The word ‘diet’ has a lot of negative connotations amongst those who don’t believe in weight loss ‘diets’, so I find myself explaining to people that when I use the word ‘diet’ in reference to the SCD, it’s about a change of approach to food as part of a lifestyle change, not a short term fix for being overweight.
And this should be anyone’s approach to weight loss: a lifestyle change. What you’ve been doing before has only led you to where you are now.
Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting a different result each time is a sign of madness!
Actually, it’s just plain stupid!
There is a lot of information out there on the best ‘diet’ for weight loss and health maintenance, and it can be hard to figure out what’s what when we are bombarded with information from all directions.
People that want to loose weight are not interested in the mechanics; they just want something simple that will help them loose weight without taking too much effort or involving too much analysis/thinking. And that’s understandable; we lead busy lives and things need to be easy and straightforward. So let’s make this easy to understand….
“Calories are tiny creatures that live in your wardrobe, who sew your clothes a little smaller every night”
It might feel like that, but I think we know that’s not the case! Calorie is a measure of energy. Food contains energy. When we move around we use energy.
Calories is a simple way of measuring energy INPUT (the amount of energy we take in when we eat) and OUTPUT (the amount of energy we use moving around).
So here are three simple weight loss facts and they revolve around ‘Calories’:
- On any given day, if you eat more calories than you use (more input than output), you WILL GAIN WEIGHT.
- If you REALLY like your food (lots of input) and you don’t want to put on weight, then you REALLY need to like exercise too (lots of output). Exercise, uses that excess energy produced by your food.
- If you don’t want to exercise, then just eat less. Start cutting down your intake until you see your weight going down. When you reach your ideal weight, increase your intake until your weight becomes static; this level is your ideal food intake for your activity level.
But, before we get too excited, there are some other things we need to take into account, because it’s not just about loosing weight any way we can; our priority is EATING NUTRITIOUS FOODS to keep our bodies running efficiently, fighting disease and feeling energetic.
‘Nutrition value’ refers to the level of vitamins, minerals & other essential nutrients in food. So, here are three other points to take into account when counting calories;
- Processed foods (cake, wine, beer, bread, pasta, rice, pastry) in general, are HIGH calorie and have LOW nutrition value.
- Non-processed foods (vegetables, fruit, meat, beans etc..) in general, are LOW calorie and have HIGH nutrition value.
- This means that if you are trying to loose weight by eating fad-diet foods and other processed foods (1) you will have to eat less, and (2) you are not taking in any nutrients, thus making yourself tired, sick and probably sapping your willpower to stay on track.
The picture below shows two lots of food; processed (left) and non-processed (right). The total calories in each picture are exactly the same (around 1600), but the NON-processed foods will (1) keep you fuller for longer and (2) provide you with ample amount of nutrition that you will NOT find in the processed foods.
Notice how processed foods are always on the beige/brown part of the colour scale? YUCK!
But on top of this, there are other things to consider:
- Hopefully you read my blog post on sugar and carbohydrates; constantly using carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, pastry, low calorie cakes & sweets) to feel satisfied will be slowing, if not stalling, your weight loss. A high protein and fat diet has been shown to keep people satisfied for longer, thus stopping them snacking (a key problem with diets).
- Studies show that people on low-carb diets, taking in the same number of calories as people on high-carb diets, actually lose more weight. It has been found that a diet of LESS than 10% carbohydrates (AKA sugar) will aid weight loss. You WILL notice a difference.
- There are many myths around low-carb diets, which I will cover in a separate blog, but in summary: no, it’s not dangerous; the main myth is around Ketoacidosis which is a problem suffered by diabetics, not general low-carbers; and, if you eat less than 10% cabs, then yes, you might get funky smelling breath when your body starts using fat to create energy AKA Ketosis (ask Terry about my morning breath!).
- I will cover the topic of ‘fat in food’ in another blog, because there is a LOT to say. But in summary, the thinking on fat has changed over the last couple of years; fat from NON-processed foods, even saturated fat, is good for you. Trans fats are NOT good for you; trans fats are found in processed foods.
