Control what goes on your plate: Expert

STICKING to the basics - monitoring total food intake and physical activity for the week - is crucial for breaking through weight loss plateaus, according to a Senior Dietician from Health Promotion Centre.

Hj Zakaria Hj Kamis advised those who are still unable to lose weight to slowly cut their calories and gradually include more activity, which does not always have to be strenuous in nature.

"Taking a walk a couple more times a week, maybe in the morning or after work aside from or adding more cardio to your existing routine is a good way to burn more calories. Monitor your weight after introducing more activity, and slowly lower your calorie intake," he said.

Being aware of calories is important as it gives measure to the amount of energy contained in food. Where your calories are derived from are defined as macronutrients, he said, which is how much fat, protein and carbohydrate is present in any given food or serving.

"To lose weight, you need to be consuming less energy (calories) than what you expend, which is called a calorie deficit. So for an average male who is burning 2,000 calories in a day, he will need to eat below this, so 1,500-1,700 is a good starting point."

One gramme of protein and carbohydrate is four calories, while one gramme of fat is nine. Sugar, a simple form of carbohydrate, contains four calories as well.

Many people are not gauging how much calories they are taking in effectively, particularly by consuming calorie dense foods that are high in fat and sugar, the senior dietician said.

"A lot of fast food doesn't have a very good amount to calorie ratio. When you consume a serving French fries, you've already taken in over 300 calories, and for most people, if that is all they have, it will barely fill them up."

For weight loss, Hj Zakaria recommends that a typical meal consist of half vegetables, a quarter from carbohydrates such as rice, bread or noodles, and the remaining quarter from a protein source.

"Vegetables are good for weight loss because they add bulk through fiber which helps keep you fuller for longer but contain little to no calories and they contain micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) which will improve overall health."

Provided total food intake for the day is the same, how you spilt your calories across the day - whether through three or six meals a day - has very little bearing on overall weight loss, according to existing research.

Another reason people plateau is that after beginning an exercise routine three to four times a week, they have a tendency to drop all other physical activity, which lowers overall calories expended.

"Some think, 'because I have exercised already I don't have to do the physical things I used to do', whether it's taking the stairs, gardening, cleaning the house or washing the car," he said.

HPC does not recommend those seeking weight loss to "crash diet" or eat extremely low calories as once weight loss stalls on that approach, there is not much one can do."With such (restrictive) diets you cannot reduce your calories further (since they are already very restricted) and the only option is to do more physical activity - which becomes very difficult to sustain because your energy is already low from eating so little," Hj Zakaria said.

According to a 2011 survey by Ministry of Health, 27.2 per cent of the population in the Sultanate is obese, up from 12 per cent in 1996.