The Diet Therapist
Looking to Shape-Up
DON'T FALL FOR THE FADS!
Diets & Deprivation Don't Work...
Here are 10 Ten Tips to help you create healthier habits & get rid of those extra pounds.
Posted by The Diet Therapist, 3rd January 2017
A version of this article was published in Dante Magazine's Autumn Issue 2016. To read the print version, click here >
The Festive holiday period often leads to us abandoning healthy routines. It’s easy to overindulge when you are relaxing with family and friends but those Mince Pies, extra servings of Christmas Pudding, and dinner leftovers guzzled straight from the fridge can easily sabotage good intentions.
A little holiday debauchery is not the end of the world, and treating yourself is an important part of a well-deserved break from daily work/home life. However this can easily exert a toll on your waistline, digestion, mood and energy, leaving you sluggish and bloated in the New Year.
If this sounds familiar and the last few months have derailed your diet, here are 10 steps to get back on track by creating healthier habits.
Small steps: Don’t be tempted to go on a crash diet or juice cleanse to try and drop any additional pounds. Incorporating small dietary and lifestyle changes is far more sustainable and proven to be more conductive to maintaining weight reduction in the long-run. Attempting to adhere to ultra restrictive or liquid diets often creates an “all or nothing mentality” so that if you do slip up and violate diet “rules,” you end up eating an entire cake instead of enjoying a small slice! Restricting calories too drastically may result in quick weight loss but this is often mainly water and will not help longer-term to reduce body fat composition. Healthy weight loss of 1lb per week requires a reduction in daily intake of approximately 500 calories a day and this is more easily achieved by changing the proportions of your plate, reducing alcohol, processed foods, refined carbohydrates and sugar and unnecessary snacks.
Up your Protein: Numerous clinical studies have shown that changing the composition of meals by incorporating more quality protein and fibre can reduce hunger by inducing a feeling of fullness that persists after eating, supporting weight loss. Both protein and fibre affect the body’s glucose-insulin response, helping to regulate blood sugar and insulin, which in turn, helps to support metabolism and improve lipid profiles. Controlling insulin levels promotes weight management by positively affecting other hormones that stimulate fat utilisation, increasing the body’s capacity for fat-burning rather than fat storage. Instead of focusing on restricting your total intake, concentrate on upgrading your plate by ensuring that each meal centres around quality plant and animal protein such as fish, lean poultry, eggs, grass-fed meat, and pulses (lentils, beans and chickpeas).
Increase Fibre: Fibre helps to slow gastric emptying and affects satiety hormones which work to prevent you reaching for unhealthy snacks in between meals. In addition, the fermentation of fibre by bacteria in the gut leads to the creation of short-chain fatty acids that are hugely beneficial for overall intestinal health. Aim to fill half your plate with nutrient-dense non-starchy and colourful vegetables, including lots of leafy greens. Swap refined carbohydrates for small servings of unrefined wholegrains. such as wholegrain pasta, brown rice, quinoa, (aim for 1/2 cup cooked) oats (1 cup cooked), and rye bread (1-2 small slices).
Incorporate beneficial Fats: The idea that fat must be avoided by those who want to lose weight has been shown to be a diet myth. Choosing the right kind of fat is important for weight loss as healthy fats can help to quell appetite and reduce overall calorie intake, whilst also boosting your metabolism and overall cardiovascular health. Eliminate transfats such as partially hydrogenated oils found in processed foods and spreads and look to replace these with small amounts of healthy fats such as salmon, avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds and full fat (unsweetened) greek yoghurt. Watch portion sizes however, as these are more energy-dense than other foods so don’t be tempted to think “healthy” means an unlimited intake of almonds and avocados. Many people find it hard to eat just one handful of nuts, for example, so trying to incorporate small amounts into a meal (for example sprinkling chopped nuts and seeds onto a salad), can stop these becoming triggers for those with a tendency for overeating and won’t derail your post-holiday efforts.
