Although genetics play a role in weight gain, it is the food environment, which has changed so much over the past 20-30 years that is ultimately causing Australia as a nation (and the world) to gain weight. This change in environment has been coupled with a reduction in physical activity due to the many machines, which now make our lives easier.
Think of your genes like switches, which are automatically in the off position. Although some of us have genes that could predispose us to put on more weight than others, the genes need to be switched on for this to happen, and the environments we find ourselves in help switch them on. As George Bray, a leading obesity researcher says, “the genetic background loads the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger”.
Coping in the current food environment where marketing is very powerful and food is everywhere can be difficult, because we are not genetically programmed to turn down food. This relates back to our ‘hunter gatherer’ days where our bodies learned to cope with scarcity. To survive, we needed to eat food when it became available and our bodies learned to store energy (calories) during times of shortage. We adapted to an environment with a low availability of food, the need to expend lots of energy to get food, our brains wired to get excited by foods that contain fat and sugar and the ability to consume lots of food in a short period of time (because there was no refrigeration). This conditioning was very strong and vital for survival.
Our biological systems and DNA are highly complex and have evolved slowly over hundreds of thousands of years. We have not changed much between then and now, but our food and physical activity environments have evolved and changed very quickly. Today, we live in an environment where food is everywhere. We can eat at every hour of the day, marketing is powerful and relentless, we don’t need to expend energy to get food, and processed and convenience foods tend to be cheaper. All of this is hard to ignore. But we do have a choice.
As Dr Altshuler, a clinical endocrinologist and human geneticist says “ Genes are the hand of cards you are dealt. It’s up to you how to play that hand. Sometimes the person with the best cards doesn’t win, it’s the person who plays them better.”
So with this in mind, here are my top ten tips to loose weight and keep it off.
The food market is principally controlled by large corporations that make convenience, processed and ‘fast foods’. They are not horrible people plotting to make the world fat. It’s purely business and about increasing profits by getting us to eat more of their products. And by the way they don’t care if the side effect is that we all get fat – why would they? Be aware of how clever product placement and food marketing is. Take note of how many fast food outlets are in close proximity to your home or workplace. You have a choice. You don’t have to buy the products or eat them. Instead learn how to create new habits by planning your weekly food intake (points 3 & 4 below) so you don’t have to.
2. Be aware of how much of your energy intake is coming from what you drink.
Our thirst mechanism is different to our hunger mechanism and the body doesn’t recognise that we are contributing to our energy intake as well, when we drink it in a liquid form. Therefore when we drink we generally don’t balance this out by cutting down on what we eat.
Top of the list is sugar-sweetened beverages. This is the only single food that has been linked to obesity. Fizzy drinks contain ingredients like sucrose, caffeine, preservatives, additives, artificial colouring, artificial flavouring and high fructose corn syrup. There is no nutrition! On average people who are overweight over consume approximately 300 calories per day and on average there are 250 calories per soft drink.
Be careful not to over consume fruit juices and juice drinks which millilitre for millilitre have as much energy and sugar as fizzy drinks (e.g. 350ml of coke has 10 teaspoons of sugar, 350ml of apple juices also has 10 and 350ml of orange juice has 8). I’m not saying cut fruit juices out completely, just be conscious of how much of you are consuming. When fruits are juiced one of the most benefical parts (the fibre) is thrown in the bin. Eat your fruits whole or have a splash of juice with some sparkling water. As an alternative, try these vegetable juice options, which are much lower in sugar and energy.
Also consider other drinks that could be contributing to over consumption of energy like alcohol (which is high in sugar), and teas and coffees with added sugar.
Create a meal plan for the week that includes all meals and snacks and use this to write your shopping list to ensure you have all the ingredients that you need (down load this free template Weekly meal planner). Write the shopping list on the back of the plan and keep it. Once you have created 4 or 5 meal plans/shopping lists you can rotate them from week to week. Put the meal plan on your fridge, stick to it and don’t skip meals or snacks.
