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Diet Fads and Facts - Tips and Information

We’re constantly bombarded with new ways to lose weight— high protein, low fat, Atkins, grapefruit, the Zone, the cabbage soup diet. But what really works to help you manage your weight in the long run?

Reaching and keeping a healthy weight

There are many diets that make you lose weight. However, the key to healthy weight management is not just to lose excess weight — but to keep it off. This means choosing a healthy way of eating that you can follow for the rest of your life. It may take you longer to lose weight this way, but both your weight and health could benefit in the long term.

Is it a diet or a healthy eating plan?

Before you embrace a new diet, here are some questions to ask:

  • Will this diet do more than just shrink my waistline — is it also a healthy way of eating that will protect my long term health?
  • Can I stick with it for good — not just for a few weeks?
  • Does it promise rapid weight loss rather than more sustainable steady weight loss?

What are some problems associated with diets?

Many diets often exclude or restrict certain foods, or severely limit energy intake, so you may find it hard to meet your daily nutritional and energy needs. This may make you feel tired, dehydrated, constipated or weak.

Also, fast weight loss (e.g. through crash diets) may mean you lose water or muscle as well as fat. When you restrict your food intake, your body begins to break down muscle as well as fat to meet energy needs. This is because the body breaks down muscle more easily than fat. Losing muscle may also slow down your metabolism, making your body less efficient at burning up kilojoules – meaning that you may put on weight once you stop the diet.

What really helps weight loss?

Here are 10 top tips to help you develop healthier lifestyle habits to lose excess weight and keep it off!

Eat a healthy breakfast

Eating a healthy breakfast may help you lose excess weight and even maintain your weight loss. One theory is that a healthy meal first thing in the morning may kick-start your metabolism. It may also help keep you from snacking on high-kilojoule foods or eating more at lunch when you’re hungry.

Good breakfast choices include low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates. These take longer for the body to digest, releasing the energy contained in these foods more slowly. Try muesli with low-fat milk, soymilk or low-fat yoghurt, fruit with low-fat yoghurt, a boiled or poached egg, or baked beans with wholegrain bread.

Include lean protein and healthy carbohydrates at each meal

Carbohydrates are the body’s main energy source while proteins are the body’s building blocks, required to maintain and renew tissues and cells. You need both these food groups in your diet for a healthy body —whether you are trying to lose weight or not.

But when it comes to managing your weight, it helps to eat meals combining lean protein with healthy carbohydrates. This can help you feel satisfied and fuller after you eat, so you’re less likely to snack between meals.

Examples of lean protein are lean meat or poultry, fish, eggs, low-fat dairy foods and plant proteins such as tofu, lentils or beans. Healthy carbohydrates include wholegrain foods such as grainy breads and oats, and legumes (e.g. beans, chickpeas, lentils). You don’t have to eat large amounts of these, but including them can help you last the distance until your next meal.

Eat more vegetables

Larger servings of vegetables — whether steamed, stir fried, roasted with a little olive oil or in a salad — help fill you up without weighing you down.

Be smart about fats

A healthy diet should include some fat. Apart from being an energy source, the body uses fats to make certain hormones. Fats also help your body absorb other nutrients.

Eating fat doesn’t mean eating fatty steaks or cheese-laden pizza. Rather, go for foods with healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats as part of your everyday diet. These ‘good’ fats are found in foods such as oily fish, avocado, olive oil and nuts and seeds. However, you still need to eat these foods in moderation as all fats are relatively high in kilojoules and can still contribute to weight gain.

Tips to help control your fat intake

  • Use non-stick pans and unsaturated oil sprays for frying.
  • Grill, bake, steam, stir-fry with a little oil or microwave, where possible.
  • Eat more poultry and fish instead of red meat.
  • Trim all visible fat from meat and remove skin from chicken.
  • Chill soups and stews and remove the fat that collects on the top before you reheat it.
  • Use fat-containing spreads like margarine, mayonnaise and butter sparingly — or skip them altogether.

Be label savvy

Be cautious with products labelled ‘low fat’ or ‘fat free’ — check the nutrition label for the kilojoule content. Foods labelled as ‘low fat’ or ‘fat free’ may contain added sugar. In other words, ‘low fat’ or ‘no fat’ doesn’t necessarily mean fewer kilojoules.

To make it easier to find healthier options at the supermarket, try the FoodSwitch app. This free smartphone app helps makes food labels easier to understand by giving you instant, traffic-light style nutritional information on salt, sugar, and fat content of packaged foods.

Drink water before each meal

Evidence suggests that adults who drink 500 mL (2 cups) of water 30 minutes before each meal while following a low-kilojoule diet, lose more excess weight — and lose it faster — compared with only following a low-kilojoule diet. Drinking water during a meal may work too.

Check with your doctor first as drinking water in this way may worsen some medical conditions such as congestive heart failure or severe kidney disease. Also, this method may not suit you if you have a prostate condition or you suffer from incontinence because of the increased amount of urine your body will produce.

Eat your kilojoules — don’t drink them

You may not realise it, but that soft drink or fruit juice you’re consuming adds extra kilojoules without the filling power of food. If you’re thirsty, choose water – it’s 100 percent kilojoule and fat free! You can add a splash of lemon or lime juice for a refreshing twist.

Limit your alcohol intake

Alcohol can stimulate your appetite and encourage you to eat more. It is also high in kilojoules but contains little nutritional value. Drinking less alcohol will benefit your overall health, and helps with weight loss by helping you to cut down on the kilojoules you consume.

Keep a daily food diary

Keeping a food diary may also help with weight loss. By recording what, where, and when you eat, you’ll be able to see patterns forming – even after a week. You can then use the diary and your observations to identify any food habits that need to change.

Don't forget about exercise

If you’re overweight and want to lose weight, you need to use up more energy with increased physical activity than you take in through food and drink. Regular physical activity is beneficial to your general health as well as being part of a weight-loss plan.

The table below shows the amount of physical activity that Australian guidelines recommend for promoting good general health. It also shows the amount of physical activity you need to do if you want to actively lose weight.

Type of physical activity For general health in adults (<65 years old)1 For weight loss2
Moderate-intensity (e.g. brisk walking, swimming) 2.5 – 5 hours/week > 4 hours/week to help increase weight loss and prevent weight re-gain
Vigorous-intensity (e.g. competitive sports, aerobics, jogging) 1.25– 2.5 hours/week n/a

1Australia’s Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines, 2014
2Position Stand: Appropriate Physical Activity Intervention Strategies for Weight Loss and Prevention of Weight Regain for Adults, 2009

You can also do an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous intensity exercise each week. The Australian guidelines also recommend adults younger than 65 years do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week. Adding muscle strengthening exercise not only helps tone your body, it can help with weight loss when paired with aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling, running and swimming. This is because muscle is active tissue that burns up kilojoules, so the more muscle your body has, the more kilojoules it burns up.

Further information

Eat for health

Dietitians Association of Australia


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National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). Eat for health. Australian dietary guidelines: summary. Canberra: NHMRC, 2013.

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Last updated: 11 June 2014

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This information has been developed and reviewed for Bupa by health professionals. To the best of their knowledge it is current and based on reputable sources of medical research. It should be used as a guide only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical or other health professional advice.

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