1. Don’t Lose Weight Quickly

Many experts have chided that losing weight too fast means you won’t keep off the kilograms over time.

“Yet it’s not true,” says David Allison, director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). “In clinical trials, rapid initial weight loss is associated with lower body mass long-term.”

For example, a University of Florida study compared people who lost weight quickly (500g a week for the first month), slowly (200g a week), and moderately (somewhere between these two amounts). Participants in the fast–weight-loss group lost more weight overall and were five times more likely to have kept it off 18 months later than those in the slow group.

? THE NEW ADVICE: Drastically cutting kilojoules or doing some crazy cayenne-pepper-and-cardboard diet isn’t healthy, of course. But slow and steady weight loss isn’t the only option – it depends on the individual.

“Some people get more motivated when they lose a lot of weight right off the bat,” Allison points out. Do what works for you. Just don’t dip below about 5000kJ a day (men may need more).

2. Always Eat Breakfast

This is one diet rule we’ve heard more than any other: a healthy diet begins with a good breakfast. But UAB researchers discovered scant evidence of trials that have tested whether breakfast helps people lose weight. The few that did found that skipping it has little or no effect.

A 2002 study of people in the National Weight Control Registry (a US database of more than 10,000 people who have lost at least 14kg and kept it off for a year or more) found that 78% of successful dieters regularly have a morning meal. Experts have interpreted this to mean that breakfast helps the formerly overweight stay slim, but the research doesn’t show that.

“The only way to prove that is to have a bunch of men and women skip breakfast and see if they gain weight,” says David Levitsky, a professor of nutrition and psychology at Cornell University in New York. But when he and his colleague recently did just that, the results were quite surprising. They found that people who skipped breakfast wound up eating an average of 1700 fewer kilojoules by the end of the day than when they ate breakfast.

? THE NEW ADVICE: While there
are many healthy reasons to start your day with breakfast, don’t feel like you have to eat a morning meal if you’re not hungry or you’re trying to lose a few kilos. A nutritional SWAT team will not show up at your door, and it may help fast-track weight loss.

3. Eating at Home Is Always Better than Eating Out

“For years, we thought that kilojoules from foods and drinks away from home – giant fizzy drinks, fast-food burgers, vending machine snacks – comprised a major portion of kilojoules in our diets,” says Dr Adam Drewnowski, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington in Seattle. But people may have been misinterpreting the numbers. About 35% of the amount of money Americans spend on food and drinks happens in restaurants – because eating out is generally more expensive than dining at home. That got incorrectly equated to the percentage of kilojoules consumed while eating out, says Drewnowski.

A study he recently conducted found that meals at fast-food and full-service restaurants accounted for only 17-26% of total kilojoule consumption. Fizzy drinks bought from these spots provided about 1% of dietary kilojoules, and vending machine foods accounted for almost zero, he explains. Up to 76% of the kilojoules in the diets he examined hailed from food bought at grocery, convenience and specialty stores – then eaten at home.

? THE NEW ADVICE: “Take a hard look at your grocery bill,” suggests Drewnowski. “Stores often give an itemised list, which means you can see where the major sources of kilojoules are.” You should have a balance of produce, lean protein, and whole grains and minimal refined or packaged foods.

4. Small Changes Add Up to Big Weight Loss

Nutrition scientists today know that equations like this don’t work in real life: “cut 840kJ a day, and you’ll lose 9kg in a year”. As your body shrinks, you don’t need or burn as many kilojoules. Say you weigh 68kg, and you burn an extra 420kJ a day going for a walk. After 35 days, you should be down 14,700kJ – or 450 grams. In 365 days, it should be more than 4.5kg, explains Allison. But as you get lighter, it no longer takes 420kJ to move your body. If it did, ten years from now, you’d have lost 45 kilos. “How is that even possible?” he asks.

? THE NEW ADVICE: At some point, little things won’t be enough to keep up weight loss. Commit to change: in addition to a daily walk, you may need to shave a few hundred kilojoules by, say, skipping the cheese on your sandwich or the helping of rice with your stir-fry.

5. Large, Ambitious Weight-Loss Goals Set You Up for Failure

Such a behemoth goal as “I want to go from a size 24 to an 8” is doomed from the get-go, we’ve always believed. Better to set the bar lower (“I want to lose five kilos and go from there”) so you can actually clear it, right? “The logic here goes that if you have too-high expectations, you’ll get frustrated and discouraged and drop out of your weight-loss programme,” says Allison. “But big-goal setters are no more likely to drop out than those who make smaller ones – and there’s some evidence that they may do even better.” A University of Minnesota study found that women who set weight-loss goals that the researchers deemed unrealistic were no more or less likely to achieve their ideal BMIs (body mass indexes) than those who chose more “reasonable” goals.

? THE NEW ADVICE: Small goals can provide a motivating sense of accomplishment as you tick each one off. But don’t be afraid to go after a big number. “It’s helpful to have some optimism,” says Allison. The key: having specific steps to achieve it, such as exercising five days a week and cutting portions.

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