Have a resolution to shed some pounds? Rather than trying a fad diet, use these long-term, healthy weight loss strategies that work.
Among the most popular resolutions are the ongoing pursuit of weight loss and better fitness. Hundreds of fad diets and weight loss programs continue to promise quick and long-lasting results. For those of us who resolve to improve our health in 2015, all that’s needed is a strategy for success.
Gaining and losing
Despite the billions of dollars spent on weight loss regimens, more than half of Canadian adults are still overweight or obese—a trend that is gradually inching upward, much like our expanding waistlines. Losing weight is an uphill battle for most; even more challenging is the commitment to maintain weight loss using healthy strategies.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 1 billion adults are overweight, with a body mass index (BMI) above 25. With nearly 500 million individuals ranking as truly obese (BMI above 30), obesity continues to represent a major risk factor for the development of serious medical conditions such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.
Effective dietary changes and an increase in energy expenditure in the form of exercise remain the foundation for successful weight loss—but could this simple reality obscure other factors that may play a key role in achieving a slimmer waistline?
What causes weight gain?
The dynamics of weight gain comprise a myriad of other factors, including systemic and metabolic imbalances, poor sleep and stress management, and emotional triggers with respect to food. Much like a tangled web, unravelling these possibilities is equally important for successful weight loss.
When it comes to dietary strategies to shed those unsightly pounds, recommendations that emphasize low-fat diets have been largely challenged. On the contrary, recent studies demonstrate that diets low in refined carbohydrates and higher in healthy fats result in greater weight loss.
Abdominal fat in particular is associated with insulin resistance, diabetes, high cholesterol, and even cancer. A low carbohydrate/higher fat diet may accelerate belly fat loss; raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol; and reduce blood pressure, blood sugar, and triglyceride levels. Dips in blood sugar levels are also avoided with this type of low-glycemic diet, resulting in appetite suppression.
Focus on whole foods
The principle of “a calorie is a calorie” is worth examining given the benefits of a low carbohydrate/higher fat diet when it comes to weight loss. The source of calories is important, as are the effects that macronutrients—carbohydrates, protein, and fat—have on triggers for hunger and satiety. After all, eating 1,200 calories of junk or processed food yields very different results compared to eating 1,200 calories of balanced nutrition.
In essence, the main components of this dietary strategy include
- high quality fats from avocados, fish such as salmon, and nuts and seeds
- protein from organic, pasture-fed meat and vegetarian sources such as beans
- plenty of vegetables
Avoiding refined carbohydrates such as white bread, pasta, and rice, as well as sugary treats remains the key to healthy weight loss.
Try intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting, a weight loss regimen that has gained popularity recently, involves short spells of restricting approximately 75 percent of daily energy intake for one or two days per week. Reductions in body weight and fat mass have been observed with this strategy.
A 2011 study of women between the ages of 30 and 45 observed reductions in body weight by 7 percent (13 lb/6 kg), fat mass by 13 percent (9 lb/4 kg), and waist circumference by 6 percent (2 in/6 cm). The subjects underwent two days of a very low calorie diet each week for 24 weeks along with portion control on other days. Structured guidance from a knowledgeable health care professional is highly recommended when embarking on such a strategy.
Use high intensity interval training
The benefits of exercise in weight control are well established; however, most protocols designed to induce fat loss focus on moderately intense exercises such as jogging or walking. Disappointingly, these steady-state exercises may not be the most effective choice for weight loss.
The concept of high intensity interval training (HIIT), which is characterized by brief, repeated bursts of vigorous exercise interspersed with short rest periods, is emerging as an attractive alternative to more traditional and time-consuming exercises. HIIT typically centres on exercises such as sprinting or biking, sometimes paired with weight training at a higher heart rate, to build muscle while maximizing fat loss.
This is partly achieved through the production of hormones such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, cortisol, and growth hormone. The rise in epinephrine and norepinephrine is an important feature of interval training because these hormones drive substantial fat loss. They may be particularly helpful in reducing abdominal fat. Elevated growth hormone levels in turn burn more fat and contribute to increased energy expenditure.
Other intriguing effects of HIIT are apparent on insulin resistance, showing increases in insulin sensitivity of between 23 percent and 58 percent.
Address unique needs
Recognizing individual differences and the uniqueness of each person’s physiology is an essential component of any weight loss regimen. Endocrine disturbances such as hypothyroidism, excess cortisol production due to adrenal dysfunction, or alterations in glucose and insulin metabolism in diabetics, for example, may be at the core of unsuccessful weight loss attempts.
Furthermore, the hormonal systems are interdependent and interconnected, so it may not be unusual for an individual with low
thyroid function to manifest insulin resistance as well. Addressing these imbalances with a health care practitioner is vital for sustained weight loss.
Body weight is also influenced by lifestyle factors such as sleep and stress management. It is now known that excess fat functions like an endocrine organ, releasing hormones of its own; of these, appetite-suppressing leptin and hunger-stimulating ghrelin are among the most important.
Sleep deprivation has been recognized as a contributing factor to weight gain, with approximately 30 percent of adults reporting six or fewer hours of sleep per night. Studies have clearly shown that fragmented sleep alters glucose metabolism, increases ghrelin levels, and decreases leptin levels—thereby elevating BMI and increasing appetite.
Ongoing chronic stress raises cortisol, which contributes to a spare tire in the midsection for many who struggle with weight loss. The combination of high cortisol levels and the desire to eat comfort foods during stressful events further influences the hunger hormone ghrelin, by blunting its effects and subsequently prolonging eating episodes.
Practising sound stress-management techniques, such as meditation or yoga, and improving sleep hygiene are integral elements in the pursuit of better health and greater fitness.
Herbs and supplements for weight loss
Omega-3 fatty acids
Incorporating certain nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils has shown significant reductions in fat mass in healthy adults, as reported in a 2010 study. Moreover, the research describes an increase in lean muscle mass. Combining fish oil supplementation with interval training and suggested dietary changes appears to boost this effect—a study with 15 overweight women observed a 6 lb (2.6 kg) reduction in fat and a 36 percent increase in insulin sensitivity.
Another novel nutrient showing promise in this regard is magnesium, where a deficiency has been associated with higher abdominal fat, insulin resistance, and impairments in energy metabolism. Interestingly, food sources containing chlorophyll, such as green vegetables, are highest in dietary magnesium, followed by legumes, nuts, seeds, and animal protein.
Herbs and spices
Using spices such as ginger and cayenne or herbs such as fenugreek and holy basil may augment weight loss by improving digestion, balancing blood sugar levels, and moderating the stress response.