Thursday, November 5, 2009

Weight Loss Misconceptions

If there are two words that have become ubiquitous in the media, our social interactions and our heads, it is these: weight loss. We've heard them a million times, from women who want to lose weight to people who are fed up of trying to lose weight; from 10-year-olds who barely know what fat is, to grandmothers who think they don't look youthful enough.

Why does everyone want to lose weight?

Some people want to lose weight because their clothes don't fit anymore and they don't want to replace their entire wardrobe. Others want to lose weight because they feel they will receive more love, adulation and respect from their friends, family and associates. Many women feel society expects them to look a certain way. Some people are nagged about their weight by their family and friends. Some people have been given a weight loss ultimatum by their doctors.

But how many people want to lose weight because they want to be healthy and fit?

Very few. I say this based on the current trends of weight loss gadgets, gizmos and products available around the world. These are not health-enhancing by any stretch of the imagination, so why do people buy them? Because they promise quick results.

What is the age group of people who are concerned about weight loss?

The surprising thing is that children as young as five years old are aware of their bodies, and women as old as 80 years old are conscious of the need to knock off a few kilos. Their reasons for this concern are different, though. The child wants to be like other children so that she isn't teased. And the senior citizen is worried that carrying extra weight may lead her to some serious problem like the need for a knee replacement.

What is the biggest misconception about weight loss?

It's this: that a diet programme will knock off the excess weight for good. The reality, however, is that the only thing that will knock off weight and keep it off is a change in attitude and behaviour towards eating and exercise. Changing habits is very tough.

Which part of the population really symbolises the concern for weight loss?

Women. Surf the Net for images of weight loss and nine out of 10 times, you will see pictures of svelte, radiant, happy women. If you surf for images of fitness, however, you will get images of men with muscles. A woman's body with all its curves is a very attractive form, and if you want to dream of the magic of healthy weight loss, what could be better than to look at a curvaceous woman with an athletic look? This is the image all women - not to mention men - are bombarded with day and night. No wonder all of us normal women feel a bit guilty about not taking enough care of ourselves.

What are the most common comments women make regarding weight loss?

Does this outfit look good on me? (That is, does it make me look slim and sexy?) Have I put on weight? (That is, I know I have, but does it show?) You've lost weight. (That is, you're looking good.)You've put on some weight, haven't you? (That is, I want to be rude and pinch you where it hurts most.) You've lost too much weight. (That is, I can't let you get away with looking good for so long, so why shouldn't I make a spiteful remark?) Comments about weight are so common because they manage to hit women exactly where it hurts. Though I don't know why people make comments about other people's body size - everyone has a mirror in which they can see themselves, right?

Weight loss strategies

There are two different ways to lose weight, each with its own merits, depending on your personality. But of the two, the better way is regular sustained slow weight loss which does not take too much monitoring on a daily basis. This is the plan that most doctors recommend because it will protect you from rebound weight gain, it is flexible and it works on the principle of changing habits and behaviours rather than changing your diet. This is easier to follow than a regular diet plan and does not interfere too much with family outings and parties, and is ideally suited to women who are practical and sensible and who are not easily disturbed by daily events.

Plan #1 This plan entails three days of brisk walking for one hour, alternated with three days of yoga. The main weight gain offenders, such as fried food, junk food and sweets can be eaten - but in small quantities. You have to consciously avoid over eating and try to eat according to your feelings of hunger. You should also eat all meals. In fact, you should not skip any meal at all. Dinner should be light and eaten early, and at parties, choose non-oily foods in small quantities. You should also drink at least eight to 10 glasses of water a day and learn to cook healthy and delicious dishes so that not only do you lose weight, but your family grows accustomed to healthy eating. You must also develop the habit of eating more fruits, salads and vegetables. The typical diet plan will look something like this: Early morning: Nimbu pani with warm water. Breakfast: Fruits with five badams, followed half an hour later by two toasts (without butter) with tomatoes and cucumber (add salt and pepper for taste); you can also use fresh cottage cheese with salt and pepper as a filler. Or a small bowl of brown rice poha / one whole egg and one wholewheat toast. A cup of tea, ideally without sugar or with half a teaspoon of sugar at the maximum. Lunch: A plate of salad followed by one chapatti (or a big katori of cooked brown rice filled with vegetables), a little dal or curd and two vegetables cooked in olive oil. Or wholewheat pasta with vegetables, or brown rice idlis with sauted veggies and mint chutney. Evening: Any roasted snack or bhelpuri. Dinner: A bowl of soup, one vegetable, one roti and one slice of mango or a fruit of your choice. Or steamed vegetable and paneer roll with sauted vegetables and salad. You must watch the quantities you eat with this plan as some of the regular foods found in our kitchens are quite high in fat. You can bring variety into your meals by changing the vegetables, eating wholewheat pasta or idli once in a while and eating interesting salads. You can lose up to seven to eight kilos a year, which is a very good result - if only you have the patience.

