Food: it’s one of life’s biggest pleasures. Like many things that are enjoyable though, it can also have a massive downside. That tasty burger you just ate probably isn’t doing your heart all that good. That hotdog you just wolfed down? It wouldn’t be on a list of the healthiest foods around. So, how exactly can you make the change and start eating healthier, without also taking all the joy out of dinnertime?
First things first though: there’s no need to worry about why you need to lose weight. Whether it’s for health reasons or for reasons of self-esteem, the same rules apply. Of course, it is always easier to have a goal though – after all, you couldn’t possibly give up that chocolate sundae for nothing, could you?
Forget Fads: Common Sense is the Key
Have you ever searched for diets online? The chances are you were bombarded with a million and one different eating plans, all of which guaranteed immediate results for very minimal effort. Here’s the thing though: most of them simply don’t work. So, don’t bother with them, and instead use your own common sense and good judgement to work out what you should eat, and what should stay away from your lips.
Let’s face it: if you had an apple and a bag of chips in front of you, it would be pretty easy to tell which was the better option. You can differentiate between the good stuff, and the stuff that simply tastes good. Fruit, vegetables, eggs, fish, meat – all are great for your body’s health, providing they haven’t been processed and packed full of chemicals, artificial flavours and salt.
So, there’s the first idea to help you lose weight: just eat what you know is good for you, and avoid anything that comes in loads of packaging, or that can be bought from a friendly figure at your closest drive-thru restaurant.
It’s All in the Mind
You’ve probably just read the previous paragraph and are now thinking “Duh! That’s all common sense, and I knew it already.” Well, you probably did, but like most people, you are unlikely to put it into practice. This is because the most powerful part of your body – your brain – hasn’t been prepared. It hasn’t quite caught up with your doctor’s way of thinking and, like Homer Simpson, can’t help but salivate when it sees a donut stand.
So, you have to train that brain of yours, and for many, this comes by making small steps. This means that you don’t have to completely cut every unhealthy food out of your life immediately, as this could send your brain into meltdown. Instead, why not stop eating chips this week, and then remove those fizzy drinks the next? This way, your brain will have chance to adjust, instead of being forced through cold turkey with no prior warning.
Essentially, you have to decide how conducive to change you are. There’s no shame admitting that you don’t handle change well and therefore prefer using the slowly, slowly approach. But if you’re that lucky type of person who has the willpower to change everything overnight, go for it. Just remember that small successes are far better than absolutely no successes at all.
Ready to Commit?
Once you’ve come to the realisation that you can change, it’s time to commit. This doesn’t mean commit in a half-hearted “I kinda wanna change” way, but inside dive in feet first and immerse yourself in your new lifestyle. If you don’t want to be in this for the long haul, there’s no point starting. Instead, go back to the previous step and keep thinking about an acceptable way in which you can make the change.
When deciding whether to commit to this new path, don’t think that you’re losing many of life’s pleasures, and replacing them with absolutely nothing. Instead, just think of the positives: sure, you won’t be stopping off at McDonald’s any time soon, but you’ll be able to walk up the stairs without stopping for breath; you’ll be able to have a kick-around with your kids in the park; and you’ll no longer be limited to buying clothes from the plus-size section.
What You Should Know About Eating
Calories – it’s the word on the lips of pretty much every person who has ever been on a diet. There’s a reason for this: counting calories is an effective way of shedding those pounds. Let’s break out some maths though, and show how cutting down on those calories can help you achieve weight loss…
Here’s the most important thing to remember: you’ll put on one pound of fat for every 3,500 calories you consume and don’t then burn off via exercise. So, using the wonders of a calculator and basic mathematics, you can work out that you’ll need to shed 500 calories a day from your diet if you want to lose a pound in a week. Alternatively, you can burn 500 extra calories per day, but this is a page about healthy eating, so we’ll ignore that option. However there are some great free apps for counting calories that take the hassle out of counting calories such as My Fitness Pal.
But how can you eat 500 less calories a day? Well, the key is working out how many you’re eating at the moment. You’ve probably thought the nutritional info on the side of food is just mumbo-jumbo in the past, but now you’re going to pay attention to it, and add up how many calories you consume over a week. Exactly how many calories.
So, that means you can’t leave off the sneaky beer you had after work. You can’t omit the crisp you were so generously given by a workmate. And you can’t not write down the leftovers you ate from the fridge, even if they were going to go off soon.
Once you’ve got this figure, you’ll know exactly how much you’re eating per week. Divide it by seven and you’ll know how much you eat per day. Knock off 500 calories and you’ll know how much to eat if you want to lose that pound of fat per week. You always knew there was a reason why they taught you maths at school…
Taking It Up a Notch – And Your Belt Down a Notch
Once you’ve stuck to your basic calorie plan for a few weeks, you’ll probably have noticed that you’re starting to shift some of that excess weight. The thing is though, you’re still probably chowing down on some pretty nasty food, that really isn’t doing your body much good. Weight loss is great, but what’s the point if you aren’t adding to your overall fitness and health?
So, now it’s time to look at how different types of calories affect you – how those calories you consumed via a cream cake aren’t as good as the calories that came from a bowl of pasta. This is because calories come in many forms. So, you need to balance every meal you create, making sure it includes:
- Carbohydrates. Carbs come from a variety of sources, from fruit through to grains, and they are essential. This is because they get turned in glucose, which is then used as energy. The thing is this though: most people aren’t as active as humanity used to be, so there’s no need to eat as much as you think. After all, unused carbs are turned into fat, with the worst culprits being processed carbs and refined grains. So, eat carbs, but get them from fruit and vegetables.
