Eat several, smaller meals
Eating smaller meals more frequently not only reduces the chances of fat storage but also helps you recognize when you really are hungry. Spreading your meals more evenly through the day, as four to six small meals rather than two or three big ones, helps avoid blood sugar highs and lows and the resulting insulin surges. Insulin is a powerful anabolic hormone that drives glucose from the bloodstream into muscle cells and – when there’s too much glucose – into your fat cells. Your aim should be to keep your blood glucose and insulin levels stable, so your body can manage them more easily. Eat regular snacks of fruit, nuts or seeds to give you slow-release energy throughout the day.
Limit your food choices
Research carried out at Tufts University in Massachusetts, United States; found that when people are presented with a wider variety of foods they eat considerably more. Also, when eating a single food, the individual’s eating rate slows down, he or she is satiated more quickly and, therefore, he or she will eat less. The pleasure of eating a food increases up to the third or fourth bite then drops off. If you have lots of different foods on your plate you prolong the sensory pleasure, which stops you feeling full. The message here is to simplify your diet: place fewer types of food on your plate.
Practice portion control
It may sound obvious but larger portions make you eat more. Researchers at Cornell University, New York, found that people ate 33 per cent more food when given a large portion even when they disliked the food. Try putting smaller portions of foods with a high-energy density (such as meat, cheese and pizza) on your plate and larger portions of low-energy density foods such as vegetables on your plate. Check your portion sizes against those suggested in the Fitness Food Pyramid.
Don’t ban your favorite foods
Including your favorite foods in moderation will make your weight loss plan easier to stick to, if not pleasurable.
If you know that you can eat a little of your favorite indulgence every day, you’ll stop thinking of it as a forbidden food and then won’t want to binge on it. So go ahead and include chocolate or ice cream in your nutrition plan but make sure it’s only a little.
Don’t skip breakfast
Starting the day with a healthy, filling breakfast dramatically increases your chances of eating healthily throughout the day. It also provides your body with fuel and kick-starts your metabolism, so you have the rest of the day to burn up those calories. The carbohydrates you eat at breakfast will be used to fuel your daily activities and workouts, instead of being stored as body fat (as they are if eaten in the evening). If you don’t eat breakfast, you are more likely to snack during the morning and overeat at lunch. Studies have shown that dieters who ate a high-fiber breakfast lost more weight than their breakfast-skipping counterparts and consumed 100–150 fewer calories for breakfast and lunch.
Start with salad
According to a 2004 study at Pennsylvania State University, United States, eating a large portion of low energy density foods, such as salad or fruit, as a starter can cut the number of calories eaten during the main meal by 12 per cent. The fiber and water in the salad/fruit takes the edge off the appetite, causing you to eat less of the higher calorie foods. (Take care not to add too much salad dressing.)
Sleeping an extra hour or so may help you lose weight, according to a study published in the journal Sleep in 2004. The study found that those who slept nine hours or more had, on average, a significantly lower body mass index than those who slept five hours or less. This is because lack of sleep boosts levels of the hormone ghrelin, which makes you feel hungry, while lowering levels of the hormone leptin, which makes you feel full. This hormonal imbalance sends a signal to the brain that more food is needed when, in fact, enough has been eaten. Research at the University of Chicago, United States, also shows that sleeping for four hours or less increases levels of another hormone, cortisol, which makes you feel hungry in the evening rather than sleepy.
Switch off the TV
Don’t eat in front of the television nor while you are working or reading – you are less likely to notice what you’re eating. Studies have shown that the distraction of TV postpones the point at which people stop eating, with TV watchers eating approximately 12–15 per cent more than those who do not eat in front of the television. In addition, people who watch TV for more than four hours a day consume one-third more calories because they have more opportunity to nibble and less opportunity to exercise. Another study found that those who eat with family or friends consume up to 70 per cent more on average than those who eat alone. Social company, it seems, overrides satiety.
Distinguish between hunger and appetite
Unfortunately, it is easy to confuse hunger and appetite. Appetite is produced by external stimuli, such as the sight or smell of food or simply feeling bored.
Real feelings of hunger are produced when blood sugar begins to fall. The difference is that appetite goes away when you distract yourself with another activity. Next time you feel the urge to eat, distract yourself by going for a walk, taking a bath or doing your nails. If you’re still hungry then you know you need to eat.
