My 2 cents on the topic of weight-loss
I am trying my hand at writing articles on specific topics. These posts are going to be a little different from my earlier posts which are recipe or craft based. Feel free to skip if they do not interest you.
It seems like the whole world is looking for that “perfect” weight loss formula. If you were to ask any random person on the street whether they would like to lose weight, odds are that almost everyone would be willing to change their weight. Although for some people it is in their mind, a greater percentage of people really are overweight.
There is a whole weight loss industry, valued at around $60 million, built around this need for losing weight. People, eager for weight loss, are faced with a wide variety of choices : from pills, supplements, shakes, powders, belts to small machines which work on vibration. Most of these products have little to no evidence supporting their claim to weight loss, leave alone their potential side effects. Surgeons have also done their bit to help people lose weight by promoting bariatric surgery on obese people. These surgical procedures of gastric bypass and gastric banding are on the rise in recent years.
There are several reasons why people are overweight in the first place. Sometimes the reasons can be medical like under-active thyroid, PCOS, among others. In most cases, however, the reasons are much simpler and easily avoidable.
- The food you eat
Diet is the most important factor to consider when thinking about weight. Eating a healthy and balanced diet is key for a healthy body. It doesn't mean “going on a diet”, which might possibly be the worst thing to do for weight loss. These fad diets might make you lose weight temporarily, but it all comes back, with interest, when you slip from your diet or stop the diet.
A balanced diet, with proper proportions of all food groups – protein, carbohydrate, fats, vitamins and minerals, is the best for your body and for your weight. Think about the way your grandmother fed you. Chances are, you will find it was a perfectly balanced meal.
Along with what to eat, you also need to focus on how much of it to eat, aka, portion size. If you find yourself getting up from your meals feeling overstuffed, this tip might be most helpful for you. To figure out the portion size for your body, start with a smaller portion than what you would normally eat on your plate. Eat slowly, savor the taste. Pause and think if you need a second portion. Also remember to leave a little space in your stomach for better digestion.
You might also need to forget your parents advice of cleaning the plate. It is okay to leave the last two bites on the plate if your stomach tells you it is full. Practice listening to your stomach and eat only how much it takes to be a little less than full. You can always eat a small snack later if you feel hungry.
The topic of food and weight loss cannot be complete without mentioning low fat food and junk food. Even if the food might be labeled low fat, it can still have a high number of calories. The food manufacturers need to replace the missing fat with something else, usually sugar and salt, to make up for the lack in taste. It is easy to be fooled by the label and eat the food thinking it is not going to make me fat. A general rule of thumb to remember is : If it was made in a factory, it is probably not the best food for your body. Eat real food not processed junk food. It is called junk food for a reason. It has zero nutrition and more calories. Shift your thinking from a calorie view point to a nutrition view point. Before eating something, ask “Does this food provide me with enough nutrition to justify the amount of calories in it? Can I replace it with something more nutritious?”
If you get used to eating clean, real, unprocessed food, you are already on track for a healthy weight and a healthy body.
- Inactive lifestyle
Exercise is the second important factor for weight loss. People think they are too busy to find time to exercise and look for other ways to achieve weight loss. But there really is no substitute for exercise. Schedule time in your day for being active. Exercise doesn't have to be intimidating or boring. Anything which makes you active is exercise. Find something that you like and that you can look forward to doing everyday. Going for a walk with a friend, a dance class, yoga and swimming are all fun to do, if you are the type who hates gym. Just 30 minutes of being active per day will have a tremendous effect on your well being. Apart from the obvious weight loss benefit, you will feel more fresh and energized.
Think whether you really need to watch TV for the amount of time that you do?; do you really need to surf that long? These activities add to the inactive time in your day. Converting some of this inactive time into active time will let you reap the benefits of exercise.
Stress has become an intrinsic part of today’s lifestyle. Stress at work, stress at home and stress due to work-life balance. It all comes a full circle. Stress releases hormones in our body which can make us very hungry. Even worse, foods high in sugar, salt and fat make us feel better in these times. This becomes an addictive response to everyday stress.
