A nutritionist's top 10 tips for weight loss
As a Registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr, BSc Human nutrition and PGDip Clinical & Public Health Nutrition), the question I’m probably asked most is: “What’s the best way to lose weight?”.
There’s an overwhelming amount of information on the internet about how to quickly lose weight. But the truth is, there’s no quick fix for weight loss.
Weight loss is a journey that needs to happen gradually. That’s why I actively discourage calorie counting, fad diets and very low calorie diets. They’re restrictive, tedious and could leave you feeling deprived, miserable and in a constant state of battle with food.
Instead, I recommend making gradual, permanent and beneficial lifestyle changes that will help you lose weight safely and sustain that weight loss over the long-term.
With that said, here are my top 10 tips for healthy weight loss…
1. Remember that there’s no ‘quick fix’
Weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint.
If you lose weight too quickly, you might not be able to sustain the changes and successfully keep the weight off. In fact, studies show that when people use a short-term diet to lose weight, they’ll regain 30–65% of that weight within one year.
While I understand that you’re probably eager to get to your ideal weight fast, weight loss needs to happen gradually and not faster than 1-2 lbs/0.5-1kg per week.
This way, you won’t be compromising your health and can be sure that you’ll still be nourishing your body and feeling your best throughout your weight loss journey!
2. Forget fads & focus on whole foods instead
Instead of following restrictive fad diets, focus on the quality of your diet. This will help you to become a healthy eater for life, rather than just until you reach your goal weight.
Base your meals primarily on whole foods – we’ve got some examples coming up in tip number 3. These foods keep your gut, hormones and body healthy, whilst keeping you so full that you naturally regulate your weight.
As best as you can, avoid ultra-processed foods. That’s things like ready meals, instant soups, breakfast cereals (try Purition for breakfast instead), sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages, just to name a few.
By focusing on the majority of your diet coming from whole foods, you can let go of guilt over the occasional processed food. A once per week pizza that makes you feel good and allows you to enjoy time with your friends, for example, will not hinder your progress.
3. Build a healthy plate/meal by remembering ‘PFF’
Knowing what to eat for weight loss can feel tricky, but an easy way to build a balanced plate is to think ‘PFF' – that's protein fibre and fat.
In every meal, include a serving (or two) of quality protein, fill at least half (or two thirds) of your plate with non-starchy vegetables (fibre) and add a small serving of healthy fats, too.
This powerful nutrient trio will help to regulate your appetite and keep you fuller, longer.
- Protein: Unprocessed/minimally processed meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, plain yoghurt, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh and pulses.
- Fibre: Green leafy vegetables (kale, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, rocket), aubergines, courgette, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, asparagus, leeks, cucumber, butternut squash, berries etc.
- Fats: Nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, oily fish, olives and full fat dairy sources such as cheese, (plain, unsweetened) yoghurt, kefir (and even eggs).
4. Reframe your mindset
Try not to think of your weight loss journey as something restrictive, or that you’ll be missing out on things. It’s hard to lose weight and keep it off if you feel like you’re giving everything up! This can potentially lead to later ‘binges’.
During your weight loss journey, try to focus on all the foods you can add and the delicious meals you can plan, rather than what you are taking away. Think about all the colourful, nutritious foods and exiting new meals you’ll be adding to your diets to make it more varied, balanced and ultimately, healthier!
5. Set up your food environment for success
No one is good good at making mindful decisions when we are ill-prepared. You shouldn’t have to rely on ‘willpower’ alone to resist less healthy options – we’re all human, after all!
Make sure to set yourself up for success. Fill your cupboards and fridge with easy, healthy food options and avoid having too many ultra-processed, unhealthier foods available.
That being said, no foods should be completely off limits. I strongly suggest that you be careful with restricting your favourite foods, as this can lead to a restrict-binge cycle.
It can actually be helpful to mindfully and intentionally plan to go out to buy the occasional treat and – when you do – enjoy it without any guilt.
After all, consistency is more important than perfection. Eating healthy meals all week, and then enjoying some cake at the weekend, will not derail your weight loss goals. But eating cake every day could.
