Everyone could do with a little diet advice now and then. As of writing this, I have gained a few kgs of fat due to stress and tiredness, well more due to the overeating that follows. And, being someone who is generally quite in tune with her body, when this is scheduled to publish in a couple of weeks, I should have lost them already.
But how do I do it? Well, a huge part of it is years of experience with diets, of reading and applying advice, of getting to know my body. But another part of it is that along the way I picked up some “cheat codes”. Now, before you go crazy, these are not effortless. You will feel hungry or tired, they will take time and you will not instantly drop from 100 to 45 kilos. But they are also very simple things you can do, without spending much or any money, wasting your time or overthinking, to help yourself lose weight. There are many reasons to choose a simple weightloss option over a complicated one. Each of these “cheats” is:
-Cheaper than pills, a specialist diet or a dietician.
-Safer than a crazy fad or supplement.
-Flexible enough for you to go slow and steady or weightloss crazy.
-Easy enough for you to track your progress and stop when you’re comfortable.
-Simple enough that you can just apply it and not worry about calculating points or weighing stuff.
-Useful enough that you can use it alongside another plan.
Basically, this advice could save you a lot of time and effort and money. And the worst that can happen is that you stay the same.
1. Eat less of exactly the same.
A new spin on an old favourite. Calorie counting certainly works, but it can also be a lot of bother. Especially if you just want to pick up a banana or have a biscuit at a friend’s house and out comes the calculator.
The other, darker side to it is the excuses. When you insist the banana was small, so it must have had around half the calories. Or that you walked a lot, so that must be enough calories for a treat.
Eating less is basically the same thing: cutting your calories. Except a little easier. You just eat whatever you would eat anyway, but less. No “cheat days”, no exceptions, no “treat myself”.
If your weight has been stable you may only want to cut back a little bit to lose weight. Basically, instead of two sandwiches for lunch, have one and a piece of fruit, or put about 2/3 the filing in.
If your weight is increasing, cut the food back to half and see what happens. Instead of two sandwiches for lunch, have one.
If you’re not losing weight or not losing it fast enough, make your portions smaller again until you find you are losing weight. If you are losing weight, but too quickly, add in something calorific as a snack. Maybe add a banana or a biscuit or something, just to slow the weightloss.
But, simply put, eat exactly what you were going to eat, just eat less. Eventually you’ll be eating little enough to lose weight.
2. Do heavy lifting.
Another way to lose weight is to gain muscle. Not just tone or strength: actual mass.
Your body burns energy just to stay alive. And muscle burns a lot more energy than fat, bone, skin or most other tissues. So the more muscle you have, the more energy you use up.
You only need to lift very heavy twice a week or so or do HIIT daily to start gaining muscle. If you aren’t gaining muscle, then lift something heavier. The idea is to lift something your body can only just manage, to encourage it to grow more muscle.
And remember to bias your diet towards proteins, but generally don’t increase your calories. If you just start growing muscle and keep your diet the same, your body will start working on the excess you’re already eating and the excess you’re wearing.
3. Keep active.
The other side of the coin to muscle gain is to just keep moving. We are far too sedentary nowadays. In our past we wouldn’t just sit around and then go running or lifting for the sake of it. We’d either have huge bursts of intense activity as we went hunting or ran from a predator or we’d be continually very slightly active as we built houses, made clothes, gathered fruit or dug trenches.
So, if you’re not going to imitate the hunters, try and imitate the gatherers. Make a point of getting up, walking around and doing bodyweight exercise and yoga whenever you can. Doing a phonecall? Walk around as you do it. Getting up and got five minutes? Do some pushups and situps. Collecting some shopping? Walk it. Changing after work? Do some yoga. Going on a family picnic? Run around with the children and pets.
Just do anything to be on your feet 90% of the time you can realistically be on your feet.
4. Eliminate junk food.
Trust me, it’s a lot easier when you try it. There are many reasons to cut out junk food for weightloss. Let’s look at the three big ones.
