Lose weight the right way in 2021
Gained a few COVID kilos over the last year? Recent studies have found that around a third of all Australians gained weight during the nationwide lockdown, while about half of us experienced changes in appetite or overeating. So if you are carrying a bit of extra luggage right now, don’t beat yourself up about it, because you’re certainly far from alone. Instead, trust in the experts to help you start making the right changes to your diet and activity levels that will enable you to shake any unwanted extra weight safely and sustainably.
“The biggest factor behind people’s weight gain last year was a reduction in activity,” says dietitian Susie Burrell. “We spent more time at home sitting, missed our regular gym sessions, and without our usual commute to work, we were doing less incidental activity.
“Easy access to food at home was also a significant factor, along with the continued growth in home delivery options for high-calorie food. And of course, with all the stress of the past year, people have also been self-soothing with food and alcohol.”
To break these bad habits, Burrell recommends that, rather than dwelling on the things you shouldn’t be doing, you should focus on the behaviours you do want to see.
“Set daily or even hourly reminders to keep you on track,” she advises. “Make your environment conducive to the behaviours you’re keen to cement – ridding the home of junk food if you want to eat better, or make exercise easier by scheduling it with friends.”
While it might be tempting to try one of the quick-fix, extreme “fad” diets that always pop up on social media, these are not the answer when it comes to sustainable weight loss.
“All diets work if they’re followed, but the issue with restrictive diets is that they’re rarely followed long-term,” Burrell says. “If you don’t think you can sustain the diet, don’t start it. You’ll just return to old food habits and regain any weight you might have lost.”
So what diet should I follow?
Burrell recommends you try planning your diet around the Healthy Food Pyramid concept, which represents the amount of food you should eat from each of the five food groups each day – grain foods (preferably wholegrains); vegetables and legumes; fruit; dairy and dairy alternatives; and lean meats and meat alternatives, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds. It also recommends limiting fats, alcohol, soft drinks and junk food.
“By focusing on a dietary balance that includes plenty of vegies, fruits, carbs, protein, good fats and oils, the Healthy Eating Pyramid promotes not only a healthy balanced diet, but a sustainable approach to nutrition,” Burrell says. “Its simple, balanced nutrition principles make it easy to follow by taking the guesswork out of healthy eating. It can work for the long term and still allows you to enjoy a glass of wine, a beer or a pasta meal when you want to.”
While fresh, home-prepared meals are always the best choice, not everyone has the time to food prep and cook every single day. This is where the right pre-prepared meals can play a role in a healthy eating plan. Burrell recommends trying Lean Cuisine meals, which are all made with vegies, grains and high-quality proteins.
“When you’re busy or aren’t motivated to make breakfast in the morning or bring a packed lunch to work during the day, having a convenient but healthy meal option on hand either at home or at work is so important,” Burrell says. “Lean Cuisine meals are convenient, affordable and calorie-controlled options for busy people.”
Susie Burrell’s top tips to sustainably overhaul your diet
• Start when you have time to focus 100%.
• Choose a diet that you like – and can stick to.
• Monitor your calorie intake.
• Adopt a new program with someone else so you have support.
• Give yourself a meal or two off each week so you can factor in socialising.
Do you have the right mindset for weight loss?
The CSIRO has developed a free, personalised online tool to help Australians better understand their unique dietary mindset in 2021. The aim of the tool is to help people find ways to combat potential motivation slumps that will no doubt occur in the year ahead.
Based on psychology and behavioural science, the Start Strong Diet Quiz assesses people’s personal goals, values and willingness to change, with the results providing a motivational “map” to guide people who want to improve their health in the year ahead.
The quiz looks at what can motivate you personally to make healthy changes to your lifestyle, including whether you’re more motivated to change your diet, exercise more or lose some weight. It also provides practical tips based on your individual lifestyle choices, interests and goals to help personalise a weight-loss plan that you won’t end up hating.
CSIRO behavioural scientist Dr Emily Brindal says understanding people’s reasons for starting a serious weight-loss program is essential if they’re going to stay committed once those shiny New Year’s resolutions have lost their lustre.
“‘New year, new me’ resolutions can often be spur of the moment, and we all know that, despite best intentions, motivation levels often drop as challenges present,” she says.
“The Start Strong Diet Quiz has been developed to help Australians take stock of their mindset, and provides prompts to boost their motivation for diet and exercise, ensuring they can enter their weight-loss program with the key information they need when losing weight and improving their health in 2021.”
In addition to the quiz, the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet – a scientifically-designed weight-loss program that has helped more than half a million Aussies lose weight – has also launched a new Motivators program which teams new starters with experienced members to keep them accountable and provide support throughout the program.
CSIRO research scientist Dr Gilly Hendrie says the new enhancements to the program have been designed to help boost Australians’ chances of weight-loss success after what was undoubtedly a stressful and waistline-expanding 2020.
“Our research shows that the lockdown took its toll on the minds and bodies of Australians,” Dr Hendrie says. “After such a challenging year, the CSIRO is thrilled to offer Australians science-based tools to help wipe the slate clean and successfully begin – and achieve – their journey to becoming their best selves.”
To take the new CSIRO Start Strong Diet Quiz, click here. Lean Cuisine meals are available at Woolworths, Coles and IGAs.