“I don’t know what else to do!”, my mum says to me over video chat, munching on a celery stick. “I have gutted the fridge and pantry, improved my diet, but still I cannot see ANY shift in my weight on the scale”. I can see how frustrated she is, and I know that she is not the only one. I call it the “lockdown-pile-on”. We are all moving less, even if we are still getting out for our daily exercise. Without the daily commute, walk to the coffee shop at lunch and numerous trips to the water cooler throughout the day, we are clocking up fewer steps and burning fewer calories. Move movement will, of course, help hugely in losing unwanted weight, as will switching the Snickers bar for a celery stick, but have you thought about anything else? Many people don’t think about the other factors that affect weight loss, one of those being HOW you eat.
Here are some tips on HOW to eat to help you reach your goals without having to switch to yet another diet. I encourage all of my clients to follow a whole food diet as much as possible, cutting out highly processed, sugary and refined foods. However, even if you haven’t made this step yet, these 5 tips will still help you.
Step 1: Eat slower (20min meals!)
The first thing you can do is to take your time over each meal. It takes roughly 20min for your stomach to signal your brain that you are full. When you eat quickly, you tend to overeat because you think you are still hungry, and then feel stuffed to bursting when you are finished. The next time you sit down to a meal, take out your stop-watch and time how long you take to finish it. For a bit of extra fun, play this with your partner or family. Each of you should guess how long it will take you to finish your meal. The only rule of the game is to not eat any differently to how you would normally. Yes, there are a number of people who do normally eat quite slowly, but most of us don’t. I bet you that you will be surprised at how quickly you finish your meal! Ideally, you should spend 20min over a meal. If you inhale your food (this has always been me!) trying to extend it to 20min can be really difficult for you. Try putting your cutlery down between every second mouthful. Eat with your family or partner rather than in front of the TV because having other people to talk to means that you have to slow down and even stop eating to engage in the conversation. When you start practicing this, you may notice that actually you don’t need as much food as your thought you did, to feel satisfied. Score!
Step 2: Reduce and manage stress
“Stress kills”, this is something that we have all heard, but have you heard that stress prevents weight loss? Yes, that’s right. Being stressed could be one thing that is holding you back from the healthy and fit body you have been working so hard for. You could eat the best and most nutrient-dense food in the world, and it would hardly make a difference if you are eating it in a stressed state. When you are stressed all the blood is diverted from your digestive organs to your arms, legs, heart and lungs to allow you to fight or flee. Digesting is not needed if you are fighting off a bear! This is why you may feel a lump in your stomach if you have eaten in a stressed state, or you are just not hungry because everything LITERALLY comes to a stop. You need to turn off the stress state (sympathetic nervous system) and turn on your rest and digest state (parasympathetic nervous system). Try taking 6 long breaths when you are stressed, meditating, doing some exercise or having a hot bath with some soothing music. Once you are feeling less stressed, then have your meal.
Step 3: Drink more water
Did you know that when you are hungry and thirsty your stomach sends the same signals to your brain? Our primal brain is so terrified of starving that when we feel these sensations in our stomach, we automatically reach for food. If you have had your meal, and it has not been at least 3-4 hours, it is more likely that you are thirsty. Drink some water and see if the “hunger pains” subside. It is also very normal for your gut to make noises, this means that it is going through a cleaning cycle, which is incredibly good for your gut. It is not screaming at you, saying “feed me!”. If you keep sending food down the hatch, it can never be cleaned. Pure water helps with this cleansing process as well as tide you over until your next meal. You should be drinking at least 2 litres of water per day, more if you are exercising. Why not purchase a glass or metal water bottle so that you can easily keep track of how much you are drinking?
Step 4: Get enough sleep
I know what you might be thinking, “if one more person tells me that sleep is the magical cure for one more thing, I might hit them with my pillow!”. I know that it sounds like a possible unrelated topic, but it isn’t. Ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates your appetite (I like to think of it as a Gremlin!). When you are sleep deprived you get a spike in Ghrelin which means that you are more likely to overeat. Whereas, if you get on average 8 hours of sleep per night, you avoid this spike in Ghrelin which means you are less famished when waking. Ahh, it’s all making sense now.
Step 5: Find balance
Balance is incredibly important, in all areas of your life, and your food is no exception. I am not asking you to change what you are eating, however, I will ask you to change how you put a plate of food together. Every single cell in your body requires macronutrients and micronutrients to survive. Macronutrients are made up of protein, fat, carbohydrates/fibre and water. Micronutrients are the essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs from food as you cannot create them on your own. When I talk about finding balance with food, I mean to find balance with the macronutrients found on your plate. In order to avoid spiking your blood sugar and therefore falling into the habit of snacking, you need to ensure that you have protein, fat and carbohydrate/fibre in each meal. What might this look like? Breakfast: two scrambled eggs on whole rye bread with spinach and olive oil. Lunch: quinoa (protein) salad with feta cheese, roasted squash and kale with olive oil. Dinner: Tuna steak/chicken/homemade bean burger with grilled asparagus, steamed broccoli and carrots with olive oil. When you balance your meals this way, all the cells in your body are being fed, which means that you are less likely to have cravings and be tempted to snack. Genius!
Try it for yourself!
Give these five simple steps a try and let me know how you get on. I would love to hear from you.