I don’t want to be the awful person who is all “LET’S GO ON A DIET SOLELY BECAUSE IT’S JANUARY”, but as we naturally take a look at our eating habits at this time of year (mostly because we’ve genuinely reached peak brie consumption and actually crave salad) I thought I’d share some of the changes I made last year that helped me lose weight before Christmas.
You may have already read the posts I wrote after I joined Nuffield’s Healthy Weight Programme, but they basically outline why I wanted to lose weight and how I knew I needed a different approach that was about overall health and not just looking foxy in a bikini. Looking good in a bikini has never been a good enough motivator for me anyway. I mean people do KNOW about sarongs, right? I can’t restrict myself year round to “look good” for two weeks a year, not when there is so much deliciousness in the world.
Baked pea falafels, from my post on 12 Healthy Vegetarian Dinner Ideas.
But I CAN change my outlook on food and exercise for my health. Especially as I am getting older, want a family and know how much BETTER I feel when I live a healthier lifestyle. It’s not an aesthetics thing (though of course it’s nice to lose a few pounds) it’s about energy, sleep, flexibility, strength and generally appreciating the hard work the lumpy bumpy carcass I carry around everywhere does for me.
Some of these changes are probably pretty personal to me so it’s not like a brilliant one-size-fits-all list that will miraculously help anyone and everyone shed half a stone without blinking, but I found these 15 swaps made a big difference to my weight…as well as to my health. With little real effort on my part. (I did of course up my exercise as well, but not drastically by any means).
I allowed myself to slip back into my old eating habits over December (my first client Christmas meal was in mid-November, for gawd’s sake) and I’ve really felt it…on the scales, yes, but more importantly in my energy levels, skin, mood and sleep patterns. It shouldn’t be hard for me to get back into following these 15 swaps, as I know how much better I feel when I do!
Plus, the Lurpak’s finished now, and what good is crusty white bread without Lurpak?
1. Stop counting calories, focussing on nutritional properties of whole foods instead.
Ok so this one is a bit drastic for most dieters, but I do think it’s important so bear with me. I have always “counted” on diets, whether it’s points on WW or calories on MFP, so it was really hard to learn to stop doing this. But counting calories doesn’t equate to healthier choices, in fact it can do quite the opposite. If your sole goal is to lose weight then sure, cutting back calories will work, but if you want to be *healthy* then it probably won’t. A girlfriend at college lost two stone by near enough solely eating Quavers, but is that healthy? Is that doing your body any favours? Of course it isn’t. She’s an extreme example but I’ve found myself doing the same, opting for highly processed artificial “low calorie” options rather than taking account of what benefits a food has for the machine that is MY BODY.
By looking at everything I wanted to eat and asking myself things like “does this add value to my body?” and “is this full of chemical junk?” it was a lot easier to make healthy choices. I ate when I was hungry, not when I had spare calories to use.
Plus it feels exceptionally freeing to not be a slave to calorie counting. And it’s 1000 times easier, especially when eating out or not in a position to check labels.
In the first few weeks I still tracked what I ate in a notepad with a pen and paper, but just to make sure I was staying on track really, I wasn’t including calorie figures. Once I got used to not counting calories it was easier than ever and it felt like a genuine lifestyle change, not a restrictive numbers game for a short term gain.
2. Eat breakfast, every day.
I’d always said I wasn’t fussed about breakfast in the week, so in my head I pegged it as “a waste of calories”. Skipping breakfast would give me more calories for dinner…and what fantastic news that was! Except, as I have now come to appreciate, it’s not good for you to not eat breakfast. My energy levels increased drastically once I started having breakfast and I no doubt ended up eating less overall, as I wasn’t going into my afternoon/evening starving and headachey.
3. Swap bagels and sliced bread for rye bread.
Rye bread is delicious and wonderful and FILLING. I could, probably, eat six rounds of white toast without blinking. Why? Because it’s so heavily processed that it’s barely bread any more. Rye bread is substantial and brilliant and has more fibre than the usual loaves you might pick up at the supermarket. Bread is not an enemy per se, but heavily processed breads aren’t exactly doing your body a myriad of favours. Switching to rye bread is a really easy swap.
4. Swap soy milk for coconut and (sugar free) almond milks.
I had no idea how much controversy there was around so called “healthy” soy milk. At home I now have a splash of cow’s milk in my tea (as I always did) but for very milky things like lattes or cereal, I opt for coconut milks like Koko or an unsweetened almond milk. Koko porridge is THE BEST. (I’m not trying to be dairy-free FYI, I still eat a lot of natural yoghurt and so on, but I had no idea how much debate there is around soy milk – especially for females).
5. Swap milky cafe drinks for tea.
This one was one of the hardest changes for me as I LOVE a Starbucks soy mocha more than life itself, but they are full of sugary nonsense. I used to have them every day (calorie wise I would have them instead of lunch, for example) but they offer you pretty much zero nutritional value and I wanted to cut back on soy milks as per the point above. Now my trips to Starbucks involve teas. The upside of this sad tale? I now spend a LOT less time/money at Starbucks.
