Eating a balanced, nutritious diet and being physically active is the best way to stay healthy and help reduce your risk of disease. To maintain a stable weight, your energy (kilojoule) intake needs to equal the energy you use. If you use more energy than you consume, you will lose weight. On the other hand, if you eat more than you use, you will gain weight.
Don’t skip meals
Skipping meals is not recommended. In fact, if you skip meals you may find you eat more when you do eat and this may lead to a larger stomach capacity. Studies show that stomach capacity can increase if large individual meals are eaten. This can then increase the amount of food you need at each meal before you feel ‘full’. You do not need to starve yourself if you’re trying to lose weight.
‘Yoyo’ diets will slow your metabolism
Many people who need to lose weight try crash dieting, which is a short-term solution that will increase your body fat levels in the long term. Continual cycles of dieting, weight loss and weight gain are called ‘yoyo’ dieting. Yoyo dieting does not help you to maintain a healthy body weight. Your body responds to these periods of semi-starvation by lowering its metabolic rate.
When you lose weight too quickly, you lose fat and muscle. Muscle burns calories, but fat doesn’t. So, when you then stop dieting and eat normally again, your body will burn even fewer calories than before because the relative amount of muscle in your body has decreased and your metabolic rate is slower.
A healthier approach to food
You can lose body fat by making a few easy changes to your eating habits. It will help you lose body fat if you:
- Avoid yoyo diets.
- Eat a wide variety of food from all food groups. Check that you eat from the following food groups every day – wholegrain bread and cereals, vegetables, fruit, milk and dairy, and meat, fish or legumes and where possible, choose low-fat varieties.
- Increase your fruit and vegetable intake, particularly vegetables, as most are low in calories and contain fibre, which helps you feel full.
- Reduce your intake of foods that are high in added fat, sugar and salt. Make soft drinks, lollies and snack foods an occasional ‘extra’. Most adults should eat no more than one or two ‘treats’ a day. If you are overweight or inactive, you may need to limit treats to less than one a day.
- Try to balance an ‘extra’ food with extra exercise. The more energy you burn, the more treats you can afford to have. Remember, you should only add extra foods after you have covered your nutrient needs with choices from the healthier food groups.
- Cut down on saturated fats and alcohol.
- Replace sugary drinks with water.
- Avoid using food for comfort, such as when you are upset, angry or stressed. Explore other healthy ways to cope with these feelings.
The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating includes information about how much and what types of food you need to eat to maintain a healthy weight.