It seems as though we are always in a season of talking about dieting, exercise and getting into shape. Even as some people are concluding their post-Christmas regime, aimed at shedding those holiday pounds, magazines are bursting at the seams with articles about slimming down and getting fit in anticipation of the upcoming summer.
There is a lot of good advice out there about losing weight, but let’s get one thing straight, and this is just my humble opinion: diets do not work! In the short term, maybe, yes, but in the long term, no. Why else would people need to go on the same diets year in, year out, and be forever seeking out new ones when the results of the previous one fails to hold out?
Diets don’t work, because people tend to focus just on food. Often, however, several other factors may be affecting their weight loss goals. According to sleep specialist and clinical psychologist, Dr Michael Breus: “Most weight loss diets won’t work well if you’re sleep-deprived.”1 This is not surprising, since there is much published research to indicate that adequate sleep helps the body’s metabolism to function properly.
Inadequate or lack of exercise can also impact the results of diet regimes. Research has shown that a person who leads a predominantly sedentary lifestyle burns fat less efficiently than someone who is more active. It is believed that the body’s fat-burning capabilities continue to function after a typical round of cardio exercise. Therefore, an athlete will burn the calories from eating a packet of crisps more readily than would a ‘couch potato’.
When we eat is as important as what we eat. One of the biggest issues with today’s work schedules and long commutes is that many people are having their main meal too late in the evening. Oftentimes, too, this can tend to be one of the heaviest meals of the day. As a rule of thumb, it is best to allow a full three hours between your final meal and bedtime. If possible, try not to make this the heaviest meal of the day, so that your body will have ample energy reserves available to repair itself during the night as you rest.
So many factors can affect how a diet works. Therefore, rather than focusing on a particular diet, I like the idea of adopting lifestyle changes. The difference is that with lifestyle change you incorporate good habits seamlessly into your routine, in much the same way as you do bathing or brushing your teeth—they are not activities that you think about anymore, but you wouldn’t dream of neglecting to carry them out. Diets, on the other hand, are often routines that go against our natural inclinations, and many are so rigorous that we struggle to keep them; are under a sentence the whole time, and can’t wait until the whole ordeal is over so we can return to normality.
If we get into the habit of a regular time for bed, for instance, we will soon feel the physical benefits of true refreshment when we awake in the mornings, and it becomes almost intuitive to stick to it.
Establishing a routine for exercise is also a great habit to incorporate, rather than treating it as a non-essential activity we do whenever we can find the time—since it is one of those things that is often notoriously difficult to find the time to do.
Aiming for a final mealtime of no later than 6pm is a good rule of thumb, as this will allow for a bedtime of between 9pm and 10pm and up to eight hours’ sleep, depending on individual needs. If commuting makes it difficult to have an early evening meal, try preparing a sandwich to have on the way home, and have a hearty breakfast in the morning.
There are many more habits we could adopt to boost our fitness and general wellbeing. In terms of weight loss, I would like to mention one more: the concept of ‘food combining’, which many feel is a direct way of maintaining a lean body. Food combining advocates not having carbohydrates and proteins in the same meal, since both require different stomach environments to be digested effectively. The premise is to make vegetables the main part of your meal, and then either add protein to make it a protein meal, or carbohydrates to make it a carbohydrate meal. Anyone who has, for instance, eaten a slice of fish or meat with a plateful of vegetables as a meal should be able to attest to how filling it actually is, and to its ability to sustain for many hours.
1 Success Magazine (2010) p. 56