Weight Loss Diets

This situation has not improved since I originally wrote this post in 2003…

It concerns me that so many women (and some men) spend their lives agonising about their weight. Given the images of super thin women we see in the media all the time, it is very hard to have an accurate self image. Is this weight one that is healthy for me, or am I fat? How fat? The continual worry is emotionally unhealthy, and the continual deprivation and dieting is physically unhealthy. Being too thin is as unhealthy as being too fat, and many of our role models are too thin.

I’ve noticed that some girls are now starting to reject the media images as ideal, and are starting to accept themselves as they are. If you are eating a healthy, balanced whole food diet, doing some moderate exercise, drinking clean water and have no chronic health conditions, it may be that your weight is right for you.

A quote from the Bradford’s Hollywood column in the NZ Listener, Nov 29, 2003:

“One Rings actor who has a genuine beef is buxom Liv Tyler. She has been told that her career is at risk because she refuses to lose weight. Studio heads have cautioned 26-vear-old Tyler that unless she shaves some shape off her figure, she risks losing starring rules. Tyler trimmed to a svelte 57kg to play Arwen in the Rings trilogy and gained 13kg after shooting wrapped. Taking a rare stand in Hollywood at least, she says that she doesn’t want to diet. “I’ve been told that if I lose weight I’d have more work,” Tyler confirmed, “but I refuse to submit myself to Hollywood standards. To the rest of the world I am slim and I like the way I am.” Now that takes guts, the kind that most Tinsel-towners lack – literally and figuratively.”

Just imagine if more actresses had such a sensible approach. We might start to have more realistic role models, and might beat ourselves up a bit less. The photo of Liv was taken at the LOTR premiere parade in Wellington on 1 Dec, 2003. I didn’t get to the parade myself, but everybody said she looked stunning, and the crowd went wild for her.

liv

Then just a week later, another Listener piece caught my eye. This one has got to be good news for all big-bottomed girls, and for the men who appreciate a nice round bum.

 

Bottoms Up

Fat-bottomed girls are the rage. At least that’s what we are told in Bootylicious (TV1, Tuesday, 9.40pm). It’s no longer a question of “Does my bum look big in this?” but more a case of “Is my bum big enough?” A recent magazine survey concluded that twice as many young women would rather have Jennifer Lopez’s ample curves than Kylie Minogue’s small but perfectly formed behind. So what do you do if you’re cursed with a tiny bottom? Buy a new one.

We’re all familiar with the boob job, now the butt job is making it big in the US. For around $US12,000, a plastic surgeon can sculpt you a new Beyonce-esque booty. Dr Thomas Roberts states that “you can make any size or shape they want as long as they have enough fat to use and most people do”.

One of his patients is purchasing a Jennifer Lopez-style Latino backside. Literally. “A small waist, a flat stomach and a nice round butt – the J Lo kind is what I want,” she explains. Luckily, she has a rich boyfriend to foot the bill.” Whatever makes her happy makes me happy,” he says generously. Then adds with a leer, “And plus you know, me being a butt man, I’m definitely going to be supportive.”

 

Bodyfat indicators:

A common indicator of whether you are a healthy weight is the BMI or Body Mass Index. This is calculated on your height and weight. This has it’s drawbacks as it doesn’t take into account the size of your frame, how well muscled you are, or ethnic grouping. It only give you a rough guideline of whether you are a healthy weight or not. Under 18.5 is considered underweight, 18.5 to 24.9 healthy, over 25 overweight, and over 30 obese. [eg. for my height, 5′ 3″ or 160cm, this translates to 105 lbs (47.5kg) to 140 lbs (63.5 kg) as my healthy weight range.] Note that the high point in the normal weight range used to be 27 until 1998, and one study showed that 27 was the optimal level for low mortality. By this standard, I’d be considered healthy up to 69kg (152lbs).

Another indicator is waist size divided by height. If your waist measurement is more than 1/2 your height, this indicates too much fat in the abdominal area.

