If you are over your healthy weight and have been trying to lose weight with little success, you are not alone. The first thing that comes to most people’s mind when trying to shed some kilos is to go on a crash diet. Sticking to a strict slimming diet is not easy, and if such diets have not been working for you, then perhaps the key is to learn how to eat to lose weight healthily.
With so many ideas, diets, programs and books teaching us how to lose weight, how would you know which one to pick and whether it will work? The key to losing weight is to eat and drink fewer calories (or kilojoules) than what our body needs. In order to lose weight healthily, we need to choose foods that are high in nutrients but without the extra calories.
What are Calories or Kilojoules (kJ)?
The energy content released from food is measured in units called Calories or Kilojoules. One Calorie is equal to 4.2 Kilojoules.
Healthy Eating And Diet
Healthy eating not only serves as the basic foundation for well-being and staying healthy but also staying in shape and exuberating a natural glow on your skin from within. Here are some facts about healthy eating and diet to chew on as an introduction to dietary guidelines for healthy eating.
Eating does not merely satisfy our hunger; it is also a viewed as a social activity and a very important and pleasant one. Friendships, family bonding and business relationships are often forged over the dining table. However, with today’s lifestyle, frequent social gatherings and business entertainment, the wide varieties of food available especially at banquet sittings and buffet spreads, plus easy access to fast foods, it is all too easy to lose sight of the guiding principles of healthy eating. As the food we eat affects our health, appearance and well-being, it is important to consciously choose to eat healthy.
What is Healthy Eating?
Healthy eating is selecting a balanced diet that is high in dietary fibre and low in fat, cholesterol, sugar and salt. It also means having different types of food in the right amounts and not overeating any one type of food.
It is never too early or too late to start eating healthily. Anyone can start eating healthily today by following some dietary guidelines to help you and your family plan and choose nutritious meals.
The Classic Food Pyramid
The classic food pyramid translates nutrient needs into actual foods. It categorizes commonly eaten foods into 4 food groups – rice and alternatives, fruit and vegetables, as well as meat and alternatives – which form the foundation of a healthy diet. It serves as a guide that helps you plan a healthy diet that fits your lifestyle.
Use in small amounts fats, oils, salt and sugar
Eat 2-3 servings of meat and alternatives
2 servings of fruit / 5-6 servings of vegetables
5-7 servings of rice and alternatives
The Food Pyramid conveys 3 main messages about healthy diet:
- Eat a variety of food. This means eating different foods from the 4 food groups as well as within each food group. Each food group offers a variety of choices and each one has a unique nutritional value. Different foods contain different nutrients, so no single food can supply all the nutrients your body requires to stay healthy.
- Eat a balanced diet. This means eating the recommended number of servings of food from the 4 food groups daily. Include some plant-based foods every day.
- Eat in moderation. It means eating the right amount of food, neither too much nor too little. Foods high in fat, sugar and salt should only be consumed in small amounts at all times.
If you are a vegetarian, the Healthy Diet Pyramid can still be used to plan a vegetarian diet that meets the nutritional needs of healthy adults. Pulses e.g. beans, peas, lentils, are good sources of protein. They are also part of the meat and alternatives group on the pyramid.
For a balanced diet, one plant-based protein food should be included in every meal.
Last but not least… drink plenty of water.
Remember to drink 6 to 8 glasses of fluid (1.5 to 2.0 litres) as part of your diet every day. This can include water and fluid from soups and porridges.
The aim of dietary guidelines is to guide our food choices to achieve good nutrition and maintain a healthy body weight.
Dietary guidelines are built around the recommendations of the Healthy Diet Pyramid to help us to choose wisely what and how much to eat each day for good nutrition, good health and good skin.
As the rising incidence of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and obesity are growing concerns, governments in developed countries have drawn up dietary guidelines to provide advice about the amount and types of food to eat for a healthy diet to manage obesity and reduce the risk of chronic health problems in their population.
One example is The Australian Guide To Healthy Eating, and you may download a copy of it from this link.
