Weight-loss tips that go beyond the 'eat less, exercise hard' formula

Party calendars invariably bring with them outfits we wished we could fit into. Here are some underrated ways to shed the kilos

Different body types metabolise food and ­nutrients differently. Illustration by Mathew Kurian
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There's no dearth of fitness and weight-loss advice. It's everywhere – on social media, in our apps, on the lips of well-meaning confidants and in the pages of the cookbooks we burn through in search of that one perfect recipe, diet or magic pill that can solve our metabolic woes. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to shedding weight and keeping it off. What we can offer you, though, is a round-up of underrated tips – that go beyond the eat less, exercise more formula – and the science behind them, from a prolific group of nutritionists and health experts.

Reverse any mineral deficiencies

Most people don't lose weight despite working very hard because of the deficiency of certain trace elements and minerals, such as iron, vitamin D, magnesium and potassium," says Juliot Vinolia, head ­clinical dietitian at Medeor 24x7 Hospital. "These elements act as catalysts to break fat into energy. People with anaemia or vitamin D deficiency will have a lower metabolism. So even if they exercise very hard or go on restricted-calorie diets, the outcome might not be commensurate to the effort. In fact the conditions can lead to tiredness and fatigue, which can make exercising a challenge. The solution is to correct any deficiency with a well-balanced meal plan or supplements."

Drink icy water between meals

“Hydrating our bodies is very important for weight loss. Only if the body is adequately hydrated will the blood be able to carry the hormones, enzymes and chemicals to all the organs, so that metabolism and other body functions are at their optimum,” says Vinolia. “Drinking ice-cold water between meals is a great way of tricking the body into burning energy to maintain its normal temperature. Similarly, taking a shower twice a day makes the body work to maintain its core temperature. And, of course, there is the age-old problem of people confusing thirst with hunger. Drinking water throughout the day will prevent you from consuming calories you don’t need.”

Beware of a fatty liver

Another tip Vinolia shares has to do with processed foods, which are not only laden with calories and devoid of nutrition, but over time they can also lead to fatty liver. “The liver is the main centre for metabolism; if it’s not able to function efficiently due to fatty infiltrations, it leads to poor fat transport and metabolism. The body will not be able to take the fat out of fat cells efficiently and burn it for energy when you exercise or eat fewer calories. Choline is a very important nutrient that reverses fatty liver and enhances its function. It is present in cruciferous vegetables, beans, eggs, nuts, seeds, and some amount of meat and poultry. So get your liver checked, and include plenty of choline in your diet to improve weight loss,” she says.

Ten minutes may be as effective as 45

Nicole Sirotin, chair of preventive medicine at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, typically asks her patients if they have 10 minutes a day. "Pick a very small, attainable goal to begin with," is her advice. "Even 10 minutes of exercise can aid weight loss, improve health, and help live longer. A 2016 Canadian study found that when 27 middle-aged sedentary men were split into two groups, the first group cycling for 10 minutes a day as part of an interval training workout regimen, and the second cycling for 45 minutes a day, the improvement in the fitness of both groups was the same at the end of three months. According to another study of 55,000 adults, published in 2014 in the Journal Of The American College Of Cardiology, running for even just five to 10 minutes a day drastically reduces the risk of dying due to cardiovascular issues. So I recommend everybody start exercising right away – no matter how short the duration."

Make fasting work in your favour

Sirotin says that she’s found that initiating a fasting regimen tends to help kick-start weight loss. “I’d recommend two non-consecutive days of fasting – which means plenty of water and fewer than 500 calories a day – in the week, combined with normal calorie-intake on the other days. Studies have shown that, over 12 weeks, this approach has better results than lowering calories alone.” 

Don’t eat before you work out

Stephanie Karl, clinical nutritionist, Up and Running Medical Centre, explains that a well-balanced metabolism is one that readily uses fat in times of fasting and during low-intensity exercises. “To help lose weight and burn fat, it is critical to exercise in a fasted state, or at least avoid food for four hours before, and then avoid carbs for two to four hours afterwards. Walking, jogging or using the elliptical trainer for about one hour at a low heart rate is most likely to make your body use fat as fuel. Alternatively, high-intensity interval training will use ­carbohydrate from liver stores, but in the period afterwards when the heart rate is restored, fat is oxidised for energy only if you don’t consume any carbohydrate.”

Karl further adds that you should never drink sugary beverages when you ­exercise if you are trying to lose weight, and try to consume your carbs between 11am and 6pm to prolong fat burning. “If you feel hungry and crave ­something sweet during the day, use a fibre ­supplement drink between meals to fill you up and to improve bowel motility. Avoid protein shakes; low-fat laban or lassi are good alternatives,” she says.

Consider coffee before working out

Meanwhile, Mitun De Sarkar, clinical dietitian and founder of Simply Healthy Foods, finds that drinking black coffee before a workout, especially in the morning, can be useful. "Coffee is loaded with antioxidants, and the ­caffeine boosts metabolism in the morning, aiding fat burn. Don't add any milk or sugar to your coffee, though; they negate the purpose."

Take probiotics

Sarkar also recommends consuming foods and supplements rich in probiotics. “Probiotics are live organisms that occur naturally in the gut. Many supplements and fermented foods also contain probiotics. Taking a probiotic supplement may help keep the intestinal flora balanced and promote a healthy body by boosting the digestive and immune systems. Poor gut health has links to obesity, so it’s easier for someone to lose weight when their gut is clean and healthy,” she says.

Eat according to your body type

A weight-loss diet needs to match your body type and ­particular way of digesting food. "Body type simply means your hormones, blood levels, and body chemistry," says Anjali Mukerjee, ­celebrity nutritionist and founder of Health Total. "People in the same family, eating the same food can have very ­different body types because you metabolise food and ­nutrients differently. Which is why a diet that works ­wonders for someone might do nothing for you. A simple example is that some ­people can ­tolerate a higher amount of ­protein, probably because they have a higher amount of ­hydrochloric acid or ­better digestive enzymes. But a high-­protein diet might make ­others ­constipated, get ­breakouts, or feel generally miserable. Personalised nutrition can help you ­understand whether your body needs animal or vegetable protein, how much protein you should have, and at what time. When you eat ­according to your body type and digestive system, it will always work.

Space out your meals

Mukerjee recommends keeping a minimum interval of four hours between meals, even avoiding fruits, tea and coffee. "When there's a gap, it allows the body to digest the meal fully without any unnecessary spikes in insulin – and weight loss occurs when ­insulin is low," she explains. "Also, never eat more than three-fourths of your capacity, because the load of food will always raise the insulin, no matter how correctly you eat. Having said that, people with very active lifestyles and a good ­digestion do respond well to ­eating every couple of hours, but the four-hour rule works ­better for most.

Load up on fibre

Mukerjee says a daily tablespoon of psyllium seed husk adds fibre in the diet, cleans the system, relieves constipation and eventually helps in weight loss. "Take it in the morning before ­breakfast or before ­dinner when you're most ­hungry, to cut ­unnecessary pangs. It's ­available everywhere and is an easy way to lose weight."