One of the nation’s leading obesity experts, Dr Nick Fuller has a strong message for all Australians currently on a diet: your efforts might be in vain. Instead, he says, try slowing things down.
Dr Fuller insists that the key to losing weight and keeping it off is to trick your body into reaching a new, lower set point by shedding the kilos slowly.
“Diets simply don’t work,” says the obesity and diabetes expert from University of Sydney.
“There is no doubt that you can lose weight by dieting in the short-term. But you will often regain weight after the diet ends, and regain more weight than you were initially trying to lose.”
That’s a strong statement to hear, especially if the latest diet trend seems to have finally helped you to shed a few kilos. But Dr Fuller is adamant that weight dropped suddenly usually returns in the longer-term.
“We are programmed to a ‘set point weight body’ – a weight at which our body is comfortable being at,” explains Dr Fuller. “Yet after dieting, there’s an innate response to drive the body back to its set point weight, to decrease metabolism and increase hunger hormones, so we often end up eating more [and putting on some of the weight we lost prior].”
The role of a ‘set-point’ theory in the regulation of body weight is not a new discovery. It’s an accepted fact in many areas of obesity research, with studies showing that an adult’s metabolic weight centre, regulated by the brain, can be influenced by our hormones, nutrition levels and food intake. However, a 2015 study from the USA explains that a stable weight set-point may be overridden if food intake is increased. The brain will respond to your ‘overeating’ by changing your set point to a higher weight.
Dr Fuller says that getting your body to adjust to a lower set point is the key to sustainable losing weight. Herein lies the premise behind Dr Fuller’s new anti-diet ‘diet’ and new book, Interval Weight Loss. (Penguin Books, $32.99 - enter to win a copy here). “The great thing about interval weight loss is that it is not a diet.” If anything, he says, it’s a smart lifestyle adaptation, based on science and the combination of many pieces of anecdotal evidence and medical experience.
“The way it works is that a person is required to lose a small amount of weight, of around two kilograms per month, before moving onto maintaining that weight loss. Then once you maintain it, you lose a little bit more weight again, and then work to maintain it. If you do this, it’s highly likely that your body may not experience the same [negative] reaction that it does after being on a [traditional] diet.”
The plan also doesn’t promise everyone dramatic results because weight loss will vary according to how long the person sticks at the program. “Some people will lose a few kilograms and others will lose 20: sometimes it’s not realistic for someone to lose 20 kilos in one hit.”
Is this just another ‘fad diet’ or a health plan?
The ‘Interval Weight Loss’ concept may come with a trademark title and a book, but the Dietitians Association of Australia confirms that it is not a fad diet.
Accredited Practising Dietitian Gabrielle Maston tells SBS that Dr Fuller’s program has her full support.
“Dr Fuller and the research team he works under have discovered a better way for people to lose weight through attempting stints of weight loss and then giving the body a rest,” says Maston.
“Interval weight loss is simply a book on healthy eating, based on already known dietary recommendations such as giving up alcohol and cutting back calories, coupled with the latest in weight loss science. It provides sensible advice that everyone should be following such as adding more veggies to your diet, and ditching the meat pies.”
Dr Fuller's breakfast suggestions include Middle Eastern-style baked eggs. Try our recipe for this Israeli shakshuka
Interval weight loss tips
So how does one put the interval weight loss theory into action?
Dr Fuller also advises people to first focus on getting organised: make lists, shop for groceries from quality providers in one regular hit (for example, once a week rather than every day). If shopping tempts you to buy the wrong kind of foods, shop after you eat.
When it comes to food, he says, don’t exclude any food groups. “If anything, you may end up eating more than what you are used to,” says Dr Fuller. “You can follow a normal healthy lifestyle plan but don’t restrict your food intake: increase it by choosing to eat foods from wholesome, nutritious food groups.” Focus on eating more of your food in the earlier part of the day, then tapering off so that dinner is your smallest meal.
Exercise is a must, he adds. The minimum amount of movement required for long-term, sustainable weight loss is that people make over 10,000 steps a day. Any activity over and above that amount will also encourage weight loss.
And most importantly: “You need to stop dieting. If you keep dieting, you will get short-term results and still have the long-term consequences of being overweight”.
Want to try find out more? We're giving away three copies of Dr Fuller's Interval Weight Loss book. Enter here for your chance to win.
For more on obesity and weight research in Australia, watch the three-part documentary series The Obesity Myth on SBS On Demand.