The weight loss industry is booming as people try to attain their ideal body. However, the numbers on a scale do not tell the whole story. Although someone may lose weight, does this mean they are healthier? Happier? Or has weight loss come with an unintended cost, such as a preoccupation with food or overly restrictive eating patterns?

Have We Lost Focus? Weight Loss vs. Health


The truth about weight loss

Weight loss and maintenance is not easy; in fact, 95% of those that lose weight will regain it. Why is this? An analogy from weight loss expert Dr. Sharma is that of a rubber band. To lose weight, you need to pull on the rubber band, and to keep that weight off, you need to keep pulling on the rubber band. If you stop pulling, the weight will come back. That means someone who loses weight fights every day to maintain the loss since the body resists reduced food intake and tries to maintain its set point. Overall, focusing solely on weight loss often sets people up for failure.

Measure success by health

Dr. Sharma suggests focusing on “best” weight rather than ideal weight. Best weight is the one you can maintain while still enjoying your life and experiencing the benefits of improved health. This principle is also embedded in the Health at Every Size® approach. Instead of placing the emphasis on weight loss, identify the benefits that you are looking for with a healthier lifestyle. Use these to define success, such as:

  • better quality of life
  • improved self-esteem
  • higher energy levels
  • improved overall health
*prevention of further weight gain and development of chronic disease

Deal with these three things first

“Assess how you are doing in the areas of sleep, time and stress. You need to be well rested and have space in your schedule to have the capacity to successfully make other behaviour changes,” says registered dietitian Jaclyn Chute.

Sleep

Adequate amounts of quality sleep can help you function at your best instead of just getting you through the day. Lack of sleep can affect your mood, energy and ability to manage stress. Aim for seven-and-a-half to nine hours of sleep every night. Aim to get on track and deal with any “sleep debt” you may be carrying.

Time

How you spend your time is an indication of what you value, and health is worth the investment. Track how you spend your time to identify your free time and things you can say “no” to. Start by setting aside about 30-60 minutes a day for physical activity and 90 minutes a day for healthy eating (e.g. preparing meals, eating at the table). Spread the time for each activity over the day. Try some time-saving ideas to make healthy lifestyle changes

Stress

Frequent or constant stress—handling more than you are used to—can have negative effects on your health. Unfortunately, many common coping strategies are ineffective and may even be unhealthy. Overeating, for example, may provide temporary relief but has damaging long-term effects and is not a solution for stress management. Identify your personal coping mechanisms and apply practical strategies to manage stress.

Behaviours associated with weight loss and maintenance

After dealing with sleep, time and stress, consider making other behaviour changes. Focus on one thing at a time. Remember weight loss is not a behaviour (e.g. I will lose one pound a week). Many behaviours can help you become healthier (e.g. I will start a food journal), but none can guarantee weight loss in the long term.

Researchers have identified a number of behaviours associated with weight loss:

  • participate in a weight loss program
  • seek information on weight loss, nutrition and exercise
  • eat healthy snacks, such as vegetables and fruit, instead of candy, baked goods and pop
  • limit added sugars
  • plan meals and snacks
  • eat regular meals, especially breakfast
  • enjoy a variety of exercise activities
  • remember and think about how much better you’ll feel when you’re thinner

Additionally, some behaviours are associated with both losing weight and keeping it off. These include

  • eat low-fat sources of protein (e.g. lean meat)
  • exercise most days of the week
  • reward yourself for sticking to your diet or exercise plan
  • remind yourself why you need to control your weight
  • weigh yourself daily or at least a few times a week, and use a strategy to address any weight gain

Improving health should be a priority. Focus on turning healthy behaviours into lifelong habits so that you can face every day with energy and vitality to enjoy each moment.

This article was inspired by Dr. Sharma’s lecture at the 2013 Dietitians of Canada conference.

Jaclyn Chute

Registered Dietitian

Jaclyn (BSc, RD) is a registered dietitian and nutrition educator at Alberta Milk. Integrating the science of nutrition with the taste of great food is her passion, whether at work or in her kitchen.

Article posted on May 1, 2014



Active Tip

Over the past decade, approximately 90% of the Canadian working-age population have been steadily employed, yet only 3% of the population report exercising at work.

The Expert Says

“Assess how you are doing in the areas of sleep, time and stress. You need to be well rested and have space in your schedule to have the capacity to successfully make other behaviour changes,” says registered dietitian Jaclyn Chute.