How do some people manage to stay slim while the majority of middle-aged Americans and Australians become moderately to severely overweight? Some attribute the ability to stay lean to lucky genes. Others wonder if these fortunate ones have to work to stay fit through the years. Consumer Reports, America’s sister organisation’s magazine to Consumers Union, conducted its own investigation and asked its readers in 2007 to share their lifelong habits of fitness, nutrition, and eating habits.
Their responses are just as significant to Australian consumers as to those in the US. The surveys discovered that:
- Those who seem to stay lean naturally do not do so due to good fortune. On the contrary, they have to stay consistent in dietary and exercise habits much like those how have lost weight and remained fit.
- To acquire and maintain a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), there are six vital stay-slim strategies that most strongly affect success.
The Consumer Reports survey gathered responses from a total of 21,632 participants. They were classified into three groups. “Always slim”, people who have never had an overweight or obesity problem, comprised 16% of the total. 15% of the participants were “successful losers” who at the time of the study, had lost at least 10% of their maximum weight and kept it off at least three years. 42% of the respondents were “failed dieters”, who still remained significantly overweight in spite of their desire to lose weight. 27% of the participants did not match any of these groups.
Keeping Yourself Slim
Those seemingly blessed ones who have never battled excess weight are not lazing about the house snacking on fried foods. Only 3% of the “always slim” group participants claim to be able to eat whatever they like without consequence; all the others work to maintain healthy habits, watching what they eat and exercising regularly just like those who succeeded. In both the “always slim” and “successful losers” categories, participants shared these common habits:
- Regular and vigorous exercise
- Avoiding high fat foods
- Mindful of proper food portion
- Eating whole grains, fruits, and plenty of vegetables
The only notable difference between habits of the always-slim category and the successful losers is that these habits seem to be easier for the always-slim people. Suzanne Phelan, PhD, points out that “when comparing people who maintain significantly reduced weight to those who have never been overweight, we notice both groups put in the effort. The maintenance people just have to work a little harder to stay leaner.” Dr. Phelan, who is an investigator from the US National Weight Control Registry, tracks people with healthy weight loss. For many of the successful loser group, maintaining fitness means exercising a little harder and adhering to a slightly stricter diet than an always-slim person. Helpful monitoring tools include keeping a food journal to help track calories.
66% of the Consumer Report survey respondents qualify as overweight according to their Body Mass Index (BMI) reading. This is consistent with the general American population. Out of this group, one third (22% of the total survey sample) are classified obese. Australian populations reflect similar numbers with 60% overweight, with an obesity rate of 20.8%.
In spite of these disheartening findings, this same survey showed far more weight loss success than what would be expected. These studies consider 5% weight reduction after a year as “successful”. Successful losers in the Consumer Report study had lost on average about 16%, or 15kg, of their heaviest weight. Their collective BMI averaged a remarkable 25.7, which by definition is only slightly overweight.
It is important to keep your expectations reasonable to prevent getting discouraged and giving up on your weight loss diet. 70% of the survey participants expressed a desire to lose weight, but when asked how many kilos they wished to lose, their responses revealed very rational target weights. 65% hoped to lose between 1 and 10% of their current weight, while most wanted to lose 15% at maximum.
The BMI calculation is your weight in kilograms divided by your height in metres squared:
- Underweight: BMI is less than 18.5
- Healthy: BMI ranges from 18.5 to 24.9
- Overweight: BMI ranges from 25 to 29
- Obese: BMI is 30 or greater
Six Strategies to Stay Slim
Consumer Reports identified through its studies 6 behaviors essential to obtaining and keeping a healthy BMI. Even without lifelong leanness, following these guidelines can let you live like a slim person!
- Eat vegetables and fruits every day. On average, the more frequently survey participants ate fresh produce, the lower their BMI. Almost half of the always-slim and successful losers claim to consume their fresh vegetables and fruits at least 5 days each week. Only 35% of failed dieters make this same claim.
- Don’t eat out. For study participants, weight increases with the number of days weekly meals were eaten at restaurants or as take-out. Commercially made foods are almost always higher in fat, sodium, and sugar than what you might think. Be wary of store-bought processed and pre-prepared foods as well.
- Watch your fat consumption. Ideally you want one-third or less of your daily kilojoules to come from fat.47% of the always-slim respondents and 49% of the successful losers are careful with their fat intake. Only 35% of the failed dieters monitor their dietary fat.
- Say no to white bread. Whole grains and whole grain breads, pastas, and cereals are far more conducive to healthy weight loss than processed grains and white bread and rice. Do not make the mistake of greatly lowering or eliminating carbohydrates. Low-carb plans like South Beach may work for some people, but just cutting carbohydrates without regular exercise is actually linked to a higher BMI!
- Exercise regularly and vigorously. Lower BMI is linked to a regular exercise routine in which exercise increases the heart rate for at least 30 minutes 3 to 5 days weekly. Regular resistance training, at least one session per week, was practiced by about 31% of the always-slim group and %32 of the successful losers. Only about one-fourth of the study respondents in total claim participation in regular strength training.
