Last week we talked about some strategies to keep up with your exercise regime. However, that is only half the battle when it comes to healthy living! For me, it is more difficult to resist snacking on unhealthy foods than it is to head to the gym, so I know firsthand how frustrating it feels to be making great progress whilst working out, but not seeing results due to my eating patterns. As it so happens, I’m always on the hunt for ways to improve my eating habits and stimulate weight loss in a sustainable way.
I would like to highlight the word sustainable here. This article isn’t going to promote skipping meals, “detoxing”, or any other unhealthy weight loss strategies. While these techniques may lead to short-term results, the problem is the maintenance. Without proper nutrients and calorie intake over time, you may lose the energy to exercise (or anything else, for that matter). Those who continue these eating habits for years may endure more serious complications, such as loss of bone mass, irregular heart beats, infertility, kidney and liver damage, and ironically, decreased metabolism.
Another risk of “crash dieting” is the yo-yo effect, also known as weight cycling. When weight is lost in an extreme fashion, once said person inevitably starts to regain the weight, their body continues its starvation response, which causes rapid weight gain of mainly fat, and less muscle. From a prehistoric point of view, this makes sense. As far as the body knows, it hasn’t had access to much food, and now that it does, it’s going to hang onto the fat it consumes in case it’s deprived again. This triggers a vicious cycle where the dieter may feel they look less “fit” compared to when they started the diet, and they engage in unhealthy weight loss tactics again.
The tortoise defeats the hare every time. Long term weight loss strategies are going to take more time and effort, but I promise it will be worth it. Losing weight and keeping it off, and not having to restrict yourself? Win win. These tips certainly are not comprehensive, but I hope they help you with your weight loss journey.
- Keep a Balanced Plate
A good rule of thumb is 25% carbs, 25% protein, and 50% vegetables. Each category has its own unique health benefits that, when combined in the right proportions, will leave you feeling satiated and healthy. Vegetables are not only low-calorie, but contain vital nutrients such as potassium, dietary fiber, folic acid, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Carbohydrates, IMO, get a bad rap. They are our body’s main source of energy, are filling, may decrease LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and may aid memory performance. While eating excessive amounts of carbohydrates can be detrimental for weight loss, its important to consume a balanced amount. Try to eat nutrient rich carbohydrates, such as whole grains, legumes, fruits, or starchy vegetables. And of course, we can’t forget about protein… In fact, it’s so important, it gets its own point. Which leads me to #2:
- Eat. Enough. Protein.
I can’t stress this enough. Not only is protein key for building muscle, but it may also enhance weight loss, through increasing metabolism and reducing appetite. Protein has the highest thermic effect compared to carbs and fats, which leads to increased calories burned. In fact, high protein consumption may increase the amount of calories burned by 80-100 per day. In regards to reducing appetite, according to Healthline, “A higher protein intake actually increases levels of the satiety (appetite-reducing) hormones GLP-1, peptide YY and cholecystokinin, while reducing your levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin”. Go for lean protein such as beans, chicken breast, legumes, nonfat dairy, soy based products, fish, and nuts. It can be difficult to find protein sources as a vegan or vegetarian, but hopefully the above guide helps you out.
- Watch Your Sugar Levels
Now, sugar isn’t the devil, but everything in moderation. Generally speaking, most people consume over the suggested daily amount of added sugar ( approximately 25 grams for women, and 38 grams for men). Consuming sugar actually makes you more hungry, as it signals to the thalamus, hypothalamus, and insula that you’re not full and need to eat more after consumption, regardless of satiety levels. Sugar can also make you tired,as it inhibits orexin, a neurochemical that keeps you feeling awake. Consuming too much of it pre-workout may decrease your energy and motivation.
I have found that added sugar can lurk in liquid calories: for example, a 16 ounce white chocolate mocha from Starbucks (with nonfat milk and no whipped cream) contains a staggering 58 grams of sugar. Twice the amount of the daily amount in just one drink! That’s not to say you shouldn’t treat yourself every once in a while, but I recommend always being aware of the nutritional facts.
- Outline a Caloric Strategy
By this, I do not mean telling yourself you’ll only eat 1,000 calories a day by any means necessary. As we’ve seen above, what you eat is just as important, if not more so, than how much you eat. Each food group has different benefits that are vital to a balanced diet, protein is especially important for increasing metabolism and satiety, and added sugar should be heavily monitored. However, its helpful to have an overarching frame of reference: this is where a caloric macro goal comes in. I don’t think counting calories is for everyone, and I think in excess it can do more harm than good. But for some, such as myself, setting a calorie goal assists me with being more conscious of empty calories. Plus, if you are looking to lose weight, you do need a calorie deficit. Luckily we have technology at our fingertips to help us: I use the app Samsung Health (I believe Apple has a similar app) to track what I eat, and compare it to the approximate calories I burn while exercising and throughout the day. I don’t obsess over it, but it helps me put overeating and potentially breaking my calorie deficit into perspective.
- Think of it as a Lifestyle, Not a Diet
To me, the word “diet” has a temporary connotation. In one study, after 2 years, 83% of persons initially following a diet gained back more weight than they had lost. One would assume that as a whole, diets don’t work. What does? Consistent exercise and long-term healthy food choices. Sure, drinking three detox shakes a day will probably help you drop some weight initially. But are you going to follow that the rest of your life? Most likely not. Gradual changes to your diet, such as slowly increasing protein intake and decreasing sugar intake is do-able, and will probably leave you feeling better too. Invest time and patience in yourself and you’ll see lasting results.
How have these tips worked for you? Anything you’d like to add? Let me know in the comments!