In addition to smooth, glowing skin and good mental health, many of us simply want to eat and not gain weight. Or, at the very least, just lose 5kg and have it stay off.
However, this wish has clearly not been granted. According to the World Health Organisation, worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. Also, ‘how to lose weight’ peaked at the fourth most-asked question on Google two years ago.
You are probably considering your New Year’s resolutions right now. If you’re actively trying to lose weight, you are likely to be bombarded with unsolicited (and often useless) advice about what you should be doing. This can range from detox smoothies to weight-loss pills. Besides, there are more fad diets out there than there are stars in the sky. While some of these might initially be effective, the effects tend to last only as long as the pills do.
This is why you can’t look at effective and sustainable weight loss as a quick fix. If you’re serious about finding a solution, you’ll have to change your lifestyle and stick to it. Thankfully, there are a number of research-proven principles that are forever true.
10 Weight Loss Principles
1. Portion Control
Food should be something we enjoy, and it should benefit our body, not cause it harm. Often, the issue is not what, but how much, we eat.
Registered dietician Melissa Kelly uses the French diet to illustrate this point. The French enjoy various fats and oils, red wine, wholewheat pasta and bread, dark chocolate, and cheese. Yet they famously remained slim throughout their lives. They also have some of the best rates of heart health in the world. Coined the “French paradox”, this situation has puzzled fat-free advocates for years.
The short answer is portion control and quality. While they never deprive themselves of the food they love – which they make with only the freshest, preservative-free ingredients – the French don’t overindulge.
Monique Piderit, a registered dietician from Nutritional Solutions, provides some practical ways of effectively and easily controlling your portion sizes:
Make half your plate color.
Fill half your plate with your favorite salad and/or vegetables. This way, there’ll be less room on your plate when you start to dish up chicken, fish, meat, and starches.
Shrink your plate.
A 2015 study showed that when a plate size is doubled, the amount of food eaten increases by 41%. In contrast, halving the size of the plate results in a 30% reduction in the amount of food eaten. Stock up on smaller dinner plates or, better yet, eat off a side plate to help control portions.
Dish up from the kitchen.
When serving meals at home, dish up from the kitchen and not from the dinner table. Placing dishes on the dinner table may tempt you to go for second helpings, or you will nibble mindlessly while chatting after a meal.
Work for your food.
To slow you down when eating, including more foods that require some effort to eat, such as peeling naartjie or removing pistachios from the shell.
Skipping meals can be disastrous for portion control, as you are more likely to eat too large at the next meal. For most, three healthy and balanced meals, with one or two snacks during the day, will help to control hunger levels and, subsequently, portions.
Chew your food.
Paying attention to the number of chews you are taking slows you down. When we eat more slowly, we tend to eat more mindfully, and, in turn, eat less.
2. Drink water
If there was one thing everyone could do to improve their lives in some way, it would probably be to consume more water daily. The benefits are legendary: better concentration and brain function, glowing skin, and improved circulation of nutrients throughout the body.
If you struggle to reach your daily requirements, you need to make it enjoyable. Registered dietician Ise-Marie Jardim advises adopting the habit of drinking a glass of water before brushing your teeth, as well as before each meal or snack. “There are also different apps that you can download, which will send you reminders each day and make sure you get your daily intake.”
Another good idea is to invest in a good-quality bottle that is attractive, practical, sizable, and sturdy (glass or stainless steel are good options). Once you’ve chosen one that works for you, you need to make sure that you drink the recommended amount for your profile. If you have trouble drinking water on its own, try adding lemon slices or pieces of fruit.
3. Make your plate 50% veggies
Many vegetables contain high levels of water, which makes it easier to stay hydrated. Also, when weight loss is your goal, you want to fill up on fiber (you will experience better satiety for longer) and healthy nutrients that will benefit your body, without taking on too many calories.
The best way to ensure that you get your daily dose of veggies is to plan them into your meals. Two tricks that can make this easier: first, you need to ditch the boring, three-ingredient-only salads and learn how to make delicious, colorful ones. If you need inspiration, look for vegan recipes, as these usually contain the best ingredients, flavors, and textures. Second, try freshly roasted veggies. Any leftovers can go into your breakfast wrap the next morning or your salad in the afternoon.
