Weight loss can be a minefield and only you know when you’re in the right frame of mind to commit to shifting the pounds. Everyone’s different and there are lots of ways that people have successfully lost weight. Leaving very extreme methods out of the picture, there is no right or wrong way to go about it and the most effective diet is one you can stick too. Whether you chose a diet that’s low in fat, high in protein or low in carbohydrate, the bottom line is about trying to reduce your calorie intake and avoid feeling hungry.
The low fat versus low carbohydrate debate for losing weight causes much controversy. Whilst cutting down on carbohydrates seems to get quicker results as the body turns to fat for energy (1,2), both diets can still result in significant weight losses (3).
If you have struggled to lose weight in the past then a dietitian, registered nutritionist or weight loss group can provide help and support.
Here are my top 20 weight loss tips.
1. Keep a food diary. Dietitians and registered nutritionists can help here or you can use an app to work out your daily calorie intake. This only works if you’re completely honest with yourself! Most people change their eating habits or underestimate their food intake when keeping a food diary, which can render the exercise a complete waste of time. If you really want to see what you’re eating, then record everything on a typical day, better still, try keeping a few days and include one at the weekend as we eat differently during the week. Everything counts, even the odd nibble at your kids plates, biscuit at work or spoonfuls tasting whilst cooking. Seeing everything written down can identify where the extra calories are coming from and help you to make the necessary changes to your diet.
2. Diets are often seen as short term with an end goal and most dieters will be able to tell you the names of countless books they have followed. However, most people revert back to old eating habits once they have lost the weight. If you find diet regimes unsuccessful then try making small changes you can stick with in the long-term to reduce your calorie intake, which may mean taking longer to lose the weight but will be healthier in the long term.
These changes may include:
- Choosing low fat dairy or switching to lower calorie, plant-based alternatives.
- Cutting out bread and pasta.
- Keeping sweet foods to a ‘once-a-week’ treat to look forward too and avoid soft drinks.
- Choosing healthy snacks that include savoury and naturally sweet.
- Filling your plate with more vegetables.
- Sticking to lean proteins such as shellfish, tofu or turkey and chicken breast.
3. Some people prefer to embark on a diet that has a structure and rules to follow. If this is your thing then pick one you can stick too and remember to think about how you’re going to keep the weight off once the diet ends. There are lots of opinions about dieting such as low carbohydrate, low fat or simply reducing your portion sizes. The bottom line is you need to reduce your overall calorie intake and partner this with an increase in activity. The last thing you want is to feel hungry so aim for 1200 – 1500 calories per day and set a realistic goal of 1-2 pounds per week. If the gym isn’t for you, then even simple changes in your daily routine can help burn calories such as walking to work or using the stairs. The more realistic your goals are the less likely you are to give in.
4. Try cooking from scratch as this is the easiest way to control what goes into the food you eat. You don’t need to be the best cook, keep it simple and try cooking a little extra for the following day.
Dish ideas can include:
- Grilled meat or fish (flavoured with spices or spice blends) with veggies and optional serving of complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, brown rice or sweet potato.
- Combine a cook-in-sauce (check front of pack labels for healthy options) with a protein and optional serving of complex carbohydrates such as quinoa, brown rice or sweet potato.
- Pre-packed salad bag with a protein (poultry, prawns or canned tuna), additional veggies, healthy fats (nuts, seeds or avocado) and canned pulses.
- Stir-fried veggies with a protein (poultry, prawns or tofu) and handful of canned pulses or cooked complex carbohydrate such as quinoa, brown rice or buckwheat noodles.
5. Increase your intake of protein and fibre to help keep you full. Include a serving of protein with each meal and if you’re eating carbohydrates then opt for high-fibre, unprocessed varieties such as quinoa, brown rice or buckwheat noodles.
6. Don’t forget the booze! A glass of wine (175ml) contains 130 calories and a pint of beer adds 215 calories to your daily intake. The reality is that most of us enjoy the odd drink so try and save for the weekend. You can make your glass of wine last longer by adding soda water. Avoid binge drinking as it adds a huge amounts of calories to your diet as well as encouraging you to eat unhealthy foods.
7. Be mindful about the way you eat. Research into mindful eating has shown that being distracted or not paying attention to a meal tends to make people eat more at that meal and that paying attention to a meal is linked to eating less later on (4). It has also been shown that people who eat mindfully eat less calories. The concept is less to do with calories and more about being fully aware of what and why your eating food. Set time aside for meals, it doesn’t matter how busy you are, we all have 20 minutes to eat. Try and sit at a table or if eating at your desk then switch your computer off. Eat slowly and chew your food properly. Try and avoid grazing in front of the TV, serve small portions and leave some time before going back for seconds. A good example is if you’re going to have a sweet treat; serve a small portion on a plate, eat slowly, enjoy every mouthful to feel satisfied without guilt or the need to go back for more. It takes practice, especially if you’re an emotional eater, but you need to develop an understanding of when you’re hungry, food satisfaction and when you’re full.
