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Weight loss: Fact and fiction

A man checks a stopwatch and holds up two fingers while people skip and exercise in the gym

What's the key to weight loss success?

A man checks a stopwatch and holds up two fingers while people skip and exercise in the gym

There’s so much advice out there about weight loss that it can be hard to separate fact from fiction. But one very serious fact we do know - the latest official figures show that 63% of adult Australians are overweight or obese.

So, if you’re looking to lose weight, how much truth is there in some of the latest ideas?

Is skipping breakfast bad for weight loss?

The accepted wisdom is that skipping breakfast can lead you to overeat and snack more later in the day. But if you don’t feel like breakfast and you’re trying to lose weight, is there any benefit in forcing yourself to eat it?

Australian researchers analysed the combined results from 13 clinical trials. They found that adding in breakfast, if you don’t already eat it, can lead to an increase in kilojoules consumed per day. There was no evidence that missing breakfast leads to weight gain.

FACT: If your aim is to lose weight, there’s no evidence to suggest that eating breakfast will help. However, when it comes to mental alertness and concentration, breakfast plays an integral role. Dr Sandro Demaio explains that this meal is important for refuelling your body and kick-starting gut activity. Find out more with our article, Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day.

Can I eat carbs and still lose weight?

It’s hard to escape the relentless focus on carbohydrates as an influencer of being overweight or obese. Seems like all you have to do is cut out carbs and your weight loss dreams will be fulfilled. Paleo, Atkins, Dukan, keto - there are almost as many low-carb eating plans as there are national broadband plans.

But let’s unpack carbohydrates for a minute. They are one of the three major macronutrients, along with protein and fat. Most foods are a combination of these three macronutrients in varying amounts.

Some carbohydrate-rich foods are quite nutrient poor - pies, cakes, pastries, ice cream and pizza. But others, such as whole grains, vegetables and legumes (chickpeas, beans and lentils) are good sources of fibre, help prevent bowel cancer, and help keep your cholesterol in check. Carbohydrate-rich foods are the main source of energy for the body and fuel for our brains.

FACT: The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) doesn’t support cutting carbs from your diet. They advise that if you choose high-quality wholegrain carbohydrate foods, you don’t need to worry about weight gain.

And when it comes to weight loss, there seems to be little difference in effectiveness between low carb and other diets according to a recent scientific review.

Two women and a man punch punching bags with boxing gloves at the gym

Does the keto diet live up to the hype?

The keto diet is a very low carbohydrate, high fat diet that forces the body to burn fat for energy. Typically a keto diet limits carbohydrates to 10% or less of the diet - usually less than 50 g of carbohydrates per day.

The Dietitians Association of Australia advises that a keto diet will result in short-term weight loss, but that it’s hard to follow in the long term, due to its restrictive nature. Basically, you need to keep your body in ketosis. To do that you need to limit all kinds of foods, including fruit and vege, grains, bread and legumes. Imagine being on a diet where just having an unplanned apple could push you over your carb allowance? It’s probably not realistic.

And, even if you do manage to stick to it, there are some health and nutritional drawbacks. Limiting carbohydrates means more of your dietary energy comes from fat and protein. This may lead to a rise in the bad type of cholesterol - LDL cholesterol. And if you replace the missing carbohydrate with protein and fat from animal sources, you may shorten your life. The drastic reduction in wholegrains may increase your bowel cancer risk in the long term.

FACT: While resulting in short-term weight loss, sticking to a long-term restrictive diet like the keto diet will make it difficult for you to get all your nutrient needs.

Is intermittent fasting good for weight loss?

If the idea of concentrating all your weight loss efforts into a couple of days per week and then eating healthily for the remaining days appeals, intermittent fasting may be for you.

There are a few forms of intermittent fasting. There’s the 5:2 diet, where you restrict intake for two non-consecutive days a week and eat healthily for the other five. Time-restricted eating, famously in Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine diet, where you eat only during a specified time window of the day is known as 12:12, 14:10 or 16:8, depending on the ratio of hours fasting to hours eating. And then there’s periodic fasting, which involves no food at all on some days.

FACT: According to the DAA, intermittent fasting does seem to work for weight loss, but isn’t any better than a diet that restricts daily kilojoules. They say while it may work, for lasting health benefits it’s best to find an eating pattern that you enjoy and can stick to.

What’s the key to weight loss success?

We’re all different - we have different metabolisms and respond differently to the same foods. In the future, we might be doing DNA tests and our diet could be personalised based on our microbiomes, but for now, what’s the best way to lose weight?

At the moment, the best advice is to make realistic changes to your diet and levels of physical activity; changes that you can sustain. This can include:

  • Focussing on eating a nutritionally balanced diet

  • Watching portion sizes

  • Avoiding processed foods where possible

  • Avoiding empty kilojoules from alcohol and sugar (if you’re concerned you might have a problem with sugar, check out our article 10 signs you’re a sugar addict)

  • Eating more fibre (it keeps you feeling fuller for longer)

  • Eating less ultra-processed food, as large amounts have been shown to increase the amount of food eaten and lead to weight gain

  • Getting enough sleep

  • Reducing stress

  • Eating mindfully

And in your quest for the perfect diet, don’t forget exercise. Exercise can help change your food preferences and gives you more muscle, which helps control blood sugar and burns off kilojoules.

Finally, one of the best things may be to accept there is no quick fix, so don’t set unrealistic expectations for yourself.

Ready to fuel your body with delicious and nutritious food? We have a range of healthy and delicious recipes, so head to our dedicated recipes page for more.

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