4. Get enough good-quality sleep
Thanks to the effects of the lightbulb, blue light, and ever-rising stress levels, people are finding it more difficult than ever to sleep. And while most know these have negative effects on brain function and the immune system – not to mention the health of our cells, not everyone knows that the amount and quality of sleep we get is directly related to our metabolism and the way the body restores itself.
The research on this is pretty clear. According to Piderit, a variety of studies indicate that a lack of sleep is strongly associated with the following weight-related issues:
- An increase in dietary fat intake;
- Increased ghrelin levels (the hormone that stimulates hunger) and decreased leptin levels (the hormone that signals sufficient energy stores);
- Changes in the nervous system that cause the brain to view junk food as more appealing than healthy food; and
- Poor dietary habits, such as eating more unhealthy snacks, higher night-time caffeine consumption, and an inadequate daily intake of fruit and vegetables.
In addition, when we’re often awake during night hours, our circadian rhythms can fall out of natural order. This can result in metabolic disruption, Type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
Dr. KD Rosman is a specialist neurologist at the Morningside Sleep Clinic in Sandton. He explains that, if you’re having trouble sleeping, you need to get back into your natural circadian rhythms. “The simplest way to get back to our rhythms is to allow ourselves to shift back into the natural 24-hour cycle. In other words, keep your bedtime and wake time consistent,” he says.
5. Cut the sugar
If water is the one thing we need more of, then sugar is definitely the one thing we can do without. It increases anxiety, ages our skin, raises our risk of heart disease and damages brain cells. “In consuming a lot of the sweet stuff, one is not only accelerating the aging process but also increasing the risk for chronic diseases by triggering inflammation,” says Piderit. And, of course, sugar is nothing but empty calories that interfere with the hormone leptin, causing you to continue feeling hungry and keep on eating.
The other problem is we’re consuming huge amounts of sugar daily without even knowing it. Sugar hides not only in condiments and salad dressings, yogurts, breakfast cereals, and snack bars but also in diet soda and fruit juices. These are the very food items that are usually marketed as “healthy”.
The sweet stuff is hiding everywhere
In addition, most foods that are labeled fat-free often contain large amounts of added sugar, to replace the loss of taste, which is why it’s important to check your ingredients. “Terms like sugar, sucrose, glucose, and fructose tell us there’s sugar in a food,” says Piderit. “A good tip is to read the food label’s list of ingredients: the higher up in the list, the greater the amount of that ingredient in that food. You ideally want to limit/avoid food that has sugar in the first five ingredients.”
Cutting sugar out of your diet may not be easy at first – a study published in the British Journal of Sports Nutrition indicates that the effects of sugar on the brain can be similar to those of cocaine – but your efforts will be worth it.
Take it slowly at first, and work strategically. Opt for sugar in its most natural, whole form. “Sugar and honey and condiments can be added in small amounts, to the amount of four teaspoons per day in total,” advises Kelly.
Look for alternatives that won’t spike your blood sugar, such as maltitol or stevia, and stick with small amounts of raw honey, maple syrup, and coconut nectar. Avoid artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin, which have been linked to an increased risk of metabolic syndrome.
6. Opt for healthy, plant-based fats over refined carbohydrates
While the body might not need refined sugar, it does need fats – the healthy mono and polyunsaturated kind, that is. This is due to the fact that fat provides the body with fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, to function normally. “This food group contains more energy than carbohydrates and protein (38kJ per gram of fat compared to 17kJ per gram each of carbohydrates and protein),” says Piderit.
7. The Mediterranean Diet offers good all-round benefits
“Scientific support for Mediterranean eating is very strong,” says Piderit. “Rich in omega-3s, and generous consumption of fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants, this dietary pattern is associated with vitality and longevity and reduced cancer risk. The Mediterranean Diet also significantly supports weight loss. Large intervention trials, such as the Lyon Diet Heart Study and PREDIMED (Effects of the Mediterranean Diet on the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Diseases) have also shown impressive heart benefits. Use olive oil as dressings in salads, vegetables and legume dishes for a heart-healthy, weight-loss boost.”
