‘Dieting’ tends to do the following:
- Raises your awareness of your eating habits.
- Makes you more aware of what you put in your mouth.
- Controls your portion size and makes you think more about it.
- Generally reduces the volume of processed foods where sugar and fat contents are unknown.
Research into the most successful diet to follow concluded the simple truth; the most effective diets for weight loss are in fact those that are easiest to stick to. However, by talking about weight loss I feel we’re slightly missing the point. All diets will produce weight loss by manipulating the number of calories you take in, but is it not the maintenance of that weight loss that we’re after?
To achieve that you need to create your own set of ‘rules’ which are jargon free and don’t promise the impossible. They need to work for you and fit into your lifestyle forever. Consider the quantity of food you consume, the number of fresh ingredients versus packaged foods and your macronutrient balance! This is where it can get confusing and there’s lots of contradiction. Here I’ve pulled together the answers to some common questions. You may find some of this content elsewhere on my blog but I thought having it all in one place might be helpful!
Is it important to eat breakfast?
We can’t say 100% that not eating breakfast makes you fat. But we do know there are correlations with breakfast eating and healthy habits. Those that eat breakfast tend to have diets with higher fibre intakes, they are more physically active and they do tend to be leaner. So starting the day off right does tend to breed healthier habits for the rest of the day.
And it does make sense to break the fast. Your body is up and ‘action-ing’ the day so it makes sense that your digestive system does the same – fuelling your brain and body. It is also better metabolically to match the energy you take in to the energy you burn off (although it is the total number of calories you take in a 24 hr period that determines weight loss). If you are busiest and most active in the morning it doesn’t make sense to eat over 50% of your calories when you get home from work and sit on the sofa!
You don’t have to leap out of bed and have it, but do aim to have something within the first couple of hours of being up. When you’re aiming for weight loss, it’s a good idea to pick breakfasts that require chewing – this tells your brain you’re eating and helps with fullness. Liquid breakfasts like nutri-bullet creations can be high in calories because we can manage a lot more calories when they’re all blended up. Instead use your body as a blender – that is what it is designed for. Protein at breakfast can also help with mid- morning hunger pangs.
Eating regularly does balance out your blood glucose levels which helps to control eating behaviour. Big dips in blood sugar levels cause cravings and reactive food choices which don’t tend to be good ones.
You also need to give your body a break though – constantly nibbling puts it into digestion and storage mode the whole time. It’s not going to burn fat stores if food keeps on coming down the conveyor belt!
Do we really need carbs?
The simple answer is yes!! It’s the body’s preferred fuel – our muscles are geared up to convert it to energy and our brain can’t survive without it. Metabolic processes are in place to make carbohydrate from other sources if you don’t eat enough of it. Very low carb diets (under 70g per day) force your body to use more fat or protein as a fuel – this is not a good long term, sustainable weight management strategy and low carb diets have not proven themselves to be superior in our quest for sustainable results.
I could drone on about the benefits of wholegrains for heart health, bowel health, cancer prevention etc. etc. and B vitamins for energy conversion and mental resilience but I won’t. Fibre requirements (following enough research to sink a ship) are now set at 30g per day. You can eat your body weight in kale but you’re not going to hit that target unless you eat wholegrain carbs.
Those that shun carbohydrates completely are at potential risk of nutritional deficiencies and may be struggling to keep up with this blog as their brains feel so foggy.
Is carb just the same as sugar?
Carb comes in many forms and its complexity is also its downfall as many tarnish all carbs with the same brush. Simple sugars occur both naturally in fruit and dairy products but are also added to a plethora of foods to enhance taste, texture and shelf life. These added ‘free sugars’ carry little else with them apart from quick release energy.
More complex carbohydrates with ‘longer chains’ and ‘bonds’ or those naturally found in whole fruit and dairy (not fruit juice) carry other valuable nutrients with them – fibre, B vitamins and calcium to name a few.
Do carbs make you fat?
Over simplification of metabolic regulation from people who perhaps don’t understand it draws this conclusion. An excess of calories makes you fat regardless of where those calories have come from. Carbohydrates cause insulin to be released which allows them to travel into your cells where they are converted to energy.
