So, do you want to lose weight? Do you want to start eating healthier foods? That is great, but it is important to go about it in the right way.
Is there a way to lose weight fast? The short answer is yes.
If you go into a caloric deficit, run on the treadmill incessantly or hit the gym for hours on end, you will lose weight.
But in the end your physical activity needs to be backed by a well-balanced nutritional diet that is specific to you and your weight loss goals, and your caloric deficit should not mean starving yourself or skipping meals to see a lower number on the scale.
Israeli-Australian dietician Eliya Greenfield runs a private practice in Ra'anana and holds accreditations from Sydney University in Nutrition and Dietetics where she has also headed research on the connection between body image enhancement and weight loss maintenance in young females.
Greenfield noted that when you are trying to lose weight, the number on the scale is but a "crude measure" of your overall goals.
"You could be losing water, you could be losing free fat mass, which is muscle mass, so it's not really reflecting the fat that you could be losing or want to lose," Greenfield said. "You can lose weight very quickly. But the question is do you just want to lose it for two months or three months, or do you want this to be the new you?"
Those who enter into a weight loss program, more often than not, are looking to target specific areas of their bodies for improvement. To do so, it would mean focusing on fat loss as opposed to overall weight lost.
"When I talk about weight loss mode, so as to define things properly, I'm looking at 'fat' loss," Greenfield said. "We don't want people to be losing liquids and muscle, we want them to be losing fat."
Oftentimes when a person loses weight quickly the body employs a number of adaptive responses to counteract the shock to the system and protect the weight that a person already possesses.
Overtime, this method could slow down the body’s “metabolism or the metabolic pathways that you want to work in your favor to lose weight,” she said.
Greenfield added that metabolism is extraordinarily complex, and a lot of factors are at play such as genetics, the gut-microbiome, hormones, sleep, exercise and stress. Other factors could include age, history of weight loss, thyroid activity or diseases that affect the body’s metabolic pathways.
Therefore, we want to do things to improve our metabolic rate overall, instead of putting our body in starvation mode.
While there is no one size fits all for weight loss, there are a few ways to limit your fat intake and trigger your body into a fat burning mode with general rules of thumb that can be applied to any nutritional program.
“When I talk about structuring a person’s diet, the most important thing for me is that they have three meals in a day,” Greenfield said. “The ideal would typically be three meals a day, and between one and three snacks a day.”
The rationale behind three meals a day is to not forgo extended periods of time without eating, as Greenfield said a person should not go longer than three to four hours without a snack or a meal.
If we wait too long in between meals our body cannot control our portions later in the day when we are really hungry.
“So, the idea is to give people a nice even keel along the day, so they don’t reach a point when they are extremely ravenous,” Greenfield said. “Because then we’ve got survival mechanisms that kick in and even if we logically say to ourselves ‘we need to restrict our portions at this meal,’ physiologically we are incapable of doing so.”
Eating more regularly also affects the way the hormone insulin reacts within our bodies. Insulin tells our body to absorb the glucose from our blood into the cells of our body that comes from food, but it also tells our body not to burn fat, Greenfield explained.
Meaning the more insulin floating around in our bodies, the less fat we will burn.
“When people say I barely eat or I’m eating all these healthy foods and I’m not losing weight,” one of the reasons could be insulin resistance as they are forced to pump out more insulin to process the foods that they eat, Greenfield said.
With regard to the types of foods to eat for weight loss, Greenfield recommends eating protein at every meal.
The specific foods chosen and the amount of protein at each meal will and should change day to day, as our bodies tend to adapt to eating the same dietary choices day in and day out.
“So, for breakfast, when I’m talking about a protein it could involve eggs, smoked salmon, cheese or cream cheese,” Greenfield said. She added foods like avocado or peanut butter, enjoyed on whole grain or sourdough bread - the latter being a “gold standard” as it takes the body a longer time to absorb it and it is also particularly good on insulin release - are all good choices to start out the day.
