Get back in shape – one step at a time 

Step away from those Zoom meetings. Leave that lockdown wardrobe of baggy clothes behind. The worst of the pandemic appears to be over, and a summer of increasing freedom lies ahead.

But what if our summer clothes no longer fit? The past 15 months of disrupted routines and near-constant stress and anxiety drove many to seek comfort in food, which means many of us have gained weight.Dietitian and author Paula Mee is worried this will make us easy targets for companies peddling diet and weight-loss products.

“All this talk of covid kilos and needing to flatten our curves puts pressure on people to lose weight,” she says. “What I don’t want to see is people spending months on diets that are destined to fail in the long run. That’s bad for mental health and our mental health has suffered enough during this pandemic.”

What Mee suggests instead is a more mindful approach based on establishing healthier eating habits.

The first step is to accept that it was natural and normal to turn to food for solace. “Lockdown brought physical and mental challenges,” says Mee. “People had to give up the gym and sports and many reported not sleeping well. The uncertainty meant people spent more time in the kitchen, nibbling and snacking. Food was something they felt they could enjoy safely, and it offered consolation and distraction for many.”

This could explain why so many gained weight. By June 2020, when the Central Statistics Office carried out its Social Impact of Covid-10 Survey, 40.9% of the 4,000 participants reported an increase in weight.

It was the same elsewhere. A systematic review examining the impact of the first lockdown on the bodyweight of 59,711 people from 32 countries found that up to 72% had put on weight.

Warning against crash diets

“You’re not alone if you’ve gained weight,” says Mee.

The question now is what to do about it. Is there a healthy way to fit back into our old clothes?

Mee warns against crash diets or diets that are poorly balanced as they are counterproductive in the long term.

“Severely restricting calories doesn’t work,” she says. “It results in compensatory changes to our physiology that increase the appetite and predispose people to regain the weight they lost.”

Science has known this for decades. In the 1960s, an American psychologist called Albert Stunkard carried out a review of weight- loss studies and found that 95% of weight loss efforts failed.

A 1992 review by the National Institute of Health Panel in America came to virtually the same conclusion. Up to 95% of people who lost weight regained it all within five years.

This is because the scales are tipped against dieters – our brains are programmed to resist weight loss.

“People who try to lose weight and reduce fatty sugary foods report insatiable cravings, fatigue, and poor mood,” says Mee. “The reward centre of their brain is complaining, and dopamine signalling is driving them to make up the shortfall. We have little control over these biological factors that nudge us to regain whatever weight we lose.”

Some diets are more detrimental than others. “Juice diets can be low in protein, healthy fats, calcium, iron, iodine, selenium, and vitamin B12,” says Mee. “High meat diets can be low in fibre-rich carbohydrates and vitamins and too high in saturated fat.”

The keto diet also comes in for criticism. “It involves consuming very few carbohydrates and could potentially decrease the diversity of the microbiome while also causing headaches, nausea, and diarrhoea,” she says.

These are just the short-term effects. The longer-term impact can be even more serious. “Sustained dieting can cause the body to reduce its resting metabolic rate, which makes it even harder to lose weight,” says Mee. “It can also lead to poor immunity, fertility issues, heart problems, osteopenia (when bones lose density), and muscle wastage.”

Understand your body

When it comes to losing weight, Mee says factual information is key.

“Understanding how bodies work can help to mitigate feelings of failure and disappointment when you struggle to maintain weight loss. It may also help those tempted by fad diets to abandon that route and make small, lifelong changes to how they eat instead, which will culminate in a healthier weight and better health outcomes in the long term.”

Her advice is to start by looking at lifestyle factors, particularly sleep quality, stress levels, and activity levels.

A lack of sleep is associated with imbalances in the hormones that control feelings of hunger and fullness. “These hormonal fluctuations may lead to overeating due to craving sweet, starch, high-fat, and salty foods,” says Mee. “Long-lasting chronic stress is also associated with those same cravings for calorie-dense foods.”

Learning to handle that stress could help us to stop snacking, which is something many of us have struggled with while working from home, with the fridge in such close proximity.

“Most of us do not need snacks between meals but we have been more tempted than usual during lockdown,” says Mee. “This has not been because of hunger but because of our body’s response to chronic stress. We need to find better ways of managing that stress because snacking is not the answer.”

Stock up your fridge

Paula Mee
Paula Mee

While we work on reducing those stress levels, she recommends stocking the fridge with healthier snack options.

