Losing weight is one of those goals some people carry throughout their adult lives, without ever quite achieving it, or finding that they fluctuate year-on-year between the latest fad diets and trends.
The crazy thing is, weight loss actually isn’t rocket science, and is far easier than you probably think. It’s about making a choice to have an overall healthy lifestyle and changing the way you think about food and your health. And that actually involves far less willpower and change than you probably imagine. On top of that, you don’t even have to give up chocolate or physically exhaust yourself every day!
What Not To Do
Making a lifestyle change is a lot easier than most people think, but, of course, there are teething problems and the hardest part to get through is the first few weeks, but once you’ve made the change, it will be so easy, you’ll wonder why common sense didn’t kick in earlier! Start by ruling out some unhelpful trends and myths about weight loss…
If any of the vast array of ‘easy’ fad diets had ever worked, then people wouldn’t still be struggling with their weight. The problem is, they can ‘work’ in the short-term and so people get sucked in, but drinking nothing but juice or protein shakes for the rest of your life isn’t sustainable. These ‘two-week diets’ where three shakes replace three meals each day might make you shed a significant amount in a short period of time, but it will set you up for all kinds of problems in the future.
The first problem is you’ll most likely obsess over food and think about all the things you are going to treat yourself to once you’ve reached a certain goal. That can turn into an unhealthy relationship with food. Not only that, but you’ll be missing out on important nutrients, which can lead to fatigue and mood swings. And, of course, you might then find after you finish your diet of a week or two that you start putting more weight back on by going back to normal food, because your body was used to being starved and your metabolism would therefore have slowed down. That can lead to weight fluctuation for the rest of your life if every couple of years you jump on the next ‘fad diet’ plan.
Before we impose a blanket ban on calorie counting, there are some benefits to it if you are doing it right. The problem, however, is that most people don’t get it right. It is extremely difficult to understand how many calories and what sorts of calories you are consuming, and if you are doing it wrong, it can be detrimental to your weight loss regime.
A medical study of obese people on a ‘low calorie diet’ in the US found that participants did not lose weight because they under-reported their energy intake and overestimated their physical activity. Like fad dieting, calorie counting can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food or a food obsession. And, if people are looking only at the calories they are consuming, instead of choosing food for its nutritional value, it often results in an unhealthy, unbalanced diet.
This is yet another case like calorie counting and fad dieting. If you restrict certain foods, especially ones you love, it can lead to an unhealthy obsession, and in some cases, binge eating. If, on the other hand, you tell yourself you can eat what you want, then it is more likely that you will start to decide that what you want is healthy, nourishing food that makes you feel good, and the unhealthy things you might have wanted to restrict before won’t seem so tempting. And, even if you do still want them, you can empower yourself to be in control, eating them occasionally, and in moderation – making them a treat instead of a guilty addiction.
This 1990s trend of buying a fridge full of ‘low-fat’ or ‘fat-free’ everything, from cheese, butter and milk to candy, sauces and shop-bought cakes, was a big mistake. The first thing you need to be aware of is that fat is good. It is a vital part of any healthy diet and can actually aid weight loss. Removing fat from food can lead to cravings later in the day, and removing them from foods like dairy can prevent the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and calcium. Even more alarmingly, removing fat from a product usually means adding sugar and thickening agents, and that is the worst thing that can be done!
Don’t rely on an exhausting exercise regime that is unsustainable. If you’re looking at adding three hours of intense fitness training into your day to lose weight, ask yourself if you will still be doing it in a couple of weeks, let alone one or two years. It’s a lot of time to commit to something, especially if you find it painful and have to force yourself to do it. Eventually, you will start to slack off and you might find that you’ve started eating more because of the intensity of your fitness training. It is also important to note that exercise is only considered to be 20% of your overall health, whereas food consumption is 80%, so relying on exercise for weight loss is not a good idea on its own.
What To Do
Now that you know you don’t need to go to extremes with crazy diets and unsustainable exercise regimes to lose weight, it’s time to figure out what you should do to achieve an ideal weight and maintain it…
Change Your Lifestyle
We’ve already touched on this by warning against fad diets, calorie counting and food restriction. Permanent weight loss and sustainable health needs to come from a lifestyle change that you can stick to. It shouldn’t be particularly difficult and it shouldn’t involve obsessions or unhealthy relationships with food or exercise. That said, a lifestyle change won’t happen overnight. It needs to be built over time and should be a positive experience. This can be achieved by introducing routines, hobbies and habits into your daily life. For example, there are some little changes you can make to certain routines that will make them healthier without having to give them up, like drinking black coffee instead of choosing something like a cappuccino, or taking cream in it. Not only will that reduce the amount of extra fat and sugar you are consuming within a day, but you will also reap the rewards of coffee’s health benefits. Caffeine in coffee can boost metabolism by up to 11%, and increase fat burning by up to 29%.
