Often the focus is on losing weight, but what about maintaining your weight or preventing weight gain? Strategies, motivation, which diets work, causes of weight gain and what you can do to help manage your weight are all discussed.
What is a healthy weight?
Weight gain prevention
What causes weight gain & what to do about it
Often the focus is on weight as something you need to lose or gain. However, preventing weight gain and maintaining a healthy weight are a part of the way to think about weight throughout the different stages of a woman's life, from adolescence, young adulthood and perhaps pregnancy, then through to midlife, menopause and ageing as an older adult.
One of the most important things for your health is to prevent the kilogram creep – the weight that tends to go on each year and stay on.
On average, Australian women gain around 5-7kg per decade as they age
Preventing weight gain is as relevant to women who are within the healthy weight range as it is for those who are overweight or obese and to women of all ages.
Younger women, 25-45 years, are gaining weight at a faster rate than any other age group
The value of preventing weight gain lies in avoiding the considerable risks for women's health posed by being overweight.
Overweight men have 4 times the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
Overweight women have 14 times the risk of developing type 2 diabetes
The key to preventing weight gain lies in understanding what causes weight gain and how you can maintain a healthy weight for you.
Maintaining a healthy weight throughout the different life stages involves understanding the influences on your weight gain as these will dictate how you can manage your weight. If you have a healthy weight, the key is to measure, monitor and to keep yourself motivated to maintain your healthy weight.
Whether it be a tape measure, a favourite pair of jeans or the bathroom scales, it's important to know roughly what size you are normally, so that you can notice small changes to your weight.
Keep a written record of your health habit. If you're aiming to walk 10,000 steps a day, buy a pedometer and write your total down at the end of each day to track your progress. The same goes for healthy eating. If your goal is to eat two fruit and five vegies every day, tally your intake in a food diary so you can see the improvements over time. This reinforces the behaviour and helps keep you on track.
Motivation can make or break our attempts to maintain a healthy weight. This is where your friends and social networks are most valuable. When women support each other, they tend to be much more successful in achieving their goals. Make a date with your friends to walk the dog or take kids to the park – anything that gets you up and moving.
The secret to eating for weight gain is to eat regularly – three to six times a day – and include foods that are 'concentrated' and nutrient-dense. In other words, eat foods that will give you the most kilojoules/calories in the least volume.
These foods generally include more fat than is recommended for the general and overweight population so if you are worried about cholesterol, choose lean meat, poultry and fish and use fats or foods with fats that are either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated.
You may find it helpful to:
Losing weight throughout the different life stages involves understanding the influences on your weight gain as these help show you what you can.
All diets work on the same principle – reducing intake of kilojoules one way or another.
Researchers in the US have compared the success of four popular weight loss diets – Atikins, Weight Watchers, the Zone and Ornish (a strict semi-vegetarian diet) – when followed for one year. Their results revealed little difference between the diets. All were successful in lowering body weight by between 4-6kg over the year. But the study proved just how hard it is to stick to a diet for a long period. Just under half those that began the diet comparison were not able to last the year.
Most diets are not sustainable for more than a few days or weeks and many do not provide your daily nutrition needs. It pays to be critical and scrutinise what they ask you to eat before you embark on one as research shows.
Dud diet books tend to have the following unhealthy features in common:
If any of your diet books have these features then give them the flick. Focus on what influences you to gain weight or to make unhealthy choices and how to manage those influences.
