As a dietitian based in Surrey, our guest author Claire W has over 10 years of experience both with adults and children. She runs various clinics at the BMI Runnymede Hospital in Chertsey, The BMI Syon Clinic in Middlesex and The Priory Hospital in North London. Claire regularly sees patients with allergies, coeliac disease, weight management issues, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and eating disorders.
Losing weight is hard and keeping it off is usually even more of a challenge, so a dietitian for almost 10 years, I’ve put together 15 ideas to help. They may not necessarily be the ones you want to hear, but I promise they’ll help!
1. Eat more slowly & retune to your body’s rhythm
While this may not work for everyone, for some, eating more slowly can be a very simple, but really powerful tool to help them consume less and aid weight loss. This can be more difficult than it seems - we lead busy lives and often eat on the go. But if you can, eating more slowly will buy you more time and allow the stretch receptors in your stomach wall to activate and send all the intricate and complex messages to your brain. This in turn triggers a hormonal response to let you feel satisfied and full.
This process takes around 20 minutes, so if you’ve already wolfed down your meal in that time, how can your body tell you “stop” half-way through and give you the option of leaving some? It can’t. Eating slowly can help you re-train yourself (against perhaps what your body would dictate naturally), to feel full on portions you decide.
Try it. Add on 10 minutes to each meal time and on the first sign of feeling full, stop eating. Notice how much you’ve got left on your plate and then next time you sit down to eat, only serve up the portion you ate previously.
2. Look at your portions
How much is enough? Well as far as I can tell, most people have lost their way when it comes to portion sizes. It doesn’t help that supermarket ready-meals and restaurants set the bar -it’s raised far too high. Carbohydrates are not the culprits here. Did you know that gram for gram, carbs contain the same calories as protein? It's all about portion control.
To make it simple utilise the ‘fist rule’. Aim to have 1 fist of any carbohydrates on your plate, 2 fists worth of vegetables/salad and 1.5 fists of any kind of protein (quinoa does not count as protein!). Try to keep your meats lean, for example, eat fish and chicken with no skin.
3. Carbs aren’t the bad guys
A number of people I see who are trying to lose weight have completely cut out bread and pasta, and try to keep rice and potatoes to a minimum. Some have completely cut out carbs altogether. Why? If they eat them, they argue they can’t lose any weight. Interestingly, gram for gram carbohydrates and protein provide the same 4 calories. Our bodies won’t recognise the difference in terms of calories being provided by a potato as a slice of ham.
So why does carbohydrate get such a bad name? I think the answer is that gram for gram, it’s much easier to overeat carbohydrates than it is protein. Also, protein, by its chemical structure is more likely to make us feel fuller quicker. It’s also harder to chew, so more likely to take that bit longer to eat.
Let's break this down:
2 chicken breasts (no skin) are 448kcal. The same calorie provision could be found in 250g cooked pasta (125g dry). For most people, whilst that is a large serving of pasta it wouldn’t be out of the question. It would be more usual and acceptable to have a pasta dish as a main for the evening dinner, rather than 2 chicken fillets. I also think for the most, eating 2 chicken fillets would be more of a struggle to actually finish.
Try it at home and see for yourself. I hope you’ll find that it’s not the carbohydrates that are the problem, it’s how much we put on our plate. In theory, if we cut out protein from our diet, we should still lose exactly the same of calories as we would do when we cut out carbohydrates. But we don’t eat equal amounts of each, and carbs just don’t fill us up as much. So the conclusion must be, carbs are the culprits - instead, try reducing your carb intake first, and see what happens before excluding them altogether.
4. Have a starter
It may sound odd, but having a starter may mean that overall you eat slower and therefore feel fuller. See tip 1. But there’s a caveat. It needs to be a light, small starter, ideally protein based. Try a clear chicken soup, a salad, or perhaps some prawns and avocado. Don't reach for those bread rolls and bread sticks!
5. Slow slowly catchy monkey
From my experience, one of the biggest mistakes people make is trying to lose as much weight as possible in the smallest amount of time, although it’s a very natural response. There’s a reason that dietitians ask you to aim for 1-2lb (0.5-1kg) of weight loss a week. It’s much more likely to stay off this way and you’re less likely to be left with loose skin as compared to losing a lot of weight fast.
I understand that it’s really frustrating and you want the weight off quickly. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. How long has it taken to get to your current weight? Months? Years? Losing it has to take the same time if you’re to stand the best chance of keeping it off.
To lose 1-2lb a week, you need to have a deficit of 500kcal a day. This adds up to a plain bagel and 3oz plain cream cheese or 6 eggs or 5 bananas or 4 slices of toast with jam and margarine.