8. Avoid skipping meals. It sometimes feels intuitive that if you skip a meal you cut calories but running on empty with low blood sugar levels is likely to lead to hunger pangs, cravings and overeating that will cause mood swings, bloating and a short lived commitment to losing weight.
9. Try including meals with a high water content. Dishes such as soups or tomato and stock-based stews, curries and casseroles can help fill you up on fewer calories. Add proteins such as lean poultry, tofu or pulses to increase their filling effect. Pile your plate with veggies as they’re high in fibre and water making them low in calories as well as being a rich source of valuable nutrients, which is essential when you’re limiting your food intake to eat fewer calories.
10. Try and ditch the sugar and white carbohydrates. These foods have a high glycaemic load, which can cause spikes in blood sugar levels that may encourage hunger pangs, cravings and fat storage if eaten in excess (especially if you have a sedentary lifestyle). Check food labels and look out for hidden sugars that appear under other names in the ingredient list such as corn sugar, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup, maple syrup, agave syrup, molasses or sucrose. If you’re including carbohydrates in your diet then opt for small servings of high-fibre, unprocessed varieties such as quinoa, brown rice or buckwheat noodles.
11. Add your carbohydrates to dishes rather than treating them as an accompaniment to help reduce your calorie intake. Reducing your carbohydrate intake can help with weight loss but if cutting them out completely is not how you prefer to eat, as advocated by some diets, then try cutting down by adding a handful of cooked quinoa, brown rice, sweet potato, spelt or pulses to stir-fries, soups, salads and stews, serving as one-pot dishes.
12. Only snack if you need too. Many dietary regimes advocate a number of meals and snacks throughout the day. Snacking is great to avoid hunger pangs but if you’re not hungry then leave them out as it’s an opportunity to overeat. If you can, then try and opt for nutritious snacks over shop-bought, low calorie items that often offer a short-lived satiety with little nutrition. If you need to include snacks then keep something healthy to hand.
Healthy snack ideas include:
- Boiled eggs
- Dips with chopped veggies
- Tomato, stock or miso-based soups
- Small handful of nuts, seeds or dried fruits
- Low fat natural yoghurt topped with berries
- Lean sliced poultry such as turkey
- Canned tuna with a handful of pulses or salad
13. Understand portion sizes. Switch to using a smaller plate or bowls to serve your food. Research shows that opting for smaller serving plates can lead to significant weight losses (5).
14. Choose eggs for breakfast. Research shows that opting for eggs leads to greater satiety than grain-based breakfasts, making you less likely to reach for snacks mid-morning (6). If you don’t eat eggs then try another protein-rich breakfast such as smoked salmon, scrambled tofu or yoghurt with seeds and nuts.
15. Remember that most healthy, highly nutritious foods are high in calories so watch your portion sizes of foods such as nuts, seeds, oils, dried fruit and avocados. The supermarkets are filled with ‘healthy’ snacks such as fruit and nut bars as well as ‘on-trend’ products such as fresh nut milks. Although these foods offer a good source of nutrients, they also add calories and are of no additional benefit if you’re diet is packed with other healthy nutritious foods.
16. Don’t fear fats! Fat doesn’t necessarily make you fat and although higher in calories than protein or carbohydrates, eating too much of any food will promote weight gain. Certain diets favour fats and proteins over carbohydrates that can be difficult for some to control in their diet. Choose small servings of healthy fats such as oily fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and oils such as extra virgin olive and coconut.
17. It can be tough losing weight, especially without a little support and encouragement. Try getting friends or family members involved. You could also get work colleagues involved in a weight loss challenge or sign up for a charity sport event so you have something to aim for.
18. Don’t become a slave to the scales! Weigh yourself weekly or set yourself a goal such as getting back into a favourite pair of jeans or dress. Try not to get disheartened if it takes a little longer than you hoped and don’t beat yourself up over the odd relapse, just pick up where you left off the following day.
19. Make sure your diet contains a variety of foods. Eating fewer calories can make it even more difficult to glean all the nutrients you need. Include foods such as pulses, oily fish, nuts, seeds, lean proteins, plenty of vegetables and wholegrains (if including carbohydrates). You may want to consider a multivitamin and mineral supplement whilst dieting as a back-up such as Healthspan, Multivitality Gold, £4.95 for 90 tablets.
20. Develop strategies for social events such as:
- Never turn up hungry at a buffet event and eat something before you go out.
- Seek out raw foods such as crudités and dips (small serving).
- Make socialising the focus of your event, not the food.
- Limit your intake to a few handfuls or count the cocktail sticks.
- Water down the alcohol as it encourages hunger.