How to Lose Weight (And Enjoy Your Meals Just as Much)

In the past, a typical serving of spaghetti for me would be about 160 strands, which equates to 525 calories (yeah – I like pasta). I would grab a healthy handful of spaghetti (perhaps 140 strands), then, fearing I was doing myself a disservice, grab a few more just for good measure.

These days I measure out my spaghetti to around 80 grams (which is around 80 strands). In doing so I save myself from consuming an additional 260 calories. That’s a weekly reduction of 1,820 calories, which is equal to approximately ½lb of fat.

I don’t feel like I’m cheating myself either – I’m just taking my greed out of the equation and measuring out an amount of spaghetti that I know will satisfy me.

In my experience, knowing what amount of food will fill you up and making only that much can lead to weight loss with no perceived reduction in satisfaction and satiety. This is backed up by a compelling soup study (yep, you read that right) conducted by Cornell University. In the study, one group were given a normal bowl of soup to eat, while another group were given an automatically-refilling bowl of soup. The outcome was telling:

Participants who were unknowingly eating from self-refilling bowls ate more soup than those eating from normal soup bowls. However, despite consuming 73% more, they did not believe they had consumed more, nor did they perceive themselves as more sated than those eating from normal bowls.

The conclusion was similarly compelling:

These findings are consistent with the notion that the amount of food on a plate or bowl increases intake because it influences consumption norms and expectations and it lessens one’s reliance on self-monitoring. It seems that people use their eyes to count calories and not their stomachs. The importance of having salient, accurate visual cues can play an important role in the prevention of unintentional overeating.

To put it another way, if a big-ass portion of food is put on your plate, you brain tells you that you should eat it. On the other hand, a smaller portion can fill you up just as much and be just as satisfying (psychologically speaking) without the extra unwanted calorific load.

So to go back to my spaghetti, the first thing I started doing was weighing it. Rather than over-guessing how much I needed, I would weigh out 140 grams. No overcompensation through guesswork. Then, in a twist on the Portion Reduction Method I mentioned the other day, I would simply weigh out 10 grams less every time I had the meal. Before long I had discovered that 80 grams was in fact more than enough to fill me up, and I still enjoy the meal as much as I ever did. Simple!

How to Stop Eating When You’re Full (The Portion Reduction Method)

This is a tough one, especially for people like me: those who seemingly only feel satisfied when they eat to the point of slight sickness. It is however an effective way of eating less calories and partners well with eating slowly.

The strategy isn’t complicated: when eating a meal, stop when your body tells you that you’ve had enough. If you’re anything like me then it’ll take some time to rediscover this feeling, but it is there.

I’ll give you an example of how effective this can be. Last week I made two servings of a meal and wolfed the first one down in a few minutes. Since I’d eaten the meal so fast my body hadn’t had a chance to transmit the “full” signal to my brain, and so I dived into the second serving too, polishing that off for good measure. I felt absolutely stuffed and a little ill.

This week I made that same meal but with just one serving. I ate it a little more slowly (using the tips at the bottom of this post), and although I still felt a little hungry when I had finished, that feeling faded after around fifteen minutes. I had eaten half the amount of food, but my satiety level was the same.As an added bonus, I didn’t feel sick.

I appreciate that leaving food on the plate is often easier said than done. With that in mind, my suggestion is this: only put 3/4 of the food you make on your plate. Then eat the meal slowly and give it fifteen minutes. If you’re still hungry then eat the rest – if not, put it in the bin. Yes, I know it’s a waste, but the quicker it’s in the bin, the sooner you can’t eat it (even I wouldn’t stoop to that level). Next time, you know that you only need to make 3/4 of the portion size (or even less, if you care to repeat the experiment). I call this the Portion Reduction Method (PRM). It’s gonna be a thing.

Why You Should Take Your Time When Eating

I have historically been an astonishingly fast eater. It has at times been a point of pride for me (for some bizarre reason). I’d always be the first to finish at dinnertime when I was a kid.

However, it was nothing to be proud of, because there are no benefits to eating fast. On the other hand, eating slowly is only ever a good thing.

According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, eating food more slowly can lead to greater feelings of fullness and satisfaction.

Each subject of the study ate a serving of ice cream on two separate occasions. The only difference was the speed at which they ate the ice cream: the first time in five minutes and the second time in thirty minutes. The study concluded that when subjects savored the ice cream of the course of thirty minutes, they felt fuller and more satisfied than when they ate it in a mere five minutes. (I don’t know how the ice cream didn’t melt into a gloopy mess and turn into more of a drink, but far be it from me to question science.)

I can see some logical sense behind this, but the effect wasn’t solely psychological – it was proven that a higher level of hunger-regulating hormones were produced when the subjects ate the ice cream over a prolonged period. To put it another way, taking longer to eat the food gave the body more time to tell the brain that it was full.