A more useful indicator is bodyfat percentage. This differentiates between lean mass and fat, to give you a better idea of whether you are overweight or not. The American Council on Exercise gives the following guidelines for fat percentages :

Classification Women (% fat) Men (% fat)
Essential Fat 10-12% 2-4%
Athletes 14-20% 6-13%
General Fitness 21-24% 14-17%
Acceptable 25-31% 18-25%
Obese 32% and higher 25% and higher

You would probably need to see your doctor or a gym to get this measured. The most common way is using skinfold calipers to measure the thickness of the fat layer at certain points on your body. Another method is using bioelectrical impedance. This test is based on the principle that the conductivity of an electrical impulse is greater through lean tissue than through fatty tissue. You lay still with electrodes placed on the wrist and ankles. This is quick and quite accurate, but can be skewed by your level of hydration and can be expensive. The most reliable method is hydrostatic weighing, which involves suspending yourself under water seated in a chair attached to a scale, usually in a pool or tank of water. The tester compares your normal body weight to your underwater weight to calculate your body density. This can be very expensive, assuming you can even find somewhere to have it done!

Once you have started your weight loss program, and want to monitor your progress, remember that your weight will increase if you are exercising and putting on muscle (which I hope you are). So your measurements will give you a better idea of how much fat you are losing. If you do want to weigh yourself, make sure you use the same scales, wear the same amount of clothes, and weigh yourself at the same time of day. For women, it might be better to only weigh yourself once a month at the same point in your menstrual cycle, as weight does go up and down naturally during the month.

Before you rush off to start weighing or squeezing your fatty bits between calipers to determine just how fat you are, consider this:

An article quoted by Dr Mercola says that surveys have shown that people with a BMI of 23 to 25 (white adults) or 23 to 30 (black adults) were the longest lived. Note that these are at the top end of the healthy range, and for black adults are into the overweight category.

 

In Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, Deepak Chopra says “Extensive actuarial studies … have shown the lowest mortality among those who are 10% overweight, and the highest mortality among the chronically underweight.” He also says that as long as you’re not obese, the greatest risk to your heart health is not in fact from being overweight, it is from gaining or losing weight. Better to maintain a higher level of bodyfat than to have your weight going up and down.

It seems to me that popular definitions of what is overweight are actually too low. So take these indicators with a pinch of salt and a large dollop of commonsense. Also take into consideration your fitness, energy levels, and health.

A common indicator of whether you are a healthy weight is the BMI or Body Mass Index. This is calculated on your height and weight. This has it’s drawbacks as it doesn’t take into account the size of your frame, how well muscled you are, or ethnic grouping. It only give you a rough guideline of whether you are a healthy weight or not. Under 18.5 is considered underweight, 18.5 to 24.9 healthy, over 25 overweight, and over 30 obese. [eg. for my height, 5′ 3″ or 160cm, this translates to 105 lbs (47.5kg) to 140 lbs (63.5 kg) as my healthy weight range.] Note that the high point in the normal weight range used to be 27 until 1998, and one study showed that 27 was the optimal level for low mortality. By this standard, I’d be considered healthy up to 69kg (152lbs).

Another indicator is waist size divided by height. If your waist measurement is more than 1/2 your height, this indicates too much fat in the abdominal area.

A more useful indicator is bodyfat percentage. This differentiates between lean mass and fat, to give you a better idea of whether you are overweight or not. The American Council on Exercise gives the following guidelines for fat percentages :

Classification Women (% fat) Men (% fat) Essential Fat 10-12% 2-4% Athletes 14-20% 6-13% General Fitness 21-24% 14-17% Acceptable 25-31% 18-25% Obese 32% and higher 25% and higher

You would probably need to see your doctor or a gym to get this measured. The most common way is using skinfold calipers to measure the thickness of the fat layer at certain points on your body. Another method is using bioelectrical impedance. This test is based on the principle that the conductivity of an electrical impulse is greater through lean tissue than through fatty tissue. You lay still with electrodes placed on the wrist and ankles. This is quick and quite accurate, but can be skewed by your level of hydration and can be expensive. The most reliable method is hydrostatic weighing, which involves suspending yourself under water seated in a chair attached to a scale, usually in a pool or tank of water. The tester compares your normal body weight to your underwater weight to calculate your body density. This can be very expensive, assuming you can even find somewhere to have it done!

Once you have started your weight loss program, and want to monitor your progress, remember that your weight will increase if you are exercising and putting on muscle (which I hope you are). So your measurements will give you a better idea of how much fat you are losing. If you do want to weigh yourself, make sure you use the same scales, wear the same amount of clothes, and weigh yourself at the same time of day. For women, it might be better to only weigh yourself once a month at the same point in your menstrual cycle, as weight does go up and down naturally during the month.

