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Safe Weight Loss – Why Dieting FADS Are Not FAB

COVID-19 lockdown and restrictions have resulted in weight gain for many South Africans. Reduced activity and comfort eating due to stress and anxiety has taken its toll. Approximately 31% of men, 68% of women and 13% of South African children are classified as obese. Obesity is generally defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of over 30. There are numerous other health risks associated with obesity. It increases the chances of developing type 2 diabetes which makes the cells in the body resistant to the salutary action of insulin. Obesity also causes an increase in fatty tissue which increases vascular resistance. It puts additional strain on the heart by increasing the work the heart has to do to pump blood throughout the body. Obesity, diabetes and heart disease are high risk COVID-19 comorbidities.
People may be motivated to lose excess weight, but in their eagerness to shed those extra kilograms they turn to quick-fixes and fad diets. Not only are these diets ineffective, but they could endanger your health too.
Below, we discuss the do’s and don’ts of eating sensibly and shed some light on the truth about diets.

1. It’s all about calories

The science of maintaining a healthy weight is very simple, and it’s all about calories. The average intake per day is about 2,000 calories – more if you’re a big man, less if you’re a small woman. This equates to three normal meals a day. If you take in more than you need, you gain; if you take in less, you lose; if you take in enough, you maintain. Eat sensible portion sizes, and steer clear of greasy, fatty and sugary foods which are high in empty calories.

2. Time to put it on, time to take it off

Weight gain is usually a slow and gradual process, with a few hundred grams every week or so gained. Over time, this adds up to a considerable amount, which leads to being overweight or even obese. But in reversing this trend, most people, fueled by our instant gratification society, want to lose it quickly. When this doesn’t happen, we become discouraged and usually return to bad eating habits. Fad diets that promise quick (and easy) weight loss are just that: fads, which are short-term solutions to a long-term problem.

3. You need to change the habit

This relates to our previous point: a fad is by definition a hyped-up, popular bandwagon activity that doesn’t last too long. Do you remember the Atkins and South Beach Diets? How about the “eat right for your blood type” diet? Like the latest fads, these diets promised miracle cures in a short span of time with minimal effort, and they all disappeared as quickly as they popped up.
Sadly, research has shown time and again that 70% of people who choose a fad diet will regain the weight back in less than a year, which means that the mindset and the actual behaviour has not changed. Eating well-balanced meals at regular intervals during the day is the only way to sustain weight loss over time.

4. Carbohydrates are not the enemy

Three of the most popular diets at the moment are Banting, the Keto diet and IF or intermittent fasting. In a nutshell, Banting focuses on a no-carb high-protein diet; Keto does the same but with a focus on trying to “trick” the liver into burning fat more quickly instead of sugar; and IF tries to reduce the number of calories by skipping meals. While each has their merits, dietitians and nutritionists recommend eating healthy, balanced meals that include all 3 main food groups in moderation: carbohydrates, proteins and fats.
These diets all advocate a significant reduction in carbohydrates, which they claim are empty calories with no nutritional value. However, the American Dietetic Association, the American Heart Association, the Australian Heart Foundation, the US Institute of Medicine, and the Food & Agriculture Organisation and World Health Organisation, both bodies of the United Nations, all agree that cutting carbohydrates completely from nutrition is not a good thing. In addition, the American Dietetic Association simply put it like this: “Calories cause weight gain. Excess calories from carbohydrates are not any more fattening than calories from other sources. There is no magic bullet to safe and healthful weight loss.”

4. Move that body

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that a lack of exercise is linked to weight gain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes, a weak immune system, and even diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Exercise is a critical part of preventing weight gain and is required if the body is to sustain any form of weight loss.

5. Green up your life

We are omnivores, which means we were designed to eat meat AND fruit and vegetables. The required dose is 5 portions a day, one of which can be a fruit juice (140ml). Green vegetables are particularly healthy for the body and will help fill you up without filling you out, as the saying goes.

Plan a trip to your doctor to check your BMI, and to discuss the possibilities for maintaining a healthy weight with a sensible eating plan.

For more information please contact:

Dr Carine Roets
General Practitioner
MB ChB (Stell)
Royal Hospital and Heart Centre
Telephone: +27 53 045 0551
Email: carine.roets@gmail.com

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.