Here I present the main points from a recent talk by Professor Clare Collins with many pertinent points about why we are, as a nation, getting heavier and why it is so hard to lose and then maintain weight loss, plus a few helpful pointers.
Obesity and overweight rates in Australia have hit an all time high with 25% of children, 70% of men and 50% of women being above a healthy weight. Its not hard to see why when only 7% eat the recommended daily 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables.
So how did this evolve?
Firstly, we have way too much choice - back in the 1950's, supermarkets carried about 500 lines. Now we are faced with 10 - 15,000 items when we enter a shop.
Our energy intake (ie kilojoules, or calories) has gone up. Not hugely in adults- but by 3 - 4% but by 11 - 15% in children (thats only a muesli bar plus a juice popper). Perhaps we are eating lots more good stuff though? No, we are not. On average one third of our daily calories come from nutrient-poor, energy dense foods- ie junk! The Australian Dietary Guidelines say that such foods should be eaten sometimes, and in small amounts. Clearly not as one third of your daily energy.
Despite this intake over and above our energy needs, there is the strong possibility of children missing out on essential nutrients as they only have limited appetites and are filled with highly processed foods lacking the vitamins and minerals that they need.
Next, portion sizes have increased. Compare the plate sizes from 1950's crockery with the super sized plates we use today, not hard to see why portion sizes have crept up by up to four times!
The digital world has infiltrated mealtimes in a big way - 70% of people use their phones during meals and so distraction could be one reason for overeating. Plus we love to share! Instagram is composed of 85% photos of food!
So, the weight has piled on and we know that maintaining a healthy weight is key to reducing risk of many chronic diseases for most people. But how to lose it?
Firstly, you must be keen. Success is only possible when you are motivated to stick to the changes that must be made. Initially (in severe overweight) losing 10% of bodyweight is a good target. Longer term, keeping 5% off is a good outcome with better health, better quality of life and better medical outcomes associated with that amount of weight loss.
How much deprivation? Aim for a diet that contains 2500 kilojoules (kJ) less than your normal diet. (you might need a nutritionist to help you work out what this is, or an app such as "Easy diet" or "My Fitness Pal" or "Lose it!" can help to measure current intake.) A very real consideration is to find a balance between reducing kJ enough to lose weight and being able to stick to the diet.
What not to do: Google some weird and wonderful diet that cuts out whole food groups or severely restricts variety in foods. Everyone needs some carbohydrates, fats and proteins for health, and we all need to eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables in a balanced diet.
Here are some tips to help you start:
1. Look at the Australian Dietary Guidelines and eat according to them.
2. Reduce your energy intake (Calories/kJ) by between 2000 - 4000 kJ per day.
3. Make some easy swaps- eg swap coke out and water in, biscuits out, a piece of fruit in.
4. Make a plan for a lower energy diet- perhaps 4200 - 5000 kJ per day with a set meal pattern (don't allow yourself endless unplanned snacks).
5. For fast weight loss - and this is definitely not for everyone- a very low calorie diet of 1800-2500kJ/day probably involving special meal replacement drinks is designed to accelerate fat loss. People who have chosen to have bariatric surgery are often required to do this in the lead up to surgery.
The amount of energy restriction that you can stick with may change over time, and so to keep on losing weight over a long period, you may need to change energy allowances up or down to keep you on track.
How much energy is required for a healthy adult of your age and height? Eat for Health has some useful calculators that you can use. There is also a Healthy Eating Quiz on page six which can help you to take a look at your current diet pattern. Weight does not automatically infer health status and you can be skinny and unhealthy and likewise carrying extra weight yet be eating a really good diet. Take the quiz and be honest with yourself!
6. Keep a wide variety of foods in the mix- in trials, those people who had the highest variety in their weight loss diets were those who lost most weight. It keeps food interesting!
7. There is an app called Food Switch for use in the supermarket. You can scan a bar code and it will suggest a healthier version in a similar product.
For most people weight is a key indicator of chronic disease risk. A healthy diet throughout life coupled with sufficient physical activity is obviously the ideal, but its never too late to make positive change. Good luck! (And a qualified nutritionist can help you on this journey....!)