Thinking of going on a crash diet to lose some kilos? Don’t. Instead, follow these simple rules throughout the year to get lean and healthy — and stay that way.
Some diet plans say that weight loss is all about “calories in vs calories out”, so all you need to do is get more exercise or eat less and you’ll drop weight. This doesn’t allow for the effects of different foods on your metabolism and hunger levels. Avoid any diet that says you can lose weight by living on 1000 calories of Coco Pops and pineapple chunks a day.
Although it’s very easy to overeat if you’re snacking on biscuits, cake and pizza, it’s much harder to do if you’re eating properly. Stick to unprocessed foods such as meat, fish, vegetables and nuts and you’ll find that you’re naturally less hungry between meals. As a general rule, avoid processed foods with lists of ingredients that read like a science book and you won’t need to count calories to keep your eating at a sensible level.
Low-fat diets have been popular since the 1970s, when research that suggested a connection between dietary fat and heart disease was first published. The trouble is the studies weren’t particularly convincing — and many “low-fat” foods add sugar to retain taste, which makes them worse for you than their full-fat alternatives.
Pick your fats
Your body needs good dietary fats to supply it with energy, essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K. You should aim to get monounsaturated fats from meat, olive oil and avocado and polyunsaturates from nuts, seeds and fish. Saturated fat is a hotly debated topic: advocates of the “paleo” or caveman diet argue that even high amounts are fine, but most experts agree that moderate amounts are OK. What you should avoid are highly processed, hydrogenated or trans fats as found in processed foods and margarine.
If you’re trying to lose fat, it makes sense to dodge the odd breakfast or lunch, right? Wrong. By skipping meals you’ll make yourself more likely to snack later, usually on impulse-buy foods that’ll ruin your weight-loss plans. Aim for at least three, and as many as six, meals a day, splitting your daily calories evenly between them.
Instead of eating haphazardly, have a sensible plan for what you’re going to eat. Aim to get a healthy dose of protein and fibre at every meal. This will keep you sated and less likely to be tempted by unhealthy treat foods.
Gorge on fruit
Fruit’s good for you, right? Well, yes, it’s got vitamins and antioxidants in it — but it’s also very high in fructose, a form of sugar that the body has trouble processing in large amounts, which leads to it being stored as fat. Stick to a couple of pieces of seasonal fruit a day.
Go big on veg
It’s difficult to eat too much veg. Load your plate with greens such as spinach or broccoli and you’ll get loads of important nutrients while filling yourself up so you’re less likely to overdo it on everything else.
This could be the single simplest change you can make to get lean and healthy. Sugar-filled fizzy drinks, fruit juice and booze are packed with calories and give you a massive insulin spike, making them one of the easiest ways to pack on unwanted weight. Cut them out and stick to green tea, coffee or water.
Tap water is the cheapest health food you can put in your body. Staying hydrated will help all the body’s biological processes run smoothly, as well as letting you tackle workouts head-on. It’ll also help prevent overeating because much of what you feel as hunger could actually be thirst from dehydration. Aim for at least two litres a day.
Go “on a diet”
“Going on a diet” implies a short-term change — and if you go back to your old ways, you’ll simply pack the weight back on. Don’t force yourself to eat in an over-elaborate way that you’ll find impossible to sustain.
Instead of bouncing between diets, stick to the simple principles we’ve outlined here and don’t beat yourself up if you occasionally have a chocolate doughnut. Remember: your goal should be to eat more healthily for the rest of your life, not to be miserable for a few weeks.