Many of us struggle to lose weight or maintain weight loss, and jump from diet to diet. The truth is, the majority of diets fail us unless we are able to stick to them long term. A new Finnish study concludes that dieting is wrong, we need to change the way we live.
If you were overweight as a teenager or a young adult, the chances are you’re still overweight now. Being overweight in our younger years carries a greater risk of long term weight problems.
This means that many of us give up, or jump from diet to diet hoping to find that holy grail of a weight loss plan.
Being slimmer shouldn’t be the focus though, it really does matter where that fat is. We should be thinking about smaller waists because fat around our vital organs is our biggest enemy. Not having a big butt!
So it’s become difficult to discuss issues of weight without offending someone, but the truth is – they are discussions that need to be had. But is dieting the answer? After all, every year millions and millions of people follow them.
Not according to the Finns! And they’re the happiest people in the world.
The University of Helsinki recently published findings of the FinnTwin 16 study, looking at weight management in just under 5000 participants.
The participants answered surveys addressing factors that impact weight and weight change when they were 24 years of age, and again ten years later at the age of 34.
Most participants gained weight during this period, with only 7.5% of women and 3.8% of men experiencing weight loss over that period. The average weight gain in women was 0.9 kg per year, while men gained an average of 1.0 kg annually.
Women who gave birth to two or more children were more likely to gain weight, along with those who regularly consume sugary drinks and had low contentment with life. In men, smoking was found to be a link with higher risk of weight gain.
Factors protective of weight gain were physical activity in women, while in men it was being educated and having greater weight at the beginning of the study period.
This study found that dieting was not effective at long-term weight loss, but eating more regularly and never having dieted was!
The Finnish study found that even though dieting may seem a logical solution to weight management problems, it can actually increase weight gain and eating problems in the long run.
The researchers suggest that, instead of dieting, it is more important to focus on eating regular meals (and presumably being strict about when you eat, rather than eating irregularly and on-the-go) and being much more focussed on our general well-being rather than weight loss.
What is this study suggesting?
This study is known as a longitudinal prospective study, because it followed up a group of people over many years.
These studies are useful for finding links and associations between factors, and this study found that happier people with a better, more hopeful outlook on life tended to have less issues with their weight.
This makes sense to me, because people who do not sit in their homes and lock out the world are more likely to be more active, and less likely to have constant access to food.
I know myself that if I have “home days”, where I find myself at home for most or all of the day, I’m far more likely to trip to the kitchen and snack regularly!
If I am out and about, being active, meeting people, doing the shopping or whatever it is, my food consumption drops, and energy expenditure increases.
Final words from the researchers are:
Our findings demonstrate that weight management would benefit from an increased focus on individual differences, as well as perceiving the factors that impact human wellbeing and the sense of meaning in life as a broader whole.
There are pros and cons with regular eating. The main pro is that regular eating helps keep blood sugar stable, so long as the food we’re eating is slow-releasing in terms of energy.
By that, I mean sugary foods like cakes, sweets, chocolate etc. will provide sugar to the blood stream relatively quickly, which causes insulin spikes.
This can cause us to feel even hungrier shortly afterwards.
Eating regularly should mean eating smaller meals at regular intervals, consisting mainly of proteins and starchy carbohydrates that release their energy slower (such as whole grains for example).
But eating regularly can also mean we over-eat! We do know that people who eat breakfast (and don’t skip it) tend to have lower body weights. So when we eat could be as important as what we eat.
I think the main takeaway message from this would be to be more disciplined with eating times and where you eat.
Eating on the go usually means we eat quicker, and it can take up to 20 minutes for our brain to catch up with our stomachs and tell us we’re full. This gives us plenty of time to over-eat if we’re scoffing at high velocity.
Try and eat mindfully. This isn’t as fluffy as it sounds, it’s a technique many dietitians use with their overweight patients who need to lose weight for health reasons.
Hints and tips
Losing weight is complex of course, and there’s no one size fits all solution! But if you’re looking to lose weight naturally, without adopting a diet, and you know that your own natural well-being could do with a boost, here’s some ideas:
- Get a dog or join borrowmydoggy.com. If you have a dog, you’ve someone else to look after. Moreover, you will have to go out several times a day to allow the dog to toilet – this gets you out and about more. You might discover more of your neighbourhood than you knew existed! Dog walkers are forever stopping to chat to other dog walkers simply because their pooches force them to. It’s a great way to meet others and get exercise without feeling you’ve worked out!
- Join meetup.com. This is a fantastic website that lists all manner of different groups and activities in your area that you can get involved in. You might find yourself out more than you’re in, and thus less likely to subconsciously snack.
- Don’t put off jobs. If you have to be at home, focus yourself on a project – clear out that cupboard, put up some shelves or weed the garden.
- Take up crafts. Being focussed on something might stop you thinking about things that get you down. The worst thing you can do is stew in front of the TV with a family size bag of crisps. Even better if you get involved with friends, or need to go to night class to learn a new craft.
- Volunteer. Giving up time for others is one of the most worthwhile things you can do. It can be absolutely anything, from sorting tins in a food bank to befriending older people who find themselves alone. There are literally hundreds of opportunities in almost every neighbourhood covering a vast span of activities.
- Do you enjoy gardening but don’t have a garden? You can do someone else’s! Usually, they’ll let you have a patch to grow your own things. Join a group such as Lend and Tend, but your area may have a local initiative already set up!
Getting out and about is one of the best ways to improve your general well-being! So stop dieting, and work on your place in life instead. You could lose a kilo or two.
Seb is a writer and blogger of food and nutrition. He holds a bachelors and a masters degree in nutrition science, and has studied sports and exercise nutrition at postgraduate level. He specialises in plant-based nutrition and believes passionately that we can all live with a little less meat.