‘Eat fewer calories than you burn’ has been the weight loss mantra for decades now. The problem is, cutting back on food and taking more exercise almost inevitably makes people hungry, which can make changes quite unsustainable in the long term. In this article, I offer some practical solutions to this, by outlining several approaches that can help put the body in ‘caloric deficit’ and promote weight loss without the need to go hungry.
1. Forget about calories
While there is some element of truth in the calorie principle, it neglects the fact that different types of calorie are burned differently in the body. While fat is often singled out for attention in low-calorie approaches, there is evidence that when calorie intakes are the same, individuals that eat the most fat actually lose the most weight [1,2,3]. Also, the effect that a food has on subsequent appetite will also determine, ultimately, its influence on food intake and weight. The key to long-term weight loss is not to concentrate on the quantity of the food that you consume, but its quality.
2. Eat protein-rich foods
Calorie for calorie, protein has been found to satisfy the appetite more than either carbohydrate or fat . Protein-rich foods that are naturally appetite-sating and worth emphasising in the diet include meat, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds.
3. Eat low glycaemic index (GI) foods
The GI is a measure of the speed and extent a food releases sugar into the bloodstream. The higher a food’s GI, the less satisfying it tends to be. Of 20 studies published between 1977 and 1999, 16 showed that low GI foods promoted the satisfaction derived from that meal and/or reduced subsequent hunger . Protein rich foods have very low GIs, though other options include beans, lentils and most fruits and vegetables (other than the potato).
4. Eat breakfast
For many, eating breakfast helps to prevent over-eating later in the day. This phenomenon was studied formally in a piece of research published in the Journal of Nutrition . The results of this study showed that those who had consumed the bulk of their food near the end of the day ate, on average, significantly more calories than individuals who ate more substantial amounts of food early on. So, to put a natural break on the appetite, make sure you don’t skip breakfast.
5. Graze, don’t gorge
If we get too hungry, it’s difficult to control what we eat and how much we eat of it. Eating between meals (e.g. some fruit and a few nuts) can make it a lot easier to eat more healthily at meal time. Also, consistent eating has been found to be associated with lower levels of the insulin [7,8] ” a hormone that can cause weight gain in the body by stimulating the production of fat. A piece of fruit and a handful of nuts or seeds represents a healthy and convenient snack for the late morning or afternoon.
6. Don’t buy it
When none-too-healthy food is easily available to us, it can be difficult to resist. On the other hand, if it’s not in the cupboards or fridge, you can’t eat it. So don’t buy it. Critical to doing this with relative ease is to make sure that food shopping, especially in a supermarket, is not done when hungry. So eat before you go shopping, not after.
7. Curb alcohol intake without sacrifice
One way to bump up intake of unwanted calories is with alcohol. Some drinking may be driven by taste and the ‘relaxant’ effects alcohol can have. However, what is less well recognised is that drinking can also be driven by plain thirst and hunger. Maintaining hydration during the day and not coming home or walking into a bar or restaurant very hungry can really help to curb alcohol intake without any sense of sacrifice.
8. Use small plates
Adequate portions of food can easily get ‘lost’ on big plates, so there can be a tendency to serve (and eat) more than is strictly necessary. Using smaller plates and bowls can help make it easier to eat enough, but not too much.
9. Chew your food
Eating more slowly helps ensure that food is more likely to ‘register’ in the body, and reduces the risk of eating more than is surplus to requirements. Ideally, food should be thoroughly chewed to a cream before eating. It can also help, once food that has been put in the mouth, to not touch the food or cutlery again until that food has been thoroughly masticated and swallowed.
10. Discover your ideal diet
Physiological studies show that different people metabolisers specific foods with different efficiencies. For instance, some individuals are very good metabolisers of fat, while others run better on carbohydrate. Maintaining a healthy weight is therefore partly about feeding the body with the foods it is best adapted to. For more details on this, and how to discover your ideal diet, see http://www.thetrueyoudiet.com.
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2. Wien M A, et al. Almonds vs complex carbohydrates in a weight reduction program. Int J Obes 2003;27:1365-1372
3. Young CM, et al. Effect of body composition and other parameters in obese young men of carbohydrate level of reduction diet. Am J Clin Nutr 1971;24:290-6
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