How to lose weight healthily
There will always be a new slimming diet in town. The world of weight loss has a quick turnover of ideas and strategies that promise a new, thinner you in no time at all. The reason there are so many diets, though, is that many of them do not work in the long term, or at least do not work for people with genetic tendencies to put on weight easily. Worse still, many ‘slimming diets’ leave the body low in vital nutrients.
So, what is a more effective and healthy way to lose weight?
First, let’s take a look at what we really want from a ‘diet’:
- Fat loss – it is excess body fat we wish to target, not lean mass that could include muscle and make us weaker rather than stronger.
- Sustainability in the long term – weight loss is never really the only aim, most people are looking for a strategy that they can live with in the longer term to keep the weight off forever.
- Nourishment – a weight-loss plan that leaves the body deprived of crucial vitamins, minerals and other nutrients can fail in the long term because vital body systems involved in weight regulation are not being nourished.
Here are eight steps to get you on track to healthy and sustainable weight loss:
1. Cut out refined sugar
Sweet foods are addictive. We think we need them. We don’t. Choose a day that’s right for you and switch out that cake, muffin or chocolate bar for some plain yoghurt, berries, nuts or a savoury snack. If you want the cocoa hit, work your way up to a darker chocolate. Sugar can cause steep spikes in your blood glucose that are associated with metabolic illness. The ‘sugar crash’ afterwards can leave you low in energy and craving even more sugar. Break the cycle.
2. Cut out refined carbohydrates
White flour products are everywhere. Paninis, wraps, sandwiches, pasta, pizza, pastry – these foods go into the bloodstream as sugar and offer little in the way of nutrients. Swap them for wholegrain alternatives or vegetables.
3. Use the ‘quarter of your plate’ rule for starches
So you’ve swapped out white flour foods for wholegrain versions. Now, pay attention to the proportion of your plate these starchy foods take up. Even wholegrains and starchy vegetables such as potatoes and sweet potatoes go into the bloodstream as sugar. Make sure these foods take up no more than a quarter of your plate.
4. Fill your plate with non-starchy vegetables
Now that the starchy portion of your plate has shrunk, think how you can increase the amount of non-starchy vegetables you’re eating. Stir-fry with garlic, onions, mushrooms and peppers? A big leafy salad? Leafy green vegetables tossed in olive oil or butter?
5. Think protein at every meal and snack
When we think of weight-loss diets, we imagine living off plates of vegetables or salad. Of course, vegetables are fantastic sources of vitamins and minerals. However, they don’t provide the dietary protein that our bodies need to keep us in tip-top condition. Neither do vegetables on their own fill us up enough to stop us going looking for snacks between meals. Including protein in each meal is a win-win for weight loss and health.
6. Include healthy fats and oils
Cooking with olive oil, coconut oil, butter or ghee is another way to ensure your meals fill you up. Include some oily fish too so that you don’t miss out on essential Omega-3 oils that can have an anti-inflammatory effect in the body.
7. Cut out ultra-processed foods
You know the kind – packaged foods made in factories with long lists of ingredients. These contain unhealthy fats and additives that can get in the way of weight loss by having an inflammatory effect and leaving your body hungry for nutrients. Pre-empt your need for ready meals and snacks by planning ahead, cooking at home as much as possible.
8. Remember weight loss isn’t just about food
If you’re stressed or not sleeping well, weight loss can be an uphill battle. Stress hormones, including adrenalin, can encourage the body to store more fat. Lack of sleep has a similar effect and is associated with weight gain and other metabolic conditions such as type two diabetes and high blood pressure. In addition, both sleep and stress can sabotage our best efforts at eating healthier foods. Think about how you can maximise the length and quality of your sleep and schedule in a stress-reduction practice such as meditation, breathing exercises or counselling. These factors might be the breakthrough your body needs to re-balance towards a healthy weight.
Liu, K., et al., 2018. Effect of combined use of a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on glycemic control in newly diagnosed type 2 diabetes: a randomized, double-blind, parallel-controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 108(2), pp.256–265.
Martínez Steele, E., et al., 2018. Ultra-processed foods, protein leverage and energy intake in the USA. Public Health Nutrition, 21(01), pp.114–124.
Nedeltcheva, A. V. and Scheer, F.A.J.L., 2014. Metabolic effects of sleep disruption, links to obesity and diabetes. Current Opinion in Endocrinology & Diabetes and Obesity, 21(4), pp.293–298.
Phillips, S.M., et al., 2015. Commonly consumed protein foods contribute to nutrient intake, diet quality, and nutrient adequacy. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 101(6), pp.1346S-1352S.