In controlled amounts relative to your fuel needs carbohydrate provides you with the energy you need to function. For most this would be around one quarter to one third of your plate per meal. Insulin can get on and do its thing whilst you relish in the benefits to satiety and health that higher fibre and wholegrain choices give you. For the record, insulin doesn’t then hang around causing trouble in your blood stream making you fat!
Should I avoid carb in order to burn fat?
If you exercise fasted over a period of time, with a lack of carbohydrate reserves to draw on, the body gradually adapts to burning fat. In training, Tour de France cyclists go out for long rides (where carb needs are high), with NO carb to eat at all. This forces the body to adapt and burn fat as a fuel (providing they protect their protein needs) and as such they create adaptation at cellular level. This allows their bodies to burn different fuels to survive the gruelling event.
What fuel the body burns during exercise does not translate into weight loss. Just because you have burnt fat as a fuel during a workout this doesn’t mean you will lose body fat unless you are in a calorie deficit.
In all honesty you can ‘cycle’ your carbs if you want, leave them out at certain meals if you want, avoid them on certain days if you want. If that helps you to control your overall portion size then great because ultimately it is that that makes the big difference. But if a lack of complex carbs at lunch makes you head to the vending machine by 3pm or an omelette at breakfast makes the biscuit tin at 11am seem irresistible, then you may want to rethink.
How does protein fit in?
Whilst the level of activity it takes to burn off a chocolate biscuit can feel somewhat depressing and exercise alone will never yield the best weight loss results, the value of resistance exercise in protecting lean muscle mass and preserving your metabolic rate is really valuable.
Muscle is the most metabolically active tissue in the body. It can also be thought of as a pool to soak up and store the carbohydrates eaten at meal times for use as energy later on. Extreme diet attempts causing large calorie deficits often pay no attention to balance and protein. In this situation, the body utilises muscle for energy – breaking it down into amino acids and releasing it into circulation. Subsequently muscle mass drops and so does your metabolic rate. Inevitably when you then require less energy to survive on – weight regain will commonly occur. Sufficient protein together with resistance exercise will protect muscle mass and metabolism.
Protein is found in animal products – meat, fish, eggs and dairy (cheese, yogurt and milk). These foods are considered to have a high biological value because they contain all the essential amino acids. For health these should be as lean as possible. It’s also found in plant based foods – beans, peas, lentils, nuts/nut butters, seeds and cereals/ grains together with products such as quorn, tofu, temph and soya mince. Combinations of beans/peas/ lentils and grains across the day enables non meat eaters to meet all their essential amino acid needs. Quinoa and soya for example, contain all of the essential amino acids so are useful to include.
What about fat?
The bad guy for many years it seems to be growing in popularity again – perhaps saturated fat isn’t the enemy after all? Fat is essential – every cell in your body, of which you have a trillion is made up of it so we need around 70g a day.
If you’re confident you have a healthy balance of fats in your diet – unsaturated fats from vegetable and plant oils, avocado’s, nuts and seeds, then small amounts of saturated fat are unlikely to cause you a problem. The reality is though that no matter what type of fat it is, it still contains 9 calories per gram. So you don’t need a lot of grams of it for those calories to add up and this needs to be taken into account when you’re aiming for weight loss. Low fat products are still a good investment, providing they’re not replacing the fat with sugar – a quick scan of the label will tell you that. Don’t believe the hype about coconut oil – it has more saturated fat than butter and is not good for us.
So what’s the bottom line?
Balanced meals and sensible portions are the way forward for many but that doesn’t make a very catchy media headline. The classic calories in, calories out equation will never change but we are seeking to understand this further. Having an understanding of your physiology as well as the root cause of your eating behaviours is your best weapon. And don’t just take my word for it:
“Laura has completely changed my understanding of food. Having been told previously not to eat carbohydrates, I am now eating the right type and quantity of carbohydrates three times a day. I now feel more able to focus, I exercise much harder and I’m losing weight. She has made a huge difference and I will continue to use what she has taught me.”