Think nourishment not punishment. Does the nutrient balance of your meals feel right? Forget about very extreme approaches. The ‘no- carb’ or ‘high protein’ or ‘fat free’ rigid diets are not sustainable. You can tweak your meals to restrict carbohydrates and include smaller amounts of high-fibre wholegrains if that approach suits you best. If hunger is your primary issue a modest increase in lean animal and plant proteins can improve satiety levels. The question is can you see yourself eating this way in ten years’ time? There are no quick fixes.
Download apps. A gradual weight loss requires you to eat less calories than you are using up no matter what approach you take. This might be hard for you to gauge but free smartphone apps such as My Fitness Pal will help you estimate the number of calories you need versus the number you are eating. Adopting a Mediterranean type approach to include more seafood, seasonal vegetables and healthy fats is a long term sustainable and nutritionally balanced approach but too many calories even if they are healthy calories will not facilitate weight loss.
Identify your obstacles. What is keeping you from achieving your health goals? If you work late most evenings, can you exercise three mornings a week before work or take a home cooked dinner from the freezer to work? Do you keep a gear bag in your car boot so you can grab the opportunity to exercise on the way to or the way from work if it arises? If you hate the gym, then lift your own body weight; do planks, jumping jacks and lunges as you watch the News or buy an exercise DVD and use it.
Think differently about housework. It’s exercise too. Mopping your kitchen floor and raking the garden leaves burns calories. The more vigorous the better but don’t overestimate the number of calories exercise burns. One 20 minute walk burns up to 100 calories, so don’t reward yourself with calories when you’re done. The aim is to have a calorie deficit, not to break even!
Check into your head space. Understand your emotional connections to food. Notice the internal barriers that keep you from meeting your weight loss goal. Do you reach for a hug in a wrapper whenever there’s an argument or tension at home or in work? Find a way to work out any emotional stress the right way, rather than through food. Food will never mollify an emotional hunger. It might be a pleasurable distraction but it won’t solve anything.
Remind yourself to slow down. When you eat, make a big effort to savour and enjoy your food at a more relaxed pace. Don’t gobble food. You can only taste food in the mouth. Your stomach doesn’t have taste-buds or teeth, so don’t shovel it through the pleasure zone. Digestion starts in the mouth. It generally takes 20 minutes for your brain to get the message that your stomach is full.
Dump your scales. There is far too much focus on numbers and not enough on your feelings of fitness and resilience as you change your exercise and food patterns. A body composition analysis will demonstrate more about your muscle and fat stores and how they are changing than the bathroom scales. If you really have must weigh yourself, do it once a week in similar clothing and around the same time of day. But find other ways of measuring your success. Use the waist bands of clothes and how snugly they fit as your “scale.” Monitor improvements to your blood pressure and cholesterol levels after a three month period.
Make breakfast a priority. Greek, fruit and natural yoghurts, fruit, oats, seeds and eggs are great foods to kick-start the day. If you find oats boring on their own, try different whole grains like oats with quinoa, millet or bulgur. Add your favourite toppings for extra nutrition: chopped banana, crushed nuts, berries etc.
Double check portion sizes. Use digital scales and look up the nutrition content of the per-serving information. You might be surprised by how many calories your bowl of cereal has if you are too heavy handed. Add more fiber and blend in linseeds to bump up fibre, healthy fats and texture. It will also make it more satisfying so you’re not tempted to snack throughout the morning.
Snack smart. When a sweet craving hits at work distract yourself. It will pass. Head for the water cooler or grab a cup of tea instead. If a piece of fruit just does not hit the mark, chew some sugar free gum or suck a frozen grape (most work mini freezers are un-used). Try a more satisfying protein (as opposed to carbohydrate) rich snack like a small handful of wasabi peas, roasted edamame beans or your favourite unsalted nuts. But control portion size and calories. Buy smaller snack packs or measure out a portion.
