Although I workout on a daily basis and eat a vegan diet, I’ve come to accept that I have a body type which picks up weight quite easily. While I’m lucky in that I love exercise and favour dates and nuts over chocolate and cakes, these foods also come with their own fair share of calories, and it’s just as easy to find yourself overeating these ‘healthier’ options as it is to gorge on out-and-out bad foods. Avocados, nut butters, seeds, hummus, brown rice and rye bread are amongst my favourites, and all are staples for health-food bloggers, but these are all calorie dense foods, and it’s easy to find that adding them to your diet on a regular basis can lead to weight gain.
After a summer season of being a bit lax with my diet, this week I’ve taken the proverbial bull by the horns and have been looking for strategies to get back in shape. With the next stint of marathon training on the ever-nearing horizon, I want to make sure that I’m not carrying any excess weight with me on those long runs.
Having done a bit of reading I wanted to share the following 10 slimming secrets with you. While in truth the best secret is to eat less and move more, I think that these are all great strategies to add to your arsenal of healthy living.
1. Think satisfied, not stuffed
We’ve all done it: you’re eating the last few mouthfuls of a meal and start to feel that bit too full, but you are enjoying it so much you decide to power through. And it’s ok. Well, that is, until you stop.
The reality is there is nothing very satisfying about overeating, just a bloated stomach and that pang of guilt that you should have stopped sooner.
According to Jill Fleming, author of ‘Thin People Don’t Clean Their Plates’, on a scale of 1 to 10, slimmer people tend to stop eating at around a 6 or 7 on the fullness scale. Fleming suggests that people who eat beyond this level may be confusing the sensation of fullness with that of satisfaction, whereas in reality you can be satisfied without being stuffed. There is also the chance that you are clearing your plate simply out of habit and, although full, you find yourself finishing what’s in front of you without thinking.
So what’s the alternative? In her article ‘8 Secrets of the Naturally Slim’, Megan McMorris recommends stopping about halfway through your next meal and rating your level of fullness. Do this again when you have about five bites left, with the aim of increasing your awareness of how satisfied you feel during a meal. You may still clear your plate but you won’t be mindlessly eating.
2. Eat more?
This week I was asking a PT friend of mine about strategies to help shed some extra pounds and, perhaps surprisingly, he recommended eating more. But not more of just anything, he suggested filling up on foods with a high water content―fruits, vegetables, water-based soups and stews, and cooked whole grains― foods that are low in calories but satiating. Eating these foods regularly keeps your metabolism ticking over without the accompanying calorie hit.
Eat more whole fruits (not juices), aiming for two or three servings each day. Another tip is to start a meal with a low calorie soup or salad, this may just lead to you eating up to 12% fewer calories for the rest of the meal.
3. Size matters
Thinking about portion size is also important, and it can be easy to keep track of what you are eating without being obsessive: buying a single serving’s worth of food, eating portion-controlled meals, and using smaller plates are all good strategies.
Eating little and often also helps to keep portion sizes down as you never get too hungry and over-eat.
In an ongoing study by the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), more than 5,000 people were able to keep off the weight they’ve lost long-term by eating five small meals a day, rather than three larger meals.
4. Don’t get emotional
Avoid emotional eating. Recognise if you are eating as a result of an emotion that isn’t just plain hunger. Weight loss expert Kara Gallagher suggests adding the word ‘halt’ to your vocabulary. Not just a command to stop chomping through that bowl of nicecream, this is an acronym that stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired—the four most common triggers for emotional eating. If you’re truly hungry, eat a balanced snack to tide yourself over until your next meal. But if you’re angry, lonely, or tired, seek an alternative calorie-free solution to your emotional needs.
Sometimes you need to put yourself first, recommends Anne Fletcher, dietician and the author of ‘Thin for Life’. Working in an obesity clinic she saw many women who spent their whole lives giving to others, but to the point that they were no longer looking after themselves. Prioritise eating well, exercising regularly, and reducing your stress levels where possible. These are not only factors conducive to staying slim but also to giving yourself value and enabling you to be the best version of yourself that you can be.
Taking time out to go for a run shouldn’t induce guilt; exercise and a healthy diet is valuable in empowering you and enabling you to present a better version of yourself to others.
6. Limit your options
While variety in your diet is a good thing to some extent, especially if it means multi-coloured fruit and vegetables on your plate, too much variety can backfire. Studies have shown that too many tastes and textures may encourage you to over-eat – I often find this is the case with meze or tapas, where there are lots of delicious options available. In fact research shows that the more types of food we have, the more we tend to eat. This is related to ‘sensory-specific satiety’, meaning that while our appetites may be satisfied after eating a plate of pasta, for example, they are suddenly reignited when there is talk of pudding.
The solution is to try to eat as consistently as possible when it comes to your major meals—oats at breakfast, a salad at lunch, soup in the evening, for example. It’s okay to add falafel to the salad one day and tofu the next, but by sticking to a loosely prescribed meal schedule, you limit the opportunities to overindulge.
While exercising is important, fidgeting can also contribute to keeping you trim.
In a study at the Endocrine Research Unit of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, it was revealed that on average, slimmer women were on their feet an extra two and a half hours each day more than their less trim counterparts. The slimmer subjects were also found to walk and fidget more each day too.
Endocrinologist and lead author of the study, James Levine, observed ‘if the obese subjects took on the day-to-day activity levels of the lean volunteers, they could burn through about 350 calories more a day without working out. Over a year, this alone could result in a weight loss of approximately 30 pounds, if calorie intake remained the same.’
However, there is no substitute for a structured workout. Dietician and author of ’10 Habits That Mess Up a Woman’s Diet’, Elizabeth Somer, observed that ‘Ninety percent of people who maintain their weight are exercising in a way that’s the equivalent of walking four miles a day.’ She recommends some yoga and light weights in the morning and some form of aerobic exercise later in the day.
Regular workouts also make you more aware of your body, observes psychologist, Stephen Gullo, ‘you’re less likely to eat the chocolate cake that you know will take hours to burn off on the treadmill.’
Studies have also shown that people tend to overestimate how active they really are, with most people actually spending 16 to 20 hours a day sitting. Wearing a fitness can help to keep track of your sedentary moments.
Try combining at least 30 minutes of structured exercise each day with a variety of healthy habits, such as walking to work, taking lunchtime strolls, standing on the train and pottering around the house rather than sitting on the sofa.
8. Don’t skip meals
Even if you just have some fruit, or carrot batons, try not to skip meals. It’s not about dropping everything to eat the minute your stomach rumbles, but don’t let yourself get too hungry as this is when you are more likely to lose control. Being ravenous makes you much less likely to control impulses to overeat.
9. Resist temptation
Researchers have found that one of the biggest predictor of weight gain among women was their level of disinhibition, or unrestrained behaviour, with women with low disinhibition i.e. a finely tuned sense of restraint, having the lowest body mass index.
Self restraint is like a muscle that you can build over time. Prepare for moments when your disinhibition is likely to be higher—at a party or out to dinner with a large group of friends, or when you’re stressed or tired.
Creating good habits can also help to take the pressure of your need to continually exercise self-restraint. If you always eat a salad at lunch, or always start the day with a yoga workout then doing so becomes less of a decision and more of an auto response.
10. Sleep tight
There is a widely recognised link between getting more sleep and a smaller waistline. On average, research suggests that slimmer people tend to sleep two hours more each week when compared with overweight people. The theory is that a lack of sleep is linked to lower levels of appetite-suppressing hormones like leptin and higher levels of the appetite-boosting ghrelin.