Before you rush off to start weighing or squeezing your fatty bits between calipers to determine just how fat you are, consider this:

An article quoted by Dr Mercola says that surveys have shown that people with a BMI of 23 to 25 (white adults) or 23 to 30 (black adults) were the longest lived. Note that these are at the top end of the healthy range, and for black adults are into the overweight category.

In Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, Deepak Chopra says “Extensive actuarial studies … have shown the lowest mortality among those who are 10% overweight, and the highest mortality among the chronically underweight.” He also says that as long as you’re not obese, the greatest risk to your heart health is not in fact from being overweight, it is from gaining or losing weight. Better to maintain a higher level of bodyfat than to have your weight going up and down.

It seems to me that popular definitions of what is overweight are actually too low. So take these indicators with a pinch of salt and a large dollop of commonsense. Also take into consideration your fitness, energy levels, and health.

On the other hand, there are now huge numbers of people who are truly overweight or obese. For many people, this is not healthy either. Obesity can contribute to heart disease, blood sugar imbalances, and diabetes, among other things. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say that some of the factors that cause obesity also cause heart disease and other diseases.

If you truly do need to lose some excess bodyfat, let’s look at the best ways to do it.

 

For many people, there are mental or emotional factors that affect weight:

Although this isn’t always an issue, when it is, it is maybe the most crucial aspect in reducing bodyfat. Without addressing these aspects, your subconscious will always undermine any progress you make.

One of the most helpful tools for dealing with these factors is EFT or Emotional Freedom Technique. Some of these factors take a bit of investigating to find, so it is well worth consulting an experienced practitioner to help you find them. I always recommend to my weight loss clients that we use EFT to explore any underlying issues, at the same time as we work on the physical level.

There are a wide variety of issues that might be involved, including:

  • physical cravings and addictions
  • unhelpful beliefs about food and/or weight
  • not accepting yourself
  • using food to handle anxiety
  • inaccurate body image
  • past trauma

 

Dietary Factors:

The reason for weight gain is often not too much food, but rather too much of the wrong types of food. It can also be because of a chronic health problem, which itself could have been partly caused by the wrong diet.

While it is possible to get fat from too much protein and/or fat, it is more common to gain weight from over eating of carbohydrate, especially refined carbs. These are very prevalent in our society, and mostly come with a large amount of processed (trans) fats. The dramatic rise in obesity, diabetes and heart disease has come about since our food supply has become more processed.

Refined carbs and trans fats are very bad for everybody’s health, as well as contributing to weight gain. The first step for anybody wishing to lose weight (or to improve their health) should be to totally eliminate these from their diet. For many people, eating a whole food diet with adequate levels of protein and good fats, drinking enough water, and regular moderate exercise will be enough to improve health and start fat loss.

People who have extreme metabolisms, who are metabolically resistant to losing fat, or who have more serious chronic health problems may need to follow a more structured plan. Or you may just find a structured plan easier to follow.

Some dietary plans that may assist with weight loss are :

*     One of the Syndrome X diets – these are low carb, adequate protein and fat plans. They are designed for people with Syndrome X, which is characterised by blood sugar imbalances, high cholesterol, fatigue and weight gain. They are suitable for most people who want to improve their health, and to prevent the onset of these types of disease.

*     Atkins diet – also low carb, with adequate protein and fat. This plan tends to be higher in saturated fat, so while it can be very effective, does not suit everybody.

*     The Zone diet – this plan has a specific ratio of carbohydrate, protein and fat. This was originally designed for improving athletic performance, with weight loss being an additional benefit for some. May be more suited for athletes, or those with just a small amount to lose.

*     Blood type diets – designed for improving health, but weight loss is often an added bonus.

*     Metabolic diets – a whole food diet that varies according to your metabolic type. Generally used for assistance with chronic diseases like arthritis, but weight loss can also occur.

*     Sandra Cabot’s Liver Cleansing diet – useful if your weight gain is because of an overloaded liver. It is comparatively low protein though, so many people will find Sandra Cabot’s Syndrome X diet more suitable.