Maintaining a healthy weight throughout the different life stages involves a number of challenges for many women. Weight gain is influenced by:
For many women, weight loss and the prevention of excess weight gain is achievable with a small adjustment in energy intake. For example, swapping sweet drinks, such as one large glass of juice or soft drink with water or plain mineral water, will save you around 500 kilojoules per day. Eating less processed foods and more unprocessed foods, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, will also reduce your kilojoule intake.
|Eat less saturated fats|
|Eat more vegetables and fruit every day|
Eating green, leafy vegetables will not add many kilojoules and will provide excellent nutrition.
|Choose a nutritious, sustainable diet|
Visit the 'Smart Eating for You' section on the Dietitians Association of Australia website or get help from an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
|Keep alcohol in check|
Reducing your alcohol intake will cut kilojoules because:
|Eat breakfast every day|
Eat a breakfast of wholegrain cereal and bread, low fat milk and fruit (rather than sweet, honey-toasted, crunchy cereals) and it will:
|Pack a lunch|
Use a lunch box and have:
|Don't be afraid of carbohydrates|
Include wholemeal bread and wholegrain cereals for nutrition and energy, particularly if you often feel tired in the afternoon.
Try to eat slowly and enjoy what you are eating, as you are more likely to recognise when you are full.
|Eat only when hungry|
Avoid eating because you are tired, alone, upset or anxious.
|Plan ahead for changes to your eating routine|
Anyone can eat food when not feeling physically hungry. This sort of eating is often called non-hungry eating and can include overeating, grazing, picking, nibbling and bingeing.
Non-hungry eating can occur at any time: at mealtimes, in between and even during the night.
Many people do a significant amount of this sort of eating.
It's normal to do some non-hungry eating, but when it occurs too often it can become habitual and can cause significant weight gain.
Many people may not be aware of the many different reasons for their non-hungry eating. Some common reasons for non-hungry eating are listed below:
A great tool to help decrease non-hungry eating is to check in on a hunger/fullness scale before you eat something:
|10||Stuffed full - Don't eat now|
|8||Overfull - Don't eat now|
|5||Comfortably full - Don't eat now|
|2||Getting empty - OK to eat now|
|0||Absolutely empty - OK to eat now|
By simply being more mindful, many people can quite quickly start to decrease the amount of non-hungry eating they are doing.
In order to eat more mindfully, an eating awareness diary (as distinct from a food diary that simply asks you to list the type of food you're eating) is also a great tool to help you recognise your eating habits in more detail. You can identify factors that contribute to your non-hungry eating, which may be boredom, loneliness or eating just in case you're hungry later.
An eating awareness diary can also be helpful to track the foods and drinks you have during the day.
Set a realistic health goal, make a plan, find a friend to support you and monitor what you do.
Being physically active does not have to be difficult or expensive and can be enjoyable. Going for a walk with a friend after work or at lunch time can be a simple way to increase your daily physical activity. Walking briskly for just 30 minutes each day will use approximately an additional 500 kJ per day and deliver immediate health benefits.
Parking the car further away, taking the steps as often as you can and putting your mobile phone out of reach so you have to get up to answer it, will all help to increase your activity.
|Physical activity changes||Suggestions|
|Move more every day in as many ways as possible|
|Wear a pedometer|
Wear a pedometer to track the number of steps you take during the day and try to do at least 10,000 steps a day. It's one of the easiest ways to motivate you to be more active.
|Reschedule your day|
Schedule a walk in the morning when you have more energy. Even a 10 minute walk in the fresh air will make you feel more energised and help you to perform better during the day.
|Plan ahead for changes to your exercise routine|
Cravings can undo your diet and exercise strategies. Trying to overcome them is important to dieting success. Eating biscuits, cakes and lollies can be a way of comforting yourself and soothing away anger or resentment (perhaps over a very restrictive diet regime). Cravings may also indicate meals are not adequate or balanced.
The best insurance against cravings is to make sure you're eating healthy balanced meals, with a generous serve of protein, some low glycaemic index (GI) carbohydrate and plenty of fill-you-up vegetables or salad – especially at lunch time.
Planning to have a sensible snack late afternoon or early evening can also help, so it's not all denial and 'willpower'. If you still suffer from cravings, then you need to look in to the reasons why you want food.
The way you think can influence your mood and your actions. It is helpful to understand how your thinking affects your thoughts and behaviours around food and exercise.
This web page is designed to be informative and educational. It is not intended to provide specific medical advice or replace advice from your health practitioner. The information above is based on current medical knowledge, evidence and practice as at February 2014.