If you are overweight, you have two issues to deal with. Firstly, being overweight puts you at risk of heart disease (stroke, heart attack), diabetes and some cancers - all the common killers of today. The second issue is that you are under constant societal pressure to look differently (that is, thin) to what you are (that is, fat). Generally, it's the second issue people are motivated by, rather than the patently more important first issue, which explains why fad diets are so popular.
Losing weight to conform to society's narrow view of attractiveness takes up enormous amounts of emotional energy, time and money - and only confirms that we humans are queer creatures (except thee and me). What sane animal would obsess about this issue?
What to do
Losing weight isn't easy, but it doesn't have to be difficult. Once you get your head around a few simple rules, you are set for life. Quick fix diets don't work. Studies have found that over 95 per cent of dieters who lose weight on stringent diets will regain the lost kilograms plus extra within a year. I have developed an eating plan with a few simple rules that allows you to eat healthily while losing or maintaining your ideal body weight. Most people feel more energy, notice better concentration and improved general health. You can live a normal life, go out to restaurants and not rely on 'special' foods. This diet is not only good if you want to lose weight, but it can also help prevent diabetes, some cancers and heart disease. A good choice for a healthy, lifelong way of eating.
The Beaming With Health eating plan works well for children and teenagers; however, they need to eat more starches as energy requirements are proportionately higher. The best starches would be whole grains, potatoes with skins, rather than processed products.
The low-starch eating plan (or the Beaming With Health eating plan)Avoid sugar. Absolutely no refined sugar added to or within your diet. Any packaged or processed food that has over 5g of sugar per 100g of food has sugar added. (Be aware of all the different names for sugar on labels. Google this if necessary or out of interest.) Sugar is addictive. Don't underestimate the power this simple little substance has over your willpower. Going cold turkey is the only way. Have strength, it does get easier.Don't eat food containing artificial sweeteners. Not only will they keep your sweet tooth ignited, they do not supply you with any nutritional goodness - the overwhelming characteristic of any good food. Studies have shown that people who drink diet sodas are heavier than people who drink the normal fizzy drinks - with their 9 teaspoons of sugar! Avoid both kinds, please.Eat protein with each meal. For main meals, this means about the size of your palm and as thick as a pack of cards. For snacks or smaller meals, halve this amount. Protein foods include lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds and legumes.Reduce starchy carbohydrates. If you want to kick start your diet, avoid them completely for one month. For a slower weight loss and maintenance, include 2–3 starches in your diet a day. Choose from the list below. Starchy foods generally have a high glycaemic index (GI). High GI foods cause a rapid increase in blood-sugar levels, which in turn causes an increase in the amount of insulin. High amounts of insulin in the bloodstream increase fat storage.Don't go hungry. Eagerly anticipating a meal is a good thing, but when you are very hungry it indicates your blood-sugar levels have dropped too low - and you are likely to eat something that you will later regret.There are two types of people. Those who do best by grazing and those who thrive on 3 square meals a day. You know who you are. Grazers are known to quiver and feel faint and queasy if they don't eat lunch on the dot of 12, while the 3-square-meal types can more easily miss a meal. Grazers need to ensure they eat a small meal every 2–3 hours. The 3-square-meal individuals must make sure that they don't miss meals, especially breakfast, as this will lower your metabolism.Don't go low fat, but don't go crazy. If you like yoghurt, choose full cream (unsweetened of course), good quality probiotic yoghurt and have a small serve. Same goes for cheese and milk.Eat no more than 3 pieces of fruit daily and, although not 'starchy', also avoid the fruits with higher sugar levels such as melons, grapes and dried fruits.Most people feel fantastic eating this way. However, by removing breads, pasta and cereals, inadvertently you are also removing a certain amount of fibre, which may result in constipation. So it's important to ensure that you drink plenty of water (2 litres a day) and eat a wide variety of vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes to increase fibre. If this is still not enough, supplement with 2 tablespoons of psyllium husks daily.The Beaming with Health eating plan is designed as a lifelong diet. You do not need to buy special food or supplements and you can still go out to restaurants with your family and friends. For instance, if you love spaghetti marinara, you can still enjoy eating it, but it means you forego toast for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch.