This phenomenon has been discovered in study after study. And when it comes to proving the benefits of eating slowly, Kathleen Melanson, University of Rhode Island Professor of Nutrition is the queen. Most notably, in a 2007 study she found that eating more slowly led a test group to consume less calories than their control group counterpart (who were encouraged to eat fast). The average calories consumed between the two groups differed by a whopping ~10%.

To put that in perspective, an average adult male consuming 10% less than required to maintain his existing body shape would theoretically lose 26lbs in a year. Just by eating more slowly.

Eating slowly isn’t only good for your body shape though. Taking your time when eating – treating it as more of an event than a chore to be rushed – aids digestion and can help to prevent unfortunate…bodily expulsions, shall we say.

And let’s not forget that food is there to be enjoyed. If you’re wolfing it down then that enjoyment is bound to be blunted. Eating more slowly – savoring each mouthful and being acutely aware of the tastes and textures of the food you’re eating – should all be part of the process.

Now all this is well and good, but for many of us, eating slowly isn’t just as simple as telling yourself to do it. It is a habit that can be difficult to break (but certainly not impossible). I have found the following tips to be highly effective:

  • Make time for your meals. Make sure that a suitable period of time is cleared within your schedule for each time you eat.
  • Always sit down at a table to eat. No more TV meals; pay attention to what you’re eating.
  • Eat more foods that are high in fibre. They take longer to chew.
  • Put down your utensils between each bite.
  • Sip some water between each bite. Treat every bite of your meal as a meal in itself.
  • Have a conversation. If you’re eating with others, use meal time as an opportunity to talk as well as eat.
  • Take small bites.
  • Chew more. Count how many times you normally chew and add one extra chew on the end. Add one more chew per week for as long as you’re happy to.

Intermittent Fasting: How to Love Your Food and Lose Weight

There are some people in this world who eat breakfast on autopilot. It’s part of their morning regime – as normal as brushing their teeth or taking a shower.

That’s not the case for me. Why? Because my stomach isn’t always receptive to food in the morning. Put simply, I won’t be hungry – not for at least a couple of hours after getting up (and sometimes longer). So sometimes I’ll skip breakfast and wait until my stomach is in a better mood before I start munching.

“But breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” I hear you exclaim. At least, that’s what conventional wisdom tells us. But if you’ve learned anything from being a Healthy Enough reader, it should be that conventional wisdom exists to be challenged. And that’s exactly what I’m going to do in this article. I’m going to show you why skipping breakfast – and other meals – can in fact be good for you and lead to sustainable weight loss.

Welcome to the world of intermittent fasting.

Exploring Conventional Wisdom

Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper ~ Adelle Davis

Let’s start by talking a little about what most people say you should do when it comes to mealtime.

You’ve probably heard the above quote before, and with good reason – a huge proportion of dieters live by it. The concept is intuitive:

  1. Eat a big breakfast to kick start your metabolism and provide your body with a healthy proportion of the energy it needs to get through the day.
  2. Top up your calorific needs with a good-sized lunch.
  3. Eat a modest dinner, as the day is nearly over and you don’t need a lot of food to keep you going.

Sounds suspiciously sensible, doesn’t it? Which is exactly why so many dieters live and die by it.

Let’s consider another popular approach to eating in the dieting world: the “little and often” rule. There’s a whole bunch of people out there who are ready to tell you that eating food periodically in small doses is the best way to go.

Grazing was the way our body was designed to eat. Large meals burden the digestive system, often causing bloating and lowered energy while the body struggles to digest them. By eating smaller meals you prevent this, and the body functions more efficiently throughout the day.

~ Antony Haynes, nutritionist

The regular influx of food with a little-and-often approach keeps your energy level stable and makes it easier for you to cope with everything you have to do in a day.

~ Natalie Savona, nutritionist

Again, this appeals to our intuition. Keep the digestive system ticking (rather than overloading it) and maintain stable energy levels through the day. It’s the best way to lose or maintain weight.

Or perhaps not.

Quashing Conventional Wisdom

Conventional wisdom seems to make a lot of sense, but it is not without its problems.

Let’s start by introducing the human element: conventional wisdom’s recommended approaches to eating are tough for many of us. Our bodies can reject the notion of food in the morning and crave it (in quantity) in the evening. Furthermore, the sheer lack of practicality in making multiple meals and eating them at regular intervals throughout the day can be a deal breaker when it comes to living by the “little and often” rule.

But the issues are not related to convenience and cravings alone. There is a lot of evidence available to quash the notion that one should be eating big in the morning or eating regularly throughout the day.

Let’s start with the consideration that breakfast, as we know it, hasn’t existed for large parts of history. For example, the Romans ate just once per day at noon and breakfast was a big no-no. Here’s what food historian Caroline Yeldham has to say on the subject:

The Romans believed it was healthier to eat only one meal a day. They were obsessed with digestion and eating more than one meal was considered a form of gluttony. This thinking impacted on the way people ate for a very long time.

