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The Myths and Truths Of Dieting

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An extract from 'The Calorie, Carb & Fat Bible 2002', by Dr. Jeremy Sims

I was once asked what I considered to be the most important factors for successful and healthy weight loss. Not an easy question to answer, particularly when you are put on the spot as I was on this occasion. Not easy to answer because the very reasons people become overweight in the first place are many and varied. We are after all individuals and therefore it follows that people who are overweight have their own individual and distinct tales to tell. There are genetic, dietary, exercise, daily stress and anxiety factors implicated in weight gain. However, I believe that there are three particular factors which form a firm basis for successful weight loss.

Firstly, patience. For many of us becoming overweight has been a lifelong process. Changing those proverbial habits of a lifetime can never happen overnight. Many of the overweight patients I see are eager to lose their weight as quickly as possible and then sadly become disillusioned when things fail to progress as they had planned. Healthy weight loss takes time. It must be gradual.

Secondly, there is perseverance. This certainly goes hand in hand with patience. It is so important to always set yourself realistic goals in your weight loss endeavours and then adhere to them. A step-by-step approach is by far the best strategy and the most likely to succeed. Little steps to the overall goal are essential. Never set steps or an overall goal weight which are plainly unrealistic for you personally. Persevere when the going gets tough, whilst maintaining focus on your overall goal, and you will succeed.

The third factor I believe is knowledge. A personal knowledge of the right ways and the wrong ways to lose weight. The "To Do's" and the "Not To Do's" if you like. Of the three essential factors I consider knowledge to be the most important of all.

We are currently in the midst of what can only be described as an epidemic of obesity and overweight. The latest national figures are about as far from encouraging as we could possibly get. They suggest that in the UK by 2005 an astounding 18 per cent of men and 25% of women will be obese. Currently, 55% of Britains are either overweight or obese compared to 33% in the 1980's. Furthermore there has been a veritable explosion of childhood obesity in this country, the prevalence of which has risen sharply by almost 100% between the early 1980's and the present day. In a mere twenty years changes in eating habits for the worse and dramatic reductions in our daily energy expenditures, for instance, through lack of regular physical exercise, have truly taken their toll on our nation's health. And this is happening not just in the UK. These are patterns of overweight which are reflected worldwide in the developed countries.

So, the problems of overweight and obesity are not just confined to a small group of people. There is a great deal of it about. The consequence is that many of us will be urged by our family doctors to lose weight for the sake of our health. To greatly reduce those attendant risks of overweight and obesity: heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, strokes. And this is where our personal and accurate knowledge of the right ways to diet can be a powerful ally on our road to achieving a healthy weight. Following inaccurate information can only leave us remaining overweight and dispirited.

For the truth is that there still exist many misconceptions about healthy weight loss. These I dub the "dieting myths" - a plethora of pitfalls. These misconceptions have developed from hearsay and half-truths and have very little or no scientific basis to support them. I believe that at least part of everyone's knowledge should be an understanding and recognition of these myths. Ensuring that if you are trying to lose weight for a more healthy you, that you are able to succeed in your endeavours.

But the fact is that these weight loss myths are so numerous that it is almost difficult to know where to start. We are daily bombarded by this diet or that diet, that it is no wonder we become confused by what is right and what is wrong, what is effective and what is ineffective. If you don't believe me, just take a stroll down to your local newsagents and take a look at the dietary advice on offer on the magazine racks. Your head can fairly burst with the amount of information, so much of it conflicting. So much of it mythical.

It would be possible to write a complete book in itself about dieting misconceptions and so I have decided to concentrate here on my top five. If you are amongst the 80% of women or 70% of men who have lately tried to diet and not succeeded, here's an opportunity for you discover why you've been gaining weight rather than losing it.

Misconception No. 1: Diet Drugs Alone Are The Best Way To Start Losing Weight

Wrong. It is true that certain diet medications have been officially approved and therefore hold a license in Britain for those who are medically obese. In other words people who are 30% or more over a healthy weight or those who have obesity-related diseases, such as diabetes or high blood pressure. However, they cannot and should not be used alone. They must be used as part of an overall diet plan.

The obesity medications, Sibutramine (a drug which acts on brain chemicals to control appetite), and Xenical (which works by blocking the absorption of fat by the body), should only be taken in conjunction with changes in lifestyle behaviour, including a change in eating habits.

Successful weight loss requires a long-term strategy. It should never be reliant on short-term therapies alone.

Misconception No. 2: Eating Eggs Will Make Me Fat

Wrong again, and for many of us I suspect this will be surprising. Eggs are an excellent and compact source of nutrients. The latest research findings have highlighted that the major dietary risk in obesity is saturated fat, and believe it or not eggs contain very little of this type of fat. Furthermore eggs are relatively low in calories (about 75 calories if hardboiled). The good old egg is now recognized as such an important part of a well-balanced diet that the new dietary recommendations allow for one egg per day.

If you are dieting the key here is to ensure that if you are going to prepare eggs that you substitute margarine or saturated cooking fats with monounsaturated oils such as olive oil. It is not necessarily the eggs which are fattening but what we cook them in.

