by Imogen Tingay RD BSc
In a world where conflicting information about weight loss seems to have been around for decades, navigating the areas of the health and fitness can be daunting and confusing. You might want to give up even before you begin! Or you might find yourself drawn to the newest fad diet promising the quickest results. As a registered dietitian, my mission is to guide people through the maze of options and advise on a sustainable path to achieving health goals.
The prevailing notion that weight loss boils down to a simple equation of “calories in versus calories out” has long dominated the conversation around health and fitness. However, a close examination of the factors which really influence weight management reveals a far more intricate and nuanced reality. While caloric balance is a fundamental concept, it’s crucial to recognise that sustainable weight loss encompasses a complex interplay of mental health, motivation, metabolism and a range of other proven interventions. Let’s look at these factors.
Mental health plays a pivotal role in a weight loss journey. Emotional eating, stress, anxiety and depression can all contribute to overeating or making poor food choices. In these instances, food becomes a coping mechanism rather than mere sustenance. Addressing these underlying emotional factors is essential to achieving lasting weight loss. Incorporating strategies such as therapy, mindfulness practises and stress management techniques can develop a much healthier relationship with food.
Sustaining motivation over the course of a weight loss journey can be challenging. The initial burst of enthusiasm may fade as setbacks occur or progress slows down (see metabolism below). Real-life commitments, work pressures, and personal challenges can impact one’s ability to stay consistent with dietary and exercise routines. Therefore, cultivating intrinsic motivation and setting realistic, achievable goals is crucial. Surrounding oneself with a supportive community or seeking professional guidance can significantly enhance focus.
Metabolism, the rate at which the body uses energy from food, is often misunderstood in the context of weight loss. Metabolic rate can be influenced by factors such as genetics, hormone levels, age and body composition. Extreme calorie restriction such as fad diets of 1200 calories and less can lead to a slowed metabolism as the body adapts to conserve energy, thinking that you are starving. You are likely to lose both muscle mass as well as fat, and cravings and binge eating may increase. Once you then stop the fad diet, your body is primed and ready to regain the lost weight (and even more) in order to avoid another ‘starvation’ phase. Instead of crash diets, a more effective approach is to adopt gradual, sustainable changes that support metabolism while creating a caloric deficit.
Here are my top 5 areas of focus to achieve lasting weight loss:
Balanced nutrition – focussing on nutrient dense foods, including lean proteins (chicken, turkey, game meats and white fish such as cod and haddock), whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats (avocados, nuts and seeds, olive oil) supports overall health and promotes feelings of fullness. This approach means you’ll likely be eating fewer calories but feel like you’re eating an abundance of food!
Regular physical activity – weight loss isn’t just about focussing on what you’re eating and really it shouldn’t be! Incorporating regular exercise which can include a variety of workouts and strength training not only burns calories but also helps to build lean muscle mass. This increase in muscle also increases your metabolic rate meaning that, over time, your metabolism will get more efficient at using food as fuel.
Behaviour modification – possibly the trickiest aspect of weight management is changing steadfast habits and implementing cognitive-behaviour strategies. These include mindful eating, portion control, and recognising hunger and fullness cues. Using these strategies will empower you to make conscious food choices and avoid overeating.
Sleep and stress management – the link between mood and food cannot be ignored. We all know that when we’re feeling low, we want nothing more than to comfort eat. This same desire also arises when we are sleep deprived. The hunger hormone ghrelin is released more when we are tired and haven’t slept well. This is our bodies way of trying to maintain an energy balance. Prioritizing sleep and effectively managing stress levels contribute to hormonal balance and overall well-being, indirectly influencing weight loss success.
Professional guidance and support – the reason so many individuals find initial weight loss success with groups like Weight Watchers and Slimming World can be attributed to the group support they receive at the time. Similarly, it's hugely helpful to work with a professional who can urge you on, encourage you and keep you accountable. In addition, a professional can help you to work through the proper methods to lose weight mentioned in this article. It's also important to remember that without having addressed the points above, people who lose the support from slimming programmes quite easily regain the weight they’ve lost.
It's essential to shift the weight loss narrative from a simplistic “calories in vs calories out” approach to recognising how metabolism, motivation, mental health, and nutrition all contribute to success. In other words, we need to recognise that sustainable weight management requires a holistic approach. By addressing all the factors listed above you can overcome challenges and achieve lasting results, empowered to make the necessary changes towards improved health and well-being.
To read more from Imogen go to her website: Home | It Dietetics
Listen to our podcast conversation about Imogen's eczema recovery story