Diets

Right, it’s a thorny subject, but folk keep asking, so here we go…

I know a little bit about this, I’m not a health professional, but I’ve struggled to maintain a healthy weight since I was a teenager (and that was a while ago!) so I’ve been interested in how it works pretty much my entire adult life.

I have a scientific tendency anyway, and I think that’s the way to approach it. It is, after all, a physical/biological process we’re talking about. I think it’s important to get your head around that. There’s no magic involved here, everybody’s different, and the numbers stack up differently for each one of us. But, the process is always the same, we’re all human.

So, how’s it done? To steal a catch phrase from the Change4Life campaign: Eat Well, Move More. We’re all already moving more (yay us!) so it’s all about eating well.

Something to consider, as I ramble on through this massive missive, is the fact that we’re not talking about a diet here, we’re talking about your diet. Don’t think along the lines of “I want to lose weight, I must go on a diet” instead get used to thinking “I want to be a healthy weight, I must control what I eat”.

The science is the easy bit, the basics of it anyway, and we’re only interesting the basics here. If you consume more energy than your body uses, you will gain fat. If you consume less energy than your body uses, you will lose fat. This doesn’t always mean you will gain or lose weight, your body changes in other ways too, especially when you exercise, more so when you start to exercise, but I’ve already written about that.

It’s generally considered a good idea to make sure that what you eat is a healthy balance of protein, carbs and fat as well as vitamins, minerals etc. That, clearly, is down to the choice of what you eat. And a touch beyond what I’m going to talk about here, I’m going to concentrate on maintaining a healthy weight, not necessarily a healthy diet.

How do you know you’re not a healthy weight? Or, more to the point, you are? How do you measure it? It’s not as easy as it first seems. You weight on its own isn’t a good measure, what do you compare it too? BMI calculates a value based on height and weight, and there are guidelines of what’s healthy, or not. And it’s a good starting point, but there’s quite a range, and for folk with body compositions at either end of the scale, it’s of no real help. So use it by all means, but with caution. My preferred method these days is a body composition scale that calculates fat content. It is, after all, fat we’re talking about here. Those scales you have to stand on in bare feet, they cost a little more, but worth it, I think.

Ultimately, it’s about feeling comfortable, and no measurement can tell you that. Luckily enough it doesn’t need to! Measurement though is a key part of getting there, the only way to know if you’re consuming the right amount of energy is by tracking your body composition, for our purposes that means fat content.

Now that you’re busy every day/week checking your fat percentage you’re also going to need to know how much energy you’re getting from food. Most food these days has nutritional information on it. If you’re buying fresh, then look on line, fatsecret.com is pretty good, but there are plenty of other sites that will tell you how many calories are in your orange. Write it all down, log it on a spreadsheet or sign up on one of the websites. However you do it, whatever you consume, you record.

Once you’re recording both weight and food it’s time for a feedback loop. If your fat content keeps coming up, eat less. And there you have it, pages and pages all for that. Eat less. And you already knew it. It isn’t that easy I know. Trust me, I really do! I plan meals and prepare in advance as much as I can. That, and try, each day, to get in the mind-set that if I want to lose some of the fat, I’m going to feel hungry occasionally, and I’m going to miss beer, and cakes, and chocolate, and… Groan.

As I said at the beginning, I’m not a health professional, don’t take this as gospel. It’s been my experience that this works. People argue all sorts of reasons why calorie counting isn’t the answer, I’ve yet to hear one that makes any sense to me, but I’m always open to alternatives. Feel free to comment if you have one.

6 Replies

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  • I've been recording everything I eat and all exercise I do on myfitnesspal.com Since Feb I have lost 2 stone. I still however have 'naughty' food from time to time, otherwise it would not be a lifestyle change. Recording everything really makes you focus and most of the time you can plan in advance for drinking beer, having takeaways etc.

  • I am never going to diet again, healthy eating and exercise is the way forward. It has to be a lifestyle change. I tend to allow myself a treat at the weekend. Maybe one glass of wine and a small pudding. The rest of the week if I want s omething sweet it's fruit, which seems really sweet when you are not used to eating sugary food. It seems to be working for me and I don't want to ruin the good I have done after running. Also I remind myself when I am tiring during a run that the less fat I carry the easier it will become.

  • It's true, if you eat less energy than your body requires then your body will need to use up it's own reserves, be it glycogen or fat, to make up the deficit.

    Sounds easy, but why do so many struggle with it? In theory ANY sensible diet should work so why are so many people overweight or obese and unable to make sustainable changes to make enough of a difference over time.

    That's where a food diary comes in. Don't just use it to record consumption, use it to record when/where/who/ feelings that lead you to want to eat, even if you don't. After a while the chances are that you will see a pattern and can identify your trigger foods/times/situations/feelings that draw you to eat when you don't need to. That's the important bit, learning what you need to change and only when you have done so can you work on some coping strategies to suit you.

    With that info you can then work on a plan tailored to help you cope with your triggers and recognise your strengths. People who don't do this may lack direction and what you do may not be targeted specifically to your issues.

  • I have always been oerweight and food was a major factor in me being happy. I have gone through a lot of illness and depression, food is there people are not.

    However (and I still have no idea why) in April I was ready to change. I cut out the junk food I was eating and ate properly. Using the weight watchers programme as a guide I eat so much better and oddly am not as hungry as I was with all the junk food.

    This programme and the successes I have have helped with the depression side, I feel happier as I am losing weight and dont feel as guilty about eating. Its tough to break out of the comfort eating but once you do you feel so much better,

    I dont really keep a diary but I do review everything I eat ate the evening meal and then plan the next days meals. While it may not work for everyone, I have found the Weigth Watchers helped me, I like the occasional treat so I can put that in my plan and work the other meals around it so I dont go over the points.

    There are lots of "diets" out there but unless you change how you eat no short term diet will work.

  • I'd add that when you're eating, if you concentrate on your eating and take your time you will feel full much more quickly than if you're eating while doing something else such as watching TV. This wont generally help stop comfort eating but can make you re-evaluate your portion sizes needed to fill you up.

  • And planning meals is so important so you just don't grab whatever is nearby to satisfy your hunger- which most often is an unhealthy choice. I also find that if I endulge in chocolate or a sugary treat one day, I am craving it the following day - so I have to think.. "Is this piece of chocolate worth it? Do I really want to get on the sweet roller coaster again?"

    Everywhere I read seems to suggest that keeping a food journal is the way to go. You think you know what you are putting in your mouth until you actually write it down and see the reality. Helps enormously to see where you are slipping up and to make yourself accountable for your choices.

    It's a tough ongoing battle, but the rewards of good health and self-confidence are so worth it.

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