Lighten your lunches. Skip creamy salad dressings. Add fresh chunky salsa or Pico de Gallo (tomatoes, onion, jalapeno peppers, lime juice and fresh coriander) to top your prawn or chicken and salad greens. Adding green or red chilies, which contain capsaicin, might not boost the metabolism to any significant extent but more importantly they can add great flavour to a winter salad.
Din Dins. If possible allocate one weekend afternoon to batch cooking healthy eats for the week. This way you can grab and go Monday through Friday. Think bean and lentil veggie soups and protein-rich frittatas. Think Mediterranean too – lots of colour, fresh vegetables, seafood, olive oil and moderate servings of alcohol if any in January. If you stick to oily fish and seafood two nights a week, go for lean meat another two or three evenings – not processed meats with hidden fat such as chorizo, salami etc.
Meatless Mondays. Go veggie for one main meal a week if possible. This helps support the planet, your waist line and even your bank account. Plant proteins such as peas, beans and lentils offer great fibre, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals while containing fewer calories. Use plenty of fresh herbs and spices with vegetarian dishes and you won’t feel like you are missing out.
Add green power to your plate. Aim to eat one green vegetable a day. Toss spinach, kale or leafy greens into your salad for a flavour and nutrition punch. The mustardy peppery flavour of leafy greens can spice up a boring sandwich too. Eating too many cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower) when you are not used to them can cause excess wind. An average serving is 80g.
Good things come in small packs. And on smaller plates, slimmer taller glasses and petite cereal bowls. Scientists have also found certain colours, like blue, suppress the appetite. As few foods in nature are physically blue, our brains turn off the signal to eat. Would a smaller blue plate work for you? Try whatever you like.
Experiment while cooking. Buy a good recipe book this January not a fad diet book. Cutting even one tablespoon of oil from a recipe can save you 120 calories. Cutting a tablespoon of sugar from a recipe can save you approx. 60 calories. Adapt recipes. They are usually versatile.
Cook smart. The idea is that for every main meal that you cook, you will get a smart leftover meal from it the following day, saving you preparation and cooking time and expense. Store the extra leftover as your lunch or second dinner straight away so that it does not tempt you to ‘seconds’ on the same evening.
Use your extras. Roast lamb with rosemary and garlic can become a leftover lamb and couscous salad. Oven roasted whole chicken with garlic, orange and rosemary can transform into an oven baked chicken and broccoli casserole. Extra roast vegetables and boiled potato from Sunday’s dinner can be reinvigorated in an eggy frittata the following day.
Manage your freezer. After a thorough clear out but some freezer labels and bags for storing those extra meals cooked on batch day. Fill the rest of your freezer space with frozen berries, pure fruit ice lollies, fish and seafood, meat, bread, frozen yoghurt and any suitable freezer food. You can even freeze grapes and energy balls for snacks.
Have a Blood Test now in January. Many hundreds of Irish people have high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes but are unaware they have these conditions. It is recommended in some countries that everyone over the age of 40 be tested for diabetes every three years. If you experience symptoms such as excessive thirst and urination, weakness and fatigue, blurred vision or foot numbness, get a blood test now.
Hit the Hay. Try going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day, even on weekends. Your body likes routine, so you’re likely to get a better night’s sleep. This is the time when the body repairs and regenerates tissues. Sleep is important for the immune system. Research shows that poor long-term sleeping patterns are associated with increased risk of weight gain and obesity.
Connect with friends. Make these non-food and alcohol social occasions over the week-end, if that helps. Commit to meeting friends for walks and hikes and bike rides followed by a cup of coffee, rather than meeting them at the local. If you are going to the cinema, bring your own coffee or sugar free mints.
Choose a vice. When you are making so many great changes allow yourself one small taste of wickedness. Maybe it is one glass of wine or two large squares of dark chocolate on Saturday and Sunday evening. The important thing here is that you don’t need to completely deprive yourself of everything you love in order to be a more comfortable weight for your height. So find one thing that will be weekend indulgence, and really relish it.
