Everyone has heard that weightloss is simply about eating less calories than you burn: balancing what you eat with how much you exercise. So, how come it feels so complicated?
In reality, there are a lot of elements that affect weightloss. Let’s take a look at some of the most important ones.
All calories are not created equal. We need a balance of different kinds of food in our diet: carbohydrates, proteins, fibre, and lots of micronutrients. Studies show that the most important macronutrient in terms of feeling full is protein. And wholegrains give you fibre and vitamins you won’t find in more processed carbohydrates.
When you eat matters as much as what you eat. For example, eating late at night puts a strain on your system, so you don’t sleep as well, and you don’t process the calories as efficiently, either. The best time to eat something sweet is either first thing in the morning, or after a workout. And it’s best to have protein at every meal, maximising the satiety effect, as well as supporting your body’s rebuilding processes.
Cardiovascular exercise is great for burning calories, and for keeping your heart healthy. This can be anything from walking to cycling, from a step class to aquafit, from kickboxing to dancing. And remember that things like walking up stairs instead of using a lift, or getting off the bus a stop early, really do add up! Guidelines recommend an average of half an hour a day. However, you can do less if you do it at high intensity with short rests: high intensity interval training or HIIT is extremely effective.
Weight bearing exercise is vital for building and maintaining lean muscle mass, which is what burns calories. It’s also vital for maintaining strong bones, especially important for women, but relevant to men, too, as you age. Not everyone may enjoy lifting weights, but remember that weight bearing exercise doesn’t have to involve a gym or dumbells. You can also use your own body weight, as you do in yoga.
Flexibility work keeps your muscles adaptable, and maximises their movement. While a lot of stretching before a workout isn’t great, incorporating stretching into whatever you do, and especially stretching after your muscles are warm and have been worked is vital.
Perhaps the most important thing with exercise, though, is to find things that feel fun! If you don’t enjoy it, you’re unlikely to stick with it.
You don’t always think about the calories in what you are drinking, but these can really add up. And low cal drinks are often worse for you than “full fat”. Studies show these encourage fat deposits to be laid down, as well as messing with your body’s sense of fullness, so low cal drinks encourage cravings!
Water is great, hydrating your body, and with no calories. It isn’t the only answer, though. Too much water can be a bad thing, washing micronutrients out of your body. In terms of quenching thirst and making you feel fuller and more satisfied, water with a squeeze of citrus is the best. Make it up fresh if you can, as most “mineral water with a touch of…” drinks contain either sugar or thosed dreaded artifical sweeteners!
The key word with alcohol is moderation. While there may be some health benefits to a glass of wine, too much alcohol dehydrates you. On top of that, when you drink you make worse choices…
Not everyone considers how important sleep is to a healthy weight. Studies link lack of sleep to weight gain. Being tired encourages you to eat more, and particularly to reach for carbohydrates for the energy boost.
And there is a bit of a vicious circle here. Being tired has you reaching for starchy foods, but eating starchy foods close to bedtime negatively affects your sleep.
Interestingly, the old idea about having milk before bed turns out to have a basis in science. All dairy, in fact, contains a chemical which helps your body to make melatonin, the sleep chemical. So, a warm, milk drink before bed will help your sleep. If you don’t like milk, consider other ways you can include more dairy in your diet, or taking a supplement like 5-HTP or melatonin.