Diets don’t work……..Sorry!

Here we are, January 2024!!! 

Christmas is over and the decorations are being put away again.  And, oh my, did we celebrate and feast, or should I say gorge ourselves on all those lovely rich foods, chocolate and drink!!!  And oh heck, just look at how tight our clothing has become and by how much the scales tell us we’ve put on!! TIME TO DIET!!!!!

But remember the last time you dieted.  You were sooooo hungry and bad-tempered.  You only lasted a week of starving yourself in a humongous effort to shed the pounds.   And it was boring!  And there was so much you couldn’t have and weird stuff that you were required to drink/eat too.  And to make matters worse, when you stopped, all the weight went back on (plus a bit more) and you had to find another diet to try and repeat the whole process over and over again.  All sounding familiar(ish)?

Weight loss is difficult, especially when you restrict the amount of food you are eating.  Why?  Because your body needs a certain amount of energy from food, in fact, the majority of your daily intake, just to stay alive lying in bed all day!  This energy requirement is called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR).  (Note, this is not your BMI, body mass index!)  There are many online calculators available that will give you an estimate for this from your age, sex, height and current weight.  

Here’s how your body uses that energy supply, just to keep working while you lie in bed doing nothing.  If your BMR is 1600 kcal per day, as an example, the brain and liver each need about 300 kcal (about 20% of intake), muscles require 250 kcal (16%) and the heart 190 kcal (12%), in other words, 1040 kcal (68%) just for these parts!  Your kidneys, body fat, digestive system, lungs and skin use up the rest.  The extra you need to move about and live your normal lifestyle increases this by a small amount, typically 15 – 25%, or in calorie terms, for a BMR of 1600 kcal only 200-400 calories!!  Remember, calorie requirements are just an estimate – everyone is different in what they need and use so the BMR calculation could be out by up to 200-500 calories!

When the body is starved of energy from food it creates a stress response, and the brain sends out lots of messages to you telling you it is starving and having a crisis!!  Initially, you do lose weight if you don’t eat enough.  However, long-term, in its bid for survival, the body’s stress response will also interfere with your digestion and reproductive ability (these are not essential for your survival whilst handling the threat – in this case starvation, not a sabre-toothed tiger!)  So, when we are not eating enough to meet our requirements, the body throttles things down.  The metabolic rate slows due to changes in thyroid function which is controlled by the hypothalamus in the brain.  The hypothalamus is part of our earliest brain development in our evolution as humans. It is highly sensitive to changes in blood glucose levels, leptin (satiety hormone) and ghrelin (hunger hormone) amongst other cues that influence the need and desire to eat to feel full.

As you lose weight from the starvation caused by a lack of food, your body tries to adapt to the reduced intake but cleverly retains a “memory” of your previous weight and intake.  Consequently, when you stop dieting (starving yourself) the weight piles back on with a bit extra in preparation for the next period of starvation.  And you then end up yo-yo dieting and getting progressively heavier.

So, what can you do differently this time?  First and foremost, stop counting calories as carefully (obsessively) or at all, if possible.  Always remember that they are just a guide not an absolute!  Use them to understand how much food your body requires just to maintain your current weight at your current activity level.  The workout represents approximately 200-250 calories of food – this is how much you can lower your intake daily for long-term gradual weight loss.  This way, the body better adapts to the new weight, and “accepts” it as the new norm, so when you do have a hiccup (and everyone does!) it’s easier to get back to where you’ve got to, assuming the hiccup is only a few days not weeks!!!

Next, let’s look at what you are choosing to eat.  Write down everything that you eat today, tomorrow and at the weekend.  Ask yourself, how many sugary, sweetened foods am I eating? Can you replace these with a more healthful option such as low-sugar fruit (apples, pears, berries) or nuts/seeds or full-fat natural yogurt or oatcakes with hummus and vegetable sticks, and replace sweetened beverages such as lemonade or cola with sparkling/still water flavoured with lemon/lime (please avoid swapping sugar sweetened drinks with artificial sweetener based ones – they are harmful to your gut health!).  Ultimately, can you take the sugary foods out of your daily diet altogether?  Removing them completely will aid your weight loss and if they are not available, you are more likely to find a more healthful option, especially if you’ve taken the effort to have lots of them at the ready!

Also, how many white flour-based foods do you eat?  Here, we’re thinking about biscuits, cakes, white pasta, pastry-based foods.  Can you reduce or eliminate these, or swap them for wholegrain/wholemeal versions?  White flour-based foods contain quickly absorbed energy (in the form of glucose) that can cause a sharp spike in your blood sugar levels that crash down shortly afterwards.  This leaves you craving more of the same type of quick-fix foods putting you onto a roller-coaster of high and lows, it’s exhausting for your body and mind and certainly doesn’t help you to lose the weight!!

Now we need to think about the foods that you can eat which are nutrient dense, really fill you up and keep you full for a long time!  My favourites – proteins, healthy fats and loads of vegetables!!!  Yum Yum!!!  Protein (meat, fish, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, pulses, legumes) and healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, oily fish, seeds and nuts) help to fill you up – they are satisfying as well as nourishing your body.  Vegetables are full of vitamins and minerals but importantly for weight loss, they are full of fibre.  Fibre absorbs water as it expands in your digestive tract, so you do need to remember to drink plenty of fluids.  The bulk created helps to keep your bowel movements regular, enabling your body to remove and eliminate any waste products it produces.  Poor bowel movement is associated with poor weight loss as any toxins and waste materials can be reabsorbed and stored in fat cells. Vegetables add colour too, making food a joy to eat and help to add variety to your meals.  

As much as possible, cook your food from scratch with fresh ingredients.  Enjoy the process of creating a meal to enjoy, sitting at a table rather than on the sofa or on the move.  Plan your meals so that you can ensure you have the right ingredients, and have lots of fun exploring different cookery books and websites for inspiration too.  If it is not possible to cook from scratch every day, try batch cooking, portion and freeze-ready for the busy days.  Also keep a selection of frozen vegetables available such as peas, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower and a range of tinned beans/ lentils and tomatoes.  

So, what else can you do?  Place any starchy foods (potatoes, rice, pasta) furthest away from you on your plate and the colourful vegetables closest, drizzled with some extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled with herbs and seasonings.  Eat the vegetables first followed by your protein choice and finally the starchy foods.  Over time, you’ll naturally eat less of the starchy foods (because the rest has filled you up) and eating less becomes a new habit.  If you do want something sweet, save it for your next main meal and have it after you’ve eaten your protein, healthy fats and vegetable combination.  Finally, within an hour of eating, get up and MOVE, be it an exercise class, walking around the block, climbing stairs or simply jigging about your kitchen/living room.  It doesn’t matter other than you move reasonably energetically (get a touch out of breath please!) for about 10 minutes (or longer!). Plus, fidgeting is good for you it keeps your metabolic rate up!

The Takeaways (pardon the pun!)

  • Diets don’t work!  Opt for a life-long healthful combination of protein, healthy fats and vegetables at every main meal!
  • Diets don’t work! Eating lots of vegetables means that your plate is always colourful and full, as is your belly!
  • Plan your meals and shop to the plan, that way you have all the right ingredients in.
  • Have fun exploring and trying out new recipes that focus on the healthy trio (protein, healthy fats and vegetables/fruit)
  • Diets don’t work!  Focus on eating as healthy as possible at every meal and moving your body after every meal – 10 minutes wriggling and jiggling will do!

Ready to work with Annette to improve your health, wellbeing, and lifestyle contact the studio – [email protected] so we can book your free no obligation discovery call.

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