Putting on an extra few kilos is easy – and we can do it without even noticing. The good news is we can lose it again without noticing, too.
Whether we count our extra kilos in ones, fives or 10s, we’ve probably all come to the same conclusion: restrictive dieting doesn’t work. But there are those people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off long-term. They have learnt the secret of changing their eating habits. Is it through superior willpower and determination? It’s possible, but unlikely.
Research shows if we reduce our kilojoule intake by small amounts, our bodies don’t even notice. There’s no mechanism in our body which tries to make up for this small reduction, and over time we’ll lose weight. And most importantly, our minds don’t object because we don’t feel deprived.
Making small changes in our environment is a better idea than relying on willpower and self-discipline. If we can gain weight without thinking about it, it’s just
a matter of turning the tables to lose excess kilos without thinking about it. Here are some simple yet effective things we can do to drop those hard to shift kilos.
Nine simple ways to cut kJs from your day
1. Don’t rely on willpower
Use the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ principle. If there are foods you find hard to limit, don’t have them in the pantry/fridge/car/desk/handbag. Buy small portions of treat foods rather than the ‘more economical’ bulk pack and reconsider specials: if you buy three chocolate snacks for $2, is it really a great deal if you eat three instead of one? And remember to do your grocery shopping after you’ve eaten – it’s easier to come home without the extras.
Making a larger amount of dinner and saving some for lunch the next day or freezing some for next week makes good sense. Eating these would-be leftovers with dinner doesn’t, so store these ‘extras’ straight away. Dish up meals on their plates rather than from their serving dishes with a free-for-all at the table, and just have salad or vegetables on the table. Think about your food temptations and ways you can remove them so you’re no longer presented with the dilemma of whether to eat the food or not.
2. Get value for volume
Our stomachs can’t count kilojoules. Our minds can, but they’d rather not. One way we judge the amount of food to eat is by volume or weight. So keeping the volume or weight of food the same, but reducing the amount of kilojoules in the food, is an easy way to cut kilojoules – and there’s no feeling of deprivation as the difference is barely noticeable. Nutritionists call this reducing ‘energy density’. Sometimes these changes seem so small they’re hardly worth doing, but eating these lower kilojoule foods on a regular basis all adds up. See the ‘simple swaps’ table at right.
3. Keep it simple
Imagine a beautiful buffet offering a variety of meats, seafood, salads and vegetable dishes. Do you think you would eat more at this buffet than the one offering one meat and vegetable casserole and one salad? Most people will. We tend to want to try more from a varied selection, and although we may take only small portions of each dish, we end up eating more. Researchers talk about ‘sensory specific satiety’. This means if you can eat just one thing, you’ll eat less because you get bored with it quicker. Variety stimulates the senses.
It’s good for us to have variety in our diet, but too much variety at each meal will help us stack on the kilos. At home simply limit choices at meals while cutting the workload at the same time. And when you’re eating out, it makes good sense to give the ‘good value’ buffet a miss.
4. Eat a little less – but don’t deny yourself anything
Research shows that when we are served more, we eat more. The cue to stop eating is getting to the end of the serve.
So if you currently consume around 8700kJ each day, and you cut the portion of every single thing you eat by 10%, you’ll drop 870kJ from your daily intake. It’s such a small amount your body won’t even notice. And rather than trying to deny yourself any of your favourite foods, having a little bit less of everything is more achievable.
In practical terms, this means smaller portions: don’t add that extra spoonful of rice to your plate; spread the peanut butter a little more thinly; have a slightly smaller glass of juice; use a smaller plate for your dinner or a smaller bowl for dessert; and cut the cake into 12 serves rather than 10.
5. Avoid the ‘healthier’ options
In his book Mindless Eating, Brian Wansink describes a number of studies he and his team did on the effects of food packaging claims which imply a food is healthier than other similar products. It seems we don’t have time to process all the information on packs, so we tend to make generalisations. If a food has the Heart Foundation tick or claims to be reduced fat, does that mean we can eat more of it? Not if it’s ice cream or a meat pie. In Wansink’s studies, people ate more food when they thought it was reduced fat, so they actually consumed more kilojoules. They also extended their understanding of health claims into much larger claims. For example, the claim ‘contains soy which helps reduce the risk of heart disease’ in their minds also lead them to think ‘and reduces the risk of diabetes and cancer and…’
When choosing ‘healthier’ options, it’s important not to eat more to compensate. Don’t be tempted to add high energy extras to make up for the lower kilojoules.
