Detox diet, cabbage soup diet, carb-free, intermittent fasting, Paleo, grapefruit diet, Hollywood diet .. there’s an endless list of diets that claim fast weight loss. Marketing for these diets often quotes impressive sounding scientific principles to make the diet sound convincing. The truth is that all fast weight loss diets work simply by drastically reducing calories. Healthy weight loss, on the other hand, involves following a sustainable, nutritious eating plan. For healthy weight loss, you should aim to lose 1-2lbs a week. Trying to lose more than this has various long and short-term problems.
Problems with crash diets
- Losing more than 1-2lb a week isn’t a good long term strategy. People tend to put weight back on following crash diets, often ending up with even more body fat than before. Drastically reducing calorie intake may actually make the body more likely to store fat as soon as it gets the chance.
- A crash diet won’t solve the problem of the bad eating habits which caused weight gain in the first place. When dieters comes off their diets, they go back to their old habits.
- Crash diets usually lack essential nutrients. We need a wide variety of foods to get all the vitamins and minerals the body needs. Crash diets can also be low in fibre.
- Low calorie intake causes the body to break down protein for energy, as well as fat. This means that a lot of muscle is also lost.
- It’s psychologically difficult for dieters to deny themselves all the foods they crave. This is even worse if they are feeling hungry a lot of the time. Following a crash diet isn’t enjoyable and so reinforces the mental association of high calorie food and pleasure. This association isn’t helpful to long term weight control.
10 tips for healthy weight loss
#1 Don’t be fooled by scientific sounding explanations of why a particular diet should work
There aren’t any magic cures and to lose weight you need to use more calories than you consume.
#2 Keep a food diary
Keeping a food diary is a helpful first step to getting into better eating habits. It helps you to see where your calories are coming from and identify bad eating habits. Once you have completed a log for several days, it can help you to plan improvements.
#3 Try “zero calorie” snacks
Our digestive process uses a lot of calories. There are a few foods which are so low in calories and high in fibre that the net calorie gain from them is very small. This makes them good choices for snacking when you’re trying to lose weight. These foods include:
- Raw cabbage
- Raw mushroom
- Carrot sticks
#4 Check for “hidden” sugars
Sugar is in lots of foods that appear to be savoury and/or healthy. Examples are breakfast cereals, salad dressings and soups. Check all labels for sugar content and bear in mind in may not be listed as sugar. Here are some of the alternative names for sugar:
#5 Don’t overdo calorie restriction
Women need around 2,000 calories a day for normal daily activities. For healthy weight loss, you should aim to cut down to around 1,500. This should be enough to lose weight reasonably quickly without starving your body of important nutrients.
#6 Do some exercise
Combining you diet with exercise will help to prevent muscle loss from reduced calorie intake. It will also use some extra calories, but don’t think it’s OK to eat loads because you’ve exercised. Sign up for one of these e-mail courses to help you get started with exercise.
#7 Eat plenty of vegetables and salad
This will keep your vitamin and mineral intake up and provide plenty of fibre, without adding too many calories. (Take it easy with fruit though – it’s much higher in calories because of its sugar content.)
#8 Don’t cut out complex carbs, but choose wholegrain versions rather than white.
Wholegrains contain more nutrients and digest more slowly, which means your blood sugars will stay stable and you are less likely to have sugar cravings.
#9 Cut down on calories from drinks
Keep a log of everything you drink for a few days and then add up how many calories are coming from your drinks – this may be surprisingly high. For example, fruit juices have quite a lot of sugar, canned drinks have even more, milky drinks contain fat and sugar and alcoholic drinks are very high in calories. Ways to cut down:
- Fruit juice can be diluted 50/50 with sparkling water or soda water.
- Likewise, mixing white wine with soda to make a spritzer will cut down on calorie intake and help avoid alcohol dehydration.
- Obviously cutting down on sugar in hot drinks will reduce calories, as will making milky drinks from skimmed milk. Having hot drinks without sugar can be difficult if you’re used to having sugar, so it’s easier to cut down gradually.
- Add chopped fruit or cucumber to water for a low calorie drink.
The best drink is plain water of course, but this isn’t always very appetising and it’s nice to have other drinks.
#10 Know when to stop
Finally, remember that it’s just as unhealthy to be underweight as overweight. In fact, being very underweight is more harmful in the short term than being overweight. Make sure your weight stays within healthy limits – see the download for ways to monitor this.
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