We can take control of our body's response to stress and stop weight gain due to stress. Moving your body, going for a walk, when you feel stress building up, will diffuse it without the need for junk food. If you still feel a craving, give in but watch the portion size. A small piece of chocolate might do the trick.
Practicing yoga and meditation is an age old way of calming your mind and relieving stress. Over time, your mind will become generally calmer and less stressful if you practice meditation everyday.
- Lack of sleep
Getting a good 7-8 hours of restful sleep is vital for an energized body and brain. Not getting enough sleep releases hormones which interfere with our ability to judge our hunger and make us eat more. Moreover, a tired brain looks for rewards which are easy to get from junk food. We cannot make the best choices when we are tired and give into the junk food and caffeine craving. Lack of sleep also makes us more susceptible to stress which is a weight gain factor in itself.
Make getting sleep a priority just like exercise. Do not surf, watch TV or read an interesting book right before bedtime. It is better to do some deep breathing or breathing exercises along with a round of meditation to calm the mind and get restful sleep.
Eating a big, heavy meal at dinner or drinking tea/coffee in the evening or drinking alcohol close to bed time also interferes with sleep. Try to create a good wind down routine and keep bed times regular.
There are some medications you might be taking which cause weight gain. Steroids used to treat conditions like asthma, eczema, arthritis among others cause weight gain. Other medications like anti-depressants and insulin for diabetes also cause weight gain. Sometimes, oral contraceptives can cause weight gain. It is best to consult your doctor if you think your medication might be causing weight gain. Eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly is always a good way to counteract the effects of weight gain due to medication.
- Aging and Menopause
After the age of 30, your body starts the aging process. The muscles start depleting while the body fat increases. Particularly after 40, this causes your weight to creep up. Muscles burn energy while fat cells do not.
Menopause causes estrogen levels to drop in the body. Lack of estrogen is shown to increase body fat. It can also reduce the body's ability to use starch and sugars effectively resulting in increased body fat. The changing ratio of fat to muscle and the effect of drop in estrogen levels makes it even harder to lose weight as we age.
Even so, this does not mean we have to resign to our fate and accept the weight gain. Proactively making lifestyle changes before hitting 40 would help stave off the weight gain. However, all is not lost after 40. Anytime you start exercising, your body will respond positively. Strength training helps build muscles, which counter the depleting muscles due to aging and the resulting weight gain. Eating more consciously as you age will also help counter weight gain. You cannot keep eating the same amount as you did a decade ago.
You might have heard some people blaming their excess weight on their slow metabolism. Metabolism is the rate at which your body uses energy. Energy is used by all our bodily functions like breathing, digestion etc. That is our basal metabolic rate. People with a higher metabolic rate burn more energy (calories) than people with a lower metabolic rate.
Healthy muscles use up more energy since they have more mitochondria which provide energy to the muscle. The more mitochondria our muscles have, the more energy they burn. Aerobic exercise is said to increase the number of mitochondria in our muscles. It works on the same principle as demand and supply. The more we use our muscles through aerobic exercise, the more energy they need and hence they create more mitochondria. Doing interval training, where a short burst (eg. 30 sec) of high intensity alternates with a longer period (eg. 2 minutes) of lower intensity, makes the muscle work even harder, thereby increasing metabolism.
Building more muscle is another way to rev up metabolism. Strength training at least 2 days a week helps build muscles. This is particularly helpful as we age. Muscles tend to deplete as we age, like discussed before, resulting in lower metabolic rates in older people. But if they include strength training in their routine, they can preserve their muscle mass and reap the benefits of increased metabolism.
Some other ways to power up your metabolism are :
- Do not diet to the point of starving by taking in too little calories. It will trick your body to go into famine mode and your metabolism will drop.
- Do not skip breakfast. It wakes up your metabolism and keeps it going through the day.
- Eat 5-6 small meals a day because it keeps the blood sugars steady throughout the day and is said to increase metabolism.
- Some foods like green tea and fish oil supplements are also said to increase metabolism.
There are hundreds of weight loss products and techniques out there, but if you really get down to the basics, it is all about nutrition and exercise. Committing to a lifestyle of real, clean food and regular exercise is best for a healthy body.