“Telling someone who is overweight just to eat less is like telling someone with depression to cheer up.” Dr Arya Sharma
Losing weight and becoming healthier is simple, but it is not easy.
Far from it.
The society we live in makes it very difficult.
And we are just told to eat less, and move more.
It’s just about calories in vs calories out.
But this is like telling someone with depression that it’s just about being positive and telling yourself to ‘feel better’.
There is much more to it then that. The culture we live in, stressful lifestyles making you feel like you deserve a treat and a food industry that cares more about profits than your health.
The world we live in is full of weight and fat loss gimmicks.
Endless tools, pills, plans, fad diets.
However, none of them are sustainable and often leave people feeling frustrated because it’s not through a lack of trying that so many people are still overweight.
Being overweight isn’t laziness or lack of willpower.
You don’t need to be told to eat less and move more.
You need someone who cares and is able to help implement healthier habits into your lifestyle. Healthier habits is where sustainable change occurs.
Habits such as learning the basics of what healthy foods to eat, how to cook, providing support and accountability, learning to self care and have empathy for yourself.
The reason the simple solution isn’t promoted is because it doesn’t make money. The marketing you see and the people selling gimmicks don’t want there to be a simple solution because then there will be less ‘consumers’ to target and sell their gimmicks to!
So below are some simple principles that you can start implementing and experimenting with.
Calorie baseline and target
1. The first step is to calculate your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) which is how many calories your body burns at rest. A trusted source to do this is the free precision nutrition calculator. You can then set yourself a calorie deficit of anywhere between 100-500 calories below your maintenance level depending on your activity level. N.B. make sure you eat enough. The mistake that a lot of people make is subtracting their calories too much and feeling horrible on a diet. The deficit is too big, you will feel fatigue, you might get headache and you might lose all your energy and get super moody. Also, it can affect the hormones in your body and make it keep storing the weight you want to lose.
2. While it’s not essential to track calories, it’s useful to become mindful of what you are consuming and how different foods contain an array of different nutrients. Use cronometer or myftinesspal.
Staple weight loss food groups
When it comes to weight loss foods, you are probably thinking you have to restrict yourself.
You probably think I will tell you to eat a salad right? LOTS of salad.
If that’s your worst nightmare, hold on for just a minute!
Many people promote the idea that weight is just about calories in vs calories out. However, not all calories are the same and there is more to the picture than this.
What we are looking for is satiety. This is a feeling of being comfortably full and nourished and not having cravings.
In order to feel satiated you need to be eating the right kinds of foods and nutrients. Foods that are high in fibre and water content are the most satiating and also the least calorific. This allows you to eat until satiated or full. These don’t have to be boring either!
Think two loaded baked potatoes with bean chilli with a bowl of steamed veggies with a creamy tahini and mustard dressing. This is likely to be very satiating (and delicious!) due to the high amounts of fibre and nutrients as well as have much fewer calories when compared to a typical burger or pizza.
This is because foods like burgers, pizzas as well as sweets and oils contain high amounts of calories but few nutrients, meaning it won’t properly satiate your bodies need for nutrients and you may well still feel hungry afterwards.
Rather than tell you exactly what to eat, I would like you to aim to eat from the following food groups most of the time;
- All vegetables (including potatoes/sweet potatoes, the most satiating food on the planet!)
- All fruit (go easy with dried fruit and high fat fruit such as olives and avocado)
- All herbs, spices and condiments (cinnamon, parsley, soy sauce, mustard, vinegar)
- Whole grains (oats, quinoa, brown rice)
- Legumes (beans, lentils, chickpeas)
- Lean meat and fish (chicken, turkey, salmon)
If you go ahead and fill your plate with foods from these food groups and eat until you are satisfied (about 80% full), it will be almost impossible NOT to lose weight due to their low-calorie content.
Moreover, your body will be receiving the nutrients it craves – a lack of which is one of the most common reasons why you’re craving more food than you need and end up binging on junk food.
Modern life is busy.
However, it really comes down to what you want to prioritise.
If health is important to you, it should be possible to schedule 1-2 hours a week to batch cooking your own meals.
I recommend planning 2-3 days worth of meals before you go shopping.
Batch cook your staple foods like brown rice or baked potatoes which can then form the basis of several meals.
This saves time, money and make you more likely to stay on track if you have easy access to good food.