“I’m also a big fan of oatmeal, oatmeal has a lot of goodness in it such as beta-glucans, a type of resistant starch which improves insulin sensitivity and reduces ‘bad’ cholesterol, so that could also be a really good breakfast.”
Lunch would rely more heavily on being lean protein-based foods and depending on the individual some type of carbohydrates such as quinoa, long grain basmati rice, brown rice, potatoes and sweet potatoes would function as sides alongside a portion of vegetables.
At dinner time, some individuals respond well to protein with carbs, and some respond better without. It depends on how your body responds to weight loss. But vegetables are an essential component of both lunch and dinner.
As far as snacks go, fruit is a smart choice, as well as dried fruits.
“When we are talking about the amount, it’s all in moderation here,” Greenfield added. “I’m yet to find one person who walked into my clinic who is overweight or obese because they’ve had too many apples. But having said that, I don’t believe in overdoing anything.”
So, one to two fruits a day, intertwined with snacks. Popcorn, crackers with peanut butter or avocado, cut up vegetables, tahina, hummus, cottage cheese, Pro yogurts, cream cheese or a slice of yellow cheese are all good snack choices that have a lot of benefits behind them. Nuts are also super healthy and keep you satiated for longer.
“When you talk about weight loss, you want to make sure that people aren’t hungry,” Greenfield said. “The hungrier the person is, the less compliant they are going to be and the harder it will be to sustain.”
Eating foods that take longer to digest and keep you fuller for longer, such as nuts and vegetables, stand out as a great combatant towards weight loss. Green tea is also a good combination of caffeine with a lot of antioxidants such as catechins which work on a synergistic level with your body to increase metabolism.
Foods to stay away from
With regard to what foods to stay away from, Greenfield notes that the last thing you should do is “drink your calories.”
What that means is especially with those trying to lose weight, with the caloric deficit you are already trying to maintain, drinking sugary drinks or alcoholic beverages are not very filling and also waste calories you could have focused on food.
One gram of alcohol almost has the same amount of calories as one gram of fat, which would be equivalent to taking a shot of olive oil instead of whiskey, or whatever you prefer.
“If someone really enjoys a glass of wine, I don’t believe in taking it out completely but it’s about understanding the portions then in that case,” Greenfield said.
Another thing to stay away from is refined foods. For weight loss, it ends up spiking blood sugars which adds a lot of insulin in our body, which prevents us from removing fat. These foods also make us hungrier than others, which falls out of line with the goal of an even keeled diet throughout the day, instead of eating larger portions for one meal or another.
Refined foods could be baked goods, anything with white flour, chips, ice cream and chocolate, which Greenfield described as “discretionary foods.”
“On a day-to-day basis I would say stay away from that, but again I want this to be sustainable so we can choose a weekend day or a weekday where we are allowed a small portion of it because deprivation is a terrible thing as well,” she explained.
So, foods that are refined, foods that have a lot of sugars in them, and foods that have a lot of saturated fats in them - except for fish, which has a lot of added benefits to it - should be foods to limit and limiting the fats that we eat in general is important to our overall health as well during weight loss.
“Mono and polyunsaturated fats are very healthy, I think it’s an important part of our eating, but there are a lot of calories jam packed into a small amount of fat,” she added.
Healthy fats that you could include in your diet include peanut butter or avocado, but the portions would have to be specific to support weight loss.
Additionally, foods that have a lot of salt in them, as they make the body retain water, should be avoided and can increase risks of developing high blood pressure later in life.
“Any other food is great, it’s all about getting the portions right,” Greenfield said.
“There are foods that are everyday foods and there are foods that are sometimes foods,” Greenfield explained. “It’s all about understanding that balance.”
As far as weight loss goes, no two individuals will have the same experience - there is no one size fits all equation as no two bodies are the same. It is a long road of focus, repetition and the motivation to obtain your goals and see your struggle as worthwhile.
Behind the right mindset, living a healthier and happier lifestyle is obtainable, backed by the right nutrition and exercise - it is all about finding what works for you.