Diet – a dirty four-letter word!

At some point in their lives, a large majority of the population will go on a diet. For a few days or weeks, they will eat much less than normal, swear off foods they enjoy, eliminate certain food groups and generally make themselves miserable in the process. Yes, they will lose weight but, in most cases, that weight will be regained so that they end up weighing the same as before.

Extreme diets, like the ones promoted in celebrity magazines, are usually so strict that they are all but impossible to stick to for any length of time. Such aggressive changes in eating habits often trigger a backlash that sees the initially enthusiastic dieter falling off the wagon and into a knee-deep bowl of ice cream! Like most adults, they revolt after being told what they can and cannot eat. If I was to say to you that you have to give up beer, what is the first thing you start to crave even if you aren’t much of a beer drinker? Beer of course! It’s just human nature...

Overly strict diets also tend to be designed to cause very rapid weight loss which triggers something called “the starvation response”. Not realising you a voluntarily eating less than you should, your body will go into survival mode and actually use muscle for fuel so it can preserve its very valuable fat stores for as long as possible. In less advanced times, when food was acquired by hunting and gathering rather than shopping, this response could help you survive long periods of famine but in modern times, it just, means that the weight lost during a severe diet is usually part muscle and part fat.

A reduction in muscle mass causes a drop in basal metabolic rate which simply means you require fewer calories on a daily basis so that, when you inevitably fall off the wagon and return to your previous eating habits, not only do you regain the weight you lost, you end up gaining even more – the so-called yoyo diet effect.

So, if super-strict and often celebrity endorsed diets are not the answer, what is the best way to lose weight? The answer is unsexy but relatively straight forward –moderation and clean eating.

Moderation

I strongly believe in the 80/20 principle – if you eat properly and healthily 80-percent of the time, you earn 20-percent dietary latitude where you can eat a little of what you fancy. Most very strict diets are all or nothing and moderation is not part of their makeup.

Assuming you eat 21-meals a week (three per day) this means you can relax and have a treat around four-times a week which is not unreasonable. How big a treat is hard to say but, as this section is titled “moderation” you should use your best judgement. A muffin or donut with your morning coffee or a dessert with dinner would be sensible whereas a family size bar of chocolate would not.

And remember, a treat is just that and not a replacement for a regular meal or an opportunity for binging so only buy small amounts of your preferred treats and don’t keep large stocks of them in the house so you won’t be tempted to eat all your week’s treats in one go! Buy your treat on the day you are going to eat it.

Clean eating

The most important thing to consider when eating for weight control is choosing foods that are as unrefined as possible. Refined foods are usually low in healthy nutrients, high in sugar, salt, artificial additives and calories and generally designed to encourage overeating.

Think about it – an apple and a biscuit contain around 60-calories. At most, you will eat two apples in single sitting whereas you could probably eat a whole packet of biscuits while watching a late night movie. Apples, because they are free from added sugar, fat and chemicals, do not promote overeating whereas biscuits do. Apples are the epitome of a clean food – completely natural.

By basing the majority of your meals around non-processed clean foods, you will reduce your calorific intake without having to weigh and measure your food, cut down on sugar, salt and fat consumption and increase your intake of essential vitamins and minerals; it’s a win-win situation. If your food has more than a couple of ingredients and any of them are all but unpronounceable, the food is not clean and is best avoided.

Here is a short list of foods best avoided and their clean alternatives...

Most breakfast cereals

Oatmeal Cookies

Fruit Hamburgers/sausages

Lean beef, chicken or fish Ice cream

Natural yogurt Crisps

Raw nuts Processed ready meals

Roasted vegetables, grilled chicken and brown rice

White bread

Wholemeal bread Chips

Baked sweet potato wedges

Soft drinks/soda 

Iced green tea sweetened with natural raw honey

Sweets and candy

Dried fruit or dark unsweetened

70%+ dark chocolate

Remember, no foods are off limits – merely relegated to “treat” status to be enjoyed in moderation a couple of times a week. Eating clean and practicing moderation won’t result in rapid weight loss but, as you now know, rapid weight loss is seldom sustainable. Instead, this slow and steady approach will help you control your weight without triggering cravings and while allowing you to enjoy the foods not normally allowed on a diet. Diet really is a dirty four-letter word so instead of thinking about how you can change your eating for a week or a month, think about adopting an eating plan you can follow for life.