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Finding the Sweet Spot for Healthy Weight Loss

Research shows that the basic tenets of losing weight are tracking your weight, a personalised nutrition plan, regular exercise and financial incentives. There’s a programme that does all of that, and it’s working. Incentivising overweight people to develop new eating and exercise habits is at the heart of Discovery Vitality’s Weight Loss Rewards.

Sometimes the hardest part of the journey to any goal is keeping motivated. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, get fitter, or are gunning for a promotion, staying on track can be tough. When the goal line is looking fuzzy in the distance, it can be really motivating to track your progress and be rewarded along the way.

Accountable and inspired

Karina* (34) is a senior financial planning manager who lost 5kg in 12 weeks and she would agree. “I needed a programme that inspired me to stay on track, and make me accountable for my weight loss,” she says. “I come from a family genetically predisposed to high cholesterol levels and have a highly stressful job which of course prompts the production of cortisol which can translate into fat. In 2015 I did 13 international flights, almost back to back, for my job. In September 2016, I suffered a thrombosis in my calf and was hospitalised and put on bed rest. That was the catalyst to join Vitality Weight Loss Rewards. It’s a weight-loss journey that aims to help you lose weight in manageable cycles until you reach a healthier weight. But you’re rewarded for participating and reaching your goals. Since I’ve been on the programme, not only has my weight come right down, my cortisol levels are coming down too – my GP got very excited about that. The programme inspires you to log in every week on the Discovery app, which is super-motivating and makes you accountable. I think that’s why it works so well.”

Why it matters

“The obesity epidemic is a global challenge that is on the rise and, as a nation, we have one of the highest prevalences worldwide – half of South African adults are now either overweight or obese,” says Dr Craig Nossel, Head of Discovery Vitality Wellness.

“The recently released Vitality ObeCity Index 2017 analysed data from Vitality members living in six cities across South Africa and, as in 2014, found that while some cities fared better than others in terms of their weight status and food purchases, none can relax their [health] efforts just yet,” says Nossel. 

Based on the results of the ObeCity Index, Vitality is able to create awareness around the problem areas, and can respond to societal issues through clinically sound interventions that encourage people to become healthy and stay healthy. “Looking at the Vitality ObeCity Index data confirms not only the need for Weight Loss Rewards, but also the structure of it – how incentives do nudge people to make changes,” says Nossel.

The aim of the Vitality Weight Loss Rewards journey is to reach your recommended healthier weight, which may take several cycles. Each cycle is 12 weeks long. You earn Vitality rewards – points and HealthyFood cash back – for participating and for reaching your goals. You can choose to join the programme if it is recommended to you by Vitality and if you’d like help in losing weight.

Slimmer, and confident

Sales director, Charlotte* (51), also lost 5 kg in her first three months on the Weight Loss Rewards programme, and she now realises how limiting her excess weight was. “My self-image has improved markedly. I was offered a promotion this year as sales director and now I’m in top management – I think they were impressed with my weight turnaround. I’m more determined than ever before. I look smart and fit into my clothes instead of pouring myself into them – no more love handles! It’s impacted just about everything: I couldn’t sail on weekends, something I’d always enjoyed. Now I can again because I’m so much more agile.”

Gabriel Eksteen, a top dietitian and exercise physiologist who lectures at the University of Cape Town’s Nutrition Division, helped Discovery Vitality ensure that their weight loss programme is based on sound scientific evidence for treating obesity through safe and gradual weight loss. Together with Vitality’s team of behavioural specialists, they not only established criteria to identify people most likely to benefit from the programme, but also set safe and realistic weight loss targets, and provided the motivation for participants to continue. Weight Loss Rewards provides some structure and guidance when people choose to go it alone, keeping a dietitian or physician in the background for backup. 

“Losing weight is not an easy journey. Most people gain weight over several years, and when you try and lose it over a couple of months your body and mind fight to try to maintain the status quo,” explains Eksteen. “We don’t want to see people cycle their weight which is counter-productive. Too many people trying to lose weight end up yo-yo-ing. Keeping the weight off is simply not sustainable if you haven’t changed your long term habits. You know the saying that if you do something for 21 days it becomes a habit? Well, with weight loss it’s not like that. Firstly, it’s not only a habit but also a physiological shift. Secondly, you are constantly fighting the obesogenic environment we live in where we are seduced by unhealthy food and drink daily.”

The programme’s architecture also ensures that people do not lose weight in an unsafe, irresponsible way, especially when it comes to the speed of weight loss. Eksteen explains that losing weight too quickly means you’ll lose muscle mass and water, which makes weight regain almost inevitable. That said, weight loss should still be clinically significant. “One needs to find that sweet spot where the weight loss rate is actually benefitting your health. As soon as you start losing as little as five percent of your body weight, you’ve significantly improved your health. We can see the insulin sensitivity improve and your blood pressure and cholesterol levels coming down.”

In both Karina’s and Charlotte’s cases, weight loss was the intention, but by committing themselves to a structured weight loss programme and establishing healthy habits, each woman got so much more than that. Because that’s the thing: weight loss isn’t only about hitting a number on the scale. Losing weight takes work and support, including eating and exercising in a way that works for your body, managing life’s stressors, engaging in healthy habits like getting enough sleep and exercise, and keeping a reality check on what’s sustainable and what’s not.

*Names have been changed 

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