult, says Professor O’Shea.

“People who put on weight under the age of five are the people who come to our clinic weighing the most.

“We cannot allow an environment to continue in which 25% of our three-year-olds are overweight or obese.”

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