Key Guiding Principles
1. Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five groups every day:
- Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties, such as wheat flakes, breads, rice (white or brown), pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, quinoa, oats and barley
- Plenty of vegetables, including different types and colours, and legumes/beans
- Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
- Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat (Note: Reduced fat milks are not suitable for children under the age of 2 years)
- Drink plenty of water
2. Limit intake of foods and drinks containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol.
a. Eat less of foods high in saturated fat such as many biscuits, cakes, pastries, pies, processed meats and fattier/salty sausages, commercial burgers, pizza, commercially fried foods, potato chips, crisps and other savoury snacks, cream, butter and spreads which are high in saturated fats;
Replace high fat foods which contain predominantly saturated fats such as butter, cream, cooking margarine, coconut and palm oil with foods which contain predominantly polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats such as oils, spreads, nut butters/pastes and avocado.
* Note: Low fat diets are not suitable for children under the age of 2 years.
b. Eat less of discretionary foods and drinks (foods that do not fit into the Five Food Groups) because they are too high in saturated fat and/or contain added salt, sugars or alcohol and are low in fibre.
What are Discretionary Foods?
They are foods and drinks which have low levels of essential nutrients but are too high in calories/kilojoules (energy). They are often referred to as ‘energy-dense’ but ‘nutrient-poor’ foods and are not necessary for a healthy diet.
Food such as confectionery and chocolate, sweet biscuits, cakes, desserts and pastries; sweetened condensed milk; ice cream and other ice confections; savoury pastries and pies; commercial burgers with a high fat and/or salt content; fatty and/or salty snack foods including potato chips, crisps and some savoury biscuits; sugar-sweetened soft drinks and cordials, fruit drinks, vitamin waters, energy and sports drinks and alcoholic drinks fall into this category.
3. A healthy weight is achieved by being physically active and eating the appropriate amount and type of food and drinks to meet your nutrition and energy needs.
Special food needs and extra nutrients are required for different stages of life depending on our growth and development needs and level of activity. For example, younger men, people who are taller than average or more active may find they need to include the ‘additional serves’.
What is a Serve?
The serve size of different foods is the amount that has roughly the same amount of key nutrients and kilojoules.
There is even a calculator to calculate the average recommended number of serves for each food group for individual needs depending on age, sex and whether pregnant or lactating.
How Many Serves Should You Eat?
You can calculate the average number of daily serves for each food group using this calculator.
Next, you need to know how much of each type of food and energy content is in a Standard serve.
Once you are familiar with this, you will be able to work out the number of calories and tailor the portion size of each food for each meal. Counting calories can be tedious and difficult and the last thing you want to happen is to be hampered by its complexity or become too obsessed with it.
Plan Your Meals and Snacks
By now, you would probably realize that just like managing any project, the secret to a successful weight loss program while eating healthily is planning.
Knowing the recommended number of serves for each food group and the energy information of each serve is useful for planning meals and snacks in advance so you are in control of choosing the foods that provide the most nutrients, without the extra calories. For example, if you eat reduced portions of the other food groups and make half of your meals salads and coloured vegetables, you will feel fuller while cutting your calorie intake by up to half.
With some planning, you can make your meals and snacks interesting by spreading the number of serves from the 5 food groups and choosing to consume nutrient dense but less energy dense foods to achieve weight loss and maintain a healthy weight. Planning ahead also avoids unplanned overeating and over consumption of discretionary foods.
Simple Guide To Meal Planning For Weight Loss
- Eat bread or grains as a staple part of your diet, at least 2 meals on most days
- Include lean meat or meat alternative in at least 1 meal a day
- Include a wide variety of different coloured vegetables at least twice a day
- Eat more serves of vegetables in your meals (at least 1 third or half the meal) and reduce the portion size of other foods so that the meal will have lower calories
- Add fruit to at least 2 meals or eat as snacks or desserts
- Include a meal with fish every week
- Include a serve of low fat milk, yoghurt or cheese in at least 2 meals or snacks
- Steam or cook with less oil and switch to low fat alternatives when possible
In order to lose weight that stays off, it entails lifestyle modification, changes in dietary habits and meal planning.
- Increase daily physical activities instead of leading a sedentary lifestyle
- Plan your meals from the 5 food groups by following the recommended number of serves
- Eat more whole foods that are higher in nutrients but lower in calories
- Reduce the portion size of foods that are high in calories and eat more foods that have lower calories and more fibre
- Limit consumption of discretionary foods, including soft drinks and alcohol
- Drink 2L of water daily
- Enjoy your food, eat it slowly and mindfully, till you feel 80% full
I hope that this article has provided you with some food for thought. If you have any questions or want to leave your own tips, please leave a comment below.