Nutrition: Weight control that works

Forget fads if you want to control your weight

With the new season comes the perfect opportunity to assess where you are now and look forward, planning a few changes for the future.  

As a keen cyclist, the promise to challenge your personal best in races, commute by bike every day or simply improve your general fitness will appear somewhere on your list of ‘must do’s’.

Losing weight or at least shifting a few excess pounds is also likely to feature. There are plenty of diet publications in the bookshops to entice you into the latest quick fix regime.  

It is the promise of rapid results, which often seduce us into following the latest diet rules. But while we’re looking ahead to the season, it’s still a bit early, physiologically and psychologically, to attempt to make any significant changes.  

The clocks are only just going forward, the tail end of winter might be lagging through early spring and the sunlight hours are only just starting to outnumber the dark ones. In winter our bodies go into a form of hibernation mode, hunched against the biting chills when outside and all too keen to curl up and remain cosy indoors until the sun shines regularly again.  

So give it a chance to move into spring mode before you shock it with an uncompromising “must lose weight fast” entry on your to-do list.

Forget the fads

These are often the diets which take you well away from your normal pattern of eating or restrict you to eating a particular combination of foods – such as bananas and beetroot or cabbage soup and crisps.  

It may seem appealing to be able to eat as much as you like of a food and be on a diet, but pretty soon you will become bored with the monotony no matter how much you like food.  

According to a recent study carried out in America, sticking to a diet and making long term changes to your eating habits is more important than the diet you choose.  

The year-long study is the first of this length to test one diet against another in a controlled way. All the volunteers were overweight and all diets worked equally well depending on how long they stuck to the new eating plan.  

In women, the average weight loss was five pounds, and in men just over seven. The Atkins diet achieved the lowest level of weight loss because it was the one that was the most difficult to stick to in the long term.  

Not surprisingly, one of the main conclusions was that the more extreme the diet, the less chance of sticking to it.

Hunger and starvation

Another effect of severe dieting is hunger. If you want to maintain your normal cycling routine and lose some weight, hunger is the last thing you need to experience: it’s a very powerful psychological force that creates a strong desire to eat.

This was shown way back in the 1950s from a study on the physiology of starvation. A group of 36 young, healthy men were carefully studied for six months, during which time they were allowed to eat only half of their normal intake. Although the hungry volunteers lost weight, their mentality and attitude to food also changed.  

They became obsessed with food. They talked, read and dreamed about it. They became depressed, moody, irritable, withdrawn, lost their sense of humour, developed cold hands and feet and became weak and dizzy.  

At the end of the study, the men were allowed to eat as much as they wanted… and they did. Most of them ate continuously – big meals with snacks in between – and not surprisingly replacing all the weight they had lost during the starvation period.  

If you have ever been on a diet, this pattern may seem familiar – and clearly does not result in long term weight loss.

The best way to lose weight at this time of year, and have enough energy to cycle, is to make a few small changes to your eating habits.  

Keep a food diary for a minimum of three consecutive days (one must be a weekend day). Write down everything you eat and drink and identify any foods which you eat a lot of, regularly.

Perhaps you constantly snack on biscuits or eat cheese with everything. Resolve to change this one habit. Small changes are easier to cope with and can bring large benefits over time.

Dr Chris Fenn www.chrisfenn.com

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