If you’re ready to try a new eating approach, this plan could help you achieve your weight-loss goal
Limiting your food intake for set periods of time, known as intermittent fasting, is increasingly seen as an effective weight-loss method with added health benefits. ‘Fasting can be a useful way of dieting as it doesn’t involve too many rules or foods that you have to omit,’ says Healthspan nutritionist Rob Hobson. ‘Our bodies are equipped to go without food for stretches of time, so fasting might not be as difficult as you may think.’
Why fasting works
Studies on intermittent fasting show promising results. ‘Research highlights the benefits that occur when the body is deprived of food. These include low levels of blood insulin – which promotes fat burning, increase in human growth hormone – which boosts fat burning and muscle gain, and the acceleration of cellular repair,’ says Rob. ‘Some of the strongest research is around the potential to reduce insulin resistance and lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. But it’s important to still choose nourishing calories. Eating anything and everything on non-fasting days won’t get you far when it comes to weight loss.’
Why you’re really gaining weight
If we eat more calories than we burn, we’re at risk of weight gain. But there are other reasons that we put on – or struggle to shift – excess pounds. Some of these have a medical explanation, but others may surprise you. First things first, if you’re heavier than you’d like to be don’t berate yourself. ‘You’re not lazy or unmotivated,’ says Gabrielle
O’Hare, author of Why Women Over 40
Can’t Lose Weight (£8.99, Michael
Terence Publishing). ‘Many things can affect your weight: lifestyle, illness, menopause, medication, stress.’
Look for causes – such as those suggested here – and stay open-minded, she says.
It’s your medication
Weight gain is a common side effect of certain medications, including some antidepressants, insulin, steroids, beta blockers and epilepsy drugs. ‘If this is the case, it will be referenced in the side effects of the patient information leaflet,’ says Boots pharmacist Bina Mehta. ‘Side effects can be different from person to person, but it’s important to take medicine according to the prescriber’s instructions.’ If you’re concerned, speak to your GP about switching.
Insulin resistance can lead to weight gain and diabetes (around 85% of people with type 2 diabetes are overweight). Conversely, weight gain can also lead to insulin resistance. ‘Having too much fat stored in and around your liver and pancreas could increase the likelihood of insulin resistance,’
explains Emma Elvin, deputy head of care at Diabetes UK. ‘But it can also affect people of a healthy weight.’ Aim to eat a balanced, fibre-rich diet low in refined carbs and sugar, and exercise regularly. Studies show that intermittent fasting can improve insulin resistance and encourage weight loss.
It’s your thyroid
Women are up to 10 times more likely to develop an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) than men. Symptoms include weight gain, tiredness and sensitivity to cold. ‘When the thyroid isn’t producing enough hormones, it can lead to a low basal metabolic rate,’ explains Dr Rhianna McClymont, lead GP at online healthcare service Livi. ‘When your metabolism is slowed down, you’re not burning calories as efficiently, so weight goes on more easily.’ Ask your GP for a thyroid check – if yours is low, you may be treated with a hormone replacement.
‘On average, women gain 5-7lb over the course of the menopause transition,’
says Hannah Braye, technical adviser at Bio-Kult. While hormone levels are partly responsible, an increasingly sedentary lifestyle can compound the problem. ‘Sleep disruption may also increase metabolic disturbances, and low energy levels from poor sleep can cause people to reach for comfort foods,’ she adds. HRT may help, as can boosting our gut microbiomes. ‘Emerging evidence suggests a potential role for live bacteria supplements in helping support healthy metabolism and weight management,’ says Hannah. Try Bio-Kult’s Everyday Gut (£10.48 for 30 capsules, bio-kult. co.uk).
Your ‘healthy’ food may be bad for you
Be wary of foods you believe are nutritious, as some contribute to weight gain. For example:
- ‘Healthy’ ready meals are still processed and may contain refined
- ingredients or added sugar/ salt. Choose homemade.
- Granola can contain as much sugar as cereal. Opt for unsweetened porridge instead.
- Low-fat dressings can be full of added sugar. Swap for full-fat versions and use sparingly.
- Some plant milks are highly processed and nutritionally poor. Check labels before buying.
Your portions are too large
Eat a balanced diet but still gaining weight? It could be your portion sizes. ‘We gain weight when our input of calories is higher than our output,’ says Dr Pam Mason of the Tea Advisory Panel. ‘Think about your portions every time you eat, and consider weighing food to educate yourself – caloriedense food is particularly easy to eat in overgenerous portions.’
If your correct portion sizes look meagre, Bariatric Surgeon suggests fluids with food to fill you up and slow your eating down. Aim for warm, healthy drinks, such as tea, which you can sip. An added bonus? Consumption of black and green tea is linked with reduced weight.