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Science communication is important in today's technologically advanced society. A good part of the adult community is not science saavy and lacks the background to make sense of rapidly changing technology. My blog attempts to help by publishing articles of general interest in an easy to read and understand format without using mathematics. I also give free lectures in community events - you can arrange these by writing to me.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Stress Free Way to Control Body Weight

For the past forty years, I have maintained my body weight at 65 +- 1 Kg  – HOW?

Not a day passes when one does not come across some advice on the subject of losing weight.  Most advice is from commercial concerns who want to promote their products or from health professionals who present a doomsday scenario demanding that we lose weight and help control the imminent ‘obesity epidemic’.  In reality, most people are happy with the way they are; the social pressures that these advertisements and news stories put on us are partly to blame for the unhappiness that some people might feel about their weight.  Generally, most weight control measures fail in the medium or long term, and in many cases the results have been harmful.
The thing to appreciate is that each person is unique and has his/her own metabolic rate, eating preferences, aptitude to exercise etc and there is never going to be a general prescription to suit everybody. Also, the working of the human body is finely balanced and every new weight control measure, that tries to modify the nutritional intake the body is used to, is bound to have repercussions in some other aspects. 
In this feature, I use my personal experience to promote a sensible, common sense approach to maintaining weight that you are most comfortable with.  For the past forty years, I have maintained my body weight at 65 Kg within a range of 1 kg without ever going to the gym.  My height is 168 cm with a body mass index (BMI) of 23.  How do I do it? – It is simple - with zero stress.
Zero stress is the most important criterion for any weight control regime.  What is the point of changing your weight if it causes you worry (because you want to conform), tiredness (you are not eating enough calories or eating tasteless food), exhaustion (spending endless hours in the gym to burn those calories)?  Whatever age you are, you have reached a situation that you are more or less satisfied with – you are a product of your life style and the environment you live in.  Changes are always stressful – and weight reduction is no exception.  That is why, any attempt to lose weight has to be in harmony with your current life style and not create tensions and pressures – otherwise it is bound to fail.
Another reason why weight control methods do not work is because they are not natural – most appear to be intrusion - are too scientific, requiring continuous counting of calories etc.  Eating is a natural process and nobody likes to be told what to eat and what not to eat.  But that is how the system is just now – you appear always to be ‘guided’ to a better life and health. It just does not make sense. Nonsense, I call it.
How do you control your weight?  This has to be a slow gradual process – best done over a year or more. Essentially, you are incorporating weight control into your life style and you want to do it without stress. Everything you eat gives energy to your body. The body needs a minimum amount of energy to function – even if you do absolutely nothing in a day, your body will need a minimum amount of energy to survive.  I shall use round numbers – so say we need 1000 Calories to survive. Each activity uses energy – walking, running, thinking, reading whatever you do needs energy.  The more vigorous the activity, the more energy you need.  They say that a normal active man/woman needs (in round numbers) 2500/2000 Calories per day.  If your intake of food is greater then the extra Calories will be stored in the body and you will gain weight.  If it is less, body will burn stored Calories – in the form of fat or carbohydrate – and you will lose weight. Adding fibre to your diet helps to lose weight. Rule of thumb numbers are: 
Consume 100 Calories less per day to lose 1 pound/month or about 5 kg/year
Add 10g extra fibre per day to reduce weight by 3 kg/year  
To control your weight, you do not need to calculate how many calories you are consuming just now, or what your level of exercise is or anything else – you are what you are and you have a lifestyle that suits you.  If you have a steady weight then you are probably consuming roughly 2500/2000 Calories. How do you lose 5 kg/year? The simple answer is that you lose 5 kg/year by reducing your food intake by 100 Calories per day – this is reducing the amount of food you eat by about 5%.
What does that mean?  Reduction of 5% in food intake can be achieved by a variety of simple stress free means.  Your activity/exercise level can stay exactly what it is now. Remember that energy content of the food is different for different types. It is:
Carbohydrates and Proteins –      4 Calories per gram
Fats                                                    9 Calories per gram
To cut 100 Calories per day, you can simply reduce the size of the portions by 5%.  Use a smaller glass for your juices and wine.  Take a few percent smaller portion at meal times or just miss out a couple of biscuits or a crisp packet. But do it daily.
When I was young, they told me to chew each bite 32 times.  This improves digestion and helps the body to get the maximum benefit from the calories you consume.  I must confess, I don't chew my food 32 times but do take my time to finish the meal - eat slowly.  It is a good habit and has some scientific basis too. We feel full because the stomach sends a signal to the brain which decides when to tell you to stop eating. There is a few minutes time lag and we end up eating more than required. Eating your food slowly helps to optimise the quantity of food. Fewer heart burns too!
Because your life style does not need to change, you can still binge once in a while as you do now – nothing needs to change at all. 
There are several other things that you can also do.  For example, do not measure your weight more than once a week – weight control must not be an obsession – stress can make you consume more food.  Talk to your family and friends that you are reducing your food intake by 5% to lose 5 kg/year. Just be relaxed about the whole thing – you will benefit more by continuing as you always did but with simple measures that I have described above.      

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