You can also change your morning routine, by getting up, doing a little bit of exercise, such as walking, swimming, or 20 minutes of yoga, followed by a cup of warm water with lemon to boost your metabolism for the day. After that, try to eat eggs or another quality, lean protein for breakfast instead of toast or cereal to keep you nourished and fuller for longer. You can also choose to drink a cup of green tea or other herbal teas throughout the day where you would have maybe had a cup of tea with milk or a creamy coffee or milkshake. That way, you’re still enjoying a little tea break, but it is a lot healthier, and can actually aid weight loss.
Think about what you’re eating in general and try to opt for in season, local food, cutting back a little on carbohydrate intake, while ensuring you are getting plenty of fiber. Studies show that refined carbohydrates, like white break, can rapidly spike blood sugar, causing hunger and cravings, and potentially leading to obesity. Viscous fiber, on the other hand, slows down digestion, keeping you fuller for longer, and helping you lose weight in the long-term. You can introduce more spicy food into your diet, which is great for a short-term metabolism boost. While the effects of spicy foods on metabolism are only temporary, you can try to add a bit of spice into your meals every day or every second day to reap the benefits, by simply adding chili or cayenne pepper to your regular meals.
Think Of Food As Nourishment
Often, people’s struggle with weight stems from an unhealthy relationship with food. Weight loss trends like fad diets, point systems and calorie counting can lead to unwise food choices. For example, there are a lot of calories in avocados, so people using a point system might avoid eating something with avocado in it so that they can fit in a candy bar. If you change your entire outlook on food, and think of it as nourishment and part of your healthy lifestyle, it becomes easier to make healthy decisions and eat when your body needs it.
When you start to think about food as fuel for your body, and how it affects your mood, energy and productivity throughout the day, you will find yourself choosing healthy, nourishing options without even trying. Sugar is addictive, but once you cut back on it, you’ll find it easier and easier to leave out of your daily meal plan.
Enjoy Your Food
When you’re eating, be present. Turn off the television, sit down at the table and eat slowly. Chew each mouthful several times, think about what you’re eating, take your time, and enjoy it! The slower you eat, the less chance there is of overeating and not realizing when you’ve had enough. It takes your body about 20 minutes to realize it’s full after you start eating.
Cut Down On ‘Problem Food’
One of the biggest problems people find when trying to lose weight is letting go of a ‘vice’, like ice-cream, potato chips, milk chocolate, or soda. The trick here is not to go ‘cold turkey’ by cutting it out altogether. That can lead to obsession and binging. If you forbid something, it can make it seem far more tempting!
What you can do, however, is actively cut back on it. Treat yourself occasionally, or slightly change the vice. For example, instead of choosing a milk chocolate bar filled with caramel, you could opt for a couple of squares of dark chocolate, which actually comes with its own myriad of health benefits. And instead of soda, you could try herbal teas or sugar-free options (as well as significantly reducing your intake if you consume a lot of soda during the day). One of the most detrimental ingredients in modern diets is added sugar. We consume far too much of it on a daily basis – often without realizing it. Everything from ready-made pasta sauces and marinades to takeout food, desserts and soft drinks are loaded with the stuff, and it is highly addictive, which is a huge problem if you are trying to lose weight. Consumption of sugar and high fructose corn syrup can increase the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Eat Smaller Portions
It’s about quality, not quantity! If you cut back on your food consumption, slow down your eating and avoid overeating, then you really can enjoy foods that you maybe thought you never could while losing weight, like pasta and pastries. Look at traditional French and Italian diets. Carb-based, fatty foods like pasta, croissants and breads are still very popular and common in those two European diets, but they tend to eat it differently than Americans, British and Australians. While we would eat Italian pasta as a main course in gigantic servings, Italians would have a very small portion of pasta as a starter, and then have protein and vegetables as a main, and on top of that, they take their time to eat it. Meanwhile, French people would enjoy the occasional croissant, but they would have one, and they would eat it incredibly slowly, enjoying every mouthful! Contrary to popular belief, they don’t gorge on white baguettes, butter and cream all day – they eat far smaller portions than we tend to in the US, Australia and England.
So, the moral of that story is that you can enjoy some of the most gourmet, delicious foods around, if you eat them in smaller portions, less frequently, and slow down your eating markedly.