6. Diet alone isn’t enough, you need to exercise
To get your 500kcal deficit a day, it’s a pretty tall order doing it through diet alone. You need to find time to exercise. You cannot do one without the other and enjoy lasting effects. Try to avoid going to the gym without a clear plan of what you’re going to do. Doing 30 minutes of hard work is so much better than spending an hour at the gym doing a bit of everything.
I always think exercise apps on your phone help to focus your workout and it’s very rewarding completing each section. I use the Nike Training App as well as the Nike Running App. Research is currently being undertaken to look at the best times to eat in relation to exercise. So far, the University of Surrey has shown that women benefit from eating before exercise but men seem to do better if they eat after exercise. Be careful with protein shakes – I’d be surprised if you need them.
7. Plan your meals and snacks
Avoid long periods where you don’t eat. As odd as it sounds, as soon as you feel hungry you’re in a more vulnerable position, particularly if a healthy option isn’t available to you. Aim to have three meals a day and 2 snacks if possible. Snacks should be light – fruit, a small handful of nuts or some yoghurt.
8. Fluids, fluids, fluids
It’s really easy to lose track of how much or how little fluids we take on board during the day. Sometimes we may feel hungry when actually we are thirsty. The journal Hunger and Thirst goes into a lot more detail on this.
Dietitians use various different calculations to work out the fluid requirements of patients. For adults, we usually say 35ml/kg/day is someone’s estimated fluid intake. For example, if you were 50kg, you would need 1750ml fluid in 24 hours.
9. How long does your oil last?
1L of oil. How long does that last in your home? 3 months? 1 month? In 1L of oil, there are about 8500 calories. That equals to nearly 33 Mars bars, or 180 jaffa cakes or 120 slices of bread. That works out to be about 33 Mars bars in a month, or 15 jaffa cakes a week. Now you could eat these, but you would have to be exercising to compensate and the rest of your diet would need to be spot on.
Ideally, 1L of oil should last you about 7 to 9 months. Always measure it out, don’t just pour. And aim for about 1 teaspoon for cooking. Rapeseed oil is a really good one to cook with. If you are making a salad dressing or just drizzling over fish to cook, then use olive oil.
10. Dance with treats or forbidden foods, don’t wrestle with them
I often hear people saying “I’m going to be really good today and not eat anything bad”. As soon as you set that goal, all you’re doing is placing those treat items on a pedestal and setting yourself up to fail. Usually, once you’ve ‘given in’, the knee-jerk response is “oh well, I’ve ruined today, I’ll just eat what I want now and re-start again tomorrow”. It would be so much better, if you just allowed those treats every so often, even every day. Just don't beat yourself up about it, and think more practically about the rest of the day or that week.
Can you walk instead of using the lift that day? Can you serve up slightly less to eat in the evening? Can you change one of your snacks? Maybe don’t get your Starbucks or Costa that day? But remember, telling yourself off after eating that treat doesn’t help anyone. Enjoy it, have it but remember there’ll need to be some compensation somewhere along the line.
11. Getting enough sleep goes more than skin deep.
We’re not exactly sure why or how, but there are more and more studies linking poor sleep to a raised BMI (body mass index) and obesity. Looking at the more physiological effects - sleep loss has been linked to an increase in the hormone ghrelin and a decrease in leptin. These are the hormones that help regulate our feelings of fullness and appetite. You can understand why this would affect your weight without you even really knowing it.
Behaviourally it may be because those getting less sleep expose themselves to longer periods where food is available and so their calorie consumption in 24 hours is higher. It may also be as simple as, when you haven’t recharged your batteries enough, you’re too tired to exercise the next day. Whatever the exact reason – try to get 7 hours of sleep a night if you can. I know that it's easier said than done! You may want to have a look at The Sleep Foundation or even this article Sleep and Obesity for more information.
12. Absolute about alcohol
Alcohol has been in the press a lot recently, highlighting the dangers of drinking too much. It's easy to become addicted without even really seeing it creeping up on you. The culture of ‘work hard play hard’ means it’s acceptable, nay, almost expected, that at the weekends there may be at least one night where you can’t remember much, or it’s not a problem to share a bottle of wine most evenings with your partner. The reality is, the risk of developing a range of illnesses, including cancers (10% in men and 4% in women) increases with any amount you drink on a regular basis. See the Alcohol Guidelines Review – Report from the Guidelines development group to the UK Chief Medical Officers for more information.
Perhaps we all need to start to look at our drinking habits. Serious health implications aside, alcohol contains a lot of calories. Reducing intakes should be an easy way for most people to cut back on their daily or weekly calorie provision. This is not to say you should go tee-total, but as the Department of Health suggests in its new guidelines this year, there should be several days a week where there is no alcohol consumed. They have also said that 14 units should be the maximum intake each week (spread over 3 or more days) for both men and women. This is still a huge amount and if you’re really trying to lose weight, you can save an awful lot of calories.