A 2011 study by researchers in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health looked at 120,000 healthy men and women over the course of 20 years. “It determined that weight gain was most strongly associated with the intake of crisps, potatoes without skins, sugar-sweetened beverages, and processed and unprocessed red meats,” says Mee. “The foods associated with weight loss were fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts, and yoghurts.”

So, stock your fridge with the latter. “Ultra-processed foods are high in salt, fat, sugar, and calories but low in nutrition,” says Mee. “They trigger the brain’s reward pathways and cause cravings for more. Have less processed snacks to hand like nuts, hard-boiled eggs, or natural yoghurt with some chopped fruit.”

Mee also suggests limiting the environmental cues to eat. “Scrolling through social media posts full of pictures of food means you’re more likely to find yourself fantasising about the biscuits in the cupboard,” she says. “Just don’t do it.”

A day structured around three balanced meals is much healthier than constant snacking. “Aim to eat meals that include a protein-rich food as well as plenty of fibre for longer-lasting satisfaction,” says Mee. “What you need is a variety of high-quality foods in appropriately-sized portions.”

If there is any diet out there that will help us to do just that, Mee believes that it is the Mediterranean diet. It’s high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, beans, nuts, wholegrain cereals, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil and low in foods such as meat and dairy.

“Research shows that this diet helps prevent cardiovascular disease, increases lifespan, and contributes to healthy ageing,” says Mee. “It may also support healthy weight loss.”

The timing of your meals is important too. “If your bedtime is more than four hours after dinner, you may end up snacking late at night, which can disrupt your sleep, which then makes it more difficult to eat healthily the following day,” says Mee.

Fasting approach

Intermittent fasting may also work for some. This is a pattern of eating that alternates between fasting and eating. Some fast for 24 hours twice a week. Others fast for 16 hours every day, consuming their three meals within an eight-hour time frame, say between 8am and 4pm.

The studies that have been carried out on the effectiveness of such an approach are promising, says Mee. “According to a recent review article in the Nutrients Journal, intermittent fasting promotes weight loss and may reduce risk factors linked to heart disease such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. People tend to lose weight slowly with intermittent fasting but that can be significant in the long term.”

However, she warns that these are only short-term studies.

“There isn’t much long term evidence about how well this approach works, whereas we have plenty of evidence that plant-based dietary patterns, especially the Mediterranean diet, are sustaining.”

As we begin to emerge from the restrictions of lockdown, Mee wants us all to spend the summer enjoying our freedoms rather than punishing ourselves with restrictive diets.

“My experience is that they don’t work, and they just end up making people feel bad for failing,” she says.

“What I tell my clients is to take steps to improve their sleep, manage their stress, and get more active, all while making small changes over time to improve the quality of the food they eat. I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know those are habits that make for healthier lives.”

Snack attack tactics

What should you do when the snack monster attacks? When you are overwhelmed by a craving for chocolate, crisps, or some other fatty, sugary, or salty food? Dietitian Paula Mee has some tips.

1. Aim to eat nutritionally balanced meals. Meals that contain protein-rich foods and fibre-rich carbohydrates, as well as vegetables and/or fruits, are more likely to keep you feeling full and satisfied for longer.

2. Make sure you eat a nutritious meal or snack every three to four hours depending on your metabolism. Waiting too long to eat because you are busy or distracted can lead to excessive hunger and unhealthy food choices.

3. Do not stay up for too long after dinner. If your bedtime is more than four hours after dinner, you are likely to feel hungry again, which could lead to late-night snacking.

4. Try to avoid bringing ultra-processed snacks into your home. If they are not there, you can’t eat them. Replace them with less-processed snacks such as fruit, nuts, and yoghurts.

5. Limit environmental cues to eat. This means no scrolling through social media posts about food or watching television cooking shows. It also means putting that biscuit tin in the cupboard instead of having it out on the counter.

6. Some food cravings are learned behaviours that are associated with an event or environment. For example, you may enjoy crisps while watching TV. Change your routine for a while by listening to a podcast instead of watching television or by having a warming cup of herbal tea instead of the calorific snack.

7. Ask yourself if you are truly hungry? It could be that you are simply bored. If so, try breathing exercises or a distracting activity such as a short walk or listening to music. The craving should subside within five to seven minutes.

8. A different dopamine-releasing activity might also do the trick. Instead of immediately giving in to the craving for crisps, try cuddling your dog or watching a funny video and laughing out loud.

9. If you’re still hungry, have a snack but make it nutritious. A rice cake with hummus, a handful of almonds, or an apple will fill the gap until your next meal.

Source link Fit Fast Keto

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