(February 2012) by Dr Warwick Palmer

Something we all need to budget for (in a figurative sense) is our weight, food and calorie intake. Currently, over half of New Zealanders are overweight or obese. We all need to take care with food choices and portion sizes. For some, battling weight is a life long issue.

We need to balance (or budget) our food (and drink) to the energy we use in daily activity. Most of us can significantly reduce fat intake. Being overweight significantly increases risk of early death and major diseases – heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and many cancers.

Weight loss is not just dieting – it is looking at our overall eating behaviour, physical activity and exercise routines. We must start with realistic expectations about what can be achieved, starting with small steps or changes. Effective weight loss should be slow, steady and sustained.

Reducing our level of fat intake is a good start. Losing weight is more effective in a diet that is very low in fat and has moderate protein and carbohydrate. Fat has more than twice the calories per gram compared with other food types. Use lean meats, low fat dairy products and grill, bake, microwave or steam food rather than fry. High fibre foods help avoid hunger whilst not putting on calories. Try to continue eating regularly as skipped meals can lead to excessive hunger then binge eating. Limit alcohol – 1 to 2 standard drinks per day for men, 1 per day for women, and at least one alcohol free day per week for everyone. Alcohol is high in calories and often associated with snacking.

Try and increase water intake. 1-2 glasses of water before a meal will reduce food consumed. Gradually and steadily increase physical activity and exercise levels. Start with what you know you can do, no matter how easy, and gradually build from there. If you try to do too much exercise too quickly, your programme will likely be doomed to failure.

If you feel you need further help or a medical check, see your own family doctor – they and their nurses have a good repertoire for weight loss, eating behaviour change and exercise programmes. Diet pills have little or no place now and can have serious side effects.

As part of a wider perspective of budgeting in our lives, think about food, eating behaviour, weight loss and exercise programmes.