It’s all about awareness, not restriction!
6. Slow down and be present to enjoy your meals
Distracted eating can be the biggest trigger for mindless/fast eating.
Eating quickly, or while you’re focusing on other things, makes it more difficult for your brain to recognise that you’re full. It takes about 20 minutes or so for the stomach to communicate satiety signals to the brain and for you to feel full and satisfied.
In fact, in a 2013 study on distracted eating, the group that ate without television were less likely to over-eat later on.
So try to carve out some time to enjoy your meal and eat at a slower place. As much as you can, avoid distractions like checking your phone/watching TV, etc.
7. Choose water as your main source of hydration
It is easier to drink our calories than eating them.
People seem to have a harder time deriving psychological satisfaction from drinks because we can quickly consume them. But you interact with food for much longer – smelling, biting and chewing it and intentionally swallowing it.
Liquids also travel much faster throughout the GI tract and affect hunger/satiety (ghrelin and leptin) hormones differently than food, especially drinks with little to no fibre, fat and protein, like most fizzy drinks.
So, instead of sweetened fizzy drinks or juices, opt for water, unflavoured sparkling water, unsweetened (herbal) tea and coffee (with or without (nut) milk) most of the time.
8. Tune in with your hunger
The Hunger Scale
It can be very helpful to evaluate where you are at the hunger scale of 1-10 (taken from NHS) both before eating and as a cue to know when to stop.
- Before starting to eat, try to establish how hungry you actually feel and try not to wait until you are starving (1-2).
- Aim to eat when you are around ‘4’ (or 3 at most).
- Aim to stop eating when you are satisfied (5-6) but not uncomfortably full (9–10).
Staying within the ‘green’ zones will help you to avoid overeating because you’re completely ravenous or ‘just because’ you have food left on your plate.
This may take some practice so again, please be patient with yourself!
9. Acknowledge emotional eating patterns and intercept
Try not to weaponise food.
It’s healthy and normal to eat in response to emotion sometimes. But when it becomes your only coping mechanism to deal with your emotions, it can become a dangerous weapon.
If you find that you want to reach for food in response to an emotion, ask yourself if you are really hungry or if you might be trying to address an issue with comfort eating. Wait about 30 minutes and you may often find that you need non-food comforts instead.
Try and experiment with other coping mechanisms for difficult times. That could be walking, a hot shower, journalling, reading, listening to some music, meditation or talking to a friend or family member.
If you find yourself consistently turning to food to manage your emotions and these tips do not help, it might be worth consulting a trained healthcare professional for advice – there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
10. Focus on stress and sleep
Evidence suggests that lack of sleep can increase your hunger hormone (ghrelin) and reduce your satiety hormone (leptin). As a result, this can increase your appetite and trigger cravings for higher sugar foods.
Those who sleep less than 5 hours (or indeed sleep more than 9 hours) are more likely (by up to ~35% and ~25%, respectively) to experience weight gain.
Evidence also suggests that an increase in cortisol (stress hormone) over time is associated with weight gain. Increased stress can mean that you’re more likely to gravitate towards comforting foods as a coping mechanism. Stress may also lead to some metabolic alterations that can lead you to burn fewer calories.
Of course, this is easier said than done. But it is so important to prioritise mental health, as weight loss is so much more than ‘kale over cookies’. Be kind to yourself and, as best as possible, priotise sleep and try to find time for things that you enjoy and help you unwind.
Bonus! Move your body in ways that feel good
Decouple exercise from weight loss. Exercise is wonderful and is fantastic for your health, but it does not contribute as much as we like to think to weight loss.
But it’s still helpful to focus on movement you enjoy! Incorporating some daily movement into your routine as an act of self care and making it something that you love doing make it so much easier to stick to.
These tips are general information and if you have been advised to follow a specific diet by a medical professional, or live with any medical condition, please consult them before making any changes to your diet or attempting to lose weight.
Article written by Barbara Usak, Registered Associate Nutritionist (ANutr), BSc Human nutrition and PGDip Clinical & Public Health Nutrition.
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