So you’ve cut down on fat intake and are eating things you know are good for you. So why are those jeans still a bit too snug around the hips? Charlene Yared says it may not be what you’re eating that’s stopping you from dropping a dress size, but how much you’re eating that is.
Magic powders, miracle pills, body-altering injections and meal replacements. So many of us buy into weight-loss marketing ploys, all in the name of fitting into a bikini. “With quick weight loss, it’s not the fat that’s lost, but rather fluid and muscle mass,” says Erika Ketterer, dietician of the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA. “The real idea when trying to lose fat is to eat sensibly from all food groups, exercise regularly and be patient with weight loss results”.
Big plate vs. Small plate
“The only way to lose weight is to reduce energy intake or increase energy expenditure, and that means getting moving!” says dietician and wellness speaker of Complete Nutrition Solutions, Celynn Erasmus. Although we all know that’s what we’re meant to do, our hectic schedules and the demands of real life mean we’re more likely to cut back on a few mouthfuls of food and save on our daily caloric intake rather than join a gym. With this in mind it makes sense that portion control is critical to successful weight loss. If you’re eating at home, you might think you’re not overeating, but don’ be fooled. The average dinner plate is actually too large to effectively control the portions we eat and research has proven that most people finish what is put in front of them, even when it’s more than they should eat. A 2005 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people eat an average of 92% percent of any food they serve themselves. To make sure you’re not overeating, dish your food onto a smaller plate and, even if it is filled to the edge, you’ll automatically be eating less.
It’s all in the fist
Celynn suggests an easy way to measure portions correctly, using your hands as a guide. “A healthy meal should ideally consist of the following; a fistful of starch or carbohydrate, a fistful of lean or low-fat protein, two fistfuls of vegetables, salad or fruit and a small portion, about the size of your thumb, of healthy fat.”
Experts agree that eating a variety of foods from all the food groups is important to obtaining the macro- and micro-nutrients our bodies need, in order to prevent nutritional deficiencies, but research also shows that when presented with more variety, we eat more. “Variety encourages you to taste more things, so try and keep your meals simple, but ensure that your overall diet is diverse,” says Celynn.
Second helpings can also be damaging to weight loss efforts. “Before wolfing down seconds, wait 15 minutes to signal to your brain that you are satisfied,” she says. “Start learning the difference between feeling hungry and just wanting to eat something because it’s there.”
Eating for the sake of it
Why do we so often find ourselves eating oversized portions and still having space for dessert? Our relationship to food is complex and goes beyond the mere satisfaction of a physical need. According to clinical psychologist, Gerard Erasmus, there are factors which trigger certain eating behaviours, even when we are not hungry. “Eating has become a social activity rather than a physical need for many people,” he says. “Many people associate certain situations with eating, such as going to the movies and having popcorn or eating a rusk with your coffee in the morning.”
Emotions, low self-worth, lack of self-control and not paying attention to the body’s cues are some of the other factors which play a role. “Being lethargic and lacking energy may well be a sign that our bodies need fuel, but the solution could be to simply recharge the batteries by doing some physical activity,” he says. “As we know, this takes effort and being human, we often opt for the easy way out – eating.”
Eating out can be great but the large portion sizes, endless variety and tasty sauces can be a dietary disaster. “Many foods served outside the home, particularly traditional takeaways, are high in saturated fat, trans-fatty acids, cholesterol, added sugars and sodium, and are low in fibre and micro-nutrients,” says professor Marius Smuts, of the North West University in Potchefstroom. “As a result, adverse health consequences may emerge.”
According to the American Heart Association, there is a definite correlation between the frequency of eating out and total energy intake, weight gain and insulin resistance. Therefore, irrespective of the restaurant you choose to spend the evening, try and make healthy food choices combined with acceptable portions to keep the flab at bay, and your health in check.
Snack on nuts or some fresh fruit before leaving home, so that you don’t arrive feeling ravenous, recommends Celynn. “Also, think about what you’d like to eat before arriving at the restaurant.” She suggests drinking more water than alcohol, and asking for meat, chicken or fish to be dry grilled. Hidden fats can be found in sauces and dressings, so order those separately in order to control the amount you add to your meal. Because restaurant portions are usually oversized, eat less than you are served and take the rest home. The alternative is to order starter portions rather than main meals, or ordering separate items, like grilled chicken, baked potatoes and vegetables, rather than combined dishes such as lasagne, curries or stews. These combination dishes often contain added sauces and many hidden fats.
Research indicates that people generally eat more when listening to fast-paced music in a restaurant, or when watching television. “You want to avoid snack amnesia,” says Celynn. “This happens when you are so busy watching TV or answering emails that you don’t register what you are eating, and consequently, you still feel hungry. Eating mindfully and slowly and chewing each mouthful properly can help you consume smaller portions, no matter where you are.”
Read before you ravish
Always read the label on any food item you buy. Paying attention to the amount of energy in the food you’re eating will help you achieve a natural, healthy weight. On average, women should consume about 6000kJ (1500 calories) per day, and men, about 8500kJ (2000 calories) per day. Energy intake should ideally be calculated by a dietician, according to the individual’s body mass index, gender, age and physical activity level.
Author: Charlene Yared-West. Published in The Oprah Magazine, December 2008, Vol.7, No. 12, p85.(Please note that the copy posted above is the unedited version of what was published in the magazine and will differ slightly. To read the edited version of the article, please click on the images for an expanded view.)