Plan #2 This is suitable for women who don't have much patience but at the same time enjoy chasing goals and challenges. There is no starvation in this plan, but you cannot deviate from it frequently. The logic behind this plan is rotation of foods, and the avoidance of certain potent food combinations. When you eat dal and roti together, the combination increases in potency and as a result, your weight does not come down. Similarly, when you eat wheat or porridge with vegetables, it is far less fattening than when you eat them with milk (even low fat milk). In fact, milk combined with anything becomes fattening. Phase one of this plan is about weight loss and phase two is about conscious weight maintenance - which is very important because people tend to take it easy during this phase. The daily menu for this kind of weight loss would look something like this: Breakfast: Boiled egg with tea. Or sprouts with papaya and fresh lime juice (or beetroot + lauki + tomato juice) plus fruit. Lunch: Brown rice poha with lots of vegetables. Or boiled channa with chopped cucumber, tomato, onions in a chaat form. Dinner: Sauted vegetables with salad that has been tossed with olive oil and lemon.

You can substitute some meals with grilled fish or chicken with salad or grilled chicken.

Here are some key points to be kept in mind for the three different body types:

Ectomorphs: Women of this type tend to have small appetites but feel hungry more frequently. So the ideal weight loss plan should include small but frequent meals.

Ectomorphic: women benefit from yoga which balances their hormones, and swimming. They require body massages with oil for the skin.

Mesomorphs: When women of this type want to lose weight they have to concentrate on trying to keep themselves away from overeating or eating in anger or frustration. Plus they must keep their stomachs from becoming hyperacidic. The best way to do this is to have amla in any form and vegetable juices on an empty stomach. Good exercises are walking, pilates, any stretching exercises.

Endomorphs: There are only two mantras for endomorphs. Eat more fibre and consume less fat. Endomorphs absorb fat like a sponge. Plus they have the highest tendency to retain water. To keep water retention under control, they should include more fibre in their meals and control further fat deposits by limiting their intake of fat. Good exercises are walking, running or dance aerobics. They should use the sauna.

The role of exercise

How much will exercise contribute to your weight loss?

The bad news is that a short-term exercise plan will contribute not more than 15 per cent towards immediate weight loss. The good news, however, is that a long term exercise plan will prevent the dreaded rebound towards weight gain.

The big problem is that women tend to exercise on short term plans (where they will not see any significantly motivating results) and give up in the long run (where they would actually see results). For those of you who'd like to debate this point I make (because exercise works so well for men), I'd like to quote something by Sri Aurobindo - "A drop of practice is better than oceans of theories." The best forms of exercise for women are: Brisk walking with alternate days of yoga Pilates with light dance aerobics (but be careful not to overeat after class) You will make your exercise plan effective if you do enough to boost circulation, but not so much that you boost your appetite. The plateau Nobody loses weight consistently week after week. Any weight loss graph will clearly show that weight loss happens in spurts, with phases of stabilisation. We feel happy when we lose more weight than we expected, but do not realise that at the end of the month the net weight loss will be a set amount only. If you lose more than a kilo in any particular week, it does not mean it's the beginning of a pattern. Often, we unconsciously begin to snack or break our diets in bits and bites, and all that adds up. Also, if we eat the same foods continuously day after day, our bodies get used to the pattern and lower the rate of metabolism, leading to a plateau.

Some tips to ensure you don't trip on your diet: Eating late dinners is the quickest way to stop losing weight. Sweets like mouth fresheners, churans, alhatti, meethi golis can contribute to weight gain. Over use of diet foods can add to weight gain. Eating sour foods and foods high in salt at night also add to your weight. Refined foods are likewise a no-no. The only way to break the diet plateau is to maintain an honest food diary, eat light dinners, take steam or sauna, add more fibre to your meals and bring some variation into your exercise plan. (Exercising more will not help, but variations will.)

Maintenance of plan A helps a lot of people lose weight, but how many maintain it? That is the real test of a weight loss programme. To maintain your desired weight, you should:

1. Learn yummy recipes: Delicious food is the foundation of your desired weight. Many of us learn to cook, but most of the recipes tend to be for rich dishes involving butter, cream, maida, oils and everything fattening. So it's no wonder that we do not know how to cook delicious, healthy food. It's time we bought books with healthy recipes and actually tried something new.

2. For women, exercise does not pay in the short run. The benefits of exercise actually kick off after a year and sadly, most people have given it up by then. Make exercise a regular part of your life. It's essential to choose an exercise plan that suits your temperament, age group, and time.

3. Have special days for special foods. We cannot get over childhood food memories even if it is a simple bread pakora, so it is important to eat such foods every once in a while to keep the child inside us happy.

4. Watch out for unconscious snacking. Most snacks are loaded with calories and fat.

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