Today I would like to introduce Rachel from Ten Minutes Spare, a runner & fitness enthusiast, doctor & mum, who will be sharing her tips on weight loss. You can also follow her on twitter as @10minutesspare.
A few months ago I was asked by a friend for a personal recommendation of a helpful diet to follow for weight loss.
I didn’t have a very good answer for her. I’ve thought about it since and ultimately I think a better understanding of food and nutrition is really important when losing weight regardless of what ‘diet’ is followed.
I do understand that following a set-eating plan can be really helpful, but not all diets are sustainable for the long term. This doesn’t apply to everyone, but once a diet has finished it can be possible for weight to creep back on if you simply return to old eating habits.
Here are a few things that might be helpful to know for the long term about food and weight:
Do you need to lose weight?
People have different motivations to lose weight; perhaps in order to wear particular clothes or for a certain event, for some it might be to improve confidence or perhaps to gain fitness.
Individual goals are important, however it may be even more motivating to consider if losing weight may be beneficial for your health.
To do this you could calculate your body mass index (BMI). You can do the calculation here by entering your height and weight. Generally a healthy BMI falls between 18.5-25.
So if your BMI is over 25 you might want to lose weight for any personal reasons, but do also remember the benefits for your health. A BMI over 25 can increase the risk of certain conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
What are Calories?
Each person needs a certain amount of energy for their body to function during the day. We take in energy from food, and we call the units of this energy calories.
If you take on more calories (energy from food) than your body requires in the long term it becomes stored as fat.
If you were to lie resting all day your body would be using calories for basic requirements such as breathing and keeping your heart beating. This minimum number of calories is called your basal metabolic rate.
However, the number of calories you actually burn in a day is much higher than this, as the body needs calories for all your activities of daily living as well as exercise.
So how many calories do you need?
Everyone has a slightly different calorie requirement, depending on their age, sex and how active they are during the day.
As a rough guide an average man needs 2500 calories each day and an average women 2000 calories per day.
If you would like to know a little more accurately what YOUR body needs you can find out here.
Calories and weight loss
It is usually recommended that you aim to lose weight at a rate of 1-2lb per week. ‘Crash diets’ where you drastically restrict the amount you eat or miss out entire food groups are generally not recommended by the national health service.
To lose weight slowly and steadily you need to create a ‘calorie deficit’. This means you need to take on a little less energy than your body needs over a longer period, so that it uses the stores of fat as energy instead. This does NOT necessarily mean you need to eat less, but certainly differently, as I will explain below.
Increasing your activity can also be very helpful as exercise increases the number of calories used each day.
It is difficult to be exact about the amount you need to decrease your calories from food in order to lose weight, but the current guidelines from the NHS suggest that on average men trying to lose weight should eat around 1900 calories per day and women 1400. This is a reduction of around 500-600 calories per day from the average amounts required to maintain weight.
So what does this mean for food?
Different types of foods contain different amounts of energy (calories). It’s probably obvious to state that eating an apple is a healthier choice than a bar of chocolate! This is partly due to the vitamins and fibre contained in an apple. But it may still be surprising to learn the difference in calories between the two.
A 100g of apple contains around 52 calories, whereas the same weight (100g) of chocolate (admittedly this is bigger than most chocolate bars) contains around 500 calories.
So for the average women 100g of chocolate represents about a quarter of the total energy intake for the day she needs.
Of course this doesn’t mean that you should never eat chocolate, but an awareness of its calorie content might make it easier to perhaps just eat a little square of it rather than an entire bar, especially if you’re aiming to lose weight.
Some people may like to actually calculate the amount of calories they are eating each day when trying to lose weight. There are various online resources to help with this. The advantages of this are that you can be quite flexible about what you eat so long as you make sure you stick to your calorie limit.
Others may find this too complicated or time consuming, however I do think it is important to have at least an understanding of the fact that some foods are much more energy dense (higher in calories) compared to other foods of the same size, as for the long term it makes it much easier to make sensible food choices.
Of course eating healthily involves much more than simply choosing lower calorie foods. It is also important to have the correct balance between the amount of protein, carbohydrate, dairy products, fruit, vegetables and fat in your diet. The eatwell plate gives you an idea of the proportions for which you should be aiming.
If you’d like further information, the NHS livewell site has an excellent weight loss 12 week plan that is all about improving healthy eating habits and sticking to a recommended calorie allowance.
So I suppose my overall message is that losing weight is a slow process (1-2lb) per week. It is can be hard work, and different methods may work for different people. However, whether you choose to follow a particular diet regime or to flexibly count calories, it is the long term that is also important.
By learning about and eating more of foods that are nutrient-filled and naturally lower in calories (like lots of fruit and vegetables) and less of those that are very energy dense (chocolate for example) it should be possible to enjoy a delicious balance without feeling deprived.
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