Most of us have tried short-term dieting, looking for a quick fix to lose weight. A poll of 2,000 people in the UK found the average person will try 126 fad diets in their lifetime. But fad diets carry health risks. And if those diets worked, why are two thirds of Australian adults and a quarter of Australian children still overweight or obese?
The answer is often in the way you’re approaching weight loss. There’s no silver bullet and no hidden secrets. It’s about sustainability and consistency. Some of the evidence-based information below, might help you realign your journey to a more successful path.
The healthy way to weight management
If you are carrying too much weight, losing just a few kilos can bring significant health benefits. The best way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight is to take a balanced approach to what you eat and drink.
Follow the Australian Dietary Guidelines
Foods from the Australian Dietary Guidelines provide the most nutrients without the extra kilojoules '(energy)'. Choosing food from the five food groups and combining that with the right amount of physical activity can help you lose excess weight and keep it off.
Food from the five food groups should make up the bulk of your daily consumption. They include:
- vegetables and legumes (beans)
- grains and cereals
- lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts seeds
- milk, cheese, yoghurt or alternatives
Highly processed food often contains high levels of added saturated fat, trans fats, salt and sugar. Foods such as pies, burgers, cakes, pastries, confectionery and soft drinks are considered ‘discretionary’ items. They’re not part of your five a day. The more you can limit consumption of these, the more likely you are to be able to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Energy in, energy out
Food and drink are the fuel that power your body. If you put in too much fuel, and you don’t use it through physical activity and body functions, you gain weight. If you don’t put in enough fuel, you’re likely to lose weight.
If we eat or drink more ‘energy’ than our body uses, any spare energy gets stored as fat, which leads to weight gain. Finding the right balance between energy in and energy out, helps to achieve and maintain a stable weight.
Kilojoules versus calories
The amount of energy in food is measured in kilojoules (kJ). These are the metric equivalent of calories. One calorie equals about four kilojoules.
Some foods (like biscuits, cakes, pies and pastries) are high in kilojoules, others (like fresh vegetables) are much lower.
The average Australian adult needs around 8700kj a day. This varies depending on age, sex, physical activity and life stage. How many kilojoules are right for you?
Reduce your intake of fast food
Fast food can lead to fast weight gain.
Ready meals may be convenient, but they could also be high in added fat, sugar and salt. Always check the labels of packaged food and look for Health Star ratings on the front of packaging.
Takeaway food can be very high in kilojoules. Upsizing from a single burger to a double burger once a week for a year could add an extra five kilos to your weight. And you’d have to walk for two hours to work off a single portion of fish and chips.
If you can’t resist burgers, make them at home as a treat, with healthy swaps like lean meat and wholemeal buns. Go easy on the cheese and sauces, and pile on the salad.
Don’t bother with fad diets
Fad diets promise radical weight loss over a short period of time. They often exclude certain food groups, may be deficient in important nutrients, make claims based on few if any studies, and they’re difficult, if not impossible, to sustain long term.
Health problems associated with fad diets may include constipation, dehydration, bad breath, nausea, headaches, fatigue and vitamin and mineral deficiencies.
Follow a plan
A recent study by the CSIRO showed that participants who followed their scientifically-backed Total Wellbeing ‘digital diet’, for as little as 12 weeks, benefited from clinically significant weight loss.
Health risks of weighing too little
Regular physical activity isn’t just good for your physical and mental health, it can also help you manage your weight.
Guidelines on exercise
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 55% of Australian adults are not meeting the Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Guidelines.
Australian guidelines recommend an appropriate amount of physical activity for people of all ages, from children and young people through to seniors. For adults aged 18-64 years these are:
- be active on most, preferably every day of the week
- do between 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity physical activity each week
- do muscle strengthening activities on at least two days a week
Exercising for weight loss
If you want to lose weight, especially if you want to shift visceral fat, moderate-intensity exercise can
be very helpful. To reduce your visceral fat, you should aim to exercise for at least 30 minutes each day.