In fact, it wasn’t until the 1700s that breakfast began to emerge as a formal meal. Before then, it was often ignored.

If we cast our minds back even further and consider prehistoric humans, one could reasonably postulate that they didn’t start their day with a bowl of cornflakes. Perhaps they had leftovers from the previous day’s kill, or some roots and shoots they had scavenged, or maybe they had nothing. Breakfast wasn’t a given – it was a possibility.

But what about the supposed health benefits of eating little and often? Well, “supposed” is the right word to use, as the “little and often” rule is not without its detractors in the world of nutrition.

A 2010 article published in the New York Times put “little and often” in its place:

Some studies have found modest health benefits to eating smaller meals, but often the research involved extremes, like comparing the effects of two or three large daily meals with those of a dozen or more snacks. Six meals, according to some weight-loss books and fad diets, is a more realistic approach.

But don’t count on it. As long as total caloric and nutrient intake stays the same, then metabolism, at the end of the day, should stay the same as well. One study that carefully demonstrated this, published in 2009 in The British Journal of Nutrition, involved groups of overweight men and women who were randomly assigned to very strict low-calorie diets and followed for eight weeks. Each subject consumed the same number of calories per day, but one group took in three meals a day and the other six.

Both groups lost significant and equivalent amounts of weight. There was no difference between them in fat loss, appetite control or measurements of hormones that signal hunger and satiety. Other studies have had similar results.

If that wasn’t enough, the 2009 study mentioned above draws a couple of compelling conclusions that weren’t mentioned in the NYT article (with thanks to LeanGains):

…the premise underlying the present study was that increasing meal frequency would lead to better short-term appetite regulation and increased dietary compliance…[and] greater weight loss. Under the conditions described in the present study, all three hypotheses were rejected.

…we had postulated that increasing meal frequency would enhance the compliance to the energy restricted diet thus leading to greater weight loss, an effect possibly mediated by increased fullness. The present results do not support this hypothesis.

The whole “little and often” approach doesn’t quite seem so compelling now, does it?

The takeaway from all of this is simple: it’s not about when you eat, it’s about what you eat. The human body is remarkably adaptable; as long as you satisfy its calorific and nutritional requirements, it will sort everything else out.

There are two things you should take away from the above:

  1. Worry less about the times that you eat and more about what you’re putting in your mouth.
  2. Don’t eat because you think you should – eat because you want to.

If you’re not a fan of breakfast (or if you simply don’t feel like it on any given day), skip it. The same goes for any other meal, or even more than one meal in a row.

Introducing Intermittent Fasting

It may sound fancy, but intermittent fasting is nothing other than skipping meals.

It’s what the Romans did (although they didn’t know it at the time) by consuming just one large meal in the middle of the day. As long as you’re getting the right amount of calories, your body will be able to dole them out as necessary – regardless of when you ingest them. Furthermore, if energy (in the form of recently consumed food) isn’t available, the body will be encouraged into drawing from your fat reserves.

Intermittent fasting typically takes one of two forms:

  1. Regularly skipping a meal (typically breakfast)
  2. Occasionally skipping two meals in a row (typically breakfast and lunch)

When it comes to weight loss, the benefits are pretty obvious: by skipping a meal you consume fewer calories. While that is often true, that is not the only benefit of intermittent fasting.

By skipping meals you are encouraging your body to switch between two separate “modes”:

  1. If you have eaten, the body will busy itself making use of the readily available energy.
  2. If you have skipped a meal, the body will draw from your fat reserves to meet your energy needs.

The simple takeaway is this: if you don’t feel like having breakfast, skip it. You’ll be doing your body a favor. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, don’t be afraid to occasionally skip two meals in row. Your body will happily draw from your fat reserves, as it has evolved to do so efficiently.

But What About the Body’s “Starvation Mode?”

When it comes to arguing against the concept of intermittent fasting, the “starvation mode” theory is the most common culprit.

The theory is as follows: food abstinence leads the body to believe that food is scarce, and as such it seeks to lower metabolism, conserve fat stores and instead draw energy from lean tissue. Thus, by fasting, one loses muscle rather than fat.

That’s enough to scare anyone away from fasting, right? It’s a good thing that the theory is almost entirely invalid – at least, for our purposes.

The simple fact is this: the body’s eagerness to enter starvation mode is often wildly overestimated.

A study was carried out in 1991 to study the effect of a “very-low-calorie diet” (VLCD) on body composition and resting metabolic rate on obese men and women. A VLCD is defined as 800 calories (or less) per day, so we’re talking about severe food restriction – i.e. the ideal circumstances for the body’s supposed “starvation mode” to kick in.