If you don’t take a pack lunch to work, take half an hour to walk around the area you work in and get to know places that serve healthy options. Try and identify at least 5 options so there is always somewhere to go for healthy food depending on what you feel like.
Spend a few hours on a Sunday baking and creating healthy snacks and treats for the week and make this a regular activity. If you have children get them involved – most kids love to bake. Each week I bake one healthy sweet treat to last for the week (muffins or a dessert of some variety), I chop some veggies so that I have them ready in the fridge for snacks, make some hummus, guacamole or others dips and bingo I have all the snacks I need for the week in less that two hours. Planning your snacks and treats like this will stop you reaching for processed and unhealthy foods that are high in sugar and ‘unhealthy’ fats.
Food labels list ingredients in order of quantity with the highest first and lowest last. Food companies regularly list sugar in many different forms to stop sugar appearing at the top of the list. There are lots of different words used to describe sugar – corn syrup, dehydrated cane juice, dextrin, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high fructose corn syrup, HFCS, honey, hydrolysed starch, invert sugar, maltodextrin, malt syrup, maltose, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose…the list goes on. These are all sugar.
Look at the sugar content on the label, which is listed under total carbohydrates. The amount per 100g/ml will be the percentage of sugar that is in the product. If it says 25g or 25 ml then a quarter of the product is sugar! Low sugar products contain around 5g per 100g/ml try and stick to products around this amount. Dairy products contain 4.7g of lactose per 100ml, which a naturally occurring milk sugar so when looking at these anything on top of this will be added sugar.
When food manufacturers lower the fat content of a food they generally increase the sugar content to make it more palatable. Low fat products have been around for many years now and if they worked, we would have the answer and our weights wouldn’t be increasing. In the supermarket compare the sugar content of low fat yoghurt and natural yoghurt. A natural yoghurt will contain 4.7g sugar per 100g while its low fat counterpart can often be treble this. This is the same for low fat sauces and other products as well. Healthy eating involves moderation. It is better to have a small amount of a full fat product than it is to overload on low fat ones, which will ultimately make your diet very high in sugar.
If diets worked we would all have bought the book and be thin, right? The diet industry has no interest in solving this problem because it will put them out of business. Follow wholefood principles by choosing fresh, unprocessed foods as often as possible. Don’t ban food but make sure your eating 80% of your food for the health of your body and 20% for your soul. Bake your soul foods yourself so you know what’s in them. This will stop you reaching for processed snacks that are high in preservatives, additives, chemicals, sugar and ‘unhealthy’ fats. If you’re having trouble putting together a healthy eating plan that is right for you visit an accredited clinical nutritionist (check out the ATMS list here for one near you).
Aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity every week. Include some form of muscle strengthening exercise at least twice per week. Regular exercise has many benefits for health and helps the body function (and look) better. It can increase the body’s resting metabolic rate meaning we are burning off more energy even when at rest. Choose exercise you enjoy and find easy (whether it’s a brisk walk, a session in the gym, cycling, swimming, pilates or yoga), to ensure you keep at it, then set yourself a weekly plan and stick to it.
Start somewhere. Make sure your goals are realistic. Pick one thing from this list and start there – perhaps start with how many calories you drink. Once you’ve successfully reached that goal you can give yourself a pat on the back and go onto the next one.
The bottom line is this, to maintain weight, the energy we consume needs to equal the amount of energy we burn off and this is true for everyone. Be aware of your energy intake. The difference between people who are at a healthy weight and overweight is often only around 300 calories per day.
If you are having difficulty putting together a healthy eating plan that is right for you, visit an accredited clinical nutritionist (check out the ATMS list here for one near you) or contact Natural Health Forever to book a consultation with us (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Natural Health Forever wishes you all the best on your journey to optimal health!
 The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently released results from the Australia Health Survey, conducted in 2011-2012, which showed that 63.3% of Australians aged 18 and over are overweight or obese (35% obese and 28.3% overweight).