Women form the majority of people dieting, joining a slimming club, trying the next ‘quick-fix’ solution to weight problems and they are the main purchasers of low-calorie and low-fat foods. It’s also a fact that four times as many women as men will be diagnosed with an underactive thyroid which can affect your weight. All of us are built differently, and our body shape can make a big difference to the amount of weight we can carry healthily. Furthermore, fit women will always look slimmer and weigh more, largely because muscle weighs so much more than fat. It’s even possible to be a normal weight but with unacceptably high levels of body fat. If you want a rough idea of your ‘ideal’ weight then the Body Mass Index (BMI) is the best indicator. It tries to identify the percentage of body tissue that is actually fat. It does have disadvantages in that it cannot allow for variations in fat, bone, organs and muscle, but it provides a broader range for what is considered to be normal.
One of the best and most convenient ways to measure body fat is to use an electronic machine that uses bioelectrical impedance. Sound confusing? It’s simple to understand. An electric current is passed though the body and the machine measures how long it takes for the current to come out, providing you with a measurement of your total body fat. Lean tissue is a much better conductor of electricity than fatty tissue, so that machine is able to measure the percentage of fat in the body. Yes, one of the main causes of weight gain is dieting. Dieting makes you fat. As you reduce your food intake to lose weight, your body put itself on ‘famine alert’. It gets the impression that food is scarce and therefore it slows down your metabolism to get the best use of the small amount of food it is receiving. When you say you want to lose weight, what you actually want to lose is fat. If you lose weight rapidly, almost 25 percent of that weight loss can be made up of water, muscle and other lean tissue.
The reason for this is that your body is actually programmed to hold on to fat. So in times of what your body considers to be a ‘famine’, it will actually go as far as breaking down muscle and losing water in order to hold on to its fat reserves. Faddy diets suggest that you can lose up to 10 pounds in a week, but remember this: it is physically impossible to lose more than 900g (2lb) of body fat in a week. Furthermore, if you lose weight quickly by restricting your intake and then go back to eating normally, a much higher percentage of the food you eat is laid down as fat. Why? Because your body wants to build up extra fat stores, in case this type of famine occurs again. There’s also the question of metabolism. When you crash diet, your metabolism slows down to conserve energy and make the most out of the small amounts you are eating. What happens when you go back to eating normally? Well, everything you eat is being dealt with at a much slower rate and more fat is stored.
This is the obvious reason, because if you eat more than you burn off then you are going to gain weight. The idea has been that if the number of calories going into your body is less than the calories being used up by bodily activity and exercise, then you will lose weight. Nowadays, we know that the type of calories is also an important factor in this equation. In other words, you need to consider what type of calories you are eating – whether they come in the form of fat, carbohydrates or protein. Researchers have found that fat and thin people can eat roughly the same number of calories, but it seems that the type of food they are eating is different. There is a very popular theory that goes something like: too much fat makes you fat. This may be right in principle (large amounts of saturated fat in the diet are not healthy), but it’s important to remember that some fats are absolutely essential, hence their name: essential fatty acids.
The result of this theory is that women go on low-fat and no-fat diets, which are dangerous. Furthermore, no-fat and low-fat food tends to be high in sugar and salt, which is required to make it palatable. This is the type of thing that makes you fat. In fact, it’s sugar and other foods that are ‘fast-releasing’ that will encourage weight gain, and here’s why: The speed with which a food increases blood sugar (in other words, whether it is ‘fast-releasing’ or ‘slow-releasing’) determines whether or not it will cause you to gain weight. If your blood sugar levels rise very quickly your body has to secrete more insulin in order to control it. Every time you eat, your body has a choice: it can either burn that food as energy or store it as fat. Researchers have found that high insulin levels cause you not only to change your food into fat, but they also prevent your body from breaking down previously stored fat.
These fast-releasing foods include anything that contains sugar and refined flour, such as cakes, biscuits, pastries, and other ‘treats’. If you crave sweet or starchy foods, feel tired during the afternoon, light-headed, dizzy or shaky if you miss a meal or wake up feeling tired after a full night’s sleep, then your blood sugar levels are probably fluctuating too much. Food can be converted into fat or energy. You can either store what you eat, which means you will probably put on weight, or you can use it for energy. Whether food is burned or stored is determined by a number of chemical reactions that take place in your body. These are activated by enzymes, which are, in turn, dependent upon vitamins and minerals. Therefore, if you are deficient by even a small amount in certain vitamins and minerals, you will gain weight. Fortunately there are now some very good tests that can check for these deficiencies.