Weight loss and maintenance is often overcomplicated.
The reality is that the finer details are only relevant to about 1% of people: anyone trying to get extremely lean.
Yet complicated advice about meal timing, eating this food or not eating that food, is often touted to the general population, probably because fitness professionals need you to think it’s that complicated to have a job.
99% of people need a few simple strategies to incorporate to lose most of the weight they want to lose. The more unique strategies may be relevant if they want to drop extra pounds at that point.
Change is never the result of a single act, but the culmination of a series of acts that add up to the ultimate result.
This is why maintenance is an art; it takes a sum of small daily acts that make a big difference over the long-term
If you’ve noticed weight loss stalling, or you’re looking for easy strategies for maintenance, then here is a quick list of small hacks and habits that can add up to make a big difference.
Protein impacts the hormones that signal fullness. It quietens the part of the brain that gets giddy for junk food, aka “hedonic eating.”
It will keep you full, and satisfied. We know that high protein diets are effective for weight loss for these very reasons.
So why abandon it in maintenance? If it worked to get you there, it’ll work to keep you there.
The easiest troubleshoot you can do with your diet is to make sure you are getting a good serving (1-3 palm sizes, depending on body size) of protein at each meal. Before you make any other adjustments, make sure your doing this consistently is in place.
This applies to plant-based diets too, which can often neglect the importance of protein. Making sure that a good overall combination of lentils, beans, whole grains or nuts are present at each meal will confer the same benefits in terms of satiation that animal protein will, as the added fibre will also fill you up.
This is a big problem in the Standard Western Diet: too many liquid calories.
As I wrote last week, these calories often come disguised as healthy: breakfast fruit juices, bottled vegetable juices, bottled fruit smoothies.
Sodas aren’t disguised as healthy, but remain a significant source of energy in the average diet.
Coffees can be sneakily add a few hundred calories to your day, particularly if you’re inclined toward frothy milk-based cappucino’s or whatever latest Starbucks special is in season.
Beer and alcohol is massive, because you’re not only accounting for the carb calories, but also the alcohol calories, which is 7 calories per gram. Between beer and Guinness, the average amount of calories in a pint is 200.
5 of them on a Saturday after the customary big dinner for soakage? That’s 1,000 calories extra that needs to go somewhere.
This is such a simple troubleshoot, and it can often be enough of a reduction in weekly calorie intake to lead to weight loss alone, or prevent it creeping back on.
So what do you do?
During the day, black coffee, herbal teas, water, diet sodas.
During the night? Spirits with sugar-free or low-calorie mixers, or red wine, which has minimal sugar and you’re only dealing with the alcohol calories.
Research has shown that we’re more likely to eat something if it’s visible.
A convenient tip is to cover leftover salads or meats with clingfilm, where they’re still visible and more likely to get eaten.
Cover leftover cakes, pies and desserts with tinfoil to have the opposite effect.
Your willpower is in the bin by the end of a long day.
You will eat it if it’s in the house. Guaranteed.
Whatever it is, I mean calorie-dense treats and snacks.
If you’ve stuff in the house that you’d be relying on willpower not to eat: the leftover bag of Haribo, the bar of chocolate, then you’ll eat it.
Usually people buy this stuff on Sunday or on a day when they’re eating whatever they life. And that’s fine, once it’s not a binge.
If you do have a day where you treat yourself or eat whatever you want, don’t keep anything left over around the house.
You can’t eat it if it’s in the bin.
It’s so simple, but it’s amazing how few people can actually do this. Even if you’re making good food choices, you’re still cheating yourself if you just wolf it down.
It takes around 20 minutes for signalling through the gut to affect the mechanisms in the brain that say “I’m full.”
Slowing down attunes you to how much you’re eating. If you eat slowly, you’ll know if you’ve eaten too little, because you’ll have genuine hunger signals.
But if you eat too fast, you outrun the pace at which your body can actually make an informed decision, so you can overeat without realising it.
Put this way, eating slowly allows you to know whether to eat more or not; eating fast has you eat more without even knowing.
While it can take 20 minutes for signals for the gut-brain hunger signals to kick in, there’s another reason why slowing down helps: you pay more attention.
Memory is one of the most important faculties responsible for regulating how much we eat later in the day. If you don’t pay attention to what you’re eating, your brain misses how much you have, in fact, eaten.
Distracted eating is a prime culprit in the food environment contributing to overconsumption.
If you’re healthy, your body has inbuilt mechanisms to regulate your energy intake relative to your expenditure. If you do a massive workout, you’ll get hungrier than if you just sat behind the desk all day.
Paying attention to what you eat allows these mechanisms to do their job.
Your body will be able to inform your hunger better, and you’ll make more informed decisions on how much to eat at a later meal.
Usually once someone has a meal that isn’t in line with their intentions, they call it a “cheat meal.” And usually, the “cheat meal” becomes a “cheat day.”
The biggest difference between people who maintain good condition and those who can’t is that people who can maintain don’t get stuck in ruts.
They might have a pig-out, but it’s kept to that meal. They get the next meal right, without resigning to the “tomorrow is a new day” mind-set.
There is nothing wrong with eating whatever you want, in overall balance. But just because you had a takeaway doesn’t mean you need the tub of ice cream and the natural confectionary jellies.
Weight loss and maintenance obviously requires the “energy out” side of the equation. Unfortunately we tend to view that exclusively through the lens of the gym, or the jog, or whatever training program we’re following.
Again, the theme of this article is small things adding up.
So take the stairs, not the elevator. Cycle to work. Walk to the shops and carry the bags back. Walk the dog.
Whatever. Just make sure that you have a lot of non-gym related activity and movement.
Sleep is a gamechanger in every aspect of weight loss and maintenance. Make getting enough a priority.
Fasting might be the best strategy for the general population. The success of the 5-2 Diet would support that statement.
The reason is simple: you reduce calorie intake without having to get lost in all the confusion of what to eat/what not to eat.
There’s no “diet” involved, because it’s not about food: it’s about going without food. If you look at Eat Stop Eat, Brad Pilon doesn’t even give food recommendations, you just fast for 24-hours 1-2 times per week.
5-2 has been successful, in my opinion, because 24-hours is too much for most people and it gives some respite with the 500 calorie allowance on the fast days.
Or you could just skip a meal everyday, like breakfast (my preferred choice).
You could pick whatever method suits your life, but the end result is the same; a simple means of facilitating weight loss or maintenance, without stressing over the diet stuff.
Your body is always trying to maintain equilibrium, so it will notice even subtle changes in your daily and weekly energy intake.
Keep this in mind.
It means that even small adjustments, like any of the ones listed above, could be all the difference you need.
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