If you're overweight, you're probably fully aware that one of the best things you can do for your overall health is lose a few pounds. Or maybe more than a few pounds. Although that task may seem overwhelming it need not be. Don't worry, help is at hand!
Carrying too much weight significantly increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure, cancer… the list seems almost endless. Plus, if you do fall ill or need surgery, being overweight can make any treatments riskier. Many diets and quick weight-loss plans are difficult to sustain. You're better off finding several simple things you can do on a daily basis–and following the cardinal rules of eating more fruit and vegetables and less fat while making sure you get more physical activity. There are plenty of options available.
Put out a vegetable platter. A body of US research found that eating water-rich foods such as tomatoes and cucumbers during meals reduces overall calorie consumption. Other water-rich foods include soups and salads. You won't get the same benefits by just drinking water, though. Because the body processes hunger and thirst through different mechanisms, it simply doesn't register a sense of fullness with water (or fizzy drinks, tea, coffee or juice).
Use vegetables to bulk up meals. You can eat twice as much pasta salad packed with vegetables such as broccoli, carrots and tomatoes as you can pasta salad dressed only with mayonnaise. And add vegetables to make a fluffier, more satisfying omelette without increasing the number of eggs.
Eat cereal for breakfast 5 days a week. Studies find that people who eat cereal for breakfast every day are significantly less likely to be obese and have diabetes than those who don't. But be sure to choose a high-fibre, low-sugar variety.
Eat equal portions of vegetables and grains at dinner. To avoid an energy over-load, eat a 1:1 ratio of grains to vegetables. High-fibre vegetables will help to satisfy your hunger before you overeat the grains.
Use flavourings such as chilli sauce, salsa and Cajun seasonings instead of buttery, creamy or sugary sauces. As well as providing lots of flavour with no fat and few calories, many spicy seasonings fire up your digestive system, causing you to burn more calories temporarily.
Choose a short ingredient list rather than a long one; there will be fewer flavour enhancers and empty calories.
Nibble some almonds instead of a sugary snack. One US study found that overweight people who ate a moderate-fat diet containing almonds lost more weight than a control group that didn't eat nuts. In fact, any nut will do.
Snacking once or twice a day helps to stave off hunger, but healthy snacks can be hard to come by when you're on the go. Pack up baby carrots or your own special mix made with nuts, sultanas, seeds and dried fruit.
Sniff a banana, an apple or a peppermint when you feel hungry. You might feel silly, but it works. Research on 3,000 volunteers in Chicago found that the more frequently people sniffed, the less hungry they were and the more weight they lost–an average of 13.5kg each. One theory is that sniffing the food tricks the brain into thinking you're actually eating it.
Avoid any prepared food that lists sugar, fructose or corn syrup among the first 4 ingredients on the label. You should be able to find a lower-sugar version of the same type of food. If you can't, have a piece of fruit instead.
Eat 1 fewer biscuit a day. Or have 1 can fewer of fizzy drink, or 3 bites fewer of a burger.
Avoid white foods. Large amounts of simple carbohydrates from white flour and added sugar can wreak havoc on your blood glucose and lead to weight gain. But eat plenty of wholegrain breads and brown rice. A Harvard study of 74,000 women found that those who ate more than 2 daily servings of whole grains were 49 per cent less likely to be overweight than those who ate the white stuff.
Order wine by the glass, not the bottle–you'll be more aware of how much alcohol you're drinking. Moderate drinking can be good for your health, but alcohol is high in calories. And because drinking turns off our inhibitions, it can drown your best intentions to keep eating and snacking in check.
Buy a pedometer, clip it to your belt and aim first for an extra 1000 steps a day. On average, very sedentary people might take only 2000 to 3000 steps a day.
Walk for 45 minutes a day. Why 45 minutes rather than 30 minutes? One US study found that 30 minutes of daily walking is enough to prevent weight gain in most relatively sedentary people, but exercising beyond 30 minutes results in weight and fat loss.
Spend 10 minutes a day walking up and down stairs. That's all it takes to help you to shed as much as 4.5kg, assuming you don't start eating more.
Get scrubbing once a week. A floor, a couple of windows, the shower cubicle or your car–to burn off those calories.
Take a walk before dinner. You'll do more than burn calories–you'll cut your appetite. In a study of 10 obese women conducted at the University of Glasgow, 20 minutes of
walking reduced the appetite and increased sensations of fullness as effectively as a light meal.
Watch an hour less of TV. A study of 76 undergraduate students found that the more they watched television, the more often they ate and the more they ate overall. So sacrifice one program and go for a walk instead.
Passionately kiss your partner 10 times a day. According to the 1991 Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex, 10 minutes a day of kissing for a year will burn 3.5kg!
Downsize your dinner plates. Studies find that the less food put in front of you, the less food you'll eat. So instead of using standard dinner plates, serve your main course on salad plates. The same goes for liquids. Instead of large glasses and coffee mugs, return to the old days of tumblers and even smaller coffee cups.
Serve your dinner restaurant-style (with food already on the plates) rather than family-style (where the food is served in bowls and on platters on the table). When your plate is empty, you're finished; there's no reaching for seconds.
Eat 90 per cent of your meals at home. You're more likely to eat more–and eat more high-fat, high calorie foods–when you eat out than when you eat at home.
Eat slowly and calmly. Put your fork or spoon down between every bite. Sip water frequently. Intersperse your eating with stories of the interesting things that happened during your day. Your brain lags behind your stomach by about 20 minutes when it comes to satiety (fullness) signals. If you eat slowly enough, your brain will catch up and tell you that you no longer need food. Serving separate courses will also slow you down.
Dine only when you hear your stomach rumbling. It's surprising how often we eat out of boredom, nervousness, habit or frustration. If you're hankering for a specific food, it's probably a craving, not hunger.
Hang a mirror opposite your seat at the table. One study found that eating in front of mirrors reduced the amount people ate by nearly a third. It appears that having to look yourself in the eye reflects back some of your own inner standards and goals, and reminds you of why you're trying to lose weight in the first place.
Get most of your calories before noon. Studies find that the more you eat in the morning, the less you'll eat in the evening. And you have more opportunities to burn off that early-day energy than you do the dinner kilojoules.
Eat 5 or 6 small meals or snacks a day instead of 3 large meals. Studies show this keeps blood glucose steady and helps to control hunger.
Serve high calorie foods as the jewels in the crown. Make a spoonful of ice-cream the jewel and a bowl of fruit the crown. Cut down on the crisps by pairing each bite with lots of chunky, filling fresh salsa. Balance a little cheese with a lot of salad.
Close down the kitchen after dinner. Wash all the dishes, wipe down the benchtops, turn out the light and, if necessary, tape closed the cupboards and the fridge. Late-evening eating significantly increases the overall number of kilojoules you consume. Stopping late-night snacking can save about 14kg a year.
Brush your teeth after every meal, especially after dinner. That clean, minty freshness will serve as a cue to your body and brain that mealtime is over.