The beginning of another new year means a fresh start and, for many of us, shedding some pounds is top of the agenda after the festive period.
But where to start? The temptation is to go full throttle, banning sugar, carbs and alcohol and embarking on an intense exercise routine several days of the week. You’ll probably see some results if you manage to keep this up but, let’s face it, maintaining a drastic lifestyle overhaul is a challenge that most of us will struggle with long-term.
Try starting small
For a weight loss strategy you can stick to, the key is to identify one or two key areas that you would like to work on, then come up with a clear plan for the changes you’re going to make.
You might like to target one or two of the following:
- The amount of alcohol you drink in a week
- Your daily sugar intake
- Your tendency to snack in the evenings
- The daily exercise you do
For each of these areas of focus, your plan might look like this:
If you drink most days, set yourself the challenge of having three alcohol-free days per week.
If you have sugar in your tea or coffee try halving the amount you use, or switch to sweetener for a low-calorie option.
If you reach for the snacks after dinner, try changing the snacks you have available in your cupboards. Avoid the chocolate and crisps aisle when shopping and stock up instead on lower calorie alternatives such as punnets of grapes and plain popcorn.
If you commute to and from work, try getting off public transport a stop earlier than usual and walk the remaining distance at a brisk pace.
When considering your plan of action, it’s important to start small. Changing one, small element of your lifestyle is more manageable than trying to change everything at once and achieving success in one area will help you to build confidence to make more changes over time.
Monitor your progress
When losing weight, it can be a good idea to track your progress to check you’re on the right track. But jumping on the scales each morning is not necessarily the best option.
Your body weight is represented by a number on the scale which may change depending on the amount of fat you gain or lose. But this number is also impacted by changes in muscle mass, the contents of your stomach and bowel and by the water contained within your body, meaning small daily fluctuations to your weight do not always represent changes in body fat.
A more reliable strategy is to monitor changes to your waist circumference which gives a reliable measure of the fat accumulated in your abdominal cavity, known as visceral fat. It’s this kind of fat that you really want to lose, as the build-up of fat around the organs is linked to cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome amongst other diseases.
As a starting measure, a waist circumference of more than 94cm (37in) for men or more than 80cm (31.5in) for women is a strong indicator that you need to lose weight.
How to measure your waist circumference:
1. As a general rule your waist is typically a few centimetres above your belly button but, to be more accurate, use your fingers on one side of your torso to gently find the bottom of your rib cage and the top of your hip bone. The position halfway between these two points is your waist.
2. Pass a tape measure around your waist. The tape measure will likely sit just above your belly button although this is not always the case for everyone.
3. Make sure you’re not pulling the tape measure tight – it should be resting lightly on your skin, not digging in.
4. Breathe normally and take the reading as you exhale. It may be helpful to ask a friend to do take the reading for you.
5. Repeat this measurement once per month, making sure to follow the same process each time.
Top tip: It can be a good idea to stand in front of a mirror or ask your friend to make sure the tape measure is straight and even all the way around your waist.
What should my waist circumference be?
A healthy waist circumference should be no more than 50% of your height, with the same being true for both males and females.
So, if you’re 180cm tall, your waist should be no more than 60cm all the way around.
This waist to height ratio can provide you with an ultimate goal to work towards over time through implementing small changes to your lifestyle with accumulating benefits. If you find your waist measurements start to plateau, it may be time to revisit your weight loss plan and make some adjustments, e.g., reducing your alcohol intake further by adding one more alcohol-free day per week. Over the course of a number of months you should begin to notice how the gradual but significant changes have improved your lifestyle. These measures will have enforced long-lasting habits and enable you to continue a sustainable approach to achieving your ultimate weight loss goal.
Performance Nutritionist and Health Adviser