Weight Loss, Fitness and Fatness – what the evidence really says

Posted: 15 June 2018

Most of us have, at some point, been interested in improving our body shape through a change in diet or exercise behaviours. The modern fitness industry has become noisy and disorienting; spurious social media gurus and aggressive marketing dominate the weight loss landscape. This article offers a refreshing guide through some of the important evidence around weight loss.

Exercise is the Long Game: Diet modification alone (eat a bit less, eat a bit better) is enough to cause significant weight loss, especially in the early phase (3-6 months). Interestingly, those who combine regular physical activity (30-60 minutes per day) with dietary modification see identical weight loss to diet modification alone in this early phase. However, regular physical activity is the strongest independent predictor of long term (2-5 years) weight loss and weight maintenance. So while exercise may not specifically modulate weight loss – it is the golden key to long-term weight management.

Rebounding and Seasons: Most individuals can comfortably lose 5%-10% of their body weight in around 3 to 6 months. However, literature shows that half of all weight lost in the first six months of weight loss programs is usually regained by the twelve month mark. This is normal - life has seasons and it’s easy to lose focus. The solution lies in long-term tracking of your weight goals, and ensuring that you get back on track.

Fitness must come First: Fitness is far more important than body weight for health. Evidence shows that those where are overweight AND fit have better long-term health outcomes to those who are slim and UNFIT. These studies show that fitness, rather than body shape, determines health, wellness and chronic disease. Therefore, if health is truly your motivator then developing fitness must be the priority – body weight/fat is secondary.

What you can do now? The most successful way to approach changes in lifestyle for losing weight or becoming more active is to make small incremental changes. Overhauling your entire life in a week is rarely sustainable. Examples of small change strategies:

  1. Swap it don’t stop it”. Australia government health initiative which encouraged making slightly better choices for nutrition and exercise – low carb/light beer instead of full strength, trail mix instead of a bag of chips, yoghurt rather than ice cream, take the stairs half-way up, park 500 metres from school and walk with your kids.
  2. Add don’t subtract”. American physiologist Dr Andy Galpin suggests focusing on the inclusion of high-quality proteins as a compulsory component of each meal. High quality proteins include dairy, un-processed meats, eggs, whey supplements, beans and legumes.
  3. "Set achievable goals”. Evidence suggests we should target weight loss at 0.5-1kg, or 0.5-1% of starting body weight, per week, for a 3-6 month period.

For personalised and achievable guidance with your fitness, health and weight loss, please call The Fit Lab and book in with our Accredited Exercise Physiologist or Accredited Practising Dieticians.

RESOURCES:

1. Australian Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults (2017)

Evidence-based guidelines produced by world-class researchers for exercise and physical activity:

http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/health-pubhlth-strateg-phys-act-guidelines#apaadult

2. Australian Guide to Healthy Eating (2017)

Practical guidelines produced by world-class researchers for nutrition:

https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines/australian-guide-healthy-eating

3. Eat for Health

Aus Gov website offering further practical information around the logistics of healthy eating

https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/eating-well/tips-eating-well/tips-losing-weight-healthily

4. Articles from this post

Focus themes: (“fitness vs fatness”, “weight loss and regain”, “Exercise + diet or Diet or Exercise”)

Barry, V. W., Baruth, M., Beets, M. W., Durstine, J. L., Liu, J., & Blair, S. N. (2014). Fitness vs. Fatness on All-Cause Mortality: A Meta-Analysis. Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, 56(4), 382–390. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pcad.2013.09.002

Curioni, C. C., & Lourenço, P. M. (2005). Long-term weight loss after diet and exercise: a systematic review. International Journal of Obesity, 29(10), 1168–1174. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ijo.0803015

Franz, M. J., VanWormer, J. J., Crain, A. L., Boucher, J. L., Histon, T., Caplan, W., … Pronk, N. P. (2007). Weight-Loss Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Weight-Loss Clinical Trials with a Minimum 1-Year Follow-Up. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 107(10), 1755–1767. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2007.07.017

Miller, W. C., Koceja, D. M., & Hamilton, E. J. (1997). A meta-analysis of the past 25 years of weight loss research using diet, exercise or diet plus exercise intervention. International Journal of Obesity, 21(10), 941–947. https://doi.org/10.1038/sj.ijo.0800499

Proper, K. I., Singh, A. S., Mechelen, W. van, & Chinapaw, M. J. M. (2011). Sedentary Behaviors and Health Outcomes Among Adults: A Systematic Review of Prospective Studies. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 40(2), 174–182. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2010.10.015

Sui, X., LaMonte, M. J., Laditka, J. N., Hardin, J. W., Chase, N., Hooker, S. P., & Blair, S. N. (2007). Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Adiposity as Mortality Predictors in Older Adults. JAMA, 298(21), 2507–2516. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.298.21.2507

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