*     Food combining – sometimes useful for those with digestive difficulties and may assist with weight loss in those with an Agriculturist metabolism. Not suitable for anyone with blood sugar problems.

Be sure to read the reviews of each diet before choosing one, and always monitor how you feel. Withdrawal symptoms are common for up to the first week of a new eating plan, but after that you should start to feel a lot better. You may also find it useful to review the page on low fat vs low carb diets, before deciding on a plan.

You will notice that some of the more conventional weight loss programs like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig have not been recommended. I am personally distrustful of diets that require you to pay out money week after week to belong. A good eating plan will allow you to find a sustainable way of eating that suits you and doesn’t require an ongoing financial outlay. Anything else should be considered part of the “diet industry”. I’m not saying they don’t work – some do, for some people. But I believe the other plans I have discussed are more likely to assist people who have had long term struggles with their weight, and who have not had success with the more conventionally accepted diets.

I am also not a fan of fad diets. Anything that restricts your diet to just a few foods, or restricts your calories to a level where you are continually hungry, is not balanced and is not healthy. An interesting article on the diet industry can be found here. Note that I do not agree with the general principles they recommend at the end of the article. This is the conventional food pyramid that just hasn’t been working. It works for some people, but has sadly let down a large part of the population.

Another interesting view comes from Christie Keith in this article entitled The Food Of Love Thing. She talks about how she healed her relationship with food, and learnt to truly love real, nourishing food.

 

Other Factors:

If you have chronic health problems, you also need to consider the possibility that you also have food intolerances or addictions, and/or candidiasis, in which case the elimination diet is a good place to start. You should consult a health care practitioner to make sure that your chosen plan won’t cause any complications.

There are indications that, for some people,eating 6 small meals a day, instead of 3 large ones, can be helpful for weight loss as well as being better for your health. See this article from Dr Mercola’s website for more details.

Other people feel better eating only three meals a day, but the right meals – meals that sustain your energy for 4-5 hours. This gives your digestion time for a rest in between.

Drink plenty of water between meals, especially if you are on a program that puts you into ketosis. Make sure your water is free of chemicals as these will only tax your liver more.

While it is possible to lose weight through dietary changes, it is much easier if you are also getting in some of the right exercise. Exercise has other health benefits as well. The well rounded exercise plan has the following components :

*     Aerobic – to condition the heart, increase energy, burn fat and generally make you feel good.

*     Strengthening – muscle burns fat, so the more muscular you are, the more fat you will burn at rest. Strengthening exercises also improve bone mass, but make sure you are eating enough protein, and getting enough rest to regenerate the muscles.

*     Stretching – it is important to stretch out the muscles you have been working to prevent them from becoming compacted and to maintain good posture.

Don’t forget to take some time out to rest, regenerate and have fun. If your exercise isn’t fun, you won’t keep it up.

Remember that slow weight loss is better. It took months or years for the extra fat to pile on – that’s how long it will take to come off.

 

If you are unable to lose weight on any of these plans:

There are certain health problems, like thyroid disorders, that result in weight gain. See your doctor for a check up.

I can highly recommend The Diet Cure by Julia Ross, which covers the physical reasons why many people are unable to lose weight – including thyroid problems, brain chemistry or hormone imbalances, food allergy/addictions, problems caused by low calorie dieting.

Learn more about my group Weight Loss & Health Skills programme available in Wellington, NZ. One-on-one programmes available worldwide.

 

General weight loss principles:

* Get healthy first, then often your weight will normalise. Don’t try and lose bodyfat at the expense of ytour general health.

* A whole food diet, with adequate protein and fat, and only a low to moderate amount of carbs is best for most people. The ratio varies, so you might need to experiment.

* Listen to your body. If after a week’s “bedding in” you feel unwell on your chosen plan, reconsider it

* Carefully chosen supplements, as advised by your natural health practitioner, may be helpful

* Approx 1-2 litres of clean water (or fermented drinks are even better) per day, more if it’s hot or you’re doing a lot of exercise

* A balanced exercise program

* Adequate rest

* If you have chronic health problems, you can’t lose weight, or you have other reasons to think you may have food intolerances, consider an elimination diet

* If you still don’t feel well, consider the possibility you have candidiasis or are suffering from environmental poisoning

* Consider if there are emotional contributors to staying the weight you are.