Cut Back On Alcohol
Again, look at quality, not quantity. If you enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, that’s fine, because we’re looking at how to lose weight and keep it off in a sustainable way, and if you enjoy a drink, then you’re probably not going to say goodbye to alcohol for the rest of your life! However, it is a good idea to have completely alcohol-free days as well. A great way to achieve your alcohol cutback scheme is by treating yourself to one or two glasses on a Friday night and not drinking the rest of the week, rather than having a glass every night. Of course, there will also be events on Saturdays a lot of the time where you can have a few drinks, but if you get into a routine of cutting back to one night a week most of the time, that’s a great way to still enjoy it but avoid gaining too much alcohol-induced weight. And binge drinking should definitely be off the cards if you’re set on a healthier lifestyle. A US study found that light to moderate drinking may not be associated with weight gain, while heavy drinking probably is.
Learn To Cook And Bake
Simply cooking and baking more at home will open up a whole new world of interesting, tasty food and treats for you to eat. This might be the most important lifestyle change you can make to increase your health and start your sustainable weight loss journey – with the intention of reaching a weight you’re happy with over time and maintaining it. Cooking meals from scratch can take out an enormous percentage of added sugar, salt and unhealthy additives when compared to eating out at restaurants, cooking with pre-made sauces or eating takeout. Using fresh, natural ingredients with interesting herbs and spices will also decrease the need for added sugar and salt because they will add the interesting flavors that cheap additives create in pre-made meals. Cooking at home will also allow you to choose what you cook your food in. You can almost guarantee that packaged food and takeout will be cooked in palm oil or cheap vegetable oil, but at home, you can cook with olive oil or coconut oil, and use less of it. You can also choose to roast, steam and poach meals to make them leaner some evenings, especially on days when you ate something quite fatty for lunch.
When it comes to sweet treats, there’s no shortage of delicious, quick, easy, and, most importantly, healthy recipes, from protein balls to rich, indulgent vegetable-based chocolate desserts. And baking treats slightly less sweet than traditional sickly sweet baked goods from supermarkets and candy stores is a great way to cut back on refined sugar. You can also use natural substitute ingredients that will decrease the amount of sugar you are consuming, as well as increase fiber intake. There are a number of vegetable-based and protein powder-based dessert recipes that will fill you up, give you your sweet fix and increase your nutrient intake for the day. While a sugary cupcake or candy bar will spike your blood sugar and make you hungrier, leading to cravings for the rest of the day, something like a sweet potato brownie or chocolate avocado tart will keep you full and decrease the likelihood of snacking and cravings.
Before you complain that there’s no way you can afford the time to cook and bake all your food, there are plenty of ways to achieve it with the least amount of hassle, once you are in a routine. For example, there are plenty of big, easy dinner meals you can make in bulk over the weekend and freeze in portions for busy nights, as well as some great breakfast recipes that can be prepared the night before in a few minutes to just grab in the morning.
Find A Healthy Hobby
Exercise is still extremely important, even though it shouldn’t be relied on by itself for weight loss. Part of your lifestyle change should include daily exercise, but it doesn’t have to be physically exhausting. The best option is to have a range of hobbies to enjoy throughout the week, like walking Monday, Wednesday and Friday, yoga Tuesday, swimming Thursday and tennis or cycling on the weekend. However, if you’d rather just walk every day or cycle three times a week, or even swim every day, that is fine too. The main thing is to move your body, stay supple and raise your heartrate at least a couple of times a week. If you’re staying active on a daily basis and eating healthy food in smaller portions, you should see the weight start to come off.
Value Your Sleep
What’s the first thing you do if you’re tired and struggling at work? Order a large coffee and some sugary sweets to keep you awake? Sleep deprivation is one of the biggest culprits in sending your hunger cues all over the place. Craving food could actually just be your body struggling to stay awake and function, causing it to think it needs fuel. Sleep is far more important than you may be aware, and if you have been depriving yourself of it, then you need to make it a priority. If you suffer from insomnia, try these evening ‘wind down’ rituals to help you drift off into a peaceful slumber. When you are well rested, everything else, from exercise and work to cooking and eating healthy, becomes so much easier and more enjoyable.
One of the biggest causes of our unhealthy relationship with food stems from our childhood. Did your parents reward good behavior or comfort you in difficult situations with unhealthy potato chips or candy? That is something we carry on through life. Bad day at work? Fight with your husband or family? Great feedback from your boss on your latest project? Have those situations led to you treating yourself to a big sugary pastry or a slice of cake? That’s a habit that can be shaken, and should be if you’re trying to change your lifestyle and lose weight, because, let’s face it, those situations are going to continue to occur frequently. Start rewarding or comforting yourself in different ways. If you enjoy your knew hobby of baking, set aside half a day to bake some healthy desserts and freeze them for the next few weeks. Or, if you’ve had a physically demanding day or week at work, treat yourself to a massage, pedicure or spa day. If you love getting outdoors and are feeling stressed, go for a leisurely walk in a nearby park, forest or beach. Buy yourself a book you’ve been wanting, or plan to try something new, like checking out a nearby market or museum you’d always wondered about. The options are endless – you just need to take off those food blinkers!