Misconception No. 3: Cutting Out All Dietary Fat Is The Sure Way To Lose Weight

A bad move I'm afraid. Dietary fat is certainly a major contributor to overweight, purely because it contains far more calories than carbohydrate or protein. But it is important to distinguish between "bad" fat - saturated fats - and "good fats" - those fats which are essential to ensure our bodies function efficiently. It is important to have some fat in our diet, and the latest guidelines recommend that fat should contribute about 30% of our dietary intake.

Although saturated fats are a major contributor to obesity as previously mentioned many of the fats we eat are essential for the smooth running of our metabolism. Upset this fine-tuning and you may find losing weight very difficult. Try to ensure that you eat sufficient polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats. You will find these, for instance, in olive oil, fatty fish such as mackerel, and certain vegetables.

Misconception No. 4: Exercise Alone Will Ensure Weight Loss

Again we return to the importance of a complete plan for losing weight, including a well-balance diet and a carefully planned exercise or activity programme. Only by combining all the components of the plan can you expect to succeed in losing weight, and furthermore keep the weight off. Conversely, concentrating on exercise alone will not achieve this. Yes, it is true that exercise is greatly beneficial and it does burn off calories but not in sufficient quantities to have resounding effects on weight loss.

Take a look at the figures for certain types of physical exercise and you will quickly realise that you need to be engaged in extreme levels of daily physical activity in order to lose substantial amounts of weight. Certainly levels of exercise which would be very difficult to build into our already very busy daily lives.

Type Of Exercise

Calories Burned In 20 Minutes

Walking

100

Running

240

Golf

100

Cycling

240

Tennis

160

Swimming

240

It is very important to ensure you engage in regular daily exercise, whether it be jogging, swimming, taking the dog for a brief thirty minute walk or building up a sweat vacuuming the family home, but never isolate it from new dietary habits and other beneficial lifestyle changes.

Misconception No.5: Supplementing With Vitamins Is Vital In Order To Lose Weight

A good and broad supply of vitamins is of course essential in your diet but concentrating on these alone, and ignoring the other elements of your dieting plan, is certainly not going to help you to lose weight. Furthermore taking vitamin supplements is no substitute for a well-balanced and nutritious diet. Never get into the practice of trying to use supplements to compensate for a poor diet, one which is traditionally high in fat and low in fibre.

In truth, a daily diet which is based on all of the food groups should be more than sufficient to supply you with all the nutrients and vitamins you require. This forms a sound basis for healthy weight loss.

There are however situations in which vitamin supplements would be recommended. Those people on a low calorie diet would certainly benefit from them, as they may not be receiving the full quantity of recommended daily nutrients.

So, now that we have examined some of the misconceptions of dieting, what do you need to do to start out on the right path to successful and healthy weight loss? Well, I think you need to look at your overall eating patterns. Use the information in this excellent guide, The Calorie, Carb & Fat Bible, to recognize which foods are healthy for you and which are not. Develop changes whilst trying not to focus too much on that word "dieting", which is accompanied by so many connotations of deprivation and self-denial. Instead concentrate on the fact that you are now adopting a healthier lifestyle. In so doing weight loss will become a by-product as you practice these healthier habits. Making lifestyle changes are fun, rewarding and certainly do not involve you depriving yourself.

Each week draw up a healthy eating plan, again using the information in this book as a basis, and ensure you stick to it. Eat a broad range of foods - there is nothing more likely to cause disillusionment than eating the same meals day in and day out - including such foods as fish, white meat, vegetables and fruit as staples. And don't forget to watch those portions. Furthermore try to drink plenty of water. Current recommendations are at least 8 glasses per day. Water not only participates in and helps to regulate the body's metabolism, it is also an effective means of satisfying your appetite.

Next, gradually increase your daily activity levels. Don't go rushing off headlong, trying to jog twenty miles a day. This is the sure way to fail. You will quickly become bored, as your expectations are not met. Rather think of simple ways that you can gain better fitness. Instead of driving the car around the corner to the shops why not walk. Instead of taking the lift at work, take the stairs. As your fitness gradually improves do a little extra - walk that extra flight of stairs, swim those extra 25 metres. As mentioned before taking small steps to your overall goal is crucial. Each week set yourself small and very realistic goals - and do remember to celebrate as you attain them.

There are truly no great mysteries in effective weight management. Lifestyle changes are the key. Learn to recognize poor advice, be patient and persevere and you will surely succeed in reaching that healthy weight.



By Dr. Jeremy Sims MB BS MRCGP FRIPH FRSH PGDipHI DipN&H MRNT CCCReg
All rights reserved. Any reproducing of this article must have the author name and all the links intact.

Author: MB BS MRCGP FRIPH FRSH PGDipHI DipN&H MRNT CCCReg

Biography: Dr Jeremy Sims is a GP and public health nutritionist. He specialises in medical nutrition and weight management and runs his own integrated weight management consultancy - www.healthguider.com.

He has extensive experience in the nutrition and health promotion fields and has been a regular contributor of articles to leading web sites and popular health magazines.

Dr Sims is a member of the Nutrition Society and the National Obesity Forum. He is a Member of the Royal College of General Practitioners and a Fellow of both the Royal Institute of Public Health and The Royal Society for the Promotion of Health. In 2000 he was awarded the William Latimer Cleave Memorial Prize for excellence in nutrition and health.

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