But this doesn’t mean you should rub your hands together at the thought of the next fry-up! Just eating fat and protein, like all things, can cause other health issues. Have your eggs and bacon, but also have an avocado and fresh tomato with it! KEEP A BALANCE! For weight loss and health maintenance you must ensure you are having a balanced diet containing healthy protein, vegetables and some carbohydrates.
But what is balanced, and how much of each should I eat? Your activity level will determine how much of each food group you should eat. Guidance on this varies: there’s the old food pyramid for the average person that indicates a very high intake of carbs, which I do not believe is right. And then there’s very high protein and no carbs, which contrary to popular opinion, is not good either, especially for body builders who need to ensure they have enough carbs in their diet to prevent their body cannibalising their hard-won muscles for energy.
There is a happy place somewhere in the middle for those of us who live an active or sedentary lifestyle. But here are some things to keep in mind:
- Carbohydrate (sugar) is in most vegetables and fruit, so you don’t need to add bread, pasta or rice to your meals;
- Fibre is in all fruit and vegetables so you do not need to eat bread, cereals etc;
- Protein can be found in veg, nuts, seeds – you do not need to just eat meat all the time for protein intake;
- You should have veg with each meal; this makes up most of your fibre, vitamins and minerals! If you can’t stomach veg at breakfast, then have a small portion of fruit instead (see my green smoothie recipe at the bottom of this post to start having veg at breakfast);
- Vegetables are your friend; the more you eat them the more you will like them, and the easier it will get;
- Portion sizes are important; the ‘serving size’ on a packet is NOT necessarily a healthy portion size (you shouldn’t be eating anything out of a packet anyway!!).
The chart below gives a guide to portion sizes for each meal for a normal person; I would suggest you keep carbs below 20%, and flex the other groups accordingly. For weight loss, your carb intake probably needs to be lower.
If you are trying to lose weight or give up smoking, but you always feel hungry, cut out the processed foods and start increasing your vegetable, fruit, and protein intake: boiled eggs, carrot sticks & hummus, sliced chicken breast… it’s not complicated, just a case of using your imagination and planning ahead. I have 2 boiled eggs mid morning as a snack, and that’s me happy till 1pm. I also make my own yoghurt; it’s protein rich and thick like greek yoghurt, and has hardly any bitterness unlike commercial yoghurt. As an afternoon snack, it keeps me full till dinner time!
If you are suffering from any health issues (e.g. diabetes), then it’s important to see your doctor if your planning on changing your diet. However, there is growing evidence that low-carb diets improve blood glucose levels and aid weight loss in diabetics.
Anyway, just to prove that low carb diets are not boring and bland, here’s a lovely recipe for you.
Pistachio and Parsley Stuffed Chicken
For two people – or keep the other portion for lunch the next day!
This is easy and tasty! I would suggest having it with a salad of various leaves, roquefort cheese, walnuts and crispy pancetta.
- 2 portions of chicken breast butterflied,
- handful pistachios; shelled, unsalted, roasted and chopped,
- handful fresh parsley, chopped,
- zest from half lemon,
- juice from half the lemon,
- 2 cloves minced garlic,
- black pepper,
- sea salt,
- 2 tbsp of butter, softened.
- Pre-heat oven to 200C.
- Butterfly chicken breasts – basically cut the piece of meat in half longways, but leave the two halves attached (making it look like an open book). You can pound the chicken between plastic to make it flatter if you need/want to. Use string to tie it all together if you have some, otherwise don’t worry too much – filling might some out but you will still get the flavours. You could also buy the chicken with the skin on and stuff the pesto underneath the skin (I buy all chicken breast like this because chicken with skin on hasn’t been rolled in water & protein to make it swell up).
- Combine all the ingredients (except the chicken!) in a bowl. As long as the butter is soft it should go into a chunky paste.
- Put the mixture in the middle of each piece of chicken.
- Fold it over and tie it up.
- Oven bake at 400C for 20-25 minutes – cut a fat part of the chicken breast to ensure it’s done (no pink).
- Let chicken rest for a few minutes before serving.