The 4 key principles to follow when building a meal to ensure you have tasty as well as low calorie, nutrient dense and satiating meals are;
- Choose a protein source – beans, lentils, fish, chicken
- Choose a complex carbohydrate – brown rice, oats, quinoa, sweet potato
- Choose different coloured fruit and vegetables – berries, apples, citrus fruits, leafy greens, broccoli, peppers, red onions, mushrooms
- Choose different herbs, spices and condiments – rosemary, basil, parsley, turmeric, paprika, cinnamon, citrus fruit, mustard, soy sauce, vinegar
Smart food swaps
After years of self experimentation, below is my top list of top healthy, tasty and low calorie alternatives.
Cauliflower rice instead of regular rice
Brown wholegrain rice is good for you.
However, if weight loss is the goal you could try to swap it for cauliflower which has very few calories and has a similar texture once mashed or shredded into rice. It also has lots of fibre and nutrients to help leave you feeling satiated.
Baked potatoes/sweet potatoes instead of chips/bread
Potato used to be a staple in our diets many years ago and people weren’t overweight then. Moreover, research has found the humble potato to be the most satiating food.
Oil free salad dressings
No matter its healthy reputation, oils like olive oil is 100% fat and the richest food on the planet. Only 1 tablespoon has 120 calories, more than all of your salad combined!
Moreover, you don’t need oil to make tasty salad dressings. Please see my top five oil free dressings here.
Herbs, spices and citrus fruit instead of sauces
Commercially prepared sauces for recipes like pasta contain so much added sugar, oils and preservatives. Using herbs and spices is much better. Cinnamon doesn’t have any calories and can be used for sweetness and flavour.
Herbs such as basil and rosemary can add lots of flavours for very few calories. A squeeze of lemon or lime can also add lots of flavour in savoury dishes.
Oats instead of granola
I’m a sucker for granola. However, if you have a look at the ingredients on most commercial granolas they are heavily processed and laden with sugar, palm oil, preservatives and many other ingredients that are unhealthy for your body.
You can use oats instead which are super versatile and very satiating. Please see my blog here on my top 5 oats recipes.
Plant milk instead of cow’s milk
65% of the world’s population struggle to digest lactose after infancy. Moreover, milk is quite high in calories.
Most plant based milks nowadays are fortified with essential nutrients such as calcium and vitamin b12 and are much lower in calories.
Blackstrap molasses or dates instead of refined sugar
Blackstrap molasses and dates do contain sugar. However, they also have beneficial nutrients fibre in dates, calcium and iron in molasses and are a better alternative than refined sugar.
Avocado butter instead of butter/margarine
Butter is very high in calories and margarines are all made of unhealthy high calorie oils.
Try swapping them for avocado butter (mashed avocado) on toast or with some oatcakes with some mustard or chilli flakes.
Dealing with cravings
Argh yes, the dreaded cravings!
These darn little things always come out at night after dinner for me.. but how do you deal with them?
Most of the time, cravings are caused by habit. If you have always had a piece of chocolate for dessert and a glass of wine after work your subconscious mind becomes accustomed to expecting this.
The best way to break this habit is to replace it with another one. This could be through food swaps as previously mentioned or forming a new habit not related to food.
It could be swapping chocolate for a handful of dates.
It could be replacing wine with cranberry juice or sparkling water.
Or it could be something non food related like taking a 10 minute walk around the block at the time you usually reach for that chocolate bar or glass of wine.
After a few weeks of introducing a new habit, your neurological pathways will adapt and will no longer crave the chocolate or wine so much.
However, this will be uncomfortable to start with.
That’s why I recommend writing down your personal reason for wanting to break this habit. Focus on intrinsic reasons i.e. doing it for the family, to live a better quality of life, improve how you feel etc. There’s nothing more powerful than a strong ‘why’ behind what you are doing.
Remind yourself of this whenever you have a craving.
Don’t be hard on yourself – it’s about progress, not perfection.
Do not beat yourself up for eating a cookie or having a glass of wine once in a while. If 80-90% of the time you are healthy, eat well and exercise then one bad snack will not be the end of days. We must not demonise foods and be obsessed with calories and must understand that WE CAN ENJOY FOOD!
The key is eating healthy foods you like and making them taste good. Not restricting yourself or forcing yourself to follow a strict diet!
It won’t happen overnight and will take some effort.
Sustainable weight loss is simple, but it’s not easy.
However, if you try to implement the principles outlined above to make it fit with your lifestyle you will feel better and see progress.