6. Avoid distraction: focus on food
Eating is a sensory experience. Researchers tell us if half our senses are elsewhere while we’re eating – watching TV, reading the newspaper or even driving the car – we’re more likely to eat for longer and forget how much we’ve eaten. Whether it’s a meal or a snack, alone or with others, we’re less likely to overeat if we focus on the food. We’re more likely to enjoy the food, too.
7. Don’t underestimate drinks
Most people underestimate the number of kilojoules they drink by around 30%. Some drinks can really be thought of as food. A milk drink, fruit juice or a fruit smoothie add kilojoules, but the good news is they also add lots of nutrients and help us feel full (as long as we’re listening). Other drinks don’t make us feel any fuller and they are often treated as if they don’t have any energy when in reality they can be loaded with kilojoules. Sugar-sweetened drinks and alcohol can be a real trap. In fact, alcohol can stimulate us to eat more and generally lead us to make poorer food choices.
To put drinks in perspective kilojoule-wise, we’ve used the marshmallow scale:
|DRINK||=||MARSHMALLOW EQUIVALENT (kJ)|
|Cup of tea or coffee with trim milk and one sugar||=||3.5 marshmallows|
|250ml glass of green top milk||=||6 marshmallows|
|250ml glass of fruit juice||=||7 marshmallows|
|Small glass of wine||=||8 marshmallows|
|Gin and tonic||=||10 marshmallows|
|250ml glass of blue top milk||=||12 marshmallows|
|330ml sugar-sweetened soft drink||=||12 marshmallows|
8. Eat regularly
Eating regularly, whether it’s three meals a day, or with the addition of regular snacks, helps avoid environmental cues to overeat. If we don’t know when or where we will next eat, we’re more open to the temptations of the vending machine or the fast food outlet we happen to pass. Habits, on the other hand, can be very powerful. Most people who ‘habitually’ eat three meals a day wouldn’t dream of going out of the house in the morning without breakfast. These people are less likely to overeat on chocolate cake at the morning tea shout as they’re not starving, and they know when they’ll be eating lunch and probably what it will be.
9. Burn a little more, it all adds up
Walk up the stairs to the second floor rather than catch the lift. Walk to see the person in the next office or next door rather than emailing or phoning. Have a 10-minute walk at lunchtime rather than staying at your desk. These relatively small activities will burn extra energy. And the more of these small activities you do each day, the more energy you’ll use.
The 1000kJ slow burner
When you drop weight quickly, it’s much more likely to sprint back on as both your mind and body will work against you. You haven’t had timeto embed new eating habits and choices, and your body’s response to the feast or famine regime is to make fat storage a priority.
If you reduce your current intake of energy by 1000kJ a day you’ll drop around 1kg a month. That may not sound like much but you can achieve 1000kJ without feeling at all deprived and after 10 months you’ll have lost 10kg!
If you’re not convinced 1kg per month is significant, how about this: if you consistently consume an extra 1000kJ every day over 10 months, you could put on 10kg.
Use the following burn-rate to suit your particular needs:
- 1000kJ a day (under or over your needs) = around 10kg in about 10 months
- 500kJ a day = around 5kg in about 10 months
- 2000kJ a day = around 20kg in about 10 months
Walking burns more energy than sitting in your car. For example, a 65kg woman who walks an extra five minutes a day burns an extra 100 kilojoules; an extra 10 minutes walking burns 200kJ; 16 minutes burns 300kJ; 21 minutes burns 400kJ; and 26 minutes burns 500kJ. And if you walk faster, or jog, you burn even more. Our 65kg woman could burn 500kJ by slowly jogging for 12 minutes.
Free bonuses: If you’re male you burn more energy; bigger people burn more energy; weight-bearing exercise is good for bone strength; and any form of exercise is good for both physical and mental health.