There’s never been a better time to lose weight, get active and eat better, so you can improve your chances against COVID (and other diseases), do more of the things you want to do, and most importantly, be there for your loved ones in the future.
What to eat?
Put simply, losing weight is about adopting healthy eating habits that last for life. Our article about What's in a healthy diet might help you think about the types of food you should be eating and what to avoid. There are also NHS reviewed diets in the references section.
But we don’t want to prescribe a particular regime. Not even the experts agree on that. The NHS recommended low calorie diet may seem sensible, but some believe it's not as simple as that, as there can be “good” and “bad” calories. Equally there's debate about how much we should restrict fat, carbs and sugar, with many arguing it’s sugar, not fat that is causing the current obesity epidemic. We’re also all genetically unique and respond to foods differently. A DNA test could tell you more about how you process food types.
So rather than focus what you eat, we’ve put together these tips about how to eat, that might help kick start your weight loss journey whatever approach you choose.
Lifestyle changes to lose weight
These tips are not intended for people following specific diets based on medical advice, religious teachings or personal preference. They are also not intended for those with particular needs such as pregnant women.
1. Set a weight loss target.
When starting new habits it’s best to set targets so you have something to aim for. In fact a Harvard business school study showed people who set goals are 10 x more likely to succeed. Start with the goal of losing 2% of your bodyweight in 2-4 weeks. Then when you get there, set a new goal. While that may not seem much, those wins will help shift the dial. For example, if you’re 5 foot 8 inches and 12 stone, losing 2 percent of your overall weight could move you from an overweight to healthy BMI range.
2. Eat within a 12 hour window.
Having an “eating window” allows your body to have a break from digesting and focus on a housekeeping process called “autophagy” where old and worn out cells are broken down and eliminated from the body. This form of intermittent fasting has been shown to have many health benefits including a positive impact on blood sugar and weight loss. It’s simple to apply no matter what your schedule: For example, if you finish your evening meal by 8pm you would start breakfast the next day no earlier than 8am. If you’re on shift work, your window might be 8pm to 8am. A more advanced form of this is eating your daily food intake within 8 hours with 16 hours fasting but this is not suitable for everyone, for example if you’re under 18. If in doubt seek advice from your GP first.
It may be helpful to finish eating 3 hours before bed and only drink water afterwards. As well as helping to eliminate those (usually unhealthy) post dinner snacks, it might even help you to sleep better.
3. Don’t skip breakfast.
In the UK we tend to eat the majority of our calories in the second half of the day and many of us skip breakfast, but there is evidence to suggest that some humans use calories more efficiently in the morning. For example, an Israeli study on overweight and obese women gave two different groups the same amount of calories, but at different times of the day. While both groups lost weight, the morning focused group had lost an average of twice as much.
It’s important to remember that everyone is different and one size doesn’t fit all. It won’t do you any harm to try adding a protein rich breakfast to your routine and see if it changes things. Adding protein to your breakfast has been shown to help keep you feeling fuller for longer. Protein rich breakfast ideas include eggs, adding nuts and seeds to cereals, making porridge with milk not water, dairy products or even the leftovers from last night’s meal.
4. Take time to eat mindfully and chew properly.
Many of us eat on the go and don’t take the time to sit and enjoy our food. Research shows that eating slowly can lead to reduced consumption of food and increased feelings of feeling full and satisfied. What’s more, chewing each mouthful until it is liquid will be of significant benefit to your digestive system and has been shown to help with weight loss. This makes sense when you consider that chewing for longer gives the brain more time to receive the signals from the stomach that it is full.
5. Thirst, not hunger.
The signals for hunger and thirst are easily confused and many people are not reaching the NHS target intake of 6-8 glasses daily. Studies show that increased hydration can be associated with weight loss.
So, when those hunger pangs strike, try drinking a glass of water instead of reaching for a snack
6. Eat your greens and look after your gut.
Your gut microbiome (the collection of bacteria that live in your gut) is unique to you but research has found that gut bacteria diversity is lower in those who are overweight. That’s because some gut bacteria are better at extracting energy from food than others. You can improve the diversity of your gut microbiome by eating a variety of plant foods-that’s fruit and veg- but also nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and beans. We know fresh produce can be expensive but eating seasonally and using markets can help to keep costs down. Frozen fruit and veg is readily available and often better value.
7. Move more.
Including exercise alongside a healthy diet will not only help you burn extra calories, it will keep you motivated and improve your general health and wellbeing. Everyone responds to exercise differently so look for an exercise routine you enjoy so you’re more likely to stick to it. Our exercise to energise article linked below has some helpful ideas. And, alongside “formal” exercise, try to increase your “Non-exercise activity thermogenesis” or NEAT. These are movements you can add into your daily routine outside of planned exercise like taking the stairs, cleaning and even small movements such as fidgeting or playing a musical instrument. In our increasingly sedentary lives, the cumulative impact of these actions could help with your weight loss journey. Fitness trackers show you how much you’re moving, but many smart phones have a step counter on them too. Why not check your steps and see if you can gradually increase your average?
Not all these tips will be achievable for everyone but hopefully you can find a couple that fit in with the way you live. Choose a couple and kickstart your weight loss journey today.