Both aerobic and muscle strengthening exercise will reduce visceral fat and help prevent it returning.
Small amounts of activity all count towards the daily total.
- Take the stairs instead of the lift or escalator
- Walk to the shops instead of driving
- Stand to make phone calls
Tips for getting active
If you’re new to exercise, or if you haven’t exercised in a while, start slowly and build up gradually. If you choose an activity you enjoy, you’re more likely to want to do it. And setting measurable short-term and long-term goals can help you stay motivated.
Find more tips here for getting active.
Measure your waist
The circumference of your waist can be a useful indicator of how much internal fat might be hidden around your organs. Such hidden or visceral fat increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, liver disease and heart disease. It may also be a sign of something called metabolic syndrome. These are disorders such as high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol and insulin resistance that increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Too much visceral fat has also been linked with an increase in risk of cancer, dementia, and osteoarthritis.
Women – if your waist measures more than 80cms, your risk of disease increases, and the risk increases substantially if your waist measures more than 88cms.
Men – if your waist measures more than 94cms, your risk of disease increases, and your risk increases substantially if your waist measures more than 102cms.
Calculate your BMI
Body mass index (BMI) uses a combination of your weight and height to estimate your total body fat and calculate if you are in a healthy weight range. There are some limitations to BMI because it doesn’t distinguish between fat and muscle, so if you’re a body builder or an athlete, BMI isn’t an appropriate measure. Depending on your ethnicity, these figures may also be slightly different. Consult your GP for a more personalised assessment based on your individual needs.
Use this calculator to find out your BMI then check to see where your score fits:
- Under 18.5: underweight
- 18.5 – 24.9: healthy weight range
- 25.0 – 29.9: overweight
- 30.0 and above: obese
Children shouldn’t use BMI either because they’re still growing. There are other charts to assess children. If you’re worried your child might be overweight, see your GP for advice and guidance.
Scientifically-proven weight loss
The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet is based on a high-protein, low-GI eating plan, which has helped thousands of Australians ditch unhealthy eating habits and shed excess weight.
People who completed the CSIRO 12-week online program lost an average of 5.3% of their starting weight. That’s more than four kilos for someone weighing 80 kilos. More frequent use of the Total Wellbeing Diet’s support system was associated with greater weight loss.
Some of the most successful participants lost an average of 21% of their body weight, and one of the keys to success was participation. Some of the most successful dieters used the CSIRO support system and online tools almost four times more often than people who only lost a small amount of weight.
A recent study into the success of the CSIRO’s Total Wellbeing Diet has led to a new program called Protein Balance Plus, which focuses on high protein, low GI meals, with protein distributed evenly across all meals.
New studies have shown that eating more protein, especially at breakfast, can not only boost fat loss but also reduce cravings later in the day.
It’s worth consulting a dietitian if you’re considering making any radical changes to your diet. Some crash diets can limit the intake of certain food groups which won’t help your overall nutrition or health.
Weight loss surgery
Weight loss surgery (bariatric surgery) is normally only recommended for people whose BMI is over 40. Like any surgery, weight loss surgery carries an element of risk, and should only be undertaken as a last resort if persistent changes to diet and exercise routine have failed to make any significant difference.
Bariatric surgery reduces the size of your stomach, to make you feel full after eating a small amount of food. The idea is that with a smaller stomach you’ll be less likely to overeat, consume fewer calories and so lose weight.
The three most common weight loss surgeries in Australia are:
- Lap band surgery (gastric banding). An adjustable band around the top of your stomach creates a very small pouch. This increases the time food remains in the top part of your stomach.
- Gastric bypass surgery. Stapling creates a small pouch to decrease the size of the stomach and change the way the stomach and small intestine absorb food. Food bypasses most of the stomach and fewer calories are absorbed.
- Gastric sleeve surgery. A large part of your stomach is removed, including the part that produces the hormone responsible for hunger.
All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.
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