It's weigh-in time for the Fox

Wednesday 06 April 2016

You are what you eat

Search the internet for advice on dieting, and it won't be long before you come across the “80/20" rule: the idea that losing weight is 80% eating healthy and 20% exercise (not to be confused with the “80/20 diet": a diet that claims you can indulge 20% of the time).

It's not exactly nonsense, but at the same time I don't think it's a very useful rule – what is eating healthy? And how much exercise is '20%'? Still, the rule does point to one simple truth that I can't ignore; to lose weight, I have to burn more calories than I eat.

Now here's what I think about eating healthy............

I don't. My life largely revolves around eating what I want, when it's most convenient, and rarely (if ever) do I stop to ask myself what the healthy options are and if I should be choosing those instead. In fact, the only limitation I put on myself is whether I could be bothered leaving the house – and these days there isn't much I can't have delivered to me anyway.

So, it was clear from the beginning that I realistically wasn't going to be able to set myself straight without guidance – I have practically zero self-control and all my knowledge on nutrition came from Harold the Giraffe over 20 years ago – that's why I sought help from PA Hospital Dietitian, Lindsey Webb.

The first thing Lindsey had me do was cut down my Redbull intake; the original plan was to just pick a day and go cold-turkey, but Lindsey helpfully informed me that with an average consumption of six 250ml cans a day (often more) I would certainly go into withdrawal from the caffeine. Honestly that didn't seem like such a big deal to me – I thought I could handle it, but I relished the fact that I could put off giving up my biggest vice, even if it meant I had to have less and less over three weeks.

Next came a proper assessment of my weight using a bioelectrical impedance scale – a scale that measures your weight and gives an accurate reading of body fat and muscles percentages – and a good ol' fashioned tape measure.

My results confirm what the mirror has been telling me every morning: I'm overweight.

My BMI is three points over the healthy range of 18.5-24.9 and my waist-line is 6cm wider than the suggested healthy maximum.* These, of course, are all generalizations that are best discussed with a professional to help you understand what it might mean for you – but in my case they are backed up by a measured body fat percentage of 25.9%, putting me above the 'acceptable' level of 25%, and wellllllll above the 18% required to be considered 'fit.'

So that's the bad news over, what comes next?

I sat down with Lindsey to discuss my habits and how I can tweak them for the better. Immediately obvious was the lack of structure in my routine – I eat when I'm hungry, I sleep when I'm tired, and I never (ever) allocate time to make breakfast before heading to work in the morning. The next noticeable failing in my diet was my complete lack of discretion – I eat whatever I feel like at the time, which is usually the option with the 'cheapest' hit of energy (lots of carbs and sugar), like a burger with chips and a soft drink. I will never forget the time I thought a chicken burger with waffles for buns was a good idea. It really wasn't. I felt filled over-capacity for at least three days.

On the surface of it, the solution seems simple enough: eat three meals a day at the appropriate times, make smarter choices by choosing more salads and vegetables while reducing my carbs (like portion guides always recommend), and eat two serves of fruit a day (up from my average of zero serves a day). The fruit & veg thing is just common sense, right? Yet according to the last ABS health survey, only 1 in 20 Australian men eat adequate serves of both daily**, is it really that hard to do?

Lindsey's next strategic suggestion was probably going to be the most crucial for me moving forward – have a backup plan. What do I do on those days I desperately want a Redbull? How about when I haven't found time for grocery shopping? Or when I'm out with friends for dinner, what should be my go to option then?

It's planning and preparation that's going to be key to making this all work. Not exactly two of my personal strengths…


***ABS National Health survey 2014-2015: In 2014-15, 49.8% of Australians aged 18 years and over met the guidelines for recommended daily serves of fruit (2 or more serves), while 7.0% met the guidelines for serves of vegetables (5-6 or more serves for men depending on age, and 5 or more for women). Only one in twenty (5.1%) adults met both guidelines. These rates were similar to 2011-12 (48.5%, 6.1% and 4.2% respectively).