Obesity is a growing problem in South Africa as the expanding middle class has greater access to fast foods, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle. While convenience foods are not the only factor contributing to weight management problems across the globe, it has been identified as the single most important consideration when attempting to reduce weight. It is impossible to lose weight while continuing to eat fatty foods and fast releasing carbohydrates (high glycemic index). Similarly, starvation diets will not yield lasting results and can actually contribute to gaining weight in the long run.
Starving for Weight Loss
Most fad diets and unsupervised attempts at healthy eating involves some level of starvation. While it is advisable to cut down your meal portions if you are overweight or obese, skipping meals or eating significantly less will not work. In fact, you will very likely gain weight by starving yourself. In terms of fat metabolism, the body stores any excess food so it may seem logical to reduce your intake and therefore the body is less likely to trigger fat storage.
But in drastically reduced calorie intake, skipping meals and starving yourself, you trigger a ‘starvation response’ in your body. This hormonal mechanism is built into the human body as a survival mechanism. The ‘starvation response’ is triggered when the body has to go for long periods without food or very limited portions. The body ‘learns’ that food is scarce and cannot be assured of the next meal. A hormonal response then ensures that upon eating your next meal, the bare minimum is used for your energy needs and the rest is stored as fat in preparation for another period of ‘starvation’.
Since the body uses the bare minimum for its immediate energy needs, you will often experience fatigue, lethargy and a lack of vitality. You will also experience a reduction in your muscle bulk, which are the biggest calorie burners of the body. With this reduced energy, breakdown of muscle and increasing fat stores, you will begin to experience difficulty in concentrating, aversion to physical activity, constant sleepiness and mood changes. Your blood glucose levels will fluctuate and you may experience dizziness or bouts of fainting.
Eat Regular Meals
Conversely, a constant supply and suitable quantities of nourishment will ensure that your body doe not trigger the ‘starvation response’. By eating many small meals in a day, particularly low GI foods, will provide the body with a constant supply of fuel for its energy needs. This prevents the body from ‘saving’ food as fat for later use. Eating 5 to 6 meals, 2 to 3 large meals, and 2 to 3 snacks in between meals, will maintain a healthy glucose level.
While skipping any meal may trigger the ‘starvation response’, missing breakfast can be the most detrimental to any weight loss program. After many hours of sleep, with no sustenance, the body springs into action for a full day of activity. Without appropriate nutrition, the body will begin to breakdown fat stores initially to cater for your immediate energy needs. Upon eating your next meal, the body immediately begins to replace these fat stores and may add to it in preparation for future periods of starvation. By skipping a meal, you are unable to judge your meal portions at the next meal, due to hunger, and often you will eat more than you would have under regular circumstances. Extra calories at one sitting means that the body will store the excess as fat.
Using any method of starvation dieting, even liquid diets, for quick results is dangerous and detrimental to your weight management program. Irregular eating patterns can have a long term effect on your body fat and glucose tolerance levels and possibly predispose you to diabetes at a later stage in life. If you are planning to lose weight and cannot find a suitable eating plan to fit your needs, consult with a dietitian to structure a suitable weight loss program.