Ditch the Diet
After the excesses of Christmas and a long winter of stodgy foods and inactivity, many people are putting their new year’s resolutions into action and thinking about a diet overhaul. For some people, losing weight is a long-term goal, while others may be simply trying to lose a few extra pounds gained over the Christmas season. Either way, avoiding fad diets and incorporating some healthy lifestyle changes is a much more sustainable way to reach your ideal weight, and stay there. Always eat a good breakfast… Studies have shown that people who eat a good breakfast are less likely to be overweight. Good choices are porridge, or wholegrain wheat and sugar free muesli or granola, mixed with a variety of seeds, topped with chopped fruit such as apples and blueberries, and served with soya, rice milk or regular milk. It’s a delicious breakfast which is packed full of essential nutrients and keeps hunger at bay all morning. Eating a healthy breakfast sets your metabolism at a higher level for the rest of the day so that you burn calories more efficiently and have more energy into the bargain. It’s also a good idea to try to have your main meal at lunchtime if possible. Don’t eat too late at night as you will have no opportunity to burn off all those calories before bed time! Remember your essential fats… Obviously losing weight means avoiding fatty foods; however, it is important to consume enough of the essential fats needed for good metabolic functioning and healthy skin, nails and hair. Eating oily fish such as mackerel, salmon, tuna and trout at least three times a week instead of red meat will help you to lose weight and ensure adequate levels of these healthy fats. Studies have shown that people whose diet includes fish oils loose weight more easily. Many foods which are labeled ‘low fat’ are often packed full of sugar instead, so make sure you always read the label: things are not always as they seem! Eat regular meals and healthy snacks… The key to a healthy diet is to try to maintain your blood sugar at a steady level throughout the day. Sugary foods such as chocolates, cakes and biscuits, (and some other carbohydrate-rich foods such as white bread) release their energy very rapidly, causing a sharp rise in blood sugar levels. If this energy is not used up immediately by intense physical activity it is quickly removed from the bloodstream and converted to fat. The blood sugar levels then plummet just as quickly, resulting in tiredness, headaches and further sugar cravings. In the long term, this swinging of blood sugar levels can lead to excessive weight gain and diabetes. Stable blood sugar levels can be maintained by eating small regular meals, and healthy snacks (such as fresh and dried fruits, nuts and seeds, and probiotic yoghurts). Skipping meals deprives the body of essential nutrients and is never a good idea. Beware of so-called ‘sugar-free’ or ‘diet’ drinks, which contain chemical sweeteners such as aspartame. These place a strain on the liver and can actually slow weight loss. Green tea or diluted fresh fruit juice (such as apple juice which is very good for cleansing the liver) are much healthier alternative. It is also important to drink plenty of water to flush the system. Don’t starve yourself… While eating too much of the wrong foods causes the excess energy to be stored as fat, eating too little causes the body to behave as it would during a famine: lowering the metabolism to conserve energy, and leading to tiredness, poor concentration and mood swings. The reduced rate of metabolism also leads to rapid weight gain when the diet returns to normal. If you eat plenty of good wholesome food you are much less likely to crave the wrong foods. Avoid foods you don’t tolerate well… Many people are intolerant to certain foods, which clog up the digestive system and cause sluggishness and weight gain. In this country, wheat intolerance is extremely common, and many people also have difficulty with dairy produce. The only reliable way to assess food intolerance is to cut out the usual culprits, such as wheat and dairy produce, for at least 4 weeks, then reintroduce them one by one to see if a reaction occurs. I have seen many people with a lifetime history of sluggish digestion, bloating and weight gain, which is resistant to any treatment, completely recover after excluding certain foods. Good alternatives to wheat products are spelt or gluten free bread and crackers, oatcakes and rice cakes. Alternatives to dairy milk include soya, rice milk and oat milk. Make exercise enjoyable Spending hours exercising when you don’t enjoy it is like punishment and this makes it very hard to keep it up. If you hate the gym, choose activities you enjoy and can easily incorporate into your life, such as dancing or cycling. Yoga is wonderful for managing stress as well as increasing muscle tone, strength and flexibility. If you think you are too busy to exercise, make a point of walking or cycling everywhere instead of driving. And finally… If you are struggling to lose weight despite changing your diet and exercising more frequently, you may have a health problem which is affecting your metabolism. An underactive thyroid gland, hormone imbalance, intestinal dysbiosis and food intolerances can all lead to weight gain, bloating and excessive tiredness. If you are finding it difficult to lose weight, consult a qualified practitioner of herbal medicine who will assess your diet and determine whether there are any underlying health problems which require treatment.