What is the right body weight? How should we look? These are very difficult questions to answer, but I believe it’s most importantly about feeling comfortable in your own body. We are far too easily influenced by trends and public opinion. If you feel heavy, if your clothes are too tight and if you are tired, losing weight might be a good idea. But do it slowly and by changing your habits. There is no easy fix and crazy diets do not work.
Losing weight – and keeping it off – can be hard work because it involves life-changing decisions to find another way of eating and enjoying food. The rules couldn’t be simpler, though: you need to eat less and exercise or be active. Being active improves your body’s physical and mental state, so it is a win-win situation. However, getting into a routine is one of the most challenging aspects.
I have to emphasize that this is a general guideline. The metabolism varies from individual to individual, depending on age, gender, height, weight and your everyday activity levels. Furthermore, if you exercise regularly, the proportion of heavier muscular tissue to fat changes. New studies come out all the time demonstrating just how little we understand about why some people are heavier than others. Metabolism might be connected with our genes, or the bacteria in our stomachs. There is much we don’t know.
The most crucial factor in weight loss, in my experience, is to change your lifestyle forever… and I mean forever. I can’t recommend going on a diet for two to three weeks and then going back to eating like you used to. You can’t expect to keep the pounds off; moreover such ‘yo-yo’ dieting can be very damaging to your health. Changing your lifestyle is key if you need to lose weight and maintain your new body weight. That means smaller portions and less food, more vegetables and complex carbs, less alcohol, fat and sugar – and some exercise every day.
It is really that simple and can be done without calculating anything. I don’t mean you can’t indulge ever again; I’m all for having fun, wonderful food and nice wine. I am talking about changing your habits and your palate, so you end up preferring real-tasting food that is good for you.
Ground Rules Before Starting A Diet
Before you start your diet, take the decision to make these changes a permanent feature of your life from now on. After some months without a lot of the things you were used to, such as crisps, chips, fizzy drinks, sugar in everything, heavy sauces, etc., they will actually lose their appeal… I promise. Real flavours from real food can truly change your preferences!
Take time to plan and cook: eating on the move is not a good solution, and shopping for food when you are very hungry and your blood sugar levels are low is also a bad idea. Therefore, plan for three to four days ahead or maybe even for a whole week.
Eating together at a set table is important – don’t eat in front of the TV!
Make sure your dinner plates are not too big; using smaller plates is a good way to control portion sizes.
Eat all your meals slowly, enjoy your food and taste it. I mean really taste it and focus on what’s on your plate. Learning to eat slowly can be hard in the beginning; I know from my own experience. At the beginning I put my watch next to the plate to keep track of time, and promised myself that the eating had to take at least 30 minutes. It took me a couple of months to get into the habit. I lose the habit frequently and then I have to go back to timing my meals.
Involve other people for support. If you find it difficult to change your habits, tell them how they can help you to achieve your goals.
Make sure you get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation makes you eat more since it will make you suffer from tired spells during the day and then you will be inclined to turn to sugar as the solution.
Planning Your Weight-Loss Diet
Start your new diet by examining everything in your cupboards, getting rid of not-very-healthy convenience items, such as ready meals, canned soups, snack bars, milk chocolate, fizzy drinks, crisps, cereals containing sugar, etc. Then restock your cupboards with real food, spices, good oils and vinegars, whole grains, oats, nuts, flours, mustards. This replacement process can, of course, be rather expensive. If so, you can do it over time, but try to get rid of all the unhealthy choices in your cupboards as quickly as possible. That is the surest way not to be tempted to eat them.
Plan what to eat for the whole week ahead, and then only go shopping twice so that you spend time in the kitchen instead of in the shops. When on a diet, planning is the key to success. Shopping when hungry or on the spu of the moment will almost inevitably mean that the wrong things get in your basket.
Make sure you always have vegetables, fresh and dried fruit and nuts in the house, so when you get really hungry or fatigued you have something safe to eat.
In a busy working life you often have to buy lunch or go out for lunch as part of your job. When going out for lunch, do not eat bread and try to avoid alcohol. If it ends up being a big lunch, skip dinner or just eat a raw carrot. Being a little bit hungry now and then will not hurt you.
If you have to buy a takeaway lunch, always avoid sandwiches and go for salad, preferably one with whole grains or quinoa. In any case, the main rule is to stay away from factory-made bread.
