Thursday, 31 March 2011

Weighty matters

I am sure there are not many of us that haven't at one stage wanted to lose a bit of weight- be it a couple of pounds or a few stone.

Food is so readily available that it is very easy to over-eat. And without the worry that our food is in short supply it is up to us to eat healthily and within proper limits because we want to rather than because we have to.

What is more concerning is that more and more children are having weight problems- ranging from increased rates of childhood obsesity on the one hand to younger and younger children suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia.

Not only is it very important for your own health to have a good relationship with food it is also very important for your children. If you have a negative relationship with food they quickly learn from that. Particularly girls will learn very quickly from their mothers and older sisters (and other female role models) about eating habits - be they good or bad.

If you are happy with your weight then a few changes to your diet may still be beneficial just to keep things ticking over nicely without the risk of any health problems developing in the future. If you are trying to lose weight then the first thing you need to do is correct your bad habits and understand why you may have gained weight and where your weak points are.

Crash dieting is not the answer. Even if you lose the weight as soon as you start eating normally the weight will go back on. It is also terrible for your children to watch you not eating properly- how can you expect them to eat well balanced meals if you are refusing to. I truly believe in being very open with your children- they understand a lot more than many adults give them credit for. Discuss with them that you are wanting to change your eating habits to eat more healthily and discuss how you are going to do this. If you are following a healthy eating regime then most meals should be suitable to have as a whole family.

Before you change anything a good thing to do is to keep a food diary for a week. Many people will say that they barely eat anything but they are still overweight. You often don't realise how much you have eaten in a day until you have written it down- the extra piece of toast at breakfast, the last pieces of cheese left over from the sandwiches you make in the morning for a packed lunch, the biscuit mid-morning, the left over fish fingers from your kids lunch etc... all add up. If you write down everything that passes your lips it will help you see the trends and times that you are slipping up with your eating habits.

It's useful to also note down when you are wanting to eat (and what the cravings are for). A lot of the time we will snack because we are bored and needing some distraction and a physical pick me up (and so often sweet things like chocolate are chosen to give us a boost). You will probably notice that the busier or more entertained that you are the less that you are eating. Also keep yourself not just busy but also active- make sure that you get in some exercise each day- even if it is just a brisk walk when you are doing the school run.

But when you are eating your meals, concentrate on your food and avoid other distractions. If you eat in front of the tv you cannot notice if you are full and so are more likely to overeat. Family mealtimes are not only great as a bonding experience but also mean that you are more able to listen to your body and will probably stop eating sooner since you will actually notice if you are full.

Another trick is to photograph your food and do a food diary that way. Again seeing exactly what you eat each day can help you realise how much you are over-eating. Take time to notice your portion sizes. Just by reducing the amount of food you put on your plate can drastically help with maintaining a healthy weight. The palm of your hand is a good indicator for the size that each food group on your plate should represent. Try using a smaller size plate since you won't be able to put so much food on it!

Once you have understood when you are over-eating and the areas you can improve on the next area to look at is the food you have around you. Obviously in the days when we had to hunt and gather our food there was very few overweight people- we simply didn't have the luxury of high calorie food on demand. These days you can have chocolate, sweets and crisps filling your cupboards. If you have it there you are more likely to eat it. Whatever treats you do have in the house make sure it is not very easy for you to get to- put it on a high shelf or behind other food so that you cannot easily get at it. If you have to actively get a chair or move lots of other food to get at the treat it will hopefully make you more likely to stop and think whether you want it rather than just picking it up and eating it because it is there in front of you.

I am not saying ban everything naughty from your house since this probably makes it less likely that you will be able to stick long-term to your healthy eating plan if you feel you never have any treats. But do limit the amount you have in the house- rather than a large 200g bar of chocolate get a small treat size bar to have over a couple of days- and that way if you can't resist eating it it's not going to blow the rest of the good work you have done that day. Be careful of that "all or nothing" cycle where you can feel you've failed if you eat one piece of chocolate so you eat the whole bar- everyone will lapse at some point and it really doesn't matter. Similarly try and get healthier versions of your favourite food- diet versions of fizzy drinks, baked crisps rather than the fried varieties, frozen yoghurt rather than ice-cream. Do read the packets carefully though since some low fat food will be high in sugar to make them taste nice and vice versa. Also carefully check packet sizes and portion sizes- sometimes it will seem that something is lower in calories than it really is because in small writing on the back there is note stating that the packet of food actually is more than one serving!