So let us just recap on a few things.
Alcohol By Volume (ABV). This is the percentage of the drink made up of alcohol. Does it make any difference to calories? Yes, slightly. For example, a bottle of 12% red wine will be 60 calories less than a bottle of 13.5% red wine. So if you want 3 cheddar cheese biscuits instead, opt for a lower concentration bottle.
125ml = 1 small glass of wine = 1.6 units
175ml = the usual glass served in a pub be warned = 2.3 units
25ml = 1 serving of 40% spirit = 1 unit
So what does the recommended limit of 14 units a week look like?
6 x 175ml glasses of a 13% wine = 954 calories (1.5 bottle of wine)
Or 14 x 25ml shots of spirits at 40% = 854 calories (7 doubles)
Or 6 x pints of beer at 4% = ~1100 calories
Or 5 pints of cider at 4.5% = ~1100 calories
What does that work out to be in calories? Well, your weekly limit of wine or spirits is the same as 3 burgers or a 95-minute run. Your weekly intake of beer is the same as 4 burgers or an 110-minute run. It’s a lot. On both fronts. Drink Aware website is really easy to use to calculate your intakes.
So if you do drink regularly and you’re looking at improving your health or trying to lose weight, see what compromises and changes you can make when it comes to cracking open the bubbly.
13. Hidden sugar surprise!
Sugar. There was a time I can remember where having dextrose tablets for a ‘bit of energy’ was the done thing. I think if anyone was to suggest that now, you’d think again. It's now more to do with hidden sugars. So many of us buy sauces instead of making them or use ready-meals to save time.
Unfortunately, our taste buds are such that we like salty things. We like sweet things and we like fatty things. Bitter tastes are just not tolerated. Manufacturers know this and, as a result, add sugar, fat and salt to make sure we enjoy their product the most.
Sadly the only way I can see around it doesn’t cut any corners: you have to try to make your own. Even if you start with a tin of tomatoes, some jarred garlic, mixed herbs and some pepper to make a tomato sauce for your pasta, it’ll be so much better for you and won’t contain unacceptable amounts of hidden sugar that most ready-meals do. It’ll also mean you won’t be tearing your hair out wondering why all your efforts aren’t paying off and the weight is staying on.
- Don’t buy low-fat yoghurts – go for your full-fat variety (if you can find them anymore that is!). When it comes to yoghurts, the plain, natural ones are going to have the lowest sugar content. These are usually around 6.5g sugar/100g instead of the more typical 14-16g sugar/100g.
- Use the ‘traffic light system’ labels on the front of packets – if the sugar section is red, avoid it.
- If you have to add flavour to your water – chose the sugar-free juices
- Of your 5-a-day, try to keep 2 of them a fruit and 3 as vegetables. Remember portion control when it comes to fruit, but of course, having fruit is still better than having chocolate biscuits as a snack, even if you’ve already had your ‘2 for the day’.
- Fruit smoothies – if you’re making them yourself then you know exactly what’s gone into them and know that this is how you’ve chosen to have some of your 5-a-day. Try not to just buy a smoothie as a tasty drink to accompany your meal and then have your 5-a-day on top of it.
14. Try to reduce the temptation around you
If your office was anything like ours, (even when you’re a dietitian!) there’s always someone that brings in chocolates, cookies and cakes. Most days there’s a substantial pile of all the things you’re trying to cut down on. Now, I’m a true believer in a treat a day. But if you’re busy, stressed and lunch is 2 hours late and there’s a cake, some chocolate and biscuits that have been staring at you all morning, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what’s going to happen.
We’ve all been there. Whereas if it wasn’t there, you may just hold on that little longer for lunch, or even just stop work and eat the lunch you prepared! In this scenario, it often means you justify the ‘naughty’ food you’ve eaten by not having lunch at all. Then the cycle starts again ready for the evening time.
Perhaps there could be an office policy, where one day a week treats are allowed in. Whatever is left over, is taken home by the person that brought in that particular treat. Or maybe there’s an office policy that until the biscuits have run out, no more are purchased. Choose that works for your team, particularly if someone is trying to lose weight, it’s a nice way to support them.
15. Only weigh yourself once a week
Do not weigh yourself daily. Or multiple times during the day, or every other day! Body fluctuations mean that your weight changes more than you think, particularly for women. It can sometimes be a red herring and weight gain when you’ve been trying really hard are very frustrating and often demotivating. And it could be that your period is due or dare I say it you haven’t opened your bowels for a few days. So that’s why weighing yourself weekly allows for a better, more reflective weight change than a daily weight will do