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Today nutritionists talk of "losing fat" rather than of "losing weight". This is because your aim is to shed body fat, not fluid or lean muscle, as commonly occurs fasting or restrictive fad diets. Sure, the weight comes off, but most of it is fluid which is quickly regained once the diet is over.
You don't want to lose muscle either as it is metabolically active (unlike fat) and is responsible for keeping your body's metabolism set high, so you can burn off more kilojoules (calories).
No magic bullet
Firstly don't waste your money on pills, herbal remedies or meal replacements. There are no magic foods or supplements which will dissolve away fat - not grapefruit, kelp, cider vinegar, chitosan, brindle berry or fucus. For LONG-TERM success, you have to learn to eat real food in a junk-food world - and that's not always easy.
1. Think less fat - but NOT no fat
Cutting down on fat, especially the bad saturated fat, is still the way to reduce your kilojoule/calore intake. Fat is densely packed with kilojoules (calories), is easily overconsumed and tends to be stored more efficiently than either carbohydrate or protein. Stores of fat cannot be oxidised (burnt off) in the same way carbohydrate and protein can. But you don't have to go fat-free, nor is it healthy for your body. Stick to 1 tablespoon oil for cooking plus half an avocado or 1 tablespoon spread (soft butter/margarine) over the day. Plus a handful of nuts as a snack.
2. Keep alcohol to a minimum
Alcohol is concentrated form of kilojoules (calories) and diverts the body from oxidising other nutrients. Allow yourself 3 small drinks a week OR abstain during the week so you can relax on the weekend. A long drink made with a nip of spirits (rum, scotch, bourbon) topped up with soda water or diet soft drink is your lowest calorie option. You can sit on it and sip slowly.
3. Snack healthy
Four or five mini-meals a day can help "turn up" your body's metabolic rate, so you burn off fat faster. They also stop you getting overly hungry and reaching for quick grabs. But make your snacks healthy. If your idea of a snack is a biscuit or pastry, look for something healthier like yoghurt, fruit, crispbread and cheese.
4. Exercise regularly
There's no escaping it. People who exercise have less trouble with excess fat, feel healthier and maintain their lean muscle mass over the years. Any activity you enjoy and can maintain for 20-30 minutes without becoming too breathless is fine.
Power walking is one of the best ways to burn off fat. It costs nothing, requires no special equipment (except good walking shoes) and can be done at a time to suit yourself. Swimming, dancing, bicycling, skipping or gym classes are all beneficial ways to exercise. Any exercise is better than none at all!
It also helps to put more movement into your day e.g. use the stairs instead of the lift, walk to work or the shops.
5. Long-lasting carbohydrate
Choose carbohydrate foods that take longer to be digested and absorbed (called low GI carbs) - so you feel fuller for longer and hunger pangs are kept at bay. Slow-release types include pasta, legumes (beans, lentils), apples, pears, yoghurt, bran cereals and grainy breads.
6. Don't skip breakfast
Research shows breakfast "switches" on your body's metabolism and prevents you becoming ravenously hungry by 11am and tucking into pastries or hot chips. If you can't face food first thing in the morning, make sure you have a sandwich or smoothie mid-morning. And see if you can eat dinner earlier or eat less at night so you're actually hungry when you wake up (it's a nice healthy thing to wake up with a good appetite!).
7. Eat light at night
Avoid large meals late at night, which is the time when we are least active and excess kilojoules (calories) are readily converted to body fat. Fits in with breakfast above!
8. Slow down and eat mindfully
Slow down your rate of eating. Sit down to eat and stretch out your meal to last 20 minutes to allow the brain's appetite control centre to register that you are full. Read how to re-train yourself with my article 6 ways to eat more mindfully.
9. Add some protein
Lean protein foods have been shown to promote satiety (a feeling of fullness after a meal) which stops you picking. Lean beef, lamb, pork, chicken, fish as well as eggs, low-fat milks and yoghurts are all nutritious and good for dieters. Combining protein with slow-digesting carbohydrates (like pasta with beef strips) helps ensure satisfaction, something many diets lack.
10. Fill up on fibre
While the Glycemic Index is trendy, don't ignore high-fibre carbs that can create the same feeling of fullness AND help 'flush out' kilojoules out of your system. For dieters, the best high-fibre additions are 2 tablespoons bran cereal sprinkled over your usual cereal or muesli OR a small 100g can baked beans when you need a quick light meal OR high-fibre vegetables like cabbage, Brussels sprouts, spinach and corn on the cob.
Of couse, it's good to boost your intake of fibre from all food groups including wholemeal breads, beans and fruit. The high-fibre additions above are the ones that are easiest to slot into a busy schedule. In the old days, we nutritionists used to say fibre makes food "bulkier", so you feel fuller on less. That still holds true today. Think of white bread compared to a chewy grainy bread and you'll get it instantly!
If you're having difficulties with your weight or shape, it's worth making an appointment to see an accredited practicing dietitian. In Australia, they are listed in the telephone directory under "D" or go to www.daa.asn.au