Thank you so much to all of you for leaving comments on my exercise post. It’s really lovely to know that you are enjoying the new posts. One reader commented how she had recently managed to swim 50 lengths non-stop (amazing) but wondered if I had any tips on how to cut down on the calories. And as it happens, I do, so this one’s for you Debbie.
Before I start though, I should say that I’m not qualified to give any sort of nutritional advice and this is a personal view point only. In my humble opinion however, to maintain a healthy weight long term, it’s important to find a sensible way of eating that you can keep up year upon year, not just for a few weeks before reverting to old habits. It doesn’t have to be boring, or limited and we all need treats.
But before I start, I thought that I would list some of the things that I really don’t like;
- Meal replacement drinks and bars. I worked in a factory packing these thing when I was about 22 and soon got the measure of them. More than anything though, they don’t teach people how to eat sensibly;
- False promises made by people in the diet industry. They play on people’s lack of knowledge about nutrition and insecurities about themselves, often fleecing them in the process;
- Low fat foods. Most of them are full of sugar to replace lost flavour. Apart from semi skimmed milk, everything is full fat in this house. Greek yoghurt, butter, full fat cheese (although generally not hard ones), mayonnaise. In fact it drives me nuts when I can’t find full fat Philadelphia, or full fat cottage cheese or full fat creme fraiche or proper cream. White slimy stuff is disgusting. Better to eat a little less of the full fat version and feel satiated;
- Processed foods that are full of preservatives. If the list of ingredients contains words that I can’t read, I’m not going to eat it;
- The use of different terms to disguise the addition of sugar. We’re not daft!
It’s a simple equation really…
Weight gain, or weight loss, is down to a simple equation – calories in vs calories out. A calorie deficit will result in weight loss. A calorie surplus will result in weight gain. So if you consume more than you expend, you’ll put on weight and if you expend more than you consume, you’ll lose weight.
So, thinking more in terms of how much we’ve moved in a day (ie does my body need this for fuel) rather than thinking in an emotional way (I’m sad so this cake will cheer me up/I’ve had a hard day so I deserve this) helps with the whole deficit/surplus equation. It also takes things back to basics – how things were before we all got lost under a mountain of cheap convenience food and huge portions.
Aside from being pregnant, I’ve been pretty much the same weight since I was 14. For anyone who is interested, I don’t count calories, I don’t weigh myself, I never, ever, miss a meal. I never go hungry, I never eat low fat products unless it’s by mistake. If I know what’s in them (ie if they’re home made) I’ll eat desserts and cakes – proper, full on sticky toffee pudding and chocolate caramel shortbread type desserts full of fat and sugar and I’ll enjoy them! But on the other hand I do move quite a bit, I do try to eat really healthily most of the time and I only have those puddings as occasional treats.
So to answer Debbie’s question, what tips do I have for cutting the calories down? I have a few…
- Takeaways – Best avoided! Even if you choose wisely, they’re generally full of calories. However everyone has things that they couldn’t bear to give up, so if a Friday night takeaway is a weekly treat, or fish and chips on the beach is a family tradition, don’t go without – just be aware and maybe order a child’s portion (which can still be more than enough);
- Drinks – it’s easy to consume a huge amount of calories through what you drink. Cappuccinos, lattes and hot chocolate are very calorific. Juice is full of sugar and squash is full of chemicals. Generally I drink mint tea, fizzy water, the occasional diet coke (I know, it’s bad but we all have the odd vice) and miso soup;
- Alcohol – I read that someone recently worked out that she was having the equivalent of a doughnut each evening in red wine – and that made it easier for her to give it up. But again the odd treat is never a bad thing!
- Portion control – generally people eat too much. Using a smaller plate or bowl and filling it up, rather than having a large plate looking half empty, is a really good approach;
- Know when to fuel your body and when to say no. After exercise your body need carbs. If you haven’t exercised you don’t need that extra energy, so give them a miss;
- Carrying on from the point above, carbs aren’t the enemy but many meals are based around carbs with other things taking second fiddle – sandwiches are all about the bread, pasta and sauce, curry and rice, pizza, jacket potatoes – in all of these, carbs take centre stage. The answer?
- Try and make the basis of your meals something other than carbs, especially if you haven’t exercised and don’t need them to re-fuel (see below for quick tips);
- Cook from scratch – then you know what you’re having;
- If you’re going out and there will just be canapes and snacks, eat something properly prepared at home and pass on the snacks when you go out. Generally they’re full of fat and not very nutritionally dense;
- Use garlic, chilli, soy sauce, ginger and a little bit of honey to flavour stir fries and chicken and use herbs too instead of creamy sauces;
- For me, some things belong in desserts not main meals – mostly cream and butter which I avoid in sauces, on veg and so on, saving them instead for a pud!
- Muscle burns calories much more efficiently than fat, so include weights in your work outs (subject to medical advice etc);
- Don’t have things on display in the kitchen that will tempt you. Put them in a tin, in a fridge or in a cupboard. Out of sight out of mind and all that!
Helpful hints if you’re busy….
- Soup is a godsend in the winter. You can make a batch and get a good few meals out of it. Dense, thick soups with lentils or chickpeas and lots of veg are brilliant (not creamy/buttery ones) as are stews minus lots of mash!!
- A microwave meal takes about three minutes. In that time it’s possible to put some raw veg on a plate with some hummous, mozarella and some parma ham or chicken breast and nutritionally you’re on your way. You can still have a perfectly good meal just by sticking a few things on a plate – it doesn’t have to take hours or even be cooked!
- Use non-carb foods as a basis for your meals especially if you haven’t moved too much – omlette, poached eggs with bacon and grilled mushrooms and tomatoes; cottage cheese and mackerel with avocado (sounds gross but I love it); minute steak marinaded in garlic, ginger and chilli with steamed spinach and tomatoes; smoothie pancakes; dahl made with lentils, chickpeas and coconut milk, butter beans with prawns and veg, spaghetti bolognaise served in lettuce boats with salsa on top – again it sounds gross but it’s not. It’s just a different way of approaching things;
- Although I don’t count calories, if I was really stuck and wanted to know what I was having, I would buy food with the calorie content clearly labelled, then there would be no excuse!
- Sometimes if I’m working from home, I’ll eat my main meal at lunchtime so that in the evening when I’m out and about with the children and doing their food, I can do something much quicker for myself;
- For a quick pudding have some Greek yoghurt with raspberries and a little honey or one chunk of the BIG Toblerone. No one can feel cheated eating one of those!
Some of my favourite cookery books…
Madeleine Shaw Get the Glow (£10) – I bought this last year and love it. Most of her recipes are low carb but still filling, tasty and the ingredients are readily available plus it’s really educational.
Jamie’s Dinners – really good tasty recipes. Every time I go through this book I find new ones – and we’ve had it since 2004!
Joe Wicks – I love a bit of Joe and I like the way that he only has two recipe chapters in his book – one for low carb meals for days that you’re not moving much and one for higher carb meals on the day that you train. It’s as simple as that!
Not being deprived, not following fad diets, not excluding entire food groups, having a little bit of knowledge, moving a fair amount and preparing food from scratch means that I can eat pretty much what I like, even on holiday, and not much changes. And even if it does, because I don’t weigh myself and because I return to my usual eating habits once home, I’m none the wiser anyway. Follow your instincts, be honest with yourself as to what you need and what you should leave behind, watch the portion sizes and (health issues aside) you should be able to maintain a healthy weight without too much trouble.
Do let me know what you think? Have you found this helpful and what ideas and tips do you employ on a daily basis to maintain a healthy weight? I would love to hear them. Beth x