Friday, 9 November 2012

Five truths about eating that will help you be successful at losing weight

I've posted about losing weight in the past but suffice to say that the last year has not gone well for me. One thing threw me off track and it took me a very very long time to get my frame of mind back in the right place. But it is now, and a change of gym with the associated changes in routine that has created can only be a good thing and I feel I'm heading in the right direction. For me, I have gone back to basics and do things that I know work.

There are a lot of column inches written in newspapers and online about diets that is complete and utter baloney. So, today, I thought I would write down a few things I have learned over time that help me be successful and stay successful. I'm not promising diet miracles, but develop these as good habits and you will be on the way to success. And it takes time to develop good habits - at least 3 weeks.

1. Exercise alone will not help you lose weight if your diet is not right.

Ask any personal trainer, and they will tell you that you can never outrun or outpump your mouth. You can't hope to lose weight if your diet is not right, partly because exercising makes you hungry, which makes you eat more. Unless you are planning to exercise all day every day, and let's face it, who has time to do that unless you are an elite athlete? Pay closer attention to what you are eating, combine with exercise and you'll be much more successful.

Talking of which....

2. Tracking what you eat really helps you cut down.

However you do it, writing down everything you eat is a sobering experience. When it's written down in black and white, it will look a lot. Add in the calories and you have a powerful tool on your hands. Before smartphones, I used to sit there working it all out. Now, I use a site called My Fitness Pal to track it all as it has a lot of common foods in and you can add your own. It tells me how many calories I can have to achieve the progress I want and I can add exercise in to give me more calories to eat. I can add foods I've eaten from my smartphone, my iPad and my laptop so I can add it quickly anywhere. It's tough at first (see below) but after a while, it becomes a habit. It means weighing some things but that's not a bad thing. The minute you stop weighing and guessing portion sizes, you automatically eat more. Weigh and record. It's the way to go.

3. You will feel hungry. At first. 

You're trying to change habits, eat healthier, lose weight. Change is not always easy. Particularly if you are eating fewer calories, your body is used to getting more so you will, at first, feel hungry as your body demands the calories it's used to. But do not fear, this is not your life for evermore. If you tough it out for a week or two, sticking to roughly the same calorie level on most days, you'll suddenly find that you're not quite so hungry after all and that you are happily living on fewer calories. It's the initial hump you have to get over. The answer is to accept you will feel hungry, but also make sure you're drinking enough water - our brains can sometimes mistake thirst for hunger. And some very low calorie snack ideas if it becomes too much.

This fact is one of the reasons that the 5:2 diet doesn't work for me -  I never quite get over the hunger of the "fast days" and really, it's miserable being very hungry a whole day at a time. I managed for the first couple of weeks but then I started to dread fast days.

Which leads me to:

4. Learn what foods help to keep you filled up for longer.

There are a few types of food that do work to keep you feeling sated and warding off the hunger pangs which is useful in the early days in particular.

They are:

- protein, particularly lean ones (so lean meats, fish, low fat dairy, beans and pulses, etc)

- fibre (so beans, wholemeal bread or anything wholemeal, vegetables)

- soup of any sort; apparently the same meal pureed into soup stays in your stomach longer than the individual ingredients eaten as usual.

Out of that, you might be able to spot that things like beans on wholemeal toast, any soup with meat and beans, and a nice bowl of porridge are all good for hungry tummies and usually, quite diet friendly.

And finally...

5. Don't starve yourself totally.

You still need to eat enough, so your body gets nutrients and your metabolism stays as close to its current level as possible. If you go on one of these very low calorie diets, your body will adapt so that your metabolism drops (by losing muscle, which burns calories even when you're sleeping), so you need fewer calories and your weight loss slows down - and worse, if you go back to eating normally, you'll regain the weight quicker than you lost it in the first place.

It's also worth noting that if you have a few really strict days, the odd day off is not such a bad thing as it tricks the body into keeping your metabolism the same as before. Bodybuilders, on very strict diets pre competition to lose as much fat from their body as possible, still have one totally unrestricted treat meal each week.

Diets that promise massive weight loss in a short space of time are diets that should make you very suspicious. After an initial drop, you should really aim to lose no more than 1lb of fat per week, maybe two at a push. I've got MyFitnessPal set up to tell me what I need to eat to lose a pound a week. Anymore is just depressing.

Dieting is not all about eating certain foods in a particular order or whatever fad is in this week, it's about eating healthily in a way that you can sustain for a long time because, unless you are just losing a pound or two, it's for the long haul.

(This includes a personal recommendation for My Fitness Pal. I have not been paid for this post - I just think it's a fab tool.)
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