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Weight loss and health: 4 tips more useful than 'eat less, move more' from nutrition experts

The Independent logo The Independent 19-03-2017 Kashmira Gander
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Navigating the avalanche of information available on how to stay stay fit and healthy can feel exhausting, and make the urge to tuck into a friendly-looking kebab or doughnut even more tempting.

And while the mantra "eat less, move more" is a helpful starting point, it leaves many questions unanswered.

We have asked four diet and nutrition experts for the most important factors to remember when trying to lead a healthy lifestyle, to stop you from desperately grasping at the latest diet fad every few months.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is

If the premise of a miracle diet falls apart under the weight of a little scrutiny, it probably won't work in the long term. Necking a bottle of wine, eating chips and gorging on chocolate to stay healthy and lean long-term? Unlikely.

Aisling Pigott, a dietician registered with the British Dietetics Association, stresses: “There is no such thing as a magic answer when it comes to a healthy diet.

"We live in a world where we are so keen for ‘quick fixes’ and fast solutions. This is not helpful for people trying to tackle the complex relationships and routines they may have with food, eating and health."

Remember that no food is ‘good’ or ‘bad’...

Many diet regimes pedal the idea that certain foods – like pizza, burgers and cake – are wholly bad, while others – kale, blueberries and quinoa – are wholly good. But this breeds unhealthy and unhelpful attitudes towards food, and can even trigger eating disorders.

“I strongly feel that we should neither glorify or demonise any foods” says Ms Pigott.

“Food is food, it provides nourishment and will have different values, and there are pros and cons in all foods.”

Rebecca McManamon agrees, a BDA-registered dietician, agreed and warned: "To consider any food to be “wholly bad” may be detrimental.

"Orthorexia - when obsessing about healthy foods can become all consuming - and deviating from "healthy" foods may cause large amounts of guilt of self-loathing."

Addressing the pratice of eating “well” 80 per cent of the time and “badly” 20 per cent of the time which is promoted by some self-styled healthy living experts, she adds: “Eating more fruits, vegetables and fibre and less calories and highly processed foods, like take away foods, are generally beneficial.

"But some advocates of the 80/20 diet promote so called 'clean eating' which can restrict foods such as dairy products, gluten and meat, which could have other, serious, health implications for those who do not have a medical condition requiring such restrictions."

...but know that some foods have no nutritional value at all

Recognising what different foods can offer is important. For instance, potatoes are a good source of fibre and vitamin C, but chips and crisps are generally high in fat.

However, some foods have no benefit at all other than being pleasurable to eat.

Asked to name the foods she would never eat, Pigott says she has only one exception for a food that is wholly bad.

“Fizzy pop, I still can’t find any positives for this – zero nutritional value, more sugar in a bottle than needed for three days and tastes awful," she says. 

BDA-registered dietician Anna Daniels agrees, and says she avoids full sugar sports drinks and sugar fizzy drinks, cereal, yogurt and snack bars that are high in sugar, as well as processed sausage rolls and other high-salt, low-quality meat products.

Dr Johnson says: “There is a lot of cheap, ready to eat foods, that are high in calories, fat, sugar and with little fibre, protein, vitamins or minerals that implies that these foods have poor nutritional value. Eating these foods on occasion, might not pose an immediate health concern, but should be integrated into a well-balanced diet.”

Being healthy must be easy

A gruelling regime which heavily restricts what you can eat should be ditched in favour of a healthy diet where moderation is practiced continually.

“An important component of maintaining an adequate diet is ensuring that it is something that you find easy to do,” says Ms Daniels. “Think long term health and not short term weight loss – which very often people do."

“We know that feeling ‘restricted’ in your eating is a risk factor for overeating and therefore weight gain. Therefore, I am always positive about any lifestyle interventions which promote dietary balance and most importantly enjoying food,” says Ms Pigott.

"I always encourage people that I work with to build balance and routine into their eating. It is so important that we don’t feel over-restricted in our eating and lifestyle, as this is more likely to result in over-eating."

Ms Daniels agrees, and suggests: "Eating more during social events and over the weekend and less during working hours during the week isn’t a framework that would suit everyone, however for some people it may work perfectly well."

Instead, see each meal as an opportunity to nourish your body.

Dr Johnstone says: “Each meal is an opportunity to promote health through the food and nutritional intake. Eating a balanced diet does not have to be boring."

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