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Weight-loss for food lovers: Four steps to change the way you eat

Nutritionist and weight-loss specialist Bronwen King shares her golden rules for food lovers who want to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Are you one of those people who struggle to lose weight because you love food? Despite best intentions, do you find your self control goes out the window when anything vaguely edible is within reach? Have you tried diet after diet only to succumb to temptation because you cannot stand the deprivation any longer? If you have answered yes to these questions you are not alone. Despite knowledge and the greatest of will power, our hunter gatherer genes have us wired so that when faced with immediate gratification or long-term health gain, immediate gratification wins almost every time, particularly if you love food!

The dilemma facing most food lovers is how to enjoy food and a healthy weight at the same time. It can feel as if we have to choose between being ‘fat and happy’ (although happiness seldom goes hand in hand with being overweight) or slim but deprived. But it IS possible to be a food lover and a healthy eater at the same time.

Training your taste buds and eating habits so that the foods you want are mainly those that look after your health and weight is the key to enjoying food and a healthy weight at the same time. And it is a far easier path for food lovers than the food restriction required by traditional dieting.

Take lasagne, for example. Your choice is to have a micro portion of a traditional lasagne (leaving you screaming for more) or have a regular portion prepared with healthier ingredients and healthier cooking methods. If you can maintain flavour and appeal in the latter, the choice for food lovers is a no-brainer! (For a healthy recipe, try our HFG lasagne.)

The following tips will help you lose weight without sacrificing your enjoyment of food. They are about making small changes to the way you select, prepare, serve and eat your food with the idea that many small changes add up to a significant kilojoule reduction without you really realising it.

Routinely choose healthier versions of food and soon it will become habit.

  • Base your eating around whole foods. Highly processed foods tend to be less healthy with added fat, sugar and salt.
  • Where you are choosing a packaged food, compare the 100g column on food labels of like products and choose the healthiest version that you can. Go for less fat, less sugar and more fibre.
  • When eating out, choose the healthiest option from those on offer that you like. For example, choose a wholemeal date scone instead of a piece of cake.
  • Get the family involved so that you all benefit. Don’t go down the path of providing separate food for children or partners.
  • Select healthier versions as a matter of routine, not just when you are on a diet or being ‘good’.
IF YOU EATSWAP FOR
Processed breakfast cereals with more than 15g sugar and less than 7g fibre per 100gUntoasted cereals with more than 7g fibre per 100g — wholegrain oats, wheat biscuits and plain bran cereals are good choices
White breadWholemeal/wholegrain bread with more than 6g fibre per 100g — the more fibre, the more filling!
White flourHalf wholemeal, half white flour — this is a good mix for cakes and muffins
Crackers with more than 10g fat and less than 6g fibre per 100gWholegrain low-fat crackers — less than 10g fat and more than 6g fibre per 100g
Potato crispsRice crackers (watch quantity though)
Instant noodlesRegular pasta, wholemeal pasta (better choice), other grains such as barley, quinoa, brown rice or buckwheat
White riceBrown rice or basmati rice
Canned fruitLight versions — those with no added sugar
PastryFilo pastry with minimum fat between layers
Bread-based, rice-based or no-base equivalent foods
Potato fries or chipsOven-baked wedges with skin on
Blue-top milkLight-blue-top milk (transition choice)
Green or yellow-top milk (best choice)
Sour cream or cream cheeseLowest-fat versions (light or extra-light) or yoghurt
CreamReduced-fat Greek yoghurt
Hard cheeses (30g fat per 100g or more)Edam, feta or mozarella cheeses (better choices)
Low-fat cheese, cottage cheese (best choices)
SausagesLow-fat sausages such as venison sausages
MayonnaiseLow-fat mayonnaise or low-fat yoghurt mixed with lemon juice
Butter or margarine on breadA swipe of reduced-fat (light) spread, hummus, mustard, mashed avocado, extra-light cream cheese spread
Coconut cream or coconut milkLight coconut milk or coconut-flavoured light evaporated milk
Fruit juiceFresh fruit
Cream-based pasta sauceTomato-based pasta sauce

Once you have selected healthier ingredients, put them together in a way that looks after your health and weight. Make sure you pay attention to taste and overall appeal as well or you won’t make the change into a habit.

  • Where you use fat, use the smallest quantity possible and choose heart-friendly unsaturated oils (such as sunflower, olive or canola) or reduced-fat spreads made from them.
  • Trim all fat and skin from meat and poultry.
  • Bake, boil, grill, steam, dry-fry, stir-fry or microwave rather than fry or deep-fry.
  • Increase fibre by adding plenty of vegetables (chopped or grated) to savoury dishes such as casseroles, hamburger patties, meatballs, meat loaves, soups, frittatas and stir-fries.
  • Intensify flavour with ingredients such as chilli, coriander, wasabi, mustard, balsamic vinegar and garlic. Healthy food doesn’t mean bland food.
  • Use fruit to sweeten and improve the nutrient value of desserts, scones, cakes and muffins.

For more ideas, check out the recipes on this website.

Food lovers love to eat. So suggesting to ‘eat less’ is likely to fall on deaf ears! The following suggestions will help you eat fewer kilojoules without feeling deprived.

Eat like a queen at breakfast. Eat enough to quell desire for mid-morning snacking. Aim for about 10g fibre: choose high-fibre foods and perhaps eat a bigger portion than usual.

