Stay slim strategies

A huge US survey by our sister organisation reveals six diet and exercise secrets of the slim.
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02.6 vital stay-slim strategies

Healthy food

Through statistical analyses, Consumer Reports identified 6 key behaviours that correlate most strongly with having a healthy body mass index (BMI). By following these strategies, you too can live quite literally like a slim person.

  1. Watch portions Of all the eating behaviours, carefully controlling portion size at each meal correlated most strongly with having a lower BMI. Successful losers – even those who were still overweight – were especially likely (62%) to report practicing portion control at least five days per week. So did 57% of the always-slim, but only 42% of failed dieters.
  2. Limit fat Specifically, this means restricting fat to less than one-third of your daily kilojoule intake. Fifty-three per cent of successful losers and 47% of the always-slim said they did this five or more days a week, compared with just 35% of failed dieters.
  3. Eat fruits and vegetables The more days that respondents ate five or more servings of fruits or vegetables, the lower their average BMI. Forty-nine per cent of successful losers and the always-slim said they ate that way at least five days a week, while just 38% of failed dieters did so.
  4. Choose whole grains over refined People with lower body weights opted for wholegrain breads, cereals and other grains over refined (white) grains more frequently than failed dieters.
  5. Eat at home As the number of days per week respondents ate restaurant or takeaway meals for dinner increased, so did their weight. Eating at home saves money, too – see Healthy Eating on a Budget.
  6. Regular vigorous exercise The type of exercise that increases heart rate for 30 minutes or longer was strongly linked to a lower BMI. Although only about one-quarter of respondents said they did strength training at least once a week, the practice was significantly more prevalent among successful losers (32%) and always-slim respondents (31%) than it was among failed dieters (23%).

All these strategies (except number 5) are highlighted in the Dietary Guidelines for Australian Adults, developed by the government’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). This shows that putting healthy eating advice into practice really pays off. 

More helpful tips

Embracing some or all of these six strategies may increase your weight-loss success. In addition, consider these tips:

  • Don’t get discouraged Studies show that prospective dieters often have unrealistic ideas about how much weight they can lose. A 10% loss might not sound like much, but it can significantly improve overall health and reduce risk of disease.
  • Ask for support from friends and family to help you stay on track – by not pestering you to eat foods you’re trying to avoid, for example, or not eating those foods in front of you. A minority of respondents overall reported that a spouse or family member interfered with their healthy eating efforts, but 31% of failed dieters reported some form of spousal sabotage in the month prior to the survey.
  • Get up and move While regular, vigorous exercise correlated most strongly with healthy body weight, the findings suggest any physical activity is helpful, including activities you might not even consider exercise. Housework, gardening and playing with the kids were modestly tied to lower weight. Hours spent sitting each day – at an office desk or at home watching TV – correlated with higher weight. The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ 2007-2008 National Health Survey found that 48% of people reportedly walked for exercise, 36% exercised at a moderate level and only 15% did vigorous exercise, so upping the ante in this area is likely to help.

Strategies that make little difference

  • Lowering your carbohydrate intake. Consumer Reports asked about this in its survey, and found that limiting carbohydrates was actually linked to higher BMIs. While this doesn’t necessarily mean low-carb plans such as the Atkins or South Beach diets don’t work, the findings suggest that cutting carbs alone, without exercise or portion control, may not yield great results.
  • Eating many small meals.
  • Not eating between meals.
  • Including lean protein with most meals.

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