I tend to write a lot about the science of weight loss and debunking myths and false claims. However, this piece is merely my findings from working with clients, and the types of weight loss strategies that I see working on a daily basis.
If you are trying to lose weight and not succeeding, one way or another you are still consuming more calories than you are expending.
Here’s some practical advice to help:
Speaking very generally, sedentary male clients looking to lose weight tend to have a calorie target of around 1800-2300kcal, while sedentary female clients will range from 1300-1800kcal. (for a more specific target try the following formula http://www.calculator.net/calorie-calculator.html )
Try tracking your calorie intake for just one week. This should give you a reasonable idea of how your current diet stacks up. Depending on how far off the above ranges you are, you may look to implement several or all of the steps below.
> Adding protein and fruit/veg to each main meal
> Swapping sweet/processed snacks for a fourth light meal, or a high protein afternoon snack
> Swapping fancy coffee calories for lower calorie options
> Reducing alcohol intake to once per week
> Reducing restaurant indulgence to once per week
> Getting 10,000 steps a day
> Trying to get an hours walk/cardio/training in 2-3 times per week.
Let’s look at these in a bit more detail…
STEP 1: THE MAIN MEALS
When studying client food diaries, regardless if food choices are ‘healthy’ or not, most people end up consuming anywhere from 400-800kcal at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Thats a range of 1200-2400kcal across these main meals.
Step one is to try to bring this figure closer to 400kcal than 800kcal at each meal. Some useful strategies include:
> Add a palm sized serving of protein (25-30g), this can be meat, fish, 3 eggs or a low fat cheese or yogurt. Protein is more filling than fats and carbohydrate. A chicken breast is about half the calories of a mars bar, but certainly a lot more filling.
> Add a fibrous portion of vegetable or grains. Fibre is non digestible in our bodies, this means its calorie value is essentially zero while still being filling and beneficial in gut health and digestion.
> Don’t avoid carbohydrates and fats, just be aware of portion sizes! A good measure for rice, oats, pasta and other carbohydrates is; one cupped hand size = 1 portion (or about 30g). For fats such as nuts and seeds; one thumbs size = 1 portion (about 10g).
> If you’re on the go and the above steps are not possible, try to grab something you know is around 500kcal or less (such as a Pret club sandwich), preferably 25-30g protein to keep you fuller longer!
STEP 2: THE USUAL SUSPECTS
Step two is to look elsewhere in the diet where excessive calories are creeping in. Some usual suspects are:
A packet of crisps, chocolate bar, slither of cake, four biscuits, and a pack of sweets - are all around 250kcal each, and do very little to fill you up! You can see how making your way through a pack of biscuits in the afternoon could quickly add up.
Some ideas here might be to swap out your usual afternoon snacking for something a little more filling. Greek yogurts such as Fage Total, are a great choice with some fruit. Even low fat cheeses such as Babybel Lights are far more filling, packing 20g protein per 200kcal! (4 cheeses)
Another option is to add a fourth meal in the afternoon. A serving of smoked salmon, spinach and cottage cheese can pack around 40g of protein per 350kcal, alongside plenty of micronutrients!
Eating four evenly spaced 350kcal meals throughout the day is more likely to keep you full during the afternoon, and avoid ‘office grazing’ that leads to far greater calorie consumption. It is also more likely to keep you from arriving home starving hungry and reaching for the take away menu.
If you really need that sweet fix, there are some useful alternatives. For example, Solero, Twister and Fruit Pastille Ice lollies all are around 90kcal. Sugar free jelly pots are 5kcal each(!) and even swapping a regular chocolate bar for a Freddo (90kcal) will save you around 150kcal.
More and more of us tend to run on coffee, the effects of which are a topic for another article. However, when it comes to weight loss, your pick me up of choice can have a sizeable impact. Frappuccinos, vanilla lattes and hot chocolates can range from 300-500kcal, the equivalent of another meal.
A straight swap of a vanilla latte for an americano with sweetener rather than sugar can save you almost 300kcal.
Whether it's entertaining business clients, after work Thursday drinks, or a Friday night social, alcohol is an established part of city life for many people. Alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation alongside weight loss goals, however more often than not, it is one of the biggest factors affecting clients' progress. A bottle of wine = 650kcal, 3 pints of beer = 550kcal. So 8 pints equals…
If alcohol is contributing a hefty sum to your calorie intake, look to reduce drinking sessions to once a week. (or even once a month!)
Restaurant meals out:
As with alcohol, fine dining and business lunches are common place around busy work schedules. On top of this, apps such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats make restaurant food even more readily available and tempting.
Again, eating out with friends isn't something to be forbidden, however it's worth being aware of the sizeable calorie content of the food you're likely to be consuming. Pizza Express dough balls, american hot, and bottle of coke = 1500kcal +
When it comes to eating out at restaurants - opt for the smarter choice where possible, I.e meat and veg, or the under 500kcal menu. If this is just not possible, look to reduce your fine dinning to once a week (or every 2 weeks), and enjoy the experience fully.
STEP 3: GET MOVING
> One hours walking - 200kcal
> Resistance training session - 350kcal
> One hour treadmill jogging - 500kcal
> 10,000 steps a day (logged on fitbit) - 400kcal
10,000 steps is an achievable target to reach in a days work, even for a sedentary work environment. This may mean going for a stroll at lunch, or a taking the stairs rather than the lift, but it all adds up. (getting hold of a FitBit or step tracker is a great way of holding yourself accountable to this)
If you are really set on seeing a change, why not challenge yourself to an hours walk/cardio session per day?
Attack your calorie deficit from both sides - reduce excess food intake, and increase daily activity.
THE TAKE HOME:
It is not necessary to track calories to lose weight. However it is beneficial to spend sometime looking into the calorific content of the foods you are eating regularly, and make adjustments based on the findings. Likewise, using a step tracker for a week may disclose you are only walking 3,000 steps a day. This would again highlight a potential window of opportunity for increasing activity and energy expenditure.
A significant calorie deficit for weight-loss is around 500kcal below maintenance. If your current weight is stable and not budging, even just implementing one or two of these strategies may be enough to bring you into that deficit.
Losing weight is not easy. But implementing changes can be as simple as just being a bit more organised. Have your snack replacements ready, have the alarm set an hour early for your walk, have a look at the menu online before the big meal out.
Weight loss is not about specific diet foods or villainising fat, sugar, carbs or white bread. Nor is it about suffering constant hunger. My most successful weight loss clients have been the ones who have made appropriate and manageable changes, and stuck with them consistently. This is the key to steady, sustainable, remarkable results.