Eating regularly is far healthier for you and will make it easier. I take my hat off to anyone that is able to do diets that involve meal replacements such as shakes- it would drive me insane not to have proper meals. Always have a good breakfast- it was only when I was pregnant with my first child that I probably started eating breakfast properly and it is something I insist that my girls eat properly. It gets your metabolism going (which helps with weight loss!) and gets you going. You wouldn't expect your car to run with no petrol- you can't expect your body to. Having a healthy mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack together with a balanced lunch and dinner means you won't be feeling hungry and likely to give up and revert to old habits.

Set yourself realistic goals. Don't aim to lose a stone in two weeks. It is unrealistic (and unhealthy if you are able to do that!) A couple of pounds a week really should be your absolute limit. But also plan rewards when you hit your target (preferably not food related!) Also learn to listen to your body. If you are not hungry and someone offers you a biscuit with a cup of tea turn it down- you won't miss it and it is these empty calories that quickly add up!

Try and have a range of healthy snacks that appeal. Make up a box of raw vegetables (carrots, peppers, cucumber, celery etc) that you can snack on when you feel like something to eat. Low-fat hummous and low fat cream cheese can be used as a healthy dip with these. Also have in lots of fresh fruit- whatever fruit you like. Bananas are great for providing you with some slow release energy. Make sure you keep yourself hydrated and drink about 6-8 glasses of water each day. Not only is this good for you but it will make you feel fuller. When you go out and about taking a bottle of water with you so you are not tempted to go and buy a drink which could result in you also buying an unhealthy snack.

But similarly don't deprive yourself of everything you love- just try to adapt your cravings to something reasonable. If you fancy a glass of wine or beer at the end of the day- have ONE! Or make it last longer by having a shandy or white wine spritzer using diet lemonade.

A lot of recipes can be adapted very slightly so that you can enjoy them without feeling that you are on a diet. There are a few items that you can substitute into your cooking and will start to make a difference straight away.

Rather than using oil for frying and cooking if you switch to spray oil that will reduce the amount of fat and calories that you are adding to your food. You can buy sprays such as Fry Light (comes in sunflower and olive oil sprays) and Flora:

Or you can an oil sprayer that you fill yourself with your own choice of oil and can reuse:

Both perform the same function- they will spray a fine mist of oil so can be used to grease cake tins, coat frying pans etc.. but will barely add any calories or fat content. If you find when you are frying that the pan is getting a bit dry add a little bit of vegetable stock.

Try and find healthier substitutes for your food- rather than butter use low fat spread on your toast, change to low fat cream cheese from full fat, switch from full fat cream to Elmlea (the light versions are 50% lower in fat that normal single or double cream and they last unopened up to 8 weeks in the fridge):

Also if you are reducing the fat content you don't need to reduce on taste- herbs and spices add lovely flavours to your dishes without really increasing the calorie content. Looking back to my earlier blog Spring has Sprung- growing your own is not only great fun but again can help with your healthy eating since you will want to taste your fresh fruit and vegetables without hopefully needing to hide them behind unhealthy sauces. Also if you don't currently eat a lot of fruit and vegetables this may encourage you to eat more.

Make sure you have a good vegetable peeler and salad spinner. I couldn't live without my OXO potato peeler (I really do find it is the one thing I miss when I am cooking in someone else's kitchen!)

It is so quick and easy to use it makes peeling vegetables a breeze. It is also good for thinly slicing vegetables. For a healthy snack of homemade potato crisps you can thinly slice one potato and spread on a lined baking tray- this is just half of a fairly small potato:

Spray with your spray oil and season however you wish- a bit of salt, some dried chillis for a bit of a kick, a little paprika etc... Bake in a very hot oven for about 10 minutes until they have browned and starting to turn crispy. Remove from the oven and enjoy.

A good potato peeler is also good for thinly slicing courgette to add to a salad or to have as a side for a main meal- simply spray again with the spray oil and toss in lemon juice and freshly grated pepper for a quick and easy side dish that doesn't even require cooking.

Similarly a good salad spinner will mean that you can have fresh crisp salad whenever you wish. You can buy ready prepared salads but they are often washed in chemicals (you should avoid them if you are pregnant) and they don't stay fresh for long. They are also very very expensive for what you actually get. Buy (or even better grow) whatever lettuces you fancy and just chuck in a few handfuls to the salad spinner to wash and then dry.

Again the OXO salad spinner is highly recommended

For mealtimes you want to plan through your food for the day so you can prepare in advance what you need in and also so you can meals cooking in advance if necessary so you are eating at reasonable times- if you have long gaps between your meals you are more likely to snack more. When you go food shopping make sure you are not hungry- you are much more likely to pick up more snacks and unhealthy food if you are hungry. Go when you have had a meal and so you will buy what you really need for your meals. I do most of my food shopping on the internet and get it delivered by one of the big supermarkets. You are much less tempted to pick up extra treats this way and you can monitor what you are spending so I find I spend a lot less then we used to.