Eat like a princess at lunch. One sandwich (two bread slices) plus fruit is enough food for most of us for lunch. Make it substantial and filling:
—  Use high-fibre, grainy bread (refer to the ‘select’ section, above)
—  Use a low-fat spread such as cottage cheese or hummus
—  Have only one protein layer (meat or cheese or fish)
—  Bulk out with salad vegetables: at least twice as much as the protein layer.

Eat like a pauper at dinner. Have bigger portions of low-starch vegetables or salads. Use the ideal plate model as your guide:
—  Half of your plate is low-starch vegetables (salad, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, celery, carrots, courgettes etc)
—  Quarter of your plate is starchy foods such as potatoes, kumara, rice, pasta.
—  Quarter of your plate is protein such as meat, fish, tofu and eggs. Remember: a standard portion size of meat, poultry and fish is around 120-150g per person or what fits into the palm of your hand (excluding fingers). The thickness of your hand should equal the thickness of the portion.

Snack only if you need to. Snacking is a habit that often involves foods that do not help your health or weight. Muffins are common culprits: depending on the size, just one muffin can deliver one-quarter to one-third of a woman’s daily kilojoule needs! If you have a long gap between meals or simply have to eat something, snack on nutritious foods such as fruit, low-fat yoghurt, low-fat crackers topped with hummus and tomato or a cup of soup.

Buy mini muffin pans and if you make biscuits, make them small. Often the urge for ‘something sweet’ is satisfied with a tiny tasty morsel. Cut giant muffins, giant cookies, cake and slices in smaller portions and bulk out with fruit.

Resist the call to upsize. This will save you money as well as kilojoules. Fifty per cent more means 50 per cent more kilojoules and extra kilojoules stored as fat are not ‘good value’. Remember: it takes about one hour of brisk walking to wear off the kilojoules of a small chocolate bar (let alone one with 50 per cent extra).

Read nutrition information panels. Compare the serving size stated with what you actually eat. You could be eating more than you think you are.

Too often the way we eat compromises our health and weight. Food eaten quickly or on the run does not register or satisfy in the same way as food eaten slowly while sitting down at a table. ‘Mindful eating’ — eating with awareness — has far more influence than you may imagine in promoting a healthy weight while providing a satisfying and enjoyable eating experience. This is an appealing idea for food lovers.

Sit down to eat, even for a snack. Make eating an activity on its own rather than something done quickly while doing something else.

Always serve food on a plate (even a snack). This helps you remember and enjoy it more.

Use small plates, bowls and wine glasses.

After serving, put leftovers out of sight. The more visible and available the food, the more it is likely to be eaten.

Except for fresh vegetables, fruit or salads with low-kilojoule dressings, do not put platters of food on the table for self service. You are far more likely to eat food that is in front of you.

Minimise distractions. Turn off the TV or computer, put away your book or magazine so you can concentrate on the process of eating.

Eat slowly and allow your natural appetite suppressants to do their job. It takes the brain 20 minutes to register fullness and for ‘stop eating’ messages to kick in. If you are a fast eater, you can pack away a huge number of kilojoules in this time, particularly if the foods you are eating are kilojoule dense.

Slow down your eating by using a teaspoon for cakes or desserts and chew each mouthful thoroughly. There are no taste buds in your stomach so swallowing before you have extracted all flavour is a waste of taste!

Put your cutlery down between each mouthful and focus on the sensations in your mouth. Think of the taste, texture and mouth feel of everything you eat.

If you have an urge for seconds, wait five minutes before serving yourself more.

Do not go overboard with variety. If you provide three different desserts, you will want a portion of each.

Eat chocolate and other treat foods slowly and savour each mouthful. By doing this you may find the most enjoyment comes from the first few mouthfuls, and you will be able to have a small piece or put the rest away for later.

Practise all four steps. Make a conscious effort until it becomes habit. Involve your entire household and make a fun game of it! See below for  for an example.

Spaghetti carbonara (spaghetti with creamy bacon and cheese sauce)

1.  Select

  • Lean middle bacon instead of streaky
  • Light evaporated milk instead of cream
  • Edam cheese or reduced fat cheddar instead of regular cheddar — flavour can be intensified with a little grated parmesan cheese
  • Wholemeal spaghetti instead or regular (not always easy to get, or popular, so only if available and agreeable)

2.  Prepare

  • Trim fat off bacon and dry-fry rather than fry in added oil
  • Add vegetables such as beans or broccoli

3.  Serve

  • Half the plate includes the protein and starchy components of meal
  • The remaining half plate an equal (or more) quantity of low-starch vegetables or salad

4.  Eat mindfully

Sit down, eat slowly, thoroughly chew each mouthful, put your cutlery down between mouthfuls, enjoy dinner conversation

The result?

A tasty, enjoyable and health-promoting experience!

So often I see food lovers who practise some of these steps, some of the time, with a feeling of virtue and slight deprivation — the feeling that they are ‘being good’. The mindset that ‘special’ or treat foods need to be rich, sticky, fatty or creamy, coupled with the opposite — that ‘healthy’ food is boring and tasteless — is not the only way to be a food lover. Remember, your food should love you back! Changing this mindset takes time and persistence but it is possible. Continually practising the four steps will slowly see them become your preferred way of doing things, not just when you are on a diet or being ‘good’! Focus on the good things good food can do for you and you will be amazed at how great this can make you look and feel.

Never diet

Dieting is a destructive path that rarely leads to sustainable weight-loss. Because diets are based on deprivation, they are totally unsuitable for anyone who loves food. While they may help you to fit into ‘that dress’, they promote bingeing on unhealthy foods (when you can’t stand it any longer), poor self-esteem and weight regain rather than sustainable weight-loss.

First published: Oct 2011



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