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Updated 11 February 2013

Weighty New Year's resolutions

It's the beginning of a new year and we are faced again by the unfortunate evidence of our holiday overindulgence. Beware of making resolutions you can't keep, warns DietDoc.

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It's a new year and the overindulgence of the December holidays has taken its toll on your body. Desperate times call for desperate measures. "I shall starve myself, drink only water and rid my body of these evil toxins (aka fat)," you promise yourself. The relief of having hit on a solution is immeasurable.

But is this brilliant plan of action going to work? Will you repair all the damage you have done? And most ironically will those kilos melt away in as little time as it took to deposit them on your hips, thighs, breasts and buttocks?

Experience shows that all these hopes have as much chance of being realised as of snow falling in South Africa during January 2013!

Let’s consider each one of the aspects of the Great Plan of Action and the listed questions.

Does starvation work?

Most slimmers have contemplated starvation or semi-starvation at some time or other to get this all too solid flesh to melt (with apologies to Shakespeare).

Of course if you deny an organism that requires 8400 kJ (2000 kcal) per day to function, all energy intake, then it will be forced to start using up some of its stored fat. But if the organism is a human body, then it will do anything and everything to try and conserve its energy stores.

Homeostasis or "balance" is the main aim of our metabolism. Consequently your body will reduce its Basic Metabolic Rate (BMR) (the energy turnover of the body when at rest which handles functions such as breathing, the heart beat and circulation, digestion and hormone production). It will also curtail all physical activity to save energy, so you will feel tired, limp and fragile, develop headaches, and possibly have dizzy and fainting spells.

The combined effect of a lower BMR and reduced energy expenditure is that weight loss slows down - something no slimmer wants to experience!

Anne Hathaway, the Hollywood actress starring in Les Miserables (a movie that is expected to open in South African cinemas on 18 January), reportedly lost 12kg of her weight to play the part of Fantine, a tragic young woman wracked by tuberculosis. Anne Hathaway attributes her weight loss to eating only radishes and hummus for weeks on end.

Do you have the guts to follow suite? I know that I could survive on hummus with pita bread and lots of healthy salads, olives, and haloumi or feta cheese for a week, but I could not exist for weeks and weeks by eating radishes. Well they have never exactly been my favourite food.

According to a BangShowBiz report (2013), the director of the movie version of Les Miserables, Tom Hopper, urged Anne Hathaway not to lose so much weight and "not to go to extremes for the part". But she evidently did not listen to this advice and now she admits to being ashamed of "being so consumed by staying slim".

This disclosure highlights one of the other dangers associated with using starvation or semi-starvation to lose weight. Once you have used a method as drastic as starvation to shed weight, you may become anorexic and ruin your future life and health. So be very careful not to select starvation as your solution to Festive Season Sins of the Flesh!

Drinking litres of water

Drinking liquid in adequate amounts (e.g. 2.5 litres of liquid a day for an average adult), is essential for life.

But drinking excessive volumes of water (often in addition to other liquids) so that your daily liquid intake reaches ridiculous levels of up to 10 litres a day (I did not suck this figure out of my thumb, one of my Readers confided that she consumed this quantity of water every day "to lose weight"), can be downright dangerous.

If you exceed your body’s liquid requirement, the kidneys have to rid the body of this excess fluid, which leads to increased losses of the electrolyte minerals, namely sodium, potassium, as well as calcium and magnesium.

The electrolyte minerals, sodium and potassium, have the task of maintaining the so-called electrolyte balance in your body (Yes, another state of equilibrium that the body will attempt to maintain at any cost). If you lose excessive amounts of sodium and potassium via the urine, your electrolyte balance will be disturbed which can cause all manner of negative effects, including water retention and muscle spasms because of a potassium deficiency.

Answering the questions

I think that you will have worked out the answers to the questions listed above, but just in case you still have any doubts, here are the answers again:

  • Is this brilliant plan of action going to work? NO
  • Will you repair all the damage you have done? NO and you may cause even more damage to your metabolism, your psychological makeup and your health.
  • Will those kilos melt away in as little time as it took to deposit them on your hips, thighs, breasts and buttocks? NO, it may take a long time and if you selected starvation to "atone for your sins", you may never reach your goal!

Is there a solution?

The solution to your "weighty" problems is to be sensible and to tackle your weight gain in an adult way.

Consult a registered dietician for a well balanced slimming diet or join a slimming organisation with a proven track record such as Weight Watchers or Weigh-Less. Spend some money on joining Walk/Run for Life or a good gym or a swimming, sports or cycling club to add physical activity to your dietary regimen.

Just for once forget the fad diets, the gimmicks and the quick fixes and give as much attention to losing weight in a healthy way as you did to planning those Roman-type banquets for the Festive Season. You may even find that slimming costs less than the indulgences.

Here's wishing everyone a happy, prosperous and successful new year!

(Pic of bathroom scale from Shutterstock)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc

Dr Ingrid van Heerden is a registered dietician and holds a doctoral degree in Nutrition and Biochemistry. She believes that "we are what we eat" and offers free nutrition and weight loss advice via her DietDoc service on Health24.com. Read more of her articles.

 
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