The long Easter weekend came to an end. We indulged. Hot cross buns were toasted, chickens roasted and Creme Egg Brownies baked and gobbled.
On Monday the scales told me I'd put on 4lb. I wasn't surprised. But also not too worried - I've finally learnt that the scales don't really mean that much. Scale weight can fluctuate on a daily basis depending on how much fluid and waste you retain. The fit of your clothes is the best way to measure weight changes and they don't feel too much tighter! Perhaps just a bit...
Either way, this week my aim was to drop those pesky pounds.
I tend to go out two or three times a week - usually those occasions involve restaurant food and sometimes they involve alcohol (Cocktails? Moi?)
But I do try and live a very healthy lifestyle the rest of the time.
I don't diet. I hate diets. For one, they are impossible to stick to if you have any kind of life and two, a lot of them are quite bad for you.
I go to the gym at least three times a week. I eat as well as I can. It helps that I adore fruit and vegetables. I love fish, chicken and eggs. And these ingredients are my base diet for those healthy and nutritious week days.
I make sure I have at least four alcohol-free days per week (despite what this blog might have you think!).
So if I know I'm planning on eating a naughty dinner with a cocktail or two, I'll probably have had something like an omelette for breakfast and a warm chicken and avocado salad for lunch. This isn't a bore for me - I love these foods!
I try to be good about 80% of the time and naughty the rest!
But you need to have that motivation. Could it be...
2) Not having concerns about being tagged in the next unflattering Facebook photo;
3) Fitting into those skinny jeans you're dying to wear;
4) Slimming down for your wedding day
Or maybe just because it's time you started treating yourself right.
In this post I'm just going to pass on some tips and advice that I base my diet around.
Most of these have come to me via my amazing personal trainer Sarah who in the past few months has really whipped me into shape, improving my fitness and helping me lose that bit of extra weight that I could never previously budge.
You would be surprised the changes you can achieve from just some minor adjustments to your diet and lifestyle. And it doesn't have to be that difficult to do if you can find a great alternative for the things you have to leave behind.
But only 80% of the time....
1. Start to treat sugar as the enemyWe all know it deep down but it really is the case.
I have all the science involved with this courtesy of Sarah - lots of stuff to do with insulin and leptin - but it's a little bit dull. All you really need to know is that sugar is no good.
If you can just cut out a big chunk of the sugar you have in a day, you will be half way there.
- Try to stop drinking fizzy drinks altogether! Even the 'sugar free' ones!
- Keep a couple of Slim Fast chocolate bars in your cupboard. If you're craving chocolate, just have a bite of one of them for the hit (they're actually very nice!)
- Reduce the amount of tomato ketchup you eat with your food. Or replace it with a combination of tomato puree and Greek yoghurt - just mix them together. It's so much better for you and still tasty. I also love mixing dijon mustard with Greek yoghurt - lovely with salads.
- Also try replacing peanut butter, which is packed with sugar, with organic Almond Butter or PPB (powdered peanut butter that you mix with milk or water - it tastes surprisingly good!).
- Be aware that lots of breakfast cereals are full of sugar. Instead eat eggs, yoghurt with fruit or porridge.
- Don't add too much honey to that porridge!
- Don't be fooled into thinking granola is healthy - sadly it's also very sugary. Choose flaked almonds or a few sultanas if you need a sugar hit.
- Reduce the amount of fruit juice you drink. Half a glass is fine with breakfast but really it's just a lot of sugar with most of the nutritious elements of the fruit removed.
2. Cut those Carbohydrates
- Highly processed or refined carbs that are bad for the waistline include honey, jam, chocolate, sweets, cakes - basically all the things that fall into the sugar category above.
- It also includes white bread, white rice, potatoes, pastry and white pasta.
- Also, sweet fruits like mango, grapes and dates - they do still have fibre goodness but try not to go overboard on these.
Slow-release carbs like wholemeal bread, brown pasta and rice and sweet potatoes are best avoided in your daily diet if you're trying to lose weight but if you can't do without they are better than the refined carbs above.
This is not the Atkins diet though; you still need your carb intake. But unless you're very active or training for a sporting event, you can get all your carb requirements from vegetables and less sweet fruit which are dense in nutrients and high in fibre.
3. Switch to a diet low in carbs and higher in fat and protein
But this doesn't mean we can have pancakes every morning, pop to McDonalds at lunchtime and order a Chinese takeaway in the evening. We are talking good fats and quality protein sources:
- Good fats: virgin olive oil, oily fish, avocado, red meat, butter, eggs and full fat dairy (yay, cheese!)
- Protein: organic meat, fish, nuts and dairy (yay, cheese again!)
It's all about moderation.
And a quick note on nuts: nuts are packed with heart-healthy fats, protein, vitamins and minerals. They are all about equal in terms of calories per gram and in moderation they are healthy addition to any diet. However, you should avoid eating salted and/or roasted nuts. Roasted nuts may have been heated in unhealthy fats or too high temperatures that destroy their nutrients.
4. Choose organic whenever you can
You want your food to have been fiddled with a little as possible.
Intensive farming methods and processing techniques strip foods of their nutrients. A good example is full fat organic milk which has a much higher omega-3 content than non-organic as cattle feed on organic pastures rather than grain. Toxins in food processing can also promote weight gain.