Don’t be ‘fat phobic’
While cutting out high-fat foods will help you lose weight, don’t completely cut fat out from your diet. This would be unhealthy and hinder your progress. Including foods rich in essential fats – oily fish, avocados, nuts, olives and seeds – in moderation can help burn body fat more efficiently, improve aerobic capacity and boost immunity. Fat also helps to give foods taste, so including it in moderation will help you stick to your eating plan. If you’re eating 1,500 calories a day, aim to consume 33–42g of healthy fats daily.
You’ll eat 15 per cent fewer calories if you sit down and take time to eat your meal rather than eating on the go. Studies have shown that people eat up to 15 per cent more calories when they rush at mealtimes. Scoffing your meal means that your hypothalamus – the part of the brain that senses when you are full – doesn’t receive the right signals, which explains why you may feel hungrier sooner if you rush a meal.
Keep an eye on your alcohol consumption
Alcohol calories count too: if you enjoy several alcoholic drinks in an evening, they can sabotage your fat-loss plan. Alcohol calories can’t be stored and have to be used as they are consumed – this means that calories excess to requirements from other foods get stored as fat instead. One small glass of red wine contains 85 calories and a bottle of lager contains 130 calories. If you have a drink, make sure you include it in your daily calorie allowance. (click here for a detailed article about alcohol)
Many people confuse thirst with hunger. Both thirst and hunger sensations are generated at the same time to indicate the brain’s needs. If you don’t recognize the sensation of thirst, you may assume that you are hungry and eat instead of drinking water. Next time you’re feeling peckish, drink a glass of water and wait ten minutes to see if you are still hungry.
Eat fruit instead of drinking juice
Eating fruit is one of the best things you can do for your health; aim for 2–4 portions daily. However, you should only count a maximum of one portion of fruit juice towards your daily target. A glass of juice provides 120 calories but if you eat an orange instead (60 calories) you’ll save 60 calories, consume more fiber and still get your daily vitamin C quota. Both fruit juice and dried fruit contain much higher concentrations of (natural) sugar than the fresh fruit they came from and are less satiating.
Beware of ‘reduced-fat’ labels
Eating foods labeled ‘reduced-fat’ may make you feel virtuous but it can trick your brain into letting you overeat. Many lower-fat versions of biscuits, ice cream, cakes and yoghurt contain extra sugar or modified starch in place of the fat, making their calorie count just as high. Unfortunately, the body is not very good at regulating the intake of high-calorie food, whether the calories come from fat or carbohydrate. You may keep eating, thinking you’re being good, while actually you’re being overloaded with calories. You would be better off eating the occasional biscuit or cake rather than regularly eating the reduced-fat versions.
Don’t go shopping when you’re hungry
If you go shopping when you’re hungry you will be tempted to fill up your trolley with high calorie foods. Make a shopping list before you hit the supermarket – that way you’ll avoid unplanned supermarket splurges in unhealthy foods. If you shop with a list you will be less likely to make impulsive food choices.
Replace half your carbohydrates with veggies
Try replacing half of your usual portion of carbohydrates (bread, pasta, potatoes) with vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, green beans or cauliflower. That way you won’t feel like you’re eating less.
Match every excuse to a solution
Do you snack on high-calorie foods during the day because you’re always in a rush? The solution is to prepare meals in advance or, perhaps, to take a supply of healthy snacks with you to eat between meals. Do you always snack on high calorie foods in front of the television? Eat an apple instead or, better still, think of an activity to take you away from the television.
Carry healthy snacks
Always carry healthy snacks, such as apples, nuts or small cereal bars, with you so you don’t end up at the chocolate vending machine or snack food counter when you feel hungry.
Stock up with healthy foods
Keep a well-stocked supply of healthy foods that you love to make your fat-loss program easy. Decide which new foods you’re going to substitute for high-fat or sugary foods. This way, you’ll keep yourself on track and avoid the temptation of slipping back into old eating habits. Remember, fruit, vegetables, pulses and wholegrain cereals give the best filling power for the minimum calories. They contain lots of water and fiber, which fill you up, slow down your eating speed and give best meal satisfaction. Choose the ones you like and stock up on those.