For breakfasts try and have something such as porridge with crushed bananas and raisins or poached eggs on a slice of toast (with low fat spread). This will keep you going, are quick to make and can be made for the whole family. Be careful of fruit juices and smoothies- a lot of people have lots of these for breakfast since they think because it contains fruit it is good for them- but they are very very high in sugar and not as good for you as just eating the fruit since it doesn't contain all the fibre and pulp of the pure fruit. By all means have some as a treat but regard it as a treat rather than a healthy option!

For lunch and dinner there are so many options that I cannot list here! Something easy is putting in enough baked potatoes for the family but then doing toppings to suit. Tuna (in water) mixed with some extra light mayonnaise, extra light cream cheese, reduced salt and sugar baked beans are all good options and will provide you with some slow release energy. You can also make a lovely homemade coleslaw- for two people grate one large carrot and add it to a quarter of a cabbage (chopped). Add a couple of chopped shallots or salad onions. Mix with a 1 tablespoon of light salad cream and then two tablespoons each of extra light mayonnaise and also of plain low fat yoghurt. Add a dash of worcestershire sauce and also a few drops of tabasco sauce for a bit of a kick and season well.

Really easy and so much healthier than shop-bought and makes a very filling meal when used to fill a baked potato. Don't be tempted to add butter to your potato before the filling- you won't taste it again again it is just extra calories.

Another quick lunch is a vegetable and noodle stir fry. Spray oil into a frying pan and add whatever vegetables you like- brocolli florets, spring onions, sliced peppers, courgette and carrot batons, green beans, mange tout etc. Fry over a fairly high heat for a few minutes.

Add a little bit of vegetable stock and a teaspoon of peanut butter to add some flavour. Add a good shake of light soy sauce. Serve over a portion of noodles dusted with some seeds for added protein.

Making your food interesting will also help. If your food looks interesting and you are trying new recipes you won't feel you are on a diet- more that you are experiencing different meals. The more appetising the food looks on the plate the less likely you are to notice if portions are slightly smaller or some of the fat content of the food has been reduced. Rather than having grilled chicken and vegetables - turn them into kebabs basted with some soy sauce, garlic and a tsp honey.

Grill under a hot grill or BBQ until the chicken is cooked through and serve with some rice and a yoghurt and mango dip (0.5 cup plain yoghurt, 1 tsp lemon juice, 1 tbsp mango chutney and season well).

And try and adapt family favourite meals. You can still have meals such as spag bol but make sure you use extra lean mince (about 300g for two adults) and put the meat, chopped onions, chopped garlic and diced carrots into a dry pan and fry without adding any extra oil or butter. Then when it is cooked a lot of the fat will have come out of the meat into the pan- take the pan off the heat at this point and spoon off all the fat (it is quite amazing how much comes off). Then add lots of flavourings- a dash of red wine, some worcestershire sauce, chopped tomatoes, garlic, fresh herbs, a bit of tabasco/ chillis etc.

Similarly you can still have chips without piling on the calories. For 2 people get three reasonable size potatoes and wash and dry. Slice each potato (skin on or off- whichever you prefer) into about 4 slices about 1 inch thick- depending on the size of the potato this could be slightly more or less. Then lie each slice down on your chopping board and cut again into 0.5 inch slices- you now have your chips. Rince in a collander and pat dry then put in a large bowl. Add 1-2 tbsps of vegetable oil and 1 tbsp sugar (this will caramelise and give the chips a lovely golden crust but they won't taste sweet- you can leave this out if you don't want the extra calories) and a good shake of salt. Toss so everything is lightly covered and spread on a baking tray sprayed with spray oil.

Give a final spray of spray oil and bake at the top of a very hot oven for abut 25 minutes turning occasionally until the chips are cooked through and golden.

Careful you don't then serve with lots of full fat ketchup which is full of sugar and high in calories!

You can serve these with homemade burgers- mix a pack of 250g extra lean mince with some diced shallots/ onion, some worcestershire sauce and a dash of tabasco, your choice of fresh chopped herbs (coriander, parsley etc) and half a peeled and grated apple (you won't taste this but it makes it really moist and bulks out the burgers a bit with something healthy!) and mix all together then divide into patties.

Grill or bbq for about 8-10 minutes per side until cooked through. Serve with the chips and your choice of vegetables or salad.

There is obviously a wealth of recipes that are great for anyone watching the calories and I will come back to them again. There is too much to put in just one blog! But you can lose weight and still eat lovely food that the whole family can enjoy.

Til soon....

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