If you are getting ready to cut back on your food intake in an attempt to slim in 2011, note that there are some other things you should be doing, in addition to counting calories. Research shows that people who are successful at losing weight, and keeping it off consistently, rely on a few simple strategies.
Set realistic goals
Before you even make a resolution, it's important to gauge your readiness to change. While fad diets often fail because they are nutritionally unbalanced, leave you feeling hungry and create unrealistic expectations - the truth is that not even the best diet will work if you're not ready to commit to making changes in your life.
If you are prepared to make changes to your diet and lifestyle, it is improtant to set weight-loss goals that are realistic, specific and attainable. Most healthy-eating recommendations suggest a gradual loss of up to one kilogram per week. To stay motivated set small, achievable goals to help you reach your long-term goal, such as losing 4kg a month rather than 20kg by summer. Research shows the most effective goals differ between men and women. A study at the University of Hertfordshire in the UK found that men were more successful when they set mini-goals and when they focused on the reward associated with their goal. Women, on the other hand, were more successful when they told others of their goals and had a support network to rely on, such as friends and family.
Eat breakfast every day
The saying that breakfast is the most important meal of the day is not that far from the truth, especially when it comes to weight loss. Breakfast plays a crucial role in boosting the metabolism, keeping food cravings under control and extra weight at bay. Research findings from the National Weight Control Registry, an ongoing study in the US of more than 5,000 people who have successfully shed at least 30lb (13.6kg) for a minimum of a year, show that over three-quarters of participants eat breakfast every day. Other studies indicate that breakfast-eaters tend to weigh less and to have a lower body mass index than non-breakfast-eaters, they also tend to consume more nutrients through the day, including calcium, iron, fibre and vitamin C.
Write it down
The simple task of keeping a food diary - writing down what, when and how much you eat - can increase your chances of losing weight and keeping it off. A recent study of nearly 1,700 people taking part in a six-month weight-loss programme found that those who kept daily food records lost twice as much weight, on average, as those who kept no record. Researchers say that keeping a food diary is one of the most effective weight-management tools because it raises awareness of habits that can negate weight loss efforts, such as mindless nibbling, emotional eating or oversized portions. Keeping a food diary need not be expensive or complicated - a simple notebook and pen will do. There are also free programs online, as well as iPhone applications that allow users to track and monitor their food intake.
Monitor your progress
People who have successfully lost weight and kept it off tend to weigh themselves regularly. The National Weight Control Registry has found that more than 44 per cent of successful dieters in its study report weighing themselves daily, while a third report weighing themselves weekly. Another study, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that regular self-weighing was a predictor of body weight when paired with weight-loss counselling. Study participants who weighed themselves regularly lost more weight than those who did not. Indeed, researchers found that stepping on the scale resulted in an extra 0.5kg of weight loss every 11 days. Keeping tabs on your weight through regular weigh-ins helps catch small gains while they're still manageable.
Weight loss relies as much on physical activity as it does on healthy eating. Findings from the National Weight Control Registry suggest that 90 per cent of those in the study who have been successful at losing weight and keeping it off report to exercising for at least one hour per day. Over three-quarters of the study participants gave walking as their exercise of choice, while others reported weight-lifting, cycling and aerobics.
Most health recommendations, including those from the National Health Service in the UK, recommend 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least five days a week.
Enlist the help of others
More than half of participants in the National Weight Control Registry study have sought help from others, usually in the form of a weight-loss programme or health professional. One study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that women who received healthy eating advice were far more successful at losing weight and keeping it off when they were in regular contact with a health care professional, such as a dietician, compared with women left on their own. One year into the study, researchers found that women who received face-to-face or telephone support regained only 1.2kg, compared with 3.7kg for women who received no support.
Keep it consistent
If you find yourself indulging in some high-calorie treats after a long week of healthy eating, you may be surprised to learn how much those little slips can add up.
Research shows that people who allow themselves more flexibility with their eating at weekends and on holiday run a greater risk of weight gain. In contrast, people who maintain a consistent diet regimen across the week and weekend appear more likely to maintain their weight reduction over an extended period of time.
In fact, studies show that people who stick to their healthy-eating plans during weekends and on holiday are 1.5 times more likely to keep unwanted kilograms at bay.
Six diets to look out for in 2011
Different variations of this diet include the Caveman and Stone-Age diets, but they all mimic the presumed eating patterns of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, and include plenty of meat, seafood, vegetables, fruits and nuts. While the diet limits processed food, it also excludes nutrient-dense foods such as whole grains, seeds and legumes.
Low GI Diet
The Low Glycaemic-Index (GI) Diet revolves around foods that are slowly digested, and cause a gradual increase in blood sugar levels. This is one diet that has science to back up its claims: research shows foods with a low glycaemic index, such as whole grains, are especially helpful for people with diabetes, and can also aid in weight loss and disease prevention.
The Lean Belly Prescription
Designed by an American emergency doctor, this new diet is based on research that shows excess belly fat raises the risk of a range of diseases, including diabetes and cancer. The eating plan takes a balanced approach to weight loss by encouraging small changes to their existing eating plan by emphasising moderation and healthy alternatives.
The Brown Fat Revolution
Going against the philosophy of most diet books, this eating plan encourages followers to eat foods that boost the body's brown fat content, as opposed to "yellow" fat, which the author claims is "less contained by tight fascia". He argues that brown fat accounts for a leaner, healthier body, although research on the subject is still minimal. The book also includes a detailed exercise programme.
The Mayo Clinic Diet
Designed by experts at the Mayo Clinic, this diet offers credible, sound and effective weight loss advice. The diet teaches followers how to take up five new, healthy habits by making simple and pleasurable lifestyle changes. The diet encourages its followers to set realistic goals, be conscious of portion size and eat a balanced diet from all food groups.
The Dukan Diet
Designed by a French doctor, this diet prescribes a four-step programme for rapid weight loss that includes a high-protein, low-calorie eating plan. While the diet will cause weight loss, the restriction of healthy food groups means it may not deliver all the nutrients you need, especially over the long haul.