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For a lot of people, losing weight is a real struggle. Why is that? A clinical dietician and nutritionist weighs in with her answers to some of the most common questions on why some of us just cannot seem to lose weight as easily as others.
Most of us start to ask ourselves this question in frustration when we believe we have “tried everything” which may be a regime of running at least three times a week, refraining from white rice as part of our low-carb diet and cutting back on all desserts.
When, in spite of our best efforts, the numbers on the scale are not moving in the right direction, we feel discouraged. And that, at times, makes us want to stop trying altogether.
To help us better understand what is happening, Jaclyn Reutens, clinical dietician and founder of Singapore’s APTIMA Nutrition & Sports Consultants, answers some questions on why weight loss plans may not deliver results.
Answer: Miraculous weight loss stories may be misleading, says Reutens. “When people hear the word, ‘diet’, they think it’s a restriction of a lot of foods, so they end up eating too little or too much carbohydrate or protein and their proportions are all wrong. But a diet is a healthy attitude towards food.”
Carbohydrates have been vilified as one of the major factors in weight gain but according to Reutens, it is important to consume them. “Your body needs the glucose from
carbohydrates for energy. Carbohydrates make you feel satisfied and full so you don’t eat too much later on or start snacking.”
Instead of going on a no-carb diet for weight loss which could be throwing you off balance, consume carbs in the form of wholegrains. They make you feel full which foils our compulsions to overeat. At the same time, they are packed with an incredible number of nutrients.
Reutens suggests replacing at least 20% of your white rice with brown rice. For sandwiches, mix things up. Pair a slice of white bread with wholemeal or wholegrain bread until you are ready to go for wholemeal all the way.
Answer: “There is no one food that is bad. If you can’t control the quality of your food, you can control how much you put in your mouth,” reasons Reutens. “By the same token, too much of a good food can be bad for you. For example, olive oil is good for your heart but
too much of it can make you put on weight, too.”
Instead of fixating on avoiding foods bad for the heart or trying to figure out which are good fat and bad fat foods, eat the right balance of food from the various food groups. Use My Healthy Plate – a simple, easy-to-understand visual guide to eating right.
Answer: Exercise does not give you license to eat more,” warns Reutens. “People tend to overestimate the amount of calories burned and underestimate the amount of calories they eat.”
To lose weight, the amount of food on our plates should not increase just because we have burned some extra cals at Zumba or piloting. Instead, we should continue to practice healthy eating habits which includes portion control.
She cites national servicemen as a typical example of how a reliance on exercise and underestimation of healthy eating habits can be counterproductive.
“Overweight servicemen may lose weight during their four months of basic military training, but you see many of them gaining it all back (and more) five years later,” recounts Reutens. “No one taught them how to eat carefully and they stop exercising after their service, yet their food intake is the same.”
Exercising can be counterproductive for weight loss when we have a mindset that we can eat more than we usually do because we are exercising. We may end up gaining weight instead because the extra cals consumed are more than the extra cals burned.
We may also find ourselves in a vicious cycle which begins with lamenting, “Why can’t I lose weight?” and ending with gaining a few kilos because we start to feel discouraged, stop exercising as a result and continue to eat larger portions.
Answer: There is no one-size-fits-all weight loss plan. Just because a celebrity has lost weight for a movie role through a protein-heavy meal plan, does not mean it is healthy or it will be as effective for you.
“Losing two to four kilograms a month from a combination of a good diet and some form of exercise is what it means to have a healthy weight loss,” says Reutens.
Results may also show up differently from person to person. “Someone who is 20 kilograms overweight may not be able to tell when they lose the first three kilograms, but the person who has only ten kilograms to lose will look and feel very different,” says Reutens. “It needs to be put into perspective.”
The journey of losing weight is unique to each person. Every person has different circumstances and different reasons to lose weight. These contribute to the success or failure of weight loss. However, the combination of a proper diet and exercise almost always leads to healthy weight management.
When we next hear of celebrities losing weight on no-carb diets, low-fat diets, keto diets or whatever diet is in fad, it would be better to remind ourselves that what works for them may not work for us. And also, the results they achieve through these diets may be effective but not healthy.
Answer: Having things in perspective also means customising your plan to your preferences, body and lifestyle to make it more sustainable.
If you do not enjoy brown rice, you do not have to force yourself to eat brown rice at every meal every day just because it is nutritious. Start small. Replace 20% of your white rice with brown rice. Gradually increase the proportion to find your own limit.
You can also focus on other areas such as cutting back on sugary drinks, asking for
siu dai (less sugar) or choosing to go without sugar in your hot drinks altogether.
“No one is doomed to be overweight,” says Reutens. “Genetics only has a 20 percent role in your health and 80 percent is about lifestyle. Your weight is 80 percent diet and 20 percent exercise. You are what you eat and even if you don’t have time to exercise, you still have to eat — so make sure you eat correctly.”
The next time you find yourself saying “I find it hard to lose weight”, take a step back and review your lifestyle and eating habits. Develop new, healthier habits and you will find yourself at a healthy weight.
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This article was last reviewed on
Monday, September 7, 2020
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