6. Swap endless cups of tea at home for recognising what your body wants.
I used to drink tea at home to stave off hunger when if you’re genuinely hungry, you should of course *actually eat something*. Tea is not a meal. The temporary energy boost from caffeine will quickly nosedive again.
I still drink tea of course, but a cup or two a day not all day every day because I have a headache because I’m hungry.
7. Swap white rice and pasta for brown rice and pasta.
Courgetti isn’t spaghetti and only liars say they’re comparable, but wholewheat pasta IS nice. I actually prefer it because I think it’s more filling and has more bite, which in turn makes portion control easier. Brown rice is also DELICIOUS and such a lovely fibre filled swap to treat yourself to. You won’t look back.
8. Swap Quorn for natural proteins.
As a vegetarian, I’ve always eaten a lot of synthetic “faux meats” like Quorn. They may be low in calories but they’re very heavily processed, so I’ve massively cut back on these. I couldn’t tell you the last time I ate it, but it’s not like I’ve put a ban on it…I’ve just found my protein elsewhere.
9. Eat more seeds and nuts.
Unfortunately not the salted kind we’ve been OD’ing on over Christmas, but small portions of raw almonds, pistachios and cashews. I add a seedy sprinkle to my porridge (why does that sound dodgy?!) and it makes a big difference to my energy levels and keeps me fuller for much longer than just porridge alone. Basically, NUTS ARE THE PERFECT SNACK FROM MOTHER NATURE. Especially teamed with some cut up apple.
10. Eat less sauce.
I am slightly obsessed with ketchup/HP/BBQ/younameit (I gave up sauces for Lent because I was scared by how much I was eating) but in a bid to eat less sugary nonsense I have had to massively cut back on my bottled sauce consumption. It’s actually been fairly easy to do this because of the other changes I’ve made, as I was probably only covering everything in sauce simply to give flavour to crappy processed foods. I can imagine my sugar and salt intake has dropped dramatically from this change alone. I’ll still have a splash of vinegar based hot sauce and a healthy dollop of fat free Greek yoghurt with most meals, but that’s better than tablespoons and tablespoons of ketchup.
11. Swap heavily processed foods in favour of making from scratch.
I’ve always enjoyed cooking so this wasn’t hard really, but of course you will eat healthier if you control the recipes. I’ve even made my own baked beans, for goodness sake. (THEY WERE REALLY NICE).
12. Swap a fear of fat for AN EMBRACING OF (healthy) FATS.
I have always liked avocados but been aware of their fat content. Not giving a flying fig about the fact they’re fatty has been fabulous for my skin. I wouldn’t snack on nuts before either because they had too many calories…well now I love nuts. We NEED fat. Plus it’s very satiating, helping you to actually eat less overall.
I still cook in sprays a lot of the time because I just don’t think you need a tonne of oil for most recipes (and I don’t like coconut oil, despite everyone raving about it) but I am not scared of fats. Fats are great.
13. Eat when hungry.
If you are genuinely hungry in your stomach and not just in your head, eat something. Choose something that will fill you up and that your body actually needs (i.e not crisps) but eat SOMETHING. Similarly, if it’s dinnertime and you’re not that hungry, don’t have a big dinner just because it’s dinnertime. It’s really easy to think “oh it’s 1pm so I better have that same lunch I always have at this time without thinking” when actually your body might want more…or much less. Listen to it. (On a related note for the ladies, if you’re hormonal then I really do think there’s no point beating yourself up about cravings. Being on your period is rubbish enough, you don’t need to be fretting about whether you can have an apple/a Twix as well).
14. Swap diet drinks for water.
Diet coke and water both have the same amount of calories, but only one has a scary list of ingredients. We all know sugar free fizzy drinks are full of crap, it’s not healthy to rely on them to stave off eating actual food.
15. Drink less alcohol.
I’ve saved the most obvious tip for last, but it makes a massive difference…or it does to me anyway. Like pretty much anyone who has ever cut back on booze, I feel SO MUCH BETTER when I drink less. Less alcohol means less sugar, less stress on your body and less comedy food choices at 4am when you definitely need three pizzas “for a laugh”.
Cucumber and tempeh salad from my post on 12 Healthy Vegetarian Dinner Ideas.
I’m excited to get back into a healthier mindset because I feel better – physically – when I eat things that aren’t drenched in Baileys cream all day. I’m not going to kid myself that the summer of 2016 will be MY SUMMER where I finally upload pics of toned legs to Instagram, but I’m looking forward to building upon the progress I made towards the end of last year for a healthier lifestyle. I’ll be at the gym tomorrow, with my little exercise plan and a pencil to tick off all the reps I manage. Assuming I manage any.
If you’re trying to make changes this January too, then good luck to you!
And remember you’re a human being and you’re allowed to lay on the sofa all day sometimes too x