This post is still about healthy living, but it is specifically concerning weight loss.
I gained 10lbs at the beginning of the year, bearing in mind I’m vegan and I cook all my meals myself. It didn’t matter that I was eating mostly whole foods when I was unintentionally having portions enough for two. It has been a slow process getting rid of the weight again, but I certainly couldn’t have done it by guesswork. My body/brain doesn’t always recognise what fullness feels like, and just because I’m healthier it doesn’t mean I still don’t have those urges to overeat. Most of us who are trying to lose weight start out with little understanding of the calorie content of our food, and what a proper ‘portion’ is. In the initial stages it is hard work, but once you’re over the hump you will have learnt new habits and it becomes much easier. This is why I truly believe knowledge is power, and you need to have the right information to make those changes.
Count Your Calories
I cannot stress this enough if you are in the beginning of your journey, or if you’ve hit a plateau. We’ve all been there: you’ve been following your diet plan and eating more veggies, and yet when you step on the scales the number just won’t budge? The biggest culprits are large portions and ‘forgotten’ calories.
In its simplest form, weight loss is a numbers game, you need to be burning more than you are eating. It took me a while to learn what a portion looked like, and to differentiate between genuinely full and I-need-to-unbutton-my-jeans-because-I-can’t-breathe full. Counting your calories puts you back in control. Don’t use it as a stick to beat yourself with, use it as a way to understand how you are fueling yourself throughout the day. Always be honest with yourself! You are the only one who sees the diary. Once you have all the necessary information you can make more mindful decisions about your food.
There are some foods that are great for you nutritionally but need to be portion controlled, such as nuts and seeds. A great source of fat, but eat too many and you’ll have enough calories for a small meal. If your goal is just to be healthier then honestly don’t sweat it. This advice is for people wanting to lose weight, and unfortunately the only way to do that is to be in a calorie deficit.
Invest in some kitchen scales. I don’t think anyone knows how to properly measure out rice or pasta, so just take the guesswork out of it. However, if you do cook more than you need, just save it for later! One of the worst habits I got into was bulk cooking for roast dinners. I’d cook an entire tray of roast potatoes and veggies, with the intention of saving leftovers, but my boyfriend and I would always eat the entire thing. No one should be eating that many roast potatoes! It was bad, I’ve learnt my lesson. I may talk about this in another post at greater length, but one of my golden rules of healthy eating is learning to eat leftovers. It doesn’t matter if you are the only person in your house eating healthily, just cook a full batch and either eat the next day or freeze. If you find eating leftovers to be dull, try and mix up how you present the food i.e. making leftover bean chilli into burritos. Portioning is such an important part of weight management, and you’ll realise you don’t need to live off lettuce to lose weight.
A big problem can be ‘forgotten’ calories. These are things like that latte from Starbucks before work, the crackers and hummus when you got home from work, or the mayo you drizzled all over your healthy pizza. Everything. Counts. If you are wondering why your eating habits aren’t producing the results you thought, check that you’re not accidentally sneaking things in.
On that note, I recommend you avoid drinking calories. Milky hot drinks, fruit juices, and alcohol can seriously add up; personally I stick to water and herbal tea throughout the day. A latte is roughly 200 calories… I’d rather eat a snack bar!
Some people cannot run their diet like a military operation; logging everything in to your phone can get exhausting. I’m aware that my way will not work for everyone, we are all different and I only speak from personal experience. One way to work around this is to give yourself room for that ‘error margin’. Calculate what your main meals should be, and give yourself some element of freedom with your snacks. Just remember to allow room for those treats, and stick to healthy whole foods.
Not All Calories Are Equal
If all you ate was a Kit Kat for breakfast, a handful of fries for lunch, and bag of crisps for dinner everyday, sure you would lose weight. But you would also be extremely hungry and malnourished (and probably struggling to poop). Veggies are full of micronutrients, they fill you up, and won’t spike your blood sugar levels (we’ve all experienced the mid-afternoon crash after a sugary snack). Weight loss might be a numbers game, but being healthy is about giving your body the nutrients it needs. This is about maintainable change, not a fad diet.
This Isn’t Forever
You won’t need to count forever, after a while you will intuitively know how big your morning porridge should be and how many snacks you can have at what time. You are gaining knowledge, and creating a routine. As I said in my previous post about home workouts, the key to success is organisation. Counting calories shouldn’t be about beating yourself up if you have a bad day. I still put in my diary that birthday cake I had earlier in the week. It’s about having a better understanding of the portion and quality of your food. Once you’re confident with your food choices, you can take away the stabilisers. Use it as a tool to get yourself back on track.
There are quite a few apps out there which can help you count your calories, the most popular being MyFitnessPal. It has a huge database, for the most part accurate, and very easy to use. I’ve recently started using a different app, Lifesum, which I’m really enjoying. Where MyFitnessPal makes revenue from ads, Lifesum has a free and premium version. Because I’m a cheapskate, I only use the free version. The only noticeable difference that I care about is you can’t see the micronutrients, like sodium or Vitamin A. I’m not overly concerned about this as I’ve only recently started paying attention to my macros (how many grams of protein, carbs and fat I eat per day).
I’ve scribbled out my calories as I don’t want you to copy, we are all different!
I favour Lifesum purely because it is more aesthetically pleasing. The app looks like less of a spreadsheet, it’s colourful, and the best part is it rates the quality of your food with a smiley face (which is adorable!). It’s not entirely accurate so don’t take every smiley to heart, it doesn’t like my peanut butter very much but I don’t care. It makes me feel good seeing a good rating for my healthy smoothie. Even better, it will give your meal an overall bad rating if you haven’t eaten enough; the app will encourage you to eat to make sure you are full and nourished properly.
In regards to how many calories you should be eating, that is something you need to calculate personally. Your weight, height, age, and activity level will all play a part in this number. A rough rule of thumb is you need to be eating 500 calories less than your TDEE (Total Daily Energy Expenditure) for weight loss. There are thousands of calculators out there, both MyFitnessPal and Lifesum have an in-app calculator.
Word of warning: do not put yourself on a 1,200 calorie diet. Websites will tell you that this is the minimum we need to function properly. Out of desperation I’ve put myself on that diet previously because I thought it would give the quickest results. It is demoralising, draining, and you end up not losing any weight because your body starts conserving any food you give it. Do not starve yourself, this is about steady and maintainable weight loss. Properly calculate what your individual body needs.
You will not drop 10lbs in a week. It’s just not going to happen. You might not even lose weight every week; there is no ‘quick fix’. This is about making real change and forming new habits that will last you forever. If you are consistent with your nutrition and exercise, you will get where you want to be. This is advice that I am trying to take in myself, as I’ve hit a plateau and I’m struggling to get past it. We are all in the same boat!
Sometimes the scales aren’t always the best judge. Muscle weighs more than fat, and your weight fluctuates quite dramatically depending on how much water your body is retaining. Start measuring yourself too, even if you haven’t lost any ‘weight’ you may have lost inches. Find new ways to track progress and celebrate achievements.
I hope this has been helpful: everyone is different but I find tracking my meals is the most effective way to manage my goals. Please share and subscribe, if you have any suggestions on topics you’d like me to discuss please message me!