SPECIAL REPORT Holistic weight loss

Want to lose weight? Join the mob. According to a Roy Morgan survey, 72 per cent of Australian women and 58 per cent of men wanted to lose weight in 2014. In the ABS’ Australian Health Survey 2012 (the latest date for which such data is available), more than 2.3 million Australians aged above 15 years reported being on a weight loss diet. Yet, despite the thousands of books, websites, products, diets and businesses dedicated to the cause, our collective girth as a nation continues to climb. A whopping 67 per cent (12.5 million of us) were overweight or obese, according to the 2017–18 National Health Survey. In the 1980s that figure was around 10 per cent. What’s the go?

While we tend to view our weight issues as a sign of personal failure, the real culprit is a complex combination of factors inherent in the modern world. This includes our busy yet sedentary lifestyles, social factors and the omnipresence of refined food. Rather than blaming and shaming ourselves, the answer lies in understanding the forces we’re battling and implementing habits that support a healthier weight. With obesity a glaring global health issue impacting all ages, science is increasingly being harnessed in the fight.

Why and how we should size ourselves

While we need to love ourselves in all our shapes and sizes, too much body fat is linked to numerous health issues — from a greater risk of arthritis and diabetes to certain cancers and a lowered life expectancy.

Under the World Health Organization’s definition, you’re considered overweight if you have a BMI (a measure of your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in metres) of 25 or more; and obese if it reaches 30. However, not everyone with a high BMI is necessarily unhealthy, including those who exercise and eat well or hold a lot of muscle mass.

Newer research suggests “belly fat” or mid-body girth, is what you should worry about most. It’s usually a sign of increased visceral fat — fat deposited around your abdominal organs. Too much visceral fat is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, colorectal cancer, hypertension and premature death, according to Mayo Clinic researchers. In 2017 they developed the Body Volume Indicator (BVI) to measure the ratio of your abdomen against your total body volume. They suggest this simple test. While standing, with a tape measure (pulled to a snug but not tight fit) measure your bare stomach just above the hipbone. If your waist exceeds 89 cm (for a woman) or 102 cm (for a man) you’re probably carrying an unhealthy level of visceral fat.

Why counting calories doesn’t work

The lemon-detox diet. Cabbage soup diet. Meal-replacement shake or pre-prepared diet meal. From the bizarre to the familiar brand, our quest for slimness has spawned a plethora of diets, products and advice, mostly aimed at reducing our calorie intake. In an industry worth an estimated $320 million (within Australia alone), it seems every week there’s a new fad.

Confusingly, even the scientific advice on weight loss changes. One minute we’re told to eat margarine and low-calorie muffins, the next minute nuts and avocados are in. And, while we might be able to shed significant kilos on crash diets, they’re unsustainable in the

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