High days and holidays
Holidays are always exceptions, and it is only natural to gain a little weight after a couple of weeks with good food and wine every day. That is OK and part of life, but make sure you exercise and perhaps increase your activity level while you have time on your hands.
If you go to a party or have a day when you lunch with friends, or any event where you eat more than planned, just cut down on the following days and you will still lose the amount you need for that week. Dieting is a process that cannot be evaluated day by day but only over weeks or months.
Sodium is an essential mineral, which we mostly get from salt. Unfortunately, getting too much salt is linked with risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. Your average intake should not be higher than 6g per day. Weigh 6g salt and see how much it is – that will give you a clear picture of the exact amount and help you to limit it. To avoid too much salt in your diet, do not eat processed food, takeaways, and lots of biscuits and snack bars; they contain a lot of salt because it is a natural flavour enhancer.
Over the last few decades sugar has become the big enemy, not because there is anything wrong with it as such – it is gastronomically a fantastic ingredient and I would not live without it. However, consuming sugar in the quantities we do is a real and threatening problem, leading to all sorts of health issues.
Stop using sugar in your tea and coffee, but do not replace it with any sweetener. Instead get used to the true taste of the coffee and tea. Do this in stages if necessary. Stop drinking fizzy drinks on a daily basis, and instead buy or make some organic cordials (see Fruit cordials) and dilute them with water. Stop eating snack bars, chocolate bars, bought cakes and biscuits, and sweets. When craving sweet things, bake yourself a cake so you control exactly what goes into it, that is, the quantity of sugar and the quality of the other ingredients. Alternatively, eat fruit instead. Even though it also contains sugar, it is still a healthy option.
What should you aim for?
If you want to lose weight in a healthy and steady way, I recommend losing 1-2 pounds (500g-1kg) per week, no more. That way you will not feel starved or exhausted. The weight loss will all be due to change. Be patient if nothing really happens in the beginning; just stick to it and the weight will start coming off.
When you have to lose weight, it is important to maintain a steady blood sugar level. You do that by eating three main meals a day and three snacks, but the rule is: do not eat if you are not hungry. The diet plan opposite will work if you do not sit still all day but move around 20% of the time, and exercise two to three times a week.
Suggested Diet Plan
. 1 portion of raw oats with fruit and non-fat skimmed milk, or porridge, or a piece of rye bread with cottage cheese (see the recipes).
. Coffee or tea* (with no sugar).
. 1 piece of rye bread with 2 tablespoons of low-fat cottage cheese, or if at a desk far away from a kitchen, have some raw vegetables and 10g nuts, like walnuts, hazelnuts or almonds.
. A standard lunch with pieces of 1 slice of rye bread with hard-boiled eggs or potatoes, and a portion of raw vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, cucumber and celery sticks. At weekends or at home, when you have more time and a kitchen is available, make a soup or some of the other lunch recipes in the book.
. 1 piece of fruit.
. 1 piece of fish, poultry or game, about 100-150g (except for days where the meal is vegetarian).
. 1 big portion of vegetables.
. 2 potatoes or 50g boiled grains.
. 1 portion of salad, with lettuce, kale or cabbage.
Choose from the recipes in the book. Divide each week as follows: 3 days with vegetarian meals 2 days with fish
2 days with poultry, game or meat.
When having your main meal, make sure you set the table nicely, prepare your food with love, take time eating at the table with your family or friends. If eating alone, still set the table and serve yourself a wonderful tasty dinner.
Eat only one portion of food, then eat slowly and drink plenty of water while eating. That also prolongs the meal.
Always serve a fresh salad according to the season; fresh raw vegetables fill you up and they are super healthy. When on a diet, avoid dressings; instead use lemon juice or a nicely flavoured, good-quality vinegar instead.
In general, cut down on fat. Steam or bake instead of frying.
100ml non-fat yoghurt or skyr with berries or other seasonal fruit or, some nights, a small piece of dark chocolate.
Drink 2 litres of water a day, and always have raw vegetables in a plastic bag to snack on if hungry or getting sugar cravings.
*Coffee and tea are unlimited, but be careful not to have too much caffeine, which can make you giddy, especially if you do not eat a lot. Always use skimmed milk in your coffee and tea. Avoid café latte – there’s too much fat in all that milk, and that goes for soy latte as well.