Get back in shape, heathily; we share why your current diet and your fitness regime might not be working for you. Image: Shooting Gallery Photography/Corbis
You’ve tried everything (so it seems) and yet those scales still aren’t tipping in your favour. But hang on, make sure you haven’t fallen into any of these weight-loss ruts – and whatever you do, don’t reach for that brownie.
1. You’re exercising or dieting – but not at the same time
The effects of healthy eating will be limited if you don’t do any exercise. Working out builds muscle and the more muscle you have, the more calories your body burns. Conversely, the best workout routines can be undone if you eat whatever you want. “You’ll be gaining muscle mass from exercising and fat from your bad eating habits, which means you won’t see a huge difference on the scales,” says Dr Kevin Teh, medical director at The Aesthetic Suite, a Singapore Medical Group clinic.
FIX IT: If changing your diet and workout regime at once seems too daunting, hedge your bets on one. Dr Teh recommends fi xing eating habits first. The logic is that eating healthily and watching your caloric intake will almost guarantee weight loss in the first few months.
“When people see results, they gain extra stores of willpower to start exercising,” he explains. Cut out all sugar and scale down on refined carbs and processed foods, says Dr Teh. Eat high-quality food like fish, meat, eggs, veggies and fruits, which are as close to being unprocessed as possible. Cook your own meals so you can control salt, sugar and oil levels, and eat until you’re only 80 per cent full, he adds.
2. You’re eating way too little
Your body needs at least 1,200 calories to function – any less and it goes into starvation mode, says Dr Jean-Jasmin Lee, a family physician with KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH). “Your body thinks it’s starving and adapts by conserving calories. This slows down your metabolism and increases fat storage,” she adds. If you’re consuming too little calories, ketosis also sets in – a condition where you not only burn fat, but muscle mass too. Your blood sugar also plunges, leading you to binge or crave a sugary fix. A related mistake: cutting out a major food group, like carbs. Because carbs are your body’s preferred source of fuel, a low-carb diet will leave you listless, with little energy to exercise.
FIX IT: Don’t starve yourself or skip meals. Eat regularly and from the major food groups, so that you don’t run the risk of a nutritional defi ciency, says Vanessa McNamara, a Singapore-based dietitian.
Fuel up on complex carbs such as brown rice, and wholegrain bread and pasta. These have a low glycaemic index and release energy gradually, so you won’t be tempted to snack.
3. You’ve fallen victim to the “calorie creep”
It’s shockingly common for people to unknowingly consume extra calories. “You eat mindlessly and have no knowledge of where and when the calories came in,” says Vanessa. For instance, people often forget about the calories in their drinks, such as sweetened coff ee and bubble tea.
FIX IT: Keep a food diary so you’re more aware of what you eat and drink, says Vanessa. It also lets you make adjustments – for instance, “if you had a huge meal yesterday, have a lighter lunch today or take a walk around the park,” Vanessa suggests. And because you’re also more likely to eat unthinkingly when you’re dining out, or with friends, make allowances for this.
Vanessa’s tip: “If you notice you’ve been eating out a lot lately, commit to eating out just once a day.”
4. You’re not exercising right
Some common pitfalls include:
• Not working out hard enough
“One problem I see in gyms is people doing workouts with little determination,” says Denis Mecklenburg, director and sports therapist at Physioactive, a physiotherapy and sports injury clinic. “They don’t do enough reps, or they get distracted by friends.”
• Thinking that exercise is your free pass
“You rest or eat more than you normally would because you think you ‘deserve’ it after exercising,” says Dr Lee.
• Having a yo-yo exercise regime
There’s no point going exercising thrice a week, and then taking a one-month hiatus. Be consistent.
FIX IT: Aim for between 2.5 and 5 hours of exercise every week. Space out your exercise sessions across the week, making sure each session is at least 30 minutes long.
If you have had problems sustaining an exercise routine in the past, go with low- to moderateintensity workouts – think a light cardio session of jogging or cycling. Incorporate muscle-strengthening exercises in the form of resistance or strength training – think squats, push-ups, or exercises using resistance bands and free weights.
“Do these for two or more nonconsecutive days a week. Aim for two sets of eight to 12 repetitions per exercise,” says Tai Kit Ping, an exercise specialist with KKH’s Sports Medicine Programme.
5. Your lifestyle habits are poor
If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re likely to snack for a quick shot of energy. Stress has also been shown to increase hunger cravings. And if you like your tipple, remember that alcohol is highly calorific. Plus, your body breaks down alcohol into acetate, which replaces fat as a source of fuel, says Dr Lee. “This lowers your fat metabolism by approximately 75 per cent.”
FIX IT: Get the recommended hours of sleep every night, watch your stress levels and limit your alcohol intake. “I recommend no beer at all and one to two glasses of wine a week, at most,” says Dr Teh. “If you prefer hard liquor, drink it neat, without sweet mixers like juices or cordials.”
6. You have really high expectations – chill out!
It’s natural for weight loss to taper off as you approach a healthy weight. Also, think about whether you’re expecting the impossible. Unless you’re obese, you should aim to lose no more than 10 per cent of your initial body weight over six months – or around half to 1kg a week.
FIX IT: Don’t fixate on a “magic” number or weight. “Sometimes, the number on the scale may stay the same, but your clothes will feel looser and you’ll drop dress sizes as your muscles get more toned,” says Dr Lee.
“Instead of asking yourself, ‘How much weight did I lose this week?’, focus on how much exercise you managed and whether you were careful with your diet. Enjoy the process of healthy eating and exercise. Remember that weight loss is just one of the benefits of what you’re doing.”
This story was originally published in Her World Fit & Fab 2014.