Don’t forget liquid calories. Start a fluids diary. List everything you drink for seven days. Remember to record everything from your morning smoothie to that café mocha grande at eleven. How many soft drinks and juice creep in over the week Make changes if you need to after evaluating your drinking pattern. Juice has no fibre and you are better to eat the entire fruit if possible. The machine does the work of your body when you make a smoothie. They can be a good way to include greens but be aware of the calories in these drinks.
Drink enough water. If you are partially dehydrated you won’t be able to concentrate or work to the best of your ability. Increase your water intake so that the colour of your urine is very pale in colour. Add slices of lemon or fresh cucumber cubes and sprigs of fresh mint to water for a cool and refreshing twist. Too much alcohol can dehydrate us. It contains a substantial number of calories too. A small 125ml glass of red wine has about 95 calories and white wine 85. Excess alcohol can cause high blood pressure, irritation of the gastrointestinal lining, depression and anxiety, and more. Maybe ask yourself could you do without it for the first few weeks of the New Year?
Are you making big, bold resolutions to “eat right” in 2017?
Personally I’ve found writing out my goals clarifies them, but planning to succeed requires more than just hoping and wishing for change. When clients tell me they want ‘to get to a more comfortable weight’, I usually reply ‘Good! Now what are you prepared to do to get there?’
Committing a plan to paper forces us to really think about what we want to change. More importantly, it helps us make really concrete decisions about how we are going to do it. It may mean writing out your own meal plan, a shopping list or an activity plan.
It takes time to ‘eat an elephant’ but if you have a large number of intolerance genes like me, you can tie yourself up in ‘all or nothing’ thinking. This either creates a huge amount of anxiety if you don’t get on with the business of change efficiently and quickly, or a huge amount of fear which paralyses you before you begin.
The changes we need to make are so great and so arduous that when we look at the extent of the change necessary, it is simply overwhelming. This can mean we either never start the change or that circumstances just sabotage us. Life gets in the way, that great old excuse.
It’s worth reviewing the steps to change described by the late psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers.
Step 1: Accept that change involves. . .change! Habits die hard. We construct neural pathways that mostly serve us well and make life easier and more efficient for us. That’s a good thing. But when we try to change our habits or neural pathways, the brain resists. We need to take this normal resistance seriously, admit it exists, and use powerful strategies to install new habits. If not, old habits return eventually.
Step 2: Be exact about the change you want. Wishing and hoping to “do better” won’t cut it. Decide precisely what you want, what it will look like, and how you will measure your progress. Skipping the few minutes it takes to do this thoroughly is a setup for failure.
Step 3: Lists the penalties of not changing. What will it cost you over a lifetime to continue your old habit? Will your health suffer ? Will you die younger? Will you be more frustrated or unhappy with yourself? Again, there are important and vital reasons you want to change, so committ them to paper.
Step 4: List the rewards of making the change you want. How will you and those closest to you benefit from this change? Will you be healthier, live longer or with more congruence? Will you be more fulfilled? What are the real, tangible benefits from making this change? List them.
Step 5: Decide the change is worth it! Make the commitment. Design systems and strategies for success. What are your supports? Think it through and be very clear. Desiring or longing for change is not enough. Assess the costs and advantages, then set your resolve.
Step 6: Be accountable. Tell people about the change you are making and ask them to monitor your progress. Ask family to be your allies. Record your pattern of eating, drinking, sleeping or activity with a diary or smartphone app. Get a coach. Fitness is easier if your friend, partner, or an entire team is waiting for you at the gym.
Step 7: Map your progress. Post your changing body composition on your bathroom mirror . Use graphs and pictures to mark your progress and get feedback from people who care about your success.
There are few common habits amongst the 6000 participants on the US National Weight Control Registry. Not only did these people successfully lose weight, they also prevented the weight from returning again. Common behaviours included reducing their calorific intake, weekly self- monitoring, participation in a high level of physical activity and eating breakfast almost every day. This suggests that the simple habit of starting your day with breakfast is an important strategy for losing weight and keeping it off.
