Keep a healthy weight. This is a simple 4-word sentence that is actually more difficult to do than it sounds. Research has shown that most people who diet will regain 50 percent of the lost weight in the first year.
One possible cause of this is the way our brains work. Each day, we make more than 200 food decisions which are made unconsciously. For example, a busy professional might snack on the commute going home from work. When he or she first starts the commute, a mental link is associated with the context of commuting and their response of snacking. Each time this happens, the link gets stronger and the act becomes a familiar habit. As a result, our ingrained habits can override the best of intentions. It can be easy to then slip back to unbalanced eating patterns.
One study has found that the key to losing and keeping off weight is to use weight loss interventions based on habit change. Seventy five overweight or obese participants, between the ages of 18-75, were recruited from the community and randomised in three groups. Two groups focused on one intervention to either promote breaking old habits or forming new habits while the third group was the control with no intervention.
The habit-breaking group was sent a text message with a different task to complete daily. These tasks were designed to break up daily patterns and included a variety of recommendations such as “listen to a new genre of music” or “write a short story.”
The habit-forming group was asked to follow a program to form habits based on healthy lifestyle changes. They were encouraged to develop suggested ten healthy tips into their daily habits until they became second-nature.
After 12 weeks, both habit-forming and habit-breaking groups lost an average of 3.1 kg. Most notably, after 12 months of no intervention nor contact, they lost a further 2.1 kg on average.
In sharp contrast to popular weight loss programs, the study’s interventions did not prescribe specific diet plans or rigorous exercise regimes. The interventions simply focused on small, daily habits. Furthermore, participants not only increased their overall vegetable and fruit intake but also improved their mental focus. This underlines the importance of diet and nutrition that transgresses outside of the weight arena.
The 10 Healthy Habits used in the study are noted in the following:
- Keep a meal routine; eat roughly the same times each day. People who succeed at long-term weight loss tend to have a regular meal rhythm (avoidance of snacking and nibbling). A consistent diet regimen across the week and year also predicts subsequent long-term weight loss maintenance.
- Go for healthy fats: choose to eat healthy fats from nuts, avocado, and oily fish instead of fast food. Trans-fats are linked to an increased risk of heart-disease.
- Walk off the weight: aim for 10,000 steps a day. Take the stairs and get off public transport one stop earlier to ensure you’re getting your heart rate up every day.
- Pack healthy snacks when you go out; swap crisps and biscuits for fresh fruit.
- Always look at the labels: check the fat, sugar, and salt content on food labels.
- Caution with your portions: use smaller plates, and drink a glass of water and wait five minutes then check in with your hunger before going back for seconds.
- Break up sitting time: decreasing sedentary time and increasing activity is linked to substantial health benefits. Time spent sedentary is related to excess weight and obesity, independent of physical activity level.
- Think about your drinks: choose water and limit fruit juice to one small glass per day.
- Focus on your food; slow down and eat while sitting at the table, not on the go. Internal cues regulating food intake (hunger/fullness signals) may not be as effective while distracted.
- Always aim for five serves of vegetables a day, whether fresh, frozen or tinned: fruit and vegetables have high nutritional quality and low energy density. Eating the recommended amount produces health benefits, including reduction in the risk of cancer and coronary heart disease.