The study’s key findings were as follows:

Seventeen subjects lost a mean of 24.2 kg. A mean of 75.5% of the weight loss was adipose tissue [i.e. fat]…Resting metabolic rate, as measured by oxygen consumption, dropped 23.8% during the 12 weeks of the VLCD. The findings indicate that a VLCD can provide a rapid weight loss of more than 75% fat and a concomitant decrease in waist:hip and waist:thigh ratios…Finally, it appears that the decrease in resting metabolic rate that occurs during treatment with VLCD does not correlate with changes in lean body mass.

So, the subjects lost a lot of weight, of which over 75% was fat. While the subjects’ metabolic rates did drop, this drop did not correlate with any changes in lean body mass.

It is widely and reliably acknowledged that just about any diet will encourage the body to slow metabolism to an extent, but the above study demonstrates that a loss of lean tissue does not automatically accompany a slowing metabolism.

Now here’s where it gets really interesting. Intermittent fasting (i.e. 16-24 hour periods of no food consumption) has been shown to affect the body’s metabolism, but in the opposite manner to what you might expect.

Two studies carried out by Mansell, PI, et al and Zauner C, et al are particularly compelling. Here are the two key conclusions (with thanks again to LeanGains):

Resting energy expenditure increased significantly from 3.97 +/- 0.9 kJ/min on day 1 to 4.53 +/- 0.9 kJ/min on day 3 (P < 0.05)…Resting energy expenditure increases in early starvation.

Starvation [over a 48 hour period] led to considerable alterations in basal metabolism including a significant (mean 3.6%) increase in resting metabolic rate.

That’s right – intermittent fasting can actually increase the body’s metabolic rate, potentially leading to a greater rate of fat loss.

How to Get Started

By now I’ve probably piqued your interest. Perhaps you want to give intermittent fasting a go.

While you can simply skip your next meal, a little forethought and research ahead of time will make intermittent fasting far easier to handle. Because let’s be honest – for many of us, the concept of skipping a meal is somewhat disconcerting. You probably have some reservations.

With that in mind, let’s look at how to handle intermittent fasting the right way.

Start Simple

The best way to ease yourself into intermittent fasting is to skip breakfast.

Going for a full 24 hour fast straight off the bat probably isn’t the best idea. In fact, you don’t ever have to fast for a whole day to benefit from intermittent fasting. Just stick to skipping one meal if that’s all you feel like doing.

Intermittent fasting is especially easy to follow if your stomach isn’t particularly receptive to food in the morning – skipping breakfast won’t seem like much of a hardship at all. However, if you’re all about breakfast and couldn’t imagine not having it, you will find the process less inviting. However, you should still give it a go – you may surprise yourself.

Your secret weapon is to keep busy. If you can pack your morning out and get to 12-1pm without knowing where all the time went, intermittent fasting will be far easier. This is when a hectic job can help!

You may well get hunger pangs, but that does not mean that you’re damaging your body. Hunger pangs are often misleading – usually we just need water. With that in mind, I recommend that you drink plenty of no/low calorie fluids when fasting (I drink tea with a splash of milk like it’s going out of fashion in the morning). Have a diet soda if that kind of thing floats your boat.

Trust me, unless you’re like a waif, your body has plenty of fat in reserve to draw energy from while you skip breakfast.

And remember this: every hour you go without food is another hour where your body is sucking fat out of your reserves and using it to keep you ticking. That thought alone can be a huge motivator in terms of encouraging longer fasts.

Don’t Overthink It

You can easily drive yourself mad thinking about how to do intermittent fasting the “right” way. But here’s the thing: there is no “right” way. There’s no commercialized diet plan here – it’s just a case of skipping meals and seeing how you go.

If you want to have a banana in the morning to keep the hunger pangs at bay, give it a go. Drink as much low/no calorie fluid as you like. Don’t worry about making it to exactly 16 or 24 hours fasting – it isn’t supposed to be torture.

Do not impose strict goals on yourself (then get demotivated when you fail to reach them). Instead, allow yourself to have a go at intermittent fasting without any preconceptions as to how it may turn out. Perhaps have a smaller breakfast at 11am rather than your usual big breakfast at 8am. You’ll still be fasting and consuming less calories, which is a big victory in my book.

Remember: we’re talking about being healthy enough here, not becoming a fasting machine.

Rely On Your Own Experience

My final piece of advice is to experiment with intermittent fasting and find out what works for you.

There is no one-size-fits-all diet regime (despite what some might say). You have a unique physiology and psyche. You need to find a form of intermittent fasting that works for you, and the only way to do that is to experiment.

Don’t worry that you must operate within the “rules” of intermittent fasting – after all, there aren’t any strict rules. Eat a smaller meal or eat it later. Have a piece of fruit instead of breakfast. Do a one-off 