Firstly is that it isn’t really all that satisfying, calorie for calorie. A burger may have 500 calories, but you can eat it and still want another 500 calories in the form of medium chips and a medium drink. You may even want a pudding afterwards, or a snack before three hours have passed. So you broke into 1000 calories (which may be your daily limit, if that’s where you start to lose weight!) and you’re still hungry, basically. Compare that to a plain vegetable salad which you can have a kilo of for around 200 calories. To boot, it will keep you full for longer as it’s slow digesting and if you’re hungry two hours later, you still have plenty of room for more eating. I’m not saying you should live on leafy salads. What I am saying is that is it worth it to eat half to all your daily calorie requirement in one meal if you’re just going to be hungry in an hour?
Secondly junk food is often fast release energy. This contributes to problem one, but it also causes a problem of its own. Fast release sugars cause insulin spikes and drops. This insulin helps your body store fat, which means you’re actually eating something that is encouraging your body to store it. Not good.
Finally, junk food is very cheap for calories. A surefire way of reducing your dietary intake is buying something that is expensive for the calories. Junk food can give you 500 calories for £2. If you stick to your current budget but only buy things that cost, for example, £5 for 500 calories, you will be eating less. Spend more on low calorie things and you will have to eat fewer calories. Cruel, but sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind.
5. Reset your sugar.
As mentioned above, insulin spikes can encourage your body to store fat. Basically, insulin is the little guy running around pushing energy places. If you’re working out, insulin sees that the energy is needed and pushes it to the muscles. If you’re not, insulin sees the energy isn’t being used and puts it into your fat cells.
If your insulin is too high, it will tell you to store energy too quickly. When this happens your blood sugar drops too low, making you feel hungry again, because all your energy has been stored away. If your insulin doesn’t drop again, your body can find it hard to burn that stored energy. So this creates a cycle of hunger, insulin spikes, stored energy and more hunger, which obviously can lead to weight gain.
Therefore, having some control over your insulin can help you avoid those intense hunger pangs you feel when dieting and encourage your body to keep its blood sugar even and use its fat reserves for fuel.
The simplest way to reset your sugar is by using the Glycemic Index. You don’t need to learn the GI of all foods, these three tricks are all you need.
One is avoiding sweet tasting foods. As a general rule, the sweeter it tastes, the more simple sugars. Simple sugars cause the highest insulin spikes.
Two is combining carby foods like pasta, potatoes or apples with fatty or proteiny foods, like nuts, eggs or meat. This should make the sugar release much slower.
Three is not eating frequently. Every time you eat your blood sugar goes up. Every time your blood sugar goes up, your insulin goes up. Eating infrequently and avoiding snacks will give you better appetite control.
6. Choose carbs or fats.
Following the same vein of the last two “cheats”, you can do an either-or diet as well.
Basically, there are two components to the difficulty of losing weight. Your hunger and the calorie density of your food. Therefore, addressing one can often help you.
As explained in the section on controlling your sugar, if you keep blood sugar spikes low and infrequent, you can address your hunger. However, if you want to make this a major component of weight loss, you should combine very low carb with moderate to high fat. Low carbs means smaller, less frequent insulin spikes, which means you’re less likely to quickly store the fat you’re eating. Also, not only does lower insulin mean less hunger, but the slow digestion of fat can also contribute to satiety.
On the flip side, you can also try eating high carb and very low fat. This is best for those who can eat a lot of fat easily. Basically you’re letting your blood sugar spike, but instead of eating something fatty and dense in calories, you’re eating carbs, which have fewer calories to the gram.
Whether you choose high fat and low carb or high carb and low fat, try and avoid overt sources of the one you’re not eating much of and continue to avoid snacking for best results.
7. Eat more fibrous plants.
And while we’re talking about satiety, let’s have a look at the easiest way to feel full and satisfied without eating many calories.