5. Flat belly foods
Who would have though that the secret to a flatter tummy could be hidden in your fridge?
Here is my pick of foods that are just so damn good for achieving that bikini belly:
- Raspberries, strawberries and blueberries are packed with fibre which keeps you fuller longer, and vitamin C for your immune system. I have blueberries with Greek yoghurt and flaked almonds for dessert most days (sometimes with a bit of chocolate brownie crumbled on top...).
- Kale is right in season and is an anti-inflammatory that helps reduce bloat and is full of goodness. Boil or steam and serve with a nice fillet of salmon.
- Almonds are packed with healthy fats that reduce food cravings while building muscle. The ultimate power snack!
- Salmon is full of omega-3 fatty acids which help bump up metabolism so your body burns fat faster and more efficiently.
- Watermelon is as you would expect, about 92% water but it actually helps flush extra water from your system which in turn reduces puffiness.
- Garlic helps reduce fat in the liver, it detoxifies and lessens bloating.
- Avocado which I eat every day! Don't listen to people who say it's bad for you. If you have half an avocado a day you will reap the rewards as it's loaded with lots of healthy fats that burn fat while providing your body with energy.
- Eggs and contrary to popular belief, you can eat them for breakfast every day if you like - they're very nutritious, high in protein and don't increase cholesterol if eaten as part of a healthy diet.
- Tinned mackerel in natural water is one of the best things you can eat. Packed with Omega-3 and all sorts of other goodness, try to eat at least one tin a week.
6. Eating Out
Now my personal view on this is that if you're going for a nice meal and paying the price, you should eat whatever the hell you like. Just try and be extra good at breakfast and lunchtime.
But if you want to try and be good, just avoid the bread and choose options without rice, potatoes, pasta or noodles. You can still eat a tasty, nutritious meal without them - Italian anti-pasti, fish or steak with a butter sauce and vegetables etc.
If you're going to be really good I guess you should skip that dessert too...
7. Drink more water!
It sounds boring but it's so important! Hunger is also one of the first signs of dehydration. If you're not drinking enough you will crave food from the naughtiest sources. Whenever you feel hungry, stop, have a big glass of water and wait 10 minutes. Have a snack if you're still hungry afterwards.
Drink water with your meals - you will feel full sooner and it'll stop you wanting to snack afterwards.
It also will aid your digestion and you'll absorb less of the fat from your food.
The best way to cut down on snacks is not to buy them! If they're not there, you can't eat them!
I've recently weened myself off crisps. I used to eat Pringles/Kettle Chips/Wotsits every night. It's since I've stopped eating them - along with cutting down on the ridiculous amount of ketchup I used to eat - that I've managed to keep those extra pounds off.
Also, sometimes you're just not as hungry as you think you are. Often it's just a small sugar hit you need or something to settle a rumbling tummy. Often I find just a large spoonful of Greek yoghurt will do it!
Alternatively, here is a list of great snack foods that won't expand your waistline (one portion per afternoon/evening):
- 2 Ryvita with a thin spread of peanut butter or Marmite (or almond butter if you're extra good)
- Kale crisps
- Small tub of Total 0% Greek Yoghurt with a few blueberries or raspberries
- A bite of a Slim Fast or protein bar if you just need a sugar hit.
- 1 medium carrot and 1 stick of celery and 30g of full fat ricotta or hummus
- 30g cheddar cheese
- A portion of fruit and 10 whole almonds
- Hard boiled egg
It's so bad for you. Season food with ground pepper, spices and herbs.
Recent research is suggesting that long aerobic workouts, previously heralded as the best way to reduce body fat, are actually fairly ineffective for weight loss. Shorter, high intensity and focused bursts are more effective than 30 minutes padding on the treadmill. So even just doing a four minute Tabata workout once a day will increase your fitness levels and reduce your weight effectively!
If you like to work out at home and get shouted at by a motivating American, try this Jillian Michaels DVD. It's about 30 minutes of high intensity and will make you ache the next day in that really satisfying way.
Or if you don't have time for that, just get off your ass and get active in your every day tasks. You don't have to go to the gym three times a week.
- Go for a 15 minute run instead of reading the Daily Mail showbiz section;
- Get off the bus a stop earlier and walk the rest;
- Walk the dog an extra 15 minutes or go the uphill route;
- Take the stairs instead of the lift
Anything that gets the heart pumping for a few minutes a day is going to burn fat and increase your stamina. And it makes you feel good!
The key to staying active is getting started. The first week is always the hardest! But once you start seeing results the enthusiasm increases and exercise sessions - whether it's the gym or walking to work - become a joy rather than a dreaded chore.
And if seeing pictures like this spur you on like they do me...
...then stick them on your fridge!
I've read a lot about diet and fitness. I know how frustrating it is when the newspapers publish a huge article about how beetroot causes cancer a week after you've started your Beetroot Diet and how fruit will eat you from the inside out (we all need to stop reading the Daily Mail!).
Forget these silly demotivating articles and remember that 80% of the time:
1) Fruit and veg are good
2) Sugar and salt are bad
3) Lots of carbs won't lose you weight
4) You need to be active
5) Treats are fine in moderation
20% of the time, eat whatever you want!