Changing the way you think about food can help you lose weight and feel great
Welcome, my old friend, the “no-diet” diet. I’ve been expecting you. After spending the best part of a month mainlining mince pies for breakfast and second helpings everywhere else, you are the beacon that promises I’ll be back in my jeans by Easter (without making any effort).
No-diet diets are complicated because they so often involve dieting. We’ve all clicked on the promise of “weight loss without the diet”, only to find it dictates severe calorie restriction or eating within a tiny time period each day.
But food is fuel for anyone who is struggling to access their daily calorie and nutrient needs. But for those of us lucky enough to have an abundance of it, food is far more than fuel. Let’s enjoy it.
1. ARE YOU HUNGRY? EAT Your body needs food to create energy so you can live your life.
2. UNDERSTAND YOUR HUNGER You should always eat if you are genuinely, physically hungry.
But we all experience different kinds of psychological hunger, which makes us eat when we’re not really hungry. This may be linked to habits, such as your brain expecting something sweet at the end of a meal. It could be because you’re busy, and don’t stop to think about what you’re eating and whether you genuinely want to eat.
Is there an alternative? I always want pudding after lunch on a work-from-home day, so I try to walk the dog instead. Stress, worry, sadness and exhaustion are all emotions we might instinctively feed. I am by no means saying you don’t deserve cake after a difficult day at work - you do - but stop to recognise why you want the cake, and enjoy it mindfully.
3. READ LABELS Knowing what we’re eating can be as simple as remembering to read a packet. Once you know, or are reminded, what’s in a food, you can make a wiser decision about whether it’s what you want.
4. READ UP ON PORTION SIZE When I undertook an experiment in portion size, I expected it to leave me starving and irritable. Instead, it reminded me to fill my plate with plenty of vegetables. Yes, it took a small amount of effort, but I was never hungry, and lost weight.
5. SHARE YOUR CAKE As much as I love cafés and believe in the importance of cake, most cakes and pastries come in extra-large. Share or save half for another time.
6. LEARN TO COOK There are many lifelong benefits to developing an appreciation of food and nutrition. Don’t aim for Michelin-standard, just start with a good book and some basic recipes. You’ll eat fewer takeaways and processed products.
7. GIVE VEGANUARY A GO Giving up animal products doesn’t mean you’ll shed pounds. However, studies show that the increased amount of dietary fibre and nutrients in a vegan diet can lead to weight loss. Note: don’t reach for fake meat every night.
8. DON’T GIVE UP FAT Fat has long been cast as the enemy, but when I started eating more fat, I stayed fuller for longer and was ultimately able to give up dieting. We need so-called “good” fats (an annoying moniker if you don’t think foods should be labelled as good or evil) - unsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids, found in nut butters, avocados, oils, fish, and nuts. The other fats, saturated and trans fats found in fatty and processed meats and processed baked goods can increase our risk of cardiovascular disease.
9. IN FACT, DON’T GIVE UP ANYTHING Denial leads to overindulgence. Far better to eat one chocolate bar than three pieces of fruit and a fake “healthy” snack bar. You’ll end up reaching for the chocolate anyway.
10. BUT MAYBE CUT BACK ON CRISPS What’s your poison? We all know those big bags of Tyrrells aren’t intended as a nightly snack. Try the recommended portion size to compare with how much you’ve been eating. If you want to find healthier swaps for foods you love, make sure you also enjoy the substitutes. Olives and nuts are great swaps for crisps because they can be salty and oily but have fibre and nutrients.
11. EAT PASTA So many foods have been demonised by diet culture - often inaccurately. Take pasta, which a recent major study found could benefit gut health and help with weight loss.
12. GET A SMALL WINE GLASS Sad but true. I love my huge wine glasses, but countless experiments have shown me that - just as with the killjoy “portion plate” - a small vessel means moderate drinking.
13. ENJOY AN EARLY NIGHT University of Chicago researchers found that sleeping for an extra hour each night could shave 270 calories off daily intake, which could add up to a loss of 26lb (12kg) over a year.
14. CHOOSE QUALITY OVER QUANTITY Splurge on posh chocolate and you’re unlikely to eat so much as you’ll value it more. The same goes for alcohol, meat, cheese and other things we don’t need to give up.
15. EAT FERMENTED FOODS Fermented foods such as kimchi and miso are having a moment because they boost the “good” microbes in your gut, which has a knock-on effect for other health issues. If your gut is working well, you will feel and look great. Try kombucha, yoghurt, sauerkraut and sourdough bread. Even cheese and chocolate are fermented.
16. GO BIG ON FIBRE Most of us need to eat more fibre, which is found in fruit, veg, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds. It’s been shown that eating enough dietary fibre can help manage weight, blood sugar and hunger. If you eat plenty of veg or salad before other foods, they’ll fill you up before you eat too many sausage rolls.
17. MAKE VEGETABLE SOUP Eat a bowl at the start of each meal.
18. SHOULD YOU FAST?
It’s controversial. Skipping meals is clearly a form of dieting, but nutritional study Zoe claims that following a time-restricted eating pattern - restricting eating to a 10-hour window - is associated with “higher energy levels, improved mood and reduced hunger”.
19. ADD SPRINKLES Nuts and seeds are a great source of healthy fats and add variety to your diet, which in turn supports your gut microbiota.
20. ADD SPICE Wake up your senses by trying new flavours and cuisines instead of the same old. Spices also count towards the popular 30-plants-a-week goal.
21. SLOW DOWN If you eat too quickly, you don’t notice you’re eating and you miss out on the fun. You’ll also leave your brain and stomach unsatisfied, and are more likely to reach for more.
22. BABY STEPS All-or-nothing approaches, or suddenly cutting out the foods you enjoy, will set you up for failure.
23. BE THE TORTOISE Most of us gain weight as we age, from consuming a very small amount of extra calories daily - just 200 to 300. The good news? Very small adjustments in how you eat will add up over time.
24. ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION? We all want to hear about the entirely effortless approach to overhauling our diets. But you wouldn’t expect to earn a degree, paint your house or train your dog without putting the time in, so why take this attitude towards food? Take time to plan meals, to shop and to chop. A grab-and-go approach won’t end well.