Balance is important to a healthy diet. The way we eat affects our well-being, so knowing how to choose a healthy combination of foods is the first step towards improving out eating habits and lifestyle.
Whether you are slimming or just trying to change your eating habits for the better, the key to a healthy diet is variety – not just in terms of taste but also in the range of foods you eat. Diets that are based on one or two types of food – for example fruit or vegetable – impose a rigid routine that quickly becomes boring and will probably result in your lapsing; more important, such diets are also unhealthy. The recipes on the following pages are based on the foods needed to maintain good health, and have also been developed for those wishing to lose weight by following a calorie-controlled diet.
Fat – Friend and Foe
Eggs, butter, milk, and meat are a good source of energy, but we tend to eat too much fat which is why many of us are overweight: fat produces fat. Cut down on fat in your diet but do not cut it out completely: eat less fatty red meat and more fish and poultry; grill, bake, or stir-fry (using polyunsaturated and monounsaturated oils), eat eggs in moderation, and use semi-skimmed or skimmed milk instead of full-fat milk. Try to use margarine, or try switching to a reduced fat olive-oil spread instead of butter; if you like butter, reserve it for special occasions.
Saturated fats come mainly from animal products (milk, butter, cheese, and meat) and in excess are thought to contribute to raise cholesterol levels.
Polyunsaturated fats are found in vegetable oils such as sunflower, safflower, corn, and Soya bean oils; they are also found in some fish oils and some nuts, and are said to help lower cholesterol levels.
Monounsaturated fats are found in olive and rapeseed oils; they are also said to lower cholesterol levels.
Diet and Weight Loss
People tackle weight loss in ways that suit their lifestyles. But the safest and best way to shift excess pounds is to combine regular exercise with a balanced calorie-controlled diet. What you eat when you are trying to take off weight should not be that different from a normal eating plan – except for the amount you consume. If you only have a small amount to lose and you cut your calorie intake by 1000 from the recommended 2300 calories per day, you will lose weight; if you are aiming to lose a significant amount, stick to 1200 calories a day and you will get there. Your basic weight loss ethos is less sugar and saturated fats, more fibre and starch; the calories you eat should come from foods that supply you with the right number of nutrients to keep your body functioning properly.
Mind over Matter
Quick weight loss is inspiring, but it is important to think ahead too: you need to retrain your palate and eating habits and reassess your physical activity so that you can lose weight and stay slim. You cannot expect to achieve miracles in a few days, but you will see a difference within three or four weeks if you eat properly and exercise regularly. Losing weight successfully is like getting fitter: you need a horizon – or goal – ahead of you to help spur you on.
How much weight can I lose?
To lose weight you have to eat fewer calories than your body burns up every day, but the amount varies from person to person. The exact amount depends on your personal composition – how much fat your body has, your metabolism, and the amount you weigh to begin with. As a rule of thumb though, the heavier you are when you start slimming, the more weight you are likely to lose within 21 days or a month. When you lose weight it comes off all areas of your body, but it can take longer to shift from certain areas, such as your arms and legs. This is where exercise is particularly helpful: working on specific trouble spots will encourage the weight to come off more quickly.
Chocolate, biscuits, doughnuts, fizzy drinks, cakes, ice cream, sugared cereals – in fact anything that contains refined sugar, it is just empty calories: a confectionary bar, for instance, has 230 calories and has absolutely no food value.
– If you can, eat more at the start of the day to give you energy and time to burn off the calories.
– Eat little and often to stop hunger pangs.
– Drink lots of water.
– If you want to snack, keep a supply of raw fruit, vegetables, and raisins nearby.
– Do not be tempted to take slimming pills, diuretics, or laxatives to speed up weight loss; they upset the body’s natural equilibrium – something that can take considerable time to rebalance.
– Exercise regularly; extra activity uses up calories, and this is essential to weight loss.
– Do not give up if you lapse: it is quite normal to veer off track every so often, and as long as you get back on course as soon as you can, all your hard work will not be ruined.
Eating out – and staying on course
The problem of what to do when dieting and eating out is a tricky one. At the height of the 1980s’ slimming boom, some restaurants offered specific diet options on their menus, but few give this kind of service now that dieting is less fashionable. The best way to get around the problem of dining out without lapsing – without drawing attention to you and still being able to enjoy yourself – is as follows:
– Order a salad starter.
– Skip bread or breadsticks, or eat a piece of bread without butter – it can be just as delicious.
– Drink one glass of wine, and lots of water.
– Choose a simple main course, something like grilled fish or chicken; avoid anything that is drenched in a rich sauce or in lots of butter.
– Choose a simple low fat dessert: a sorbet is ideal.
– Finish with herbal tea (peppermint is very refreshing and settles your stomach after eating); or, if you have to have a coffee, choose espresso or black coffee, not cappuccino.
Gauging weight loss
You may choose to weigh yourself once a week first thing in the morning. Drawing up a goal chart to record any weight losses (and gains) may help to keep you inspired. Or, if you prefer, ignore the scales and just focus on how you feel by keeping a check on how your clothes feel. When tight clothes become more comfortable this is a sure sign that you are losing weight. Alternatively, you may prefer to keep a record of your measurements (bust, waist, and hips) and see how they alter over the 21 day period. Do whatever works for you, and when you have lost a little weight reward yourself with a special calorie-free treat such as a new lipstick, eye-shadow, or a manicure.
Myth-breaker: If I stop smoking will I gain weight?
You may well put on a small amount of weight at first but if you are serious about getting fitter you have absolutely no choice but to kick smoking. Tobacco is toxic. If you are a smoker, stopping is the biggest leap you can make towards living a healthier lifestyle; if you are following a straightforward weight-loss diet and think that kicking the habit will make you pick at food all day, keep lots of raw vegetables and raisins on hand to munch on.
Myth-breaker: If I skip meals will I lose weight more quickly?
Do not be tempted to skip meals. Skipping meals makes you crave, overeat at the next meal, and it slows down your metabolism, which ultimately hinders weight loss.