Weight loss and dieting are seen as synonymous terms in today’s society, terms which relate to that all-important concept of the “body beautiful”. It is almost impossible to avoid the issue of weight loss; everywhere we go we are bombarded with the dual images of “beautiful” celebrities to give thinness positive connotations, and “fatness” as a deterrent. But a deterrent from what, exactly? Why do we feel the impulsive need to lose weight, to conform to a stereotype? The simple answer is that we are encouraged (largely by the media) to view being overweight as negative, because fatness does not equate to beauty. My problem with this is quite simple: the emphasis should not be on weight loss for beauty, but on weight management for health. This is not a new concept, but one which I feel is certainly not given enough attention, and overshadowed by the repeated ideal that thin is beautiful.
Of course, weight loss may be a crucial part of weight management – to achieve a healthy weight it may be necessary to lose a substantial, or even an insubstantial, amount of weight. When I say weight I am referring to that often horror-inspiring three letter word: fat. At the risk of sounding like some kind of cheesy support group, I think it is important to get to know your fat, in a sense. To know how much you want to lose, and how much it is sensible to lose, is vital. Once any necessary weight loss has been achieved, the focus can be on successful management of a weight that suits you, that is healthy for you in terms of being in medically good condition.
So what options do we have to go about losing weight in the first instance? Too many, in my opinion, and not necessarily the right ones. There is a constant focus in the media on “fad” diets, aimed at people who want to lose a lot of weight within a matter of weeks, ignoring any potential health risks. For example (and this was my diet of choice back when I was clueless), the “Special K” diet, which promises dieters they can “drop a jean size” in two weeks. This diet consists of eating a bowl of Special K for breakfast, and replacing lunch or dinner with another bowl – so only getting one substantial meal per day for two weeks. This simply does not provide enough protein to keep your body functioning at a healthy level. At most on the diet I took in a thousand calories a day. While this may seem like a fantastic way to lose weight (it did to me), if you actually look at the facts, it’s really not so clever. Your body needs a certain amount of calories per day just to function, and if you severely restrict your calorie intake you will actually prevent your body from burning unwanted stores of fat – the body goes into starvation mode and tries to protect the fat stores. This leads to a loss of muscle, which in turn lowers metabolism, so even if you do manage to lose weight on such a diet, a lot of it will be muscle mass. Add to this the fact that when you come off the diet your metabolism will be much lower (so you will most likely put the weight back on), and the appeal of the diet doesn’t seem so great anymore.
It was only after having to stay dieting like this for six months to keep off the weight I had lost (nearly a stone, and I put a lot of it back on after), that I decided it probably wasn’t a good idea to spend the rest of my life doing so. I needed to be sensible, and it took a while but I finally got there. I opted for cereals that weren’t packed with sugar, and sacked the regime of eating drastically less to lose weight. Instead I started to follow dieting ideas I had observed in weight loss magazines, like Weight Watchers and Rosemary Conley. Whilst these are still quite obviously profit-driven, they do advocate the kind of idea I’m trying to promote in this article – that dieting shouldn’t just be a quick solution, but a long-term lifestyle choice, resulting in reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. So, the “diet” I moved onto consisted quite simply of eating healthily. A breakfast of cereal (with skimmed milk); a mid-morning snack of fruit; a salad or sandwich for lunch; more fruit or low-fat yogurt as a mid-afternoon snack; a low-fat but nutritious dinner such as grilled chicken or fish with boiled potatoes and vegetables. The whole day totalled 1200 calories, which was the perfect amount for me to stay healthy and lose weight at the same time. As you can see, this is isn’t a complicated or expensive diet; it simply cuts down on fat, sugar and junk food – the usual suspects. I also ran five days a week for half an hour a day (more exercise than I had ever done in my life), and I ended up losing two stone, which I have managed to keep off with the aid of a sensible diet and regular exercise.
Even in a society defined by “information overload”, it is impossible to have all the answers, and while this article is not the advice of a dietician or expert in the field, it is advice that has worked on a personal level. There is simply not enough sensible dieting information that is easily accessible; people spend a fortune on “fad” diets only to put the weight back on when they revert to their usual bad eating habits. The only way to combat this is to encourage a more sensible lifestyle to be adopted, alongside the view that a good diet is for your own health, not so that we can conform to media-driven stereotypes of commercial beauty and unrealistic expectations.
Some useful and informative websites to check out if you are interested in weight management:
And a very basic calculator to work out roughly how much you should be consuming per day based on age, gender, weight, height and fitness level: http://walking.about.com/cs/calories/l/blcalcalc.htm