BreakfastScrambled, poached or boiled eggs on a bed of spinach and/or mushrooms and/or tomato.A smoothie made from soy milk, cow's milk, water, juice from an orange, fresh or frozen berries or other fruit. Add an egg for protein or LSA (a mixture of ground linseeds, sunflower seeds and almond. You can buy this blend ready-made from health food shops or supermarkets) or a spoonful of protein powder. Whizz up with a stick blender. Add chia seeds for fibre.Try a combination of chopped almonds, walnuts and/or cashews together with sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, linseeds and/or pumpkin seeds. Have as much as you like mixed with a spoonful of milk or yoghurt.A cup of ricotta mixed with fruit such as apricots, kiwifruit or berries.If you wish to have starch at this meal, for example toast, porridge, or a banana (perhaps in your smoothie).
Lunch/dinnerMeat or chicken casserole and vegetables.Fish, meat, or chicken and salad.Meat, chicken or tofu, legume and vegetable soup.Stir-fry vegetables with meat, chicken, fish or tofu.Fish (canned or fresh) and salad (for example, canned tuna with grated beetroot and carrot).If you wish to have starch at this meal try bread, rice or pasta.
SnacksMeat, chicken, bean or tofu and vegetable soup.Almonds, walnuts, etc.A boiled egg.Small can of tuna with lettuce or salad.Small can of baked beans.Fruit and cheese.If you wish to have starch at this meal try crackers, baked beans, bread or a banana.
RemediesHealth foods shops, pharmacies and online superstores are heaving with weight-loss potions. The bottom line is that they don't work. Better not to waste your money. Sorry. My rationale for not recommending supplements for weight loss is that it takes the onus off the individual to do the hard yards and take responsibility for their own health. Maintaining weight is a lifestyle choice, not something to fix with a pill. What a nag I am. Having said that, there are a few situations where supplementation will assist in weight loss, in addition to exercise and the low-starch plan.If you have low thyroid function, supplementation will assist your weight loss. Take rehmannia, iodine or kelp. See Thyroid on page 413.Likewise, if you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), try the herbs and supplements on page 360 to help you lose weight. The low-starch diet mentioned in this chapter is also perfect for this condition as it helps those with insulin resistance, which is part of PCOS.If your excess weight is due to stress and the effect that cortisol has had on your body, take a B complex each morning and the adaptogen herbs including Siberian ginseng, schisandra, licorice, withania and rhodiolia.The Bach remedies may help if emotions are getting in the way of weight loss. Crab apple is the one for feeling ashamed of the way you look, Chestnut bud hits the spot if you tend to repeat the same pattern of sabotaging your diet.
OtherExercise is the other essential ingredient to losing weight. There are 3 reasons why exercise helps to lose weight, and these reasons will inform which exercise you choose. The first reason is that when you exercise aerobically, when your heart and lungs are working hard and you are increasing your heart rate, this will burn kilojoules and, more importantly, boost your metabolic rate for up to 48 hours after the activity. The second reason is that when you exercise to increase muscle mass, such as cycling or weights, you burn kilojoules again but, more importantly, you increase the number of your muscle cells. Muscle cells, even at rest, burn considerably more kilojoules than fat cells. And thirdly, exercise helps reduce stress levels. Stress is associated with weight gain via an increase in cortisol. If you are an emotional eater, exercising will reduce the triggers for overeating.Which exercise to choose? Luckily many exercises and sports incorporate both aerobic and muscle building - jogging, hill walking, cycling, gym classes, flowing yoga, skiing.Meditation is one of the most effective activities to reduce stress hormones. Learning this skill will markedly improve your health - and help you lose those excess kilos.If you find that you are sabotaging your diet, or know that you eat for emotional reasons, then why not seek counselling? The therapist you choose does not need to specialise in eating problems - your emotional eating is only a symptom and you need to address the originating cause or find ways to handle your day-to-day stress. Once you understand what drives you, your desire to overeat or eat foods that undermine you, will be much diminished.
Edited extract from Mim Beim's Natural Remedies: An A-Z of cures for health and wellbeing (Rockpool Publishing, $29.99), available at all good book stores and online at www.rockpoolpublishing.com.au
Mim Beim is a well known naturopath and columnist based in NSW