As mentioned in the fast food section, a kilo of leafy salad without dressing is only around 200 calories. But it’s still a kilo of food sitting in your stomach, then in your intestine, slowly releasing that energy. With a little mustard-honey-vinegar dressing, it would taste amazing and still be very low in calories.
Roasted low calorie plants like courgettes or carrots and vegetable soups and stews are also good ways to feel fuller for longer. You could always eliminate all fatty or carby side dishes in favour of greens, make two of your daily meals all vegetables or do as I do and keep a plain salad in the fridge to use for meals or snacks. When I have the salad, I won’t snack on anything else and at least one daily meal will be salad. You need to make vegetables easy.
An added benefit of fibrous vegetables is that they feed your gut bacteria. It has been found that a fecal transplant from an obese person into a thin one can promote weight gain, so resetting your gut bacteria by feeding them lots of veggies could help you avoid gaining weight too easily.
8. Kill water retention.
A big reason for minor weight gain is actually fluid retention, not fat. Think about it logically. If you eat 3kg of food and water over a day and after, erm, eliminating the excess the next morning, you’re 5kg heavier, then that isn’t going to be fat. For starters, few foods are all used up by your body, so some waste will have come out. Second you used some of those calories just by existing. Third, nothing will make you gain 2kg of air. The only possible answer, if you weighed your food properly, is that the weight has come from something else you put in: water.
But it’s not like you can just not drink as much water. That’s not really healthy. But neither is inflating yourself full of water your body isn’t using. So what can we do to reduce water retention?
Two things in your diet make you hold onto more water than you need. One is sugar and the other is salt. Without consuming too much sugar or too much salt, drinking excess water would just result in eliminating excess water. So if you find you put on water weight suddenly and easily, you’re probably overdoing one or the other, if not both.
You can also try and get more sleep, take cold showers and reduce stress, all of which would encourage your body to drop retained water.
9. Eat more protein.
This is more if you have an absolutely crazy appetite. Protein is your best friend. It will trigger a hormonal response that makes you feel full, it has as few calories per gram as carbs and it won’t spike your insulin like carbs do. Thanks to all this, it takes fewer calories of protein to feel full and you’re more likely to actually use them than to store them.
Protein is also a building block for your body, so if you’re active protein calories could end up as muscle rather than being stored or wasted. Protein can also be harder for your body to store. If you need energy desperately, your body will turn protein to ketones. But if you need energy you are unlikely to store anything. Protein is hard for your body to store because it can’t just turn protein to fat or put proteins into your fat cells. Often an excess of protein will be eliminated through your urine rather than stored.
Saving the best for last, there are countless reasons to fast when you’re on a diet.
Firstly, as noted on insulin, keeping your blood sugar low and steady can sometimes make you feel less hungry than eating a big meal does.
Secondly, the longer you go without food, the more your body shuts down your digestive system and starts burning fat. Once this switch has happened, you can go longer without feeling hungry.
Thirdly, the break your digestive system gets will help it reset, just not quite in the same way that eating greens does.
Fourthly, as long as you eat moderately after a fast, a meal missed is calories missed.
Fifthly, focusing on drinking water and avoiding food will allow you to lose a lot of water weight.
Sixthly, once your appetite has been reset from fasting, you could find yourself craving vitamin and mineral rich foods instead of highly calorific ones.
Seventhly, it’s natural to go without eating for a while. All animals do it all the time.
Eighthly, the longer your stomach is empty, the more of your body fat you burn.
I could keep going, but I’m sure you get the general idea.
So that’s my ten “cheats” to help you lose weight without worrying about going on a specific diet, counting calories or taking supplements. You could try them alongside your diet, on their own or all together, if you like.
TTFN and Happy Hunting.
How about you? How do you manage your weight? Does your diet interfere with other aspects of your life? Is it easy, cheap and simple? Are there any other basic diet tips you would give to someone trying to lose weight? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.