Start the day well.
Skipping breakfast is counterproductive as your body stays in its “hoard mode”, thinking it’s starving because you’re fasting for a very long period of time without food. Breaking the fast, helps to boost your metabolism and your energy levels.
If the family is missing out on a good breakfast, set the table the night before and get everyone out of bed 5 minutes earlier. A quick nutritious breakfast of a high fibre cereal topped with low fat milk and some seeds and chopped fruit will do. You can relax at weekends, introducing a wider range or breakfast foods such as eggs, beans, grilled tomatoes or wholemeal pancakes filled with yoghurt and berries.
Make the environment work with you, not against you.
Stimulus control involves learning what social or environmental cues seem to encourage undesired eating, and then changing those cues. On reflection, you may learn from self-monitoring that you’re more likely to overeat while watching television, or whenever the box of sweets are on display in the office, or when you eat with a certain friend or in a certain place.
You might then try to sever the association of eating with the cue (don’t eat while watching television), avoid or eliminate the cue (leave the sweets on some-one else’s desk), or change the circumstances surrounding the cue (plan to meet with your friend for a walk). In general, visible and accessible food items are often cues for unplanned eating and unhealthy chain reactions.
Losing weight ultimately involves eating less calories. Choosing smaller glasses and plates all help to limit portion sizes, as does changing the pace at which you eat. Putting less each fork full and chewing more, helps us focus on how satiated we are, so we can stop before we feel stuffed.
The fibre filler
Eighty percent of us are not getting enough fibre. The greatest quantities of fibre are found in foods such vegetables, beans, lentils, fruit, nuts and grains.
Studies indicate that people who eat a high fibre diet find it easier to control their weight than those who don’t. Fibre contributes to weight control by increasing the time taken to chew foods; it adds bulk to the diet and helps us to feel fuller for longer. Certain types of fibre can help lower cholesterol too. People with high fibre diets are one third less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.
The Protein Filler
For many, finding time to eat a healthy lunch at work or at home may be even more challenging than finding five minutes for breakfast. And even if you’re not physically active, the brain also needs to be fed.
Like all balanced meals it’s important to try and eat a variety of foods which will give you: carbohydrate for brain fuel, protein for alertness and satiety, some good fat to provide us with fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids.
What you eat for lunch can either boost energy levels or leave you feeling sleepy and easily distracted. Protein-rich foods such as seafood, lean meats or eggs at lunch keep us alert and focused in the afternoon. Protein-rich foods also trigger the sensation of fullness faster than fatty foods. Sandwiches and salads exclusively made from salad leaves and bulky low calorie vegetables are light but probably insufficient in protein. Always include a lean protein at lunch and at your evening meal.
Carrot, orange and hummus: Coarsely grate 1 carrot and mix with zest of ½ an orange and 1 tablespoon of reduced fat hummus in a wrap.
Egg and cress: Mash a hard-boiled egg with 1 teaspoon of low-fat mayonnaise. Add finely chopped chives and cress and stuff into a wholemeal pitta.
Apple and cheese Slaw: Grate a small apple, 1 stick of celery and mix with 25g of your favourite low fat cheese like brie. Stir in chopped spring onions and 2 teaspoons of natural yogurt and pile onto your bread of choice.
Steak Sarnie: Layer leftover beef (chicken or turkey also work well), red onion, rocket and 2 teaspoons of Dijon Mustard on a small crusty ciabatta.
TLT (turkey, lettuce and tomato): Chop up sliced turkey breast, lettuce and cherry tomatoes and mix with tiny bit of low fat mayo. Pile into a pitta pocket or wholegrain Bap
Roast pepper and brie: Spread matchbox size of lower-fat brie on your bread of choice, top with roasted red peppers. Add smoked salmon for a treat.
And remember if you’re not hungry, why are you eating? Tuning into your body’s needs over time, will lead to establishing mindful eating patterns. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent!