Thinking about weight-loss
Are you a serial dieter? Are you always trying the latest new diet, convinced it’s the answer you need to finally shed those extra pounds you’re carrying around? Does the diet work really well for a few weeks, or even months, only for you to find yourself slipping back into old habits and putting all the weight you’ve lost back on? Well you’re not alone! The frustrating truth is, dieting doesn’t work. What does work is developing a deeper understanding of your body’s nutritional needs, and the effects different types of foods have on both your hormones and your metabolism.
Eating carbohydrates stimulates the release of the hormone insulin. Carbohydrates are things like bread, pasta, rice, vegetables and fruit (this is not an exhaustive list!), and they are broken down into glucose (sugar) in the intestines. Insulin moves the glucose into cells for fuel, but if there is any left over the insulin converts a small amount into readily accessible units of energy for times of need, and the rest into body fat. It particularly favours storing fat around the abdomen, and this is the sort of fat that has been implicated in a higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. If many carbohydrates, particularly those that are broken down very quickly (e.g. sugary foods), are eaten then the mechanism by which insulin works may also lead to hunger, and cravings for more sugary foods. You don’t have to be a mathematician to work out where this scenario often leads.
Eating fat on the other hand may not have the results you might expect. The human body requires essential fats to support the production of hormones, for brain health, healthy skin, and in fact many other body functions. These essential fats can only be found in the diet (e.g. oily fish, nuts, seeds). Some vitamins are ‘fat soluble’, which means fat helps with their absorption (e.g. vitamins A, D and E). Also, every single cell in the body is surrounded by a membrane made up of fats, and in order for the membrane to remain healthy (and thus let nutrients into and waste out of cells) then dietary fats need to be eaten. Some fats are even thought to help support the metabolism and thus could be useful for weight-loss if carefully managed.
Unfortunately we’ve all been led to the incorrect assumption that low fat foods are essential for weight-loss. If a food is naturally low in fat, like a vegetable, then go for it. If it’s sold in packaging (i.e. is manufactured) chances are the fat that’s been taken out has been replaced with sugar (carbohydrates) or chemicals to make it taste better. If you’ve read the point about carbohydrates (sugar) you will see that using sugar to replace fat is unlikely to end in weight-loss, and actually quite likely to end in cravings for more sugar.
Hang on a minute though: fat has nine calories per gram, whereas carbohydrate only has four, which still suggests low fat is best. But fat takes longer for your body to break down and is therefore more satisfying. Digesting it also doesn’t require insulin. Eat a meal with good levels of healthy fats, a portion of protein (meat, fish eggs etc), and a helping of slow release carbohydrates (e.g. vegetables), and you are likely to remain satisfied for longer and eat less in the long run than if you eat a meal consisting of ‘low fat’ diet foods (remember they are likely to be high in carbohydrates).
It’s also not just about what you eat. Successful weight-loss, the sort where it stays off, requires consideration of other factors. For example, being stressed can inhibit weight-loss, and actually encourage weight gain. Lack of sleep can have similar consequences.
A nutritional therapist can help you navigate your way through the weight-loss minefield, but with an emphasis on achieving better health. Despite what's written above, you still can’t just eat as much fat as you want and expect to lose weight. Your body’s energy requirements still need to be taken into account.
By considering what factors in your life may be affecting your weight, and how the balance of what you’re eating could be changed to help your weight begin to normalise, you may find yourself less inclined to fall off the diet wagon and go back to your previous eating habits. A nutritional therapist can guide you on what choices you can make to eat a nutritious and healthy diet, as well as maintaining a healthy weight.
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