The only way to lose weight is to eat less and exercise so that you burn more calories than you consume. But this simple arithmetic is very difficult to put into practice. Every day, situations crop up that make it impossible for you to find time for the gym or have a healthy tuna salad for lunch. The challenge lies in finding the perfect diet-activity balance that works for you.
There are hundreds of fad diets and weight-loss programmes that promise quick and easy weight loss, but in most cases, the weight lost comes back. “The basic foundation of every successful weight-loss programme still remains a healthy diet combined with exercise. You have to change your lifestyle to lose weight and then keep it off,” says nutritionist Ishi Khosla.
Some sustainable ways to lose weight and keep it off is eating a wide variety of nutritionally dense foods and following the five basic principles of healthy eating.
1. Know when to stop eating
Inactive men need about 1,800 calories and women up to 1,600 calories a day. Eating 300 to 400 fewer calories a day will help you shed 2 kg in a month, but to ensure you don’t have deficiencies, opt for nutritious foods that are low in calories, such as vegetables and wholegrains and legumes.
2. Get moving now
There is no getting away from it. Do at least 45 minutes of exercise at least five times a week. “It’s a myth that exercise makes you hungry and you end up eating more and putting on weight. In fact, exercise pushes up the basal metabolic rate and makes you burn up more calories through the day, even when you are not exercising,” says Dr Parmeet Kaur, chief of dietetics, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
3. Don’t fall for fad diets
Fad diets don’t work for long as they usually exclude certain types of foods, or at times, entire food groups. “Fad diets are not balanced and deprive people of important nutrients, creating a nutritional gap. They are also difficult to follow and cause people to give up and gain weight again,” says Khosla.
4. Cut back on fat and sugar
The best way to keep weight off is to make small dietary changes, such as avoiding — but not totally giving up — fried foods and desserts, that often contain more calories than the rest of the meal without the nutrition. Replace desserts with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and legumes; eat small, single servings of foods high in fat or calories; choose low-fat or
double-toned milk products and reduced fat cheeses; ration edible oils and have a mix of them; choose roasting or steam foods as a cooking option; avoid sugary drinks, including sweetened fruit juices; and avoid alcohol. “People end up drinking a lot of calories, so it is important to keep track of what you are drinking too,” says Khosla.
Most packaged food labels list the amount of nutrients and calories the food gives you, so do read up. “But don’t follow labels blindly, as sugar-free may have fructose, which is worse with insulin resistance than glucose,” says Khosla.
5. Avoid diet pills
Diet pills available over the counter do not make a big difference to how much you lose or how long you can keep the weight off. However safe they may claim to be, never have them without prescription. “Diet pills are needed only for the morbidly obese or those who have hormonal imbalances and should never be had without prescription as they can cause side effects, such as high blood pressure, even in healthy people,” warns Khosla.
Also, be careful about taking cough or cold medicines with over-the-counter diet pills as these medicines may contain the same molecule as the one used in diet pills, or a similar drug with the same effects. “If you take more than one medication together, it may interact and cause problems, so don’t look for short-cuts to lose weight,” says Kaur.
Most advertisements that promise quick-fix weight loss solutions using machines and gizmos don’t work.