 

Question from a reader:

I have hit a fitness rut and am finding it extremely difficult to get to my ideal weight. I am 5ft 2, currently weigh around 53kg and would like to get my weight to 50kg or under. My aim is to look leaner – so ideally to lose more bodyfat.

I monitor my exercise regime and food intake pretty closely but it still gets me that I am not losing as much.

To give you a brief rundown on what I do for fitness:

  • 5 times a week (Mon – Fri): I exercise for 1 1/2 hours – usually I’ll be on cross trainer for 25 minutes, run from 5K to 8K (depending on how I feel that day), then back to cross trainer again for 20 minutes. The aim is to burn at least 1000 calories, though I know that I’m probably burning less than that.
  • I also do weight training 3 times a week after work; Mon & Wed with a trainer and Friday on my own
  • I’ve recently added in Yoga once a week (Saturday)

My diet is generally good on weekdays, then I allow weekends as free days (eat anything I want). On a good day my food log goes something like this:

  • 8.30am – Post workout shake: Protein Plus Whey Protein (Red 8) + water + psyllium husks
  • 9.30am – Breakfast: Strawberries/KiwiFruit with 1 Tbs muesli, 1 Tbs LSA, 2 tsp plain organic lowfat yoghurt (Cyclops) + 2 tsp of whey powder
  • Morning tea: Inka – instant cereal beverage = caffaine free (coffee substitute) OR a piece of fruit, kiwi/orange with yoghurt
  • Lunch: Salad (chicken/tuna, around 110g – with a tomato) + an orange or kiwifruit
  • Snack: Fruit (eg. 1/2 cup strawberries) and yoghurt again Or at times 30g almonds or 15g pumpkin seeds
  • Dinner: Varies from: Stir fried chicken + veges (brocolli, carrot, zucchinni etc); Tofu + mushrooms + fish; Fish + veggies; Lamb + veggies
  • I also sometimes cheat at night – with eating some a slice of cake etc.

Weekends: I can have anything and how ever much i want….which usually comprise of a healthy breakfast – fast food dinner and dessert etc

My question to you is: With the amount of exercise and semi-disciplined diet, why have I hit a rut and can’t lose anymore? I know I’ve plateaud big time, hence I’m now training with a trainer. I change my running routine too from incline of 1-5. I do speed train, distance train, hill train and what have you. So I mix it up because I am aware that my body will get used to it and not work as hard. So where have I gone wrong?

Do you think that it’s because of my weekend binge that my weight’s not going down? Or that it’s just my body’s natural weight and I have to accept it as it is…

My reply:

Three possiblilities immediately spring to mind.

  1. You’re eating too LITTLE – your body thinks there is a famine, and is conserving your fuel as much as possible.

Specifically, you’re dangerously low on fat, which your body needs to utilise protein, rebuild muscles and other cells, and provide fat soluble vitamins. When you’re low on essential nutrients, your body will look for additional sources of those nutrients, and you end up eating things you know you shouldn’t.

  1. You’re training far too MUCH. Again, your body is conserving energy by making your metabolism as efficient as possible. If it were me, I’d ditch the cardio sessions totally, and concentrate on your weights. Though you may need to gradually reduce them, as your body has become so acclimatised to that level of exertion. Check out these articles by Ryan Lee. Part 3 especially covers this.
  1. Although the BMI tables consider anywhere from 47kg to 61kg to be “normal” for your height, it may be that 53kg is as low as is healthy for *your* body. Remember that people whose bodyweight was 10% higher than “normal” had higher life expectancy, so maybe 52 to 67 is a more realistic range. In which case, you’re pretty close to being underweight already. Without seeing you, it’s impossible to say for sure.

The other thing you might want to think about is why do you want to get thinner? If there is a specific fitness goal you’re training for that’s one thing. But if it’s just about how you look, consider – Is your body image accurate? And don’t ask your trainer – the gym culture doesn’t always have a healthy mindset on weight. Ask some friends who are close enough to be candid and tell you truthfully what they think, but not close enough to have a vested interest. And don’t just ask women – women are often much more critical of weight than men, who mostly prefer women to have some curves.

Maybe you just need to be more toned, in which case the weights will be more effective anyway. Make sure you’re doing plenty of core work.

Also think about this – is it really about the physical, or is there some reason on the inside that makes you want to control your body so much?

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