The types of carbohydrates that work best for weight loss include fruit, vegetables, wholegrain starches, and pulses such as beans, peas, and lentils. These carb-rich foods are an important source of vital vitamins and minerals, as well as fiber for good gut health.
Plant-sourced monounsaturated fats
These fats (the ones found in nuts, olives, and avocados) have been shown in research to have the upper hand over saturated fats. The latter are usually found in animal products – such as cream and butter, fatty meat, and chicken skin – and in coconut oil. Monounsaturated fats do the following:
- protect the heart
- improve cholesterol levels and
- strengthen the immune system
- lower inflammation levels in the body
Recent evidence supports the positive role of essential fatty acids such as omega-3s in illnesses such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“The standout consideration when debating fat is the quality of fat,” explains Piderit. “Emphasis should be on favoring the monounsaturated fats in olive oil, nuts and seeds, and fatty fish, while having less red meat, and thereby mimicking the traditional dietary patterns of Mediterranean countries. Regardless of the type of fat, gram for gram, these fats have the same calorie content, and this does not justify excessive intake of fat. A focus on portion control should be stressed.”
8. Apply the 80/20 Principle
Because the principles we advocate here are supposed to be applied as lifestyle components, we also need to allow for a little treat now and then. Under the 80/20 principle, you should be eating healthy, nutritious foods 80% of the time, and allowing yourself the things you enjoy 20% of the time.
However, Jardim cautions that this principle needs to be followed with care. “If you’re trying to lose weight, you need to make sure your kilojoules stay within the recommended range for your profile. If you’re simply going to eat all of the kilojoules you’ve saved during the week, this is not going to be effective.”
9. Weight loss is not just about food
- About an hour before getting into bed, diffuse essential oils such as lavender, cedarwood, bergamot, jasmine or frankincense in your bedroom, or apply them topically. These oils have been proven to induce relaxation and improve sleep quality.
- For about the last 30 minutes before getting into bed each evening, have a bedtime routine. This allows the brain to wind down toward sleep.
- Sleep in a dark room, on a comfortable mattress and pillows.
- Avoid bright lights in the evening, and expose yourself to sunlight in the morning.
- Exercise daily.
10. Reboot for a healthy gut
If you want a healthy metabolism, you need to sort out your gut and the microbiome of bacteria that live within it. This is because your digestive system is linked to other areas of your body.
To keep your gut healthy, apply the following research-proven tips:
- Include foods in your diet that are rich in probiotics – these include live, natural yogurt, as well as kefir, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and kombucha.
- Maintain a good measure of daily fiber;
- Avoid taking antibiotics for mild health issues, sparing them instead for serious infections;
- Hydrate and avoid sugar;
- If you’re currently smoking, stop; and
- Maintain healthy stress-management methods.
What if you have a lazy bowel?
If you suffer from poor digestion and, on top of that, maintain a poor diet, the unhealthy substances you eat can start to ferment in the colon. Dr. Isabel van Niekerk, naturopath and the owner of Rubicon Clinics, explains that when this happens, mucoid plaque starts to form. As a result, toxins are produced, which then become absorbed and recirculated in your body, placing an extra burden on your liver, the primary detox organ. Often, this can also cause a blockage in your colon. If this happens, your digestive system will find it even more difficult to process and remove waste effectively.
In order to get your digestive health back in order, you could consider colonic irrigation, a treatment that has its roots in Ayurvedic medicine. This treatment is mostly used to get rid of compacted waste and plaque in the colon.
“When your digestive system and colon are in poor health,” says Van Niekerk, “it will not do the job of processing food, or extracting nutrients and energy, efficiently. Colon hydrotherapy effectively removes stagnant fecal matter from the colon walls, preventing the build-up of these bacterial toxins in the portal vein and lymphatic system. This reduces the load on the liver.”
The best way to determine whether you are a good candidate for this procedure is to speak to your doctor to rule out any risks. Should you opt for this treatment, it is vital that it is performed by a licensed practitioner who is legitimately trained.
The following conditions preclude this treatment:
- Colon or rectal cancer;
- Severe hemorrhoids;
- Crohn’s disease; and
- Recent surgery on the rectum and bowel.