- Protein. Forget what diets say: protein needs to be included in every meal. This is because it repairs your body after exercise. So you shouldn’t feel guilty about getting it from any natural source, such as meat, eggs and nuts.
- Fat. Fat does not make you fat. Despite what you might think, you need fat in your diet, and it can be consumed in many forms. There are two main types though: saturated fat and unsaturated fat. The general rule is this: saturated fat is bad, and unsaturated fat is good. So, when consuming those calories, choose food with unsaturated fat if possible.
By now, you’re probably asking this question: so what exactly makes us fat? The biggest culprit is easy to point out, and it’s refined carbohydrates. These are carbohydrates that absorb quickly into the body, and the main types are sugars and refined grains. Refined carbs have pretty much no nutritional value and, without going into the scientific reasons, lead to weight loss. Check YouTube or other nutritional experts – everyone will say pretty much the same thing.
So, there’s another rule to try and follow: give refined carbs the heave-ho, and replace them with carbs from natural food sources. Remember: it doesn’t have to be done in one cull, as you could instead make the transition over time, as the brain doesn’t always like immediate change.
Explained: The Glycaemic Load
Before looking at the glycaemic load, let’s recap a few things. Firstly, fat isn’t bad, and you shouldn’t be afraid of eating it – providing it’s the right type of fat. Secondly, protein is absolutely essential, and you should get your fair share each day. Thirdly, there’s carbohydrates, which we already know can be good or bad. The glycaemic load will help to further understand how beneficial the different types of food containing carbs are though…
Before you can understand the glycaemic load, you need to be introduced to its close relative: the glycaemic index. This essentially ranks foods between 1 and 100, with higher numbers meaning that the carbs in food have a faster effect on your blood sugar level. And faster effects, as we already saw, lead to faster weight gain.
The thing is, the GI really isn’t that helpful on its own, because it fails to consider the serving size. So, chocolate actually has a lower figure on the GI than fruit, which suggests that chocolate is better for you than fruit. This is clearly not the case, and it’s for this reason: the GI works on a base rate of 30 calories, so you’d only have to eat a square of chocolate for it to be accurate. You’d need to eat a mountain of fruit though.
This is where the glycaemic load comes in handy though, as it also factors in the size of a portion. So, use the glycaemic load index to focus on foods with a low number, and avoid carbs with a high glycaemic load completely, unless you eat them before or after exercising. As a rule, anything with a rating over 20 is considered to have a high glycaemic load.
As you can probably see, using the glycaemic load to help with your fitness requires a little bit of effort, as you’ll constantly have your phone out, checking to see if a food really is good for you or not. This course of action does work though, and gets pretty easy once you’ve identified a few core foods that you know you can eat. If you’re looking for more dramatic weight loss though, perhaps the next diet will fit the bill…
Heading Back to Caveman Times
You might have heard of another diet out there, and it’s the Paleo Diet. It’s got loads of attention recently, and essentially completely strips back the food you eat – just as would be the case back in the dawn of humanity.
The upside to this diet? It’s really easy, and you don’t have to constantly refer to charts or other guidelines. The downside? Well, it can be insanely boring. This is because you can only eat a very limited selection of foods – food that could be hunted or gathered thousands of years ago. So, you’re stuck with meat, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Nothing else, not even a squirt of ketchup or a drop of flavouring.
In theory, the Paleo Diet is one of the best diets around. After all, you’re eating in the way you were intended to it, and not stuffing yourself silly with artificial food and processed rubbish. Some people absolutely swear by it, and have reduced their body fat percentage to low amounts. There is a massive problem though, and it all goes back to our friend, the mind.
The majority of people will fail with this diet, because their mind won’t let them succeed. Remember earlier in this article, when we talked about preparing the mind? Well, starting the Paleo Diet is a massive change, and most people’s minds simply won’t be able to cope with the lack of variety. So, if you’re head-strong and motivated to succeed, this is a great choice; if you know your limits though, it might be best to not bother starting in the first place.
So Many Diets, But Which Is Best?
The question of which diet is best is really a trick one, as there is no definite answer. Instead, the answer changes from person to person. You see, different people have different tolerances to change, have different motivations, and have differing amounts of willpower. So, the best diet is essentially the one that works for you, regardless of whether it’s the Paleo, glycaemic loading or anything else. Any well-planned diet can work, providing you’re prepared to stick with it.
So, if you’re the kind of person who likes to ease into things gradually, concentrating on your glycaemic load is probably the best choice for you. There’s no need to do anything too extreme at the start, and instead you can slowly cut out foods and let your mind get used to the change.
If you want to drop weight quickly though, and don’t care how much willpower is needed to do so, the Paleo Diet should be at the top of your list. If you do take on this diet though, you’ll have to get used to saying “no” – no to ice cream, no to burgers, no to anything that a human wouldn’t have eaten back in the Stone Age.
The Key to Making Your Diet Work
There’s one word that sums up how your diet should be: fun. Once a diet gets boring or unenjoyable, you’re only a couple of steps away from quitting, so don’t let it get that far. The key to keeping up the interest in your diet is to not feel guilty if you slip once in a while. In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter if you have a pizza every so often, or if you sneak in a can of Coke one lunch break.
Some people even promise themselves treats if they stick to their diet – perhaps a nice bit of fried chicken if they’ve been good for the rest of the week. If it works for them, then it has to be called a successful diet plan, doesn’t it?
If you do find yourself in a lull – in a period of time whereby you’re heading to the takeaway every night – don’t beat yourself up about it. Your mind wasn’t ready to let you start dieting quite yet. With a little more preparation though, you’ll probably be much more successful next time, especially if you scale things back a bit and make the diet a little bit easier for you to cope with.