Don’t be fooled by “healthy” or “natural” food labels: Clever food marketing helps drive the idea that if a food or product is labelled “healthy,” or contains beneficial nutrients, we can eat these in unlimited quantities. In particular, watch out for snack bars, cereals and drinks that present themselves as healthy options but are in fact loaded with sugar and empty calories.
Don’t skip meals: Missing meals is a common mistake which may actually hinder rather than facilitate attempts at weight loss. Many people think that restricting calories helps to undo holiday gluttony, but in actual fact, it sets you up for compulsive eating later in the day. Going for long periods without food causes blood sugar to plummet, affecting levels of insulin and the elevating levels of the stress hormone cortisol which can hamper weight loss efforts. Ensuring that you eat nutrient-dense, protein and vegetable-rich regular meals is a far better strategy for long-term weight loss.
Reorder your kitchen: Be strategic with how you order your cupboards, fridge and visible food on countertops. Behavioural scientists have proved that when food is more accessible, it is harder to resist. Placing healthier foods such as vegetables and fruit at eye level sounds basic, but studies have shown that this really does affect food choices and promote greater weight loss.
Eat sitting down and increase your fluid intake: When you grab food on the run and nibble things straight from the fridge your brain and body do not register this intake in the same way as when you sit and eat a meal. Sitting down to eat helps to increase “fullness” and prevent excess calorie intake. Though it sounds obvious, thirst is frequently mistaken for hunger so drinking more fluids is key to weight management. Dehydration can confuse signals to the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates both thirst and appetite, leading to unnecessary calorific intake. Stick to water with lemon or lime, and herbal teas and avoid both sugary drinks and “diet” versions. “Light” or “diet” drinks often contain artificial sweeteners which trick the body into expecting calories, destabilising blood sugar and causing the hormone insulin to fluctuate, driving further cravings for sweet substances.
Sleep: Poor sleep plays havoc with appetite hormones and this can work against your efforts to get back in shape after the holidays. Research has shown that too little sleep can cause higher levels of ghrelin, (a hormone that stimulates appetite), and down-regulate levels of leptin (the hormone that causes you to feel “full”). If you regularly struggle to get enough sleep, this can also play havoc with blood sugar levels, leading to cravings for refined sugar and carbohydrates and sabotaging healthier eating efforts. Try to switch off all “blue light” emitting devices such as mobile phones, laptops and iPads at least an hour before bed as these can interfere with the body’s natural circadian rhythm and interfere with natural production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Aim for at least 7-8 hours a night to regulate energy and appetite-hormone levels.
Exercise: We all know that exercise aids weight loss by increasing total energy burned across the day, but it is also critical for boosting your “resting energy expenditure” (the rate at which you burn calories when resting), by increasing muscle mass. Incorporating both strength training and cardiovascular exercise in short bursts of interval training can help to achieve maximum results in minimum time. However, if the thought of post-holiday high-intensity sessions already breaks you into a cold sweat before you’ve even entered the gym, slowly ease yourself back into post-holiday routine by adopting a “little and often” mentality. Incrementally increasing your physical activity with brisk walks and taking the stairs will still have an impact on overall weight management.
Holidays, delicious food and relaxation often hold emotional associations that make it hard for many people to balance their health goals with the desire to rest, have fun and enjoy their time off work or with family and friends. It’s tempting to throw every caution to the wind, decide to eat and drink whatever and as much as you want, and deal with the consequences later. The opposite of this isn’t any better either; rigidly adhering to strict, inflexible (and self-enforced) diet “rules” during the holiday sets you up for giving up completely, and eating double of everything you usually try to resist. The ideal is to avoid extremes in the first place, indulge when it’s really worth it, but don’t use the Christmas period as an excuse for continual overeating.
If you do find yourself a few pounds heavier in January, don’t panic and waste time and energy in a self-punishing cycle of restriction; it’s far easier to get back on track by incorporating these simple steps into your daily routine. You’ll find yourself feeling healthier, lighter and with more energy in no time!