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How to Combine Diet and Exercise for Successful Weight Control

The US-based National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) was established in 1994 and is the largest investigation of long-term successful weight loss maintenance worldwide. Given the common belief that few individuals succeed at long-term weight loss, the NWCR was set up to identify and investigate the characteristics of individuals who have succeeded at long-term weight loss. The NWCR is tracking over 5,000 individuals who have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off for long periods of time. In fact, the average weight loss of people on the Registry is 5 stones and the average maintenance time is five years.

The scientists then investigated all 5,000 to find out how they did it and which strategies were most effective.

Here are the seven reasons identified by the researchers – and you might be surprised how easy they are to incorporate into your own life:

  1. Combining diet AND exercise is your best bet: Of the 5000 people on the NWCR database, only 1% slimmed down by simply increasing their exercise levels; 9% lost their weight through diet alone, but a massive 90% gained their results by combining DIET and EXERCISE.
  2. Get moving: The researchers recommend that if you’re looking to lose weight you should aim to get about an hour a day of medium intensity exercise (such as brisk walking). Interestingly, they showed that turning off the telly helped enormously – those who spent the most time watching the box struggled most to take regular exercise and lose weight.
  3. Reduce your energy intake: As you’d probably expect, most of the people on the NWCR followed a low-calorie, low-fat diet. Also, most reported finding it easier to control their diet on a regular basis than take regular exercise – until it was ingrained into their daily lifestyle.
  4. Be consistent: If you’re one of those people who eats ‘good’ food all week, and then lashes out on the weekend, you might want to re-think your strategy. Those who followed a consistent eating plan all week long (and didn’t slack off over the holidays either) were twice as likely to maintain their weight loss compared to those who dieted in fits and starts.
  5. Eat breakfast: Not surprisingly, one of the characteristics of people on the NWCR is that they regularly eat breakfast – most commonly cereal and fruit. It’s worth your while to follow their lead, since eating a breakfast like this helps to top up your fibre levels, which helps you feel full longer, and thus decreases the likelihood you’ll succumb to a mid-morning snack.
  6. Weigh yourself regularly: 75% of these long-term successful slimmers weighed themselves at least once a week. By regular weighing, they were able to notice small shifts in their weight and initiate corrective measures when necessary.
  7. Steer clear of fast food: One of the characteristics of people on the NWCR is that they ate less than one fast food meal a week. So, if you’re the type of person who is constantly eating on the run, now you’ve got even more reason to choose something light and tasty like sushi or a salad instead of that burger!

But – how is it best to incorporate exercise into our lifestyles? We eat – and often plan ahead – our daily meals – particularly if you have a family or partner. But for many of us, exercise planning is not so easy – and often becomes lower priority.

For some, having a structured exercise programme is not a problem This might include visits to the gym, attending aerobics classes, swimming, playing badminton, tennis or other sports. In other words we schedule these in the diary and normally take a bag of kit and a towel for such activities.

However, researchers have found that in a typical week, many of us can actually burn far more calories in everyday daily movements when compared to living a slothful, sedentary lifestyle and incorporating a weekly gym session.

These calories have now been termed ‘NEAT’ (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis).

From where I’m currently sitting in a coffee bar with my laptop, I see two young women sat chatting. One sits very still, barely moving. The other can’t stop moving. She gets up and curves between the tightly squeezed tables, just to get a napkin and then gesticulates wildly as she talks. She was saying how she wears a pedometer to measure the number of steps she takes each day and was well above the 10,000 recommended. But – she went on – “I put it on my three-year-old daughter at home who just ‘just never stops’ – and did 5,000 steps in ONE HOUR! The first woman, of ample proportions, said that she used to be just like that as a beanpole youngster – until her teenage hormones kicked in!

We now know that spontaneous energy expended in everything we do on a daily basis – getting showered, dressed, doing hair and make-up, fidgeting, housework, cooking, cleaning the car, walking up and down stairs, even working at a PC, walking the dog, etc, etc can add volumes to our total daily calorie expenditure. It is not surprising that NEAT explains the vast majority of an individual’s non-resting energy needs – far more than a weekly visit to the gym.

So, the key message is to combine diet and exercise for long-term weight management, and if you can’t make the gym or exercise classes, remember the very NEAT lifestyle way of burning those extra calories.


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