The secret to a weighty issue

Staying slim - genetically blessed or just hard work?

A major survey by one of CHOICE'S sister publications has challenged some myths about how slim people stay that way -- are they blessed with the right genes or does it come down to plain hard work?

The answer is very few of us can keep down our weight without exercising and eating healthy foods. And beware the "low-carb" diet – the study found people who restricted carbohydrates were more likely to have a higher body mass index (BMI).

Consumer Reports, the magazine of the American organisation Consumers Union, asked more than 21,000 subscribers about their lifetime weight history and eating, dieting and exercise habits.

“The responses suggest that people who have never been overweight are unlikely to be found sitting in front of the TV eating a bowl of chips or pasta. Only 3% of "always slim" respondents said they never exercised and ate whatever they pleased,” says CHOICE Senior Food Policy Officer Clare Hughes.

The survey found 'always-slim' people have very similar habits to people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off and uncovered six stay-slim strategies that were common among healthy-weight people:

  1. Watch your portion sizes
  2. Limit fat to less that one-third of your daily kilojoule intake
  3. Eat lots of fruit and vegetables
  4. Choose wholegrains over refined cereal products
  5. Eat dinner at home
  6. Exercise vigorously most days

"This is the same advice that Australian health experts have been giving us for years and the study shows that putting it into practice really pays off. The fact is successful dieters and people who have always been a healthy weight all work hard to get these results. The only difference is that for perennially slim people, these habits come a little easier," says Hughes.

Of the link between low-carb diets and high BMIs, CHOICE says this doesn't necessarily mean plans such as the Atkins diet don't work, but rather cutting carbs alone won't achieve the result you're after unless it's combined with regular exercise and portion control.

"The encouraging news to come out of this study is that more than half the successful weight losers did so without the help of a commercial diet plan, medical treatment or diet pills," says Hughes.

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