When you take it down to basics, weight loss is actually pretty simple: your calorie intake must be less than the energy you use up during the day. If we burn off more calories than what we consume we create what’s known as an ‘calorie deficit’ and this is what leads to weight loss. Drastically cutting calories in an attempt to lose weight typically leads to low energy levels, persistent hunger and is ultimately non-sustainable. It’s important that we strike a good balance between eating enough to sustain a healthy, active lifestyle, whilst being mindful of not overeating. Here are some tips for getting the balance right:
- Under eating can do more harm than good –
- ‘Crash diets’ – which often involve slashing your calorie intake by 500-1000 calories a day - are unsustainable, nor do they provide adequate intake of carbohydrates, protein, fat and other nutrients to enable our mind and body to function properly. Undereating can slow our metabolism, affect our sleep, reduce our bone density and cause hormonal imbalances, all of which leave us feeling exhausted, unsatisfied and craving nutrients (and probably treats). It’s important to eat for your size, your target weight and your activity level. Create a sustainable, healthy eating plan and exercise regime that you can stick to.
- Eat foods that are less energy dense –
- ‘Energy density’ is the amount of energy (or calories) per gram of food, so a low-calorie food is less energy dense, and vice versa. This means that with low density foods you can have more fulfilling portions without upping your calories too much. Example foods include those with a high water content (for example fruit, vegetables, soups, salad and stews). Fibre-rich foods such as wholegrains will also help keep you fuller for longer. High-density foods to avoid are those with a high fat content (such as cheese, butter, crisps, confectionery and biscuits). Even a small portion can pack a punch with calories yet leave you feeling hungry.
- Stop eating when you start to feel full –
- Pay attention to your feelings of hunger and satiety (fullness) when around food. By tuning in to our feelings of hunger decreasing (and satiety increasing) as we eat, we should be able to better control when is the right time to stop. It can take up to 30 minutes for the hormone signals released by our stomach to reach the ‘satiety centre’ in the brain telling us we’re full, so remember to pause when you first recognise those fullness signals and ask yourself “do I need to keep eating?”. Chances are you don’t.
- Avoid emotional eating -
- If you find yourself eating when you’re not actually hungry, ask yourself why: are you bored? Stressed? Tired? Often we can put our snacking and overeating down to an emotional imbalance, so try and be mindful of how you’re really feeling in that moment and ask yourself if that snack is really what you need.
- Don’t drink your calories –
- A 330ml can of regular cola can easily add around 150 calories to a meal, whilst a large glass of wine can add up to 250 calories (equivalent to nearly 3 digestive biscuits) onto your daily intake. Soft drinks, energy drinks, milkshakes, smoothies and alcohol are often packed with calories and hidden sugars which, whilst temporarily satisfying a sweet tooth, can ultimately add on hundreds of ‘liquid calories’ to your intake. Opt for lower calorie or ‘diet’ options if you can, or swap beer or wine for spirits as these contain far less calories. The ideal option? Good old water!
- Drink yourself full –
- …with water, just to clarify! Aim for 6-8 glasses (1.5–2 litres) a day, ideally of plain water as this is most hydrating and doesn’t add any extra calories. If you need something a bit different, good alternatives are fruit juices (limited to 150ml/day), squash and cordials, unsweetened tea and coffee, and low-fat milk. Feelings of hunger can often be mistaken for thirst, so if you think you may be hungry have a glass of water first and re-assess.
Restricting your calorie intake is not the long term answer to sustaining weight loss but being conscious of what, how and when you eat will produce you with long term positive results. Follow these tips and it will surely help you towards your goals.