Getting a bit overweight is quite easy, especially as you hit your 30s. Suddenly, food has no mercy and you can no longer eat as you wish with no consequences.
As our metabolism slows down, things such as too many “treats”, a holiday, the arrival of winter (and the laziness linked to the darker and colder days), or the multiple Xmas meals over the festive period have direct consequences to our weight.
It is not unusual to gain 1 or 2 kilos after a rather “enjoyable” vacation where we eat more and more often, at least that is the case for me! Little situations such as the ones above can slowly lead to a weight increase more permanent, and eventually harder to tackle.
Like the saying goes, “Abs are made in the kitchen“. I feel that this quote is pretty accurate when it comes to weight loss. Eating better has direct consequences to our weight and health, and will quickly lead to our ideal weight if done right.
If what we want however, is to be fit and strong (also very important), we need to exercise and activate our muscles (sorry there is no shortcut), but that is another story… which I won’t cover in this post. This one is all about food and about how I got back to my normal healthy weight in a period of 10 days just by following most of the tips below.
Instead of following rules or diets to lose weight, the below advice is rather a healthy lifestyle, which – if done consistently – always helps me to go to my natural, healthy weight with little effort. I’m not a nutritionist, just a food and cooking lover always interested in nutrition, the below article is simply based on my knowledge from books as well as my own experience.
So here we go, bon appetit!
Before we start, please note – When it comes to track our weight, nutritionist Pilar Senpeu advises us to always weigh ourselves first thing in the morning, and to not compare morning weight to evening weight – at the end of the day we are more full of gas, liquids, foods, salts… which can add a few extra grams, and even kilos – that is normal and there is no need to stress about that!
Likewise, if you had a big meal and the morning after you are a kilo heavier, do not panic – it is potentially due to excessive salt and liquid retention. Now that this is clear and we are going to read our weight in a fair way, let’s get started!
1- Buy healthy to eat healthy
This is the easiest and most effective tip for me. When I want to get my weight back on track, I go into a super-healthy mood (mainly following the tips below), and make sure my shopping cart only contains natural whole foods that will benefit my body. If you struggle to do that and can’t give up little treats when you see them in the supermarket, a good tip is to do your shopping online. From now on, get the nutritionist hat on when choosing your weekly groceries! If you don’t buy “bad food”, you won’t eat it.
2- Drink plenty of water
This is a also simple one – drink more water. Water is beneficial in so many ways. It hydrates all the organs in our body, it “lubricates” them so they function better, it makes our skin glow, it gets rid of extra toxins, it improves digestion, it fills ourselves up so we are not so hungry… the list is long and the action simple. Drink more water and let your body do the rest.
3- Overdo the veggies and fruits
Vegetables are so good for us. I am a bit on an addict of food and nutrition type of documentaries, books, articles… and if there is one thing all of them agree on is how beneficial vegetables and fruits are for our bodies. They are packed with nutrients and low in calories, their fibre help keeping us fuller for longer, they keep our gut bacteria healthy, and the list goes on. So when we talked about rule #1 “Buy healthy to eat healthy”, make sure that fruits and veggies make up at least 50% of your shopping cart – and of your plate when it comes to eating.
If you find veggies boring, spice up your life. As a Spaniard and lover of the Mediterranean diet, I can only say two words: olive oil and salt (okay three words!). Honestly, everything tastes nicer with some olive oil and salt, so season your veggies accordingly with that and any other spices you like. It is essential to enjoy what we eat.
If you are not a fan of fruit, make it easier to yourself – sometimes it is just a matter of actually cutting down the apple/pear/orange/melon/etc and placing it in a bowl in order to eat it. That is my case actually, I’m a big fan of veggies, but a baby when it comes to fruit, I don’t really eat it unless it is easy, effortless and in my face.
4- Underdo the (red) meat
Meat is not “bad” as such, it does have many nutrients and is full of easy-to-absorb proteins that keep our body strong. However, there are many types of meat and some are proven to be healthier than others. Numerous books and programs explain this further (such as the BBC documentary
“The truth about meat” which I watched recently), but long story short: avoid over-eating meat.
A good idea is to start cutting down on red meat and focus on poultry and fish. Something I have done for a while now (specifically since my trip to Argentina in 2017), is to stop buying red meat and hence stop eating it at home. I focus on chicken and fish, and leave beef, pork and lamb for when I occasionally eat out. The truth is that it is an effortless way of sticking to a healthier source of proteins while avoiding the saturated fats of red meats.
Ideally, I’d like to become pescetarian one day, I do think it is the healthier option. But there is no need to put too much pressure on ourselves. Becoming a “chicken-terian” is a pretty good start, and considering meat-free days such as the “Meatfreemondays movement is another good thing to try. If you want to know more about this do not miss Graham Hill’s TED Talk Why I am a weekday vegetarian.
5- Avoid carbs and sugars at night-time
You are going to be sleeping anyway, so why fueling your body with extra calories that you won’t be burning? If you can’t live without little sugary treats (those where the nutritional value is low, but the personal pleasure is high), it is advisable to have them before dinner, just so you have enough time to burn them and at least get them out of your digestive system
If you want to be extra good, the same applies to carb-based food such as pasta or rice. There is nothing wrong or unhealthy about them, but if you are trying to cut down some extra weight, it is much better to stick to proteins and veggies as the last meal of the day – and before preparing yourself for bed – and leave the carbs for breakfast and lunchtime.
6- Get full with less food
The wise Japanese have the word Hara hachi bun me, which translates to “Eat until you are 80 percent full”. This is not only good advice for weight loss, but also for life longevity.
Now, the problem with this tip is, who likes to feel hungry after a meal? Definitely not me. I like to feel satiated and satisfied and simply “eating less” doesn’t really solve this problem. The solution for me is to 1) watch our portions (eat smaller sizes, use smaller plates…) in order to actually have less on the plate and 2) eat slower – this is key to allow our brain to acknowledge that food is arriving to our belly and send satiation signals to our brain, so we have time to feel full with the right amount of food (as opposed to devouring double the amount of food in the same time).
A good quote I heard once which helped me to eat slower is “Eat as if someone was watching you”. When I think about this, I hope to be seen as a rather “elegant eater” not a pig, so I hope that quote works for you too 😉
7- Know your weaknesses, and plan ahead
Everybody is different and everybody has their own “weaknesses” when it comes to food, or shall I say, bad food habits.
In my case, the time between lunch and dinner is when I get the most hungry and, if I don’t plan in advance, I can eat whatever comes my way – throwing out the window all the good work made to that point.
Since I know this is me, now I make sure I have healthy snacks ready to fight back those “hunger attacks”. Rice cakes and hummus, yogurt with fruit, nuts and seeds, some cheese, dried fruit, or a bowl of bran cereal can do the trick: my stomach has something to get going which is more healthy/nutritious than a spoonful (or five!) of Nutella.
That is my case, but for other people it might be sugar, or fatty foods… The principle is the same – satisfy yourself with the “healthier/reduced” version of what you know you like – if you have a sweet tooth go with dark chocolate (the less sugary version of the chocolates) or fruit. If it is crips, get the low fat ones or choose a smaller portion (eat slowly and savour every bite!)
8- Give your body a 12h break without food
It has been demonstrated that by eating less and having a fasting period of at least 12 hours a day, we encourage our body to rely on self-repair and to produce more growth hormones. These are not only linked to actual growth, but to the restoring and healing of our own tissues – getting rid of any damaging mutations that could eventually lead to disease.
More on this online, the Horizon documentary by Michael Mosley “Eat, Fast and Live Longer” is a classic and a good place to start.
The super interesting book The Circadian Code: Lose weight, supercharge your energy and sleep well every night by Satchin Panda also defends this theory and advises us to have dinner at least 3h before bedtime, so digestion is done and dusted by the time we go to bed.
The recommendable book The Obesity Code also explores this theory further, explaining all the health and weight-loss benefits of giving our bodies a “long-enough” food break every day.
9- Eat mindfully
These days it is all about mindfulness… it can be a bit overwhelming and even annoying, but the truth is that being mindful is, in essence, being more aware. And when we are aware of what is going on in our heads, we can adapt our behaviour to make better life choices.
When it comes to eating, doing it in a mindful way is basically stopping the autopilot and paying attention to how we are really feeling.
Do you eat simply because it is “eating time”, or because others are eating, without even considering whether you are hungry? Do you keep eating until your plate is empty, even if you were full already ten minutes ago? Are you having starter or dessert in a restaurant because other guests are doing it too? Are you hungry, or is it thirst? Do you really want breakfast or are you still full from yesterday’s night feast? Do you actually need/want to eat dinner after a copious Xmas meal? Are you eating because you are bored/sad/happy/tired/anxious?
Those are only questions. Questions we should start asking ourselves more often to listen to our gut and follow our body’s orders instead of the social norms. If the answer is “yes I am hungry” then go ahead and eat, but at least ask yourself how you feel in relation to food and hunger. More often than not, you will realise that you actually don’t need to have dessert and, if that is the case, you will do your stomach a favour.
More on this on this interesting article from TED How to change your relationship with food — and stop eating your feelings, and the great TED talk below by Sandra Aamodt:
10- Avoid all no-real-food (but enjoy the real one!)
Finally, the last tip. Again, it is pretty simple: eat real food.
What I mean by real is food is food in its natural shape. Avoid processed meals and refined sugars and you will notice a big difference. Cooking from scratch is key to follow this tip.
If you are someone who doesn’t like cooking, it can feel a bit daunting having to stop going for the reliable and yummy ready meals. A piece of advice here is, make it simple. Each meal should have some of the following key food groups, below are some options – mix and match them according to your preference:
- 25% carbs – Rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, sweet potatoes, legumes, grain, pulses, cereal…
- 25% proteins – Eggs, peanuts, almonds, fish, chicken, soya, lentils, turkey, quinoa, cheese, milk…
- 50% veg – Oh well, you know! Tomatoes, onions, peppers, broccoli, cucumber, courgettes, aubergine, garlic, spinach, lettuce, pai-choy, cabbage, carrots… these are only some of the classics in my fridge, I buy them on repeat.
There are many ways to cook them all together in amazing meals, all world cousines and popular dishes already include beautiful combinations. However, if you don’t feel too creative, rely on the microwave or the oven to cook most of the food above in a quick, easy and healthy way.
And remember, salt and oil will do the rest 😉