- Most important of all: portion control! The most vital part of becoming or staying slim is controlling how much food you eat in a day. Carefully controlled food portions at every meal are the strongest link to healthier BMI numbers. Only 42% of failed dieters watch their food portions, while 62% of successful losers and 57% of the always-slim control portions most days. Choose lean proteins in small amounts with each meal, and eat more frequently in smaller amounts. Try not to snack between meals, and if you do, opt for a small piece of fruit or fat-free yogurt instead of something heavy.
Following these weight loss tips will help put healthy habits into practice. These guidelines, with the exception of not dining out, are addressed in the Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults, created by the government organization National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
More to Remember
Regular, moderate to intense exercise is the optimal recommendation, but studies to show that any physical activity is far better than being sedentary. Desk jobs and long hours sitting before the television contribute to weight gain. Yard work, housekeeping, walking to nearby places for errands, and playing with your children are significant to physical health and have all been shown to help lower weight. In 2007-2008, the Australian Bureau of Statistics conducted a National Health Survey that reported 48% of people surveyed walk for exercise, 36% work out at moderate levels, and only 15% exercise intensely. An increase in that 15% would surely show an increase in fast weight loss!
Establish your support system. This means asking for encouragement from friends and family to stick to your weight loss diet and exercise plans. It is helpful for peers to not goad you to eat foods you are trying to stay away from, or to not eat what you have stocked for yourself and dine out instead. A few survey participants reported some degree of weight loss sabotage from family members or spouses. 31% of failed dieters claim some type of success interference from a spouse in the month prior to the time of the survey.
Try not to give up. Many prospective dieters have lofty, fast weight loss goals that may in fact set them up to fail. A weight loss of 10% of body weight might not sound like a big deal, but it is plenty for disease reduction and measurable health improvements.
Watching Your Budget while Eating Healthy
Sometimes eating what is best for you can cost more than eating what is convenient, measured serving for serving. This doesn’t mean your only option is to just live with unwanted weight gain because you have to watch your spending. Consumer Reports and CHOICE have compiled 15 cost efficient weight loss tips to help you make smarter food choices.
- Don’t fear generic products. Quality does not always mean high-priced. You may save quite a bit buying a supermarket brand without sacrificing quality, especially with food staples like spices, sugar, and flour.
- Keep lentils, peas, and various beans in stock. Dried pulses are the most economical while canned are the most convenient. Both are nutrient-dense protein sources.
- Pre-make your own fruit salad. Cube your fruits of choice and squeeze lemon or lime over it to prevent discoloring, then store in individual serving sized containers in the refrigerator to use throughout the week.
- Baked potatoes, with the right toppings, can make a great meal at a very low cost. Use cottage cheese, plain yogurt, reduced-fat cheese, salsa, or beans as condiments, or for even more variety use sweet potatoes.
- Dilute fruit juices with water and avoid sodas and drink mixes. Juice and drink mixes are higher in kilojoules as well as cost. Also avoid bottled water. Use a washable water bottle to store water.
- Buy produce in season. Fruits and vegetables that are in peak season will cost less and retain more nutrients than off-season produce.
- If produce isn’t in season, buy it frozen. Frozen foods are flash frozen usually within 2-3 hours of harvest, which means nutrients are preserved. Frozen produce also has a longer shelf life than fresh.
- Better yet, grow your own produce! It takes some time investment to grow your own garden, but the results are all yours and the cost of seeds is minimal compared to the yield. Cooking staples like herbs, onions, and garlic can be grown and frozen for future use.
- Purchase meats and storable goods in bulk to save money. Buy extra chicken, seafood, and other meats when on special, and freeze what you don’t use. Large batches of snacks can be stored in containers or smaller bags for easy portion control. If the bulk option is the best cost by weight, buy produce with longer shelf lives like apples and onions in larger quantities.
- Buy a whole chicken and prepare whole or cut it up yourself. Cut poultry will cost more because of labor costs to butcher the meat. A whole chicken has all of it’s parts, will cost less per pound, and will be ideal for making stock to freeze for later when making soups.
- Meat and poultry should be treated like a side dish. Stick with the recommended serving size of 65g – 100g, and fill the rest of your plate with grains and vegetables.
- Use meat and vegetable scraps for stocks and other dishes. Meat bones will keep in the freezer, and pork or beef bones will be especially tasty when cooked with a pot of beans.
- Remember that in the supermarket, higher priced items are typically shelved at eye level to insure consumer attention. Check the lower shelves and the parameters of the store for more economical choices.
- Cook large dishes for the week. One-pot dishes and stews are particularly easy to cook ahead of time. Freeze the excess in containers.
- Avoid impulse buying! Think about what you need to purchase, make a list, and follow that list. It would be helpful to keep a note board in or near the kitchen so items can be written down as they run out.