Not a day goes by that I don’t receive a request for an ambitious weight loss programme with a tight timeframe. Getting in shape for holidays, weddings, special events or just the approaching summer are common goals for people who seek out my services. I’ll obligingly tailor a programme to help my clients achieve their targets, but I always stress that – while short-term goals are great – they need to have a long-term goal too.
When I create specialised plans, even though they’re suited to the needs of the individual client, they all share a common theme of aiming for a sustainable long-term lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle is something that has to be practised every day and built up over a period of time. My ‘Unlocking your Potential’ series will be discussing what this means in practice and how you can live your life better. It’ll help you to unlock your potential – yes, your potential! In this first piece, I’m going to focus on nutrition.
Nutrition and weight loss
In my experience, the most common nutrition- and food-based weight loss approaches are extreme dieting and calorie counting. From the cabbage soup diet to meal replacement shakes and from the Special K diet to the paleo diet, I’ve pretty much seen it all! So, what’s wrong with them?
But are you really going to follow a gruelling diet for the rest of your life? Are you going to base your nutritional intake on how a celebrity supposedly keeps their figure trim, even if their body type is completely different to yours? Highly unlikely is the first answer and possibly but unsuccessfully is the second.
When the restrictive period of an extreme diet ends, people often end up binging on the foods they’ve deprived themselves of and will quickly regain all the weight they’d lost – often with a few extra pounds to boot.
To achieve sustainable weight loss, your eating habits should be a part of a long-term healthy lifestyle that will steer you into old age. Short-term bursts of weight loss followed by inevitable weight gain (‘yo-yo dieting’) will only make you unhappy with your physical appearance and damage your body’s health.
Let’s start at the very beginning
If you’re ready to put fad diets and short-termism to bed, to establish healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime and to fully commit to a better way of living, you can start your journey today. The first step is to perform a personal MOT. Get out the scale and the tape measure, take your measurements (yours KPIs, as I like to call them) and record them in a notebook or on your phone. The regular monitoring of your KPIs will be a key motivator in changing your lifestyle as they will be proof of your hard work.
The second step is to record your daily food intake over the past few weeks. I always tell my clients to be honest when doing this. The food diary isn’t for anyone’s benefit but your own, so if you don’t include everything you’re only depriving yourself.
The third step is to discuss your food diary with a nutritionist or a diet specialist who will help you to devise a healthy eating plan that suits your schedule, tastes, and budget. From there, it’s a matter of implementing the plan – this is the most difficult step as it’s when you begin to break down your old habits and build up new ones. To aid this process, download a food tracking app that allows you to look up nutritional values and create a daily log of what you’ve eaten. You may also wish to record your weight daily or weekly.
These steps are the basis of a healthy lifestyle.
Tips for meal timing
If you’re embarking upon a lifestyle change and want to transition to healthy eating, your main concerns are likely to be satiety, adequate energy levels, nourishment, variety of foods, and making sure that the diet is practical (in terms of time and effort). You’ll also likely want to lose weight and tone up.
First of all, let’s think about meal timing and frequency. It’s commonly accepted that eating 5 times a day creates a good nutritional structure. These 5 times are to consist of 3 main meals and 2 snacks. Each meal/snack is portion-controlled. By eating frequently, you can prevent against the build-up of intense hunger that can cause over-eating and feel satisfied throughout the day.
Some people don’t like the 5 times method and prefer 3 larger main meals a day with no snacks. Other people like the idea of a ‘top-up’ between meals to prevent against hunger. Whether you’re a snacker or not, the bottom line is meal timing has to suit your preferences and lifestyle.
Once you’ve decided when you’re going to eat, the next step is to decide what you’re going to eat.
Tips for meal designing
The best tip I can give you is to have some protein source with every main meal. There are a few reasons for this. Protein is a satiating food, so when you eat a high protein meal you’ll be fuller for longer. It has the highest thermic effect of all the macronutrients, which means that your body uses more energy to digest it than it would use for carbs or fat. It’s also essential for building and maintaining muscle mass. This is why a high protein and vegetable diet is the fastest and most effective way of getting lean or shredded. Indeed, many bodybuilders will follow such a diet in the runup to a competition.
In terms of how much protein you should be consuming, the standard rule is 1 gram of protein per 1 pound of bodyweight. For someone who is of average bodyweight or leaner and wanting to get ripped, I recommend 1.2-1.4 grams of protein, possibly even 1.5.
Healthy protein sources include very lean red meat, lean white meat, lean poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, vegetarian meat alternatives, tofu, beans, strained yogurt, cottage cheese, and milk. Protein powders can be useful for people who do not have time to eator who are following a very high protein diet.
For vegetables, I’m referring specifically to fibrous veggies. That’s almost all the greens (broccoli, asparagus, green beans, spinach, brussels sprouts, salad greens, cucumbers, and so on) and any other non-starchy vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, bell peppers, courgette, mushrooms, onions, and so on).
But what about carbs and fats?
While a high protein and vegetable diet is the fastest way of shedding fat and gaining muscle (when paired with strength training), it’s still a pretty extreme diet. Depriving yourself of starchy carbs over a long period of time is guaranteed to negatively impact your life and weaken your willpower. Luckily, it’s not what I’m suggesting. As already mentioned, bodybuilders will follow the high protein and vegetable diet in the runup to a competition, but outside of this even they’ll eat a more ‘relaxed’ version that includes healthy carbs.
A good diet can include carbs from single-ingredient, unprocessed sources like oats, sweet potato, white potato, brown rice, and fruits. It should also include fats from quality sources, such as avocado, olive oil, nuts, egg yolks, oily fish etc. While fats are high in calories and thus must be strictly monitored, they’re essential to satiety and various bodily functions including reproductive health.
As a rough guide to meal planning for weight loss, aim for an aggressive daily calorie deficit (30% below maintenance or so). At every main meal, fill your plate with protein and vegetables. Once or twice a day, include carbs too – but only as much as fits with the calorie deficit. Small or moderate amounts of healthy fats would also be included.
When you’re eating, it’s a good idea to start with your protein, vegetables and fats and then move onto your carbs. This way you’ll only eat as much as your appetite actually requires. It will also help you to keep in the mindset of “eat more protein and vegetables.” I’m a believer in eating carbs (a life without potatoes is no life at all), but if you fill up on them before you’ve started on your other macronutrients then you’ll be making a mistake from a maximum weight loss perspective.
Remember, adopting a healthy lifestyle is about implementing long-term changes and forming new habits. It’ll improve your quality of life and make you feel better. It’s not something to be rushed. If your diet isn’t sustainable, you won’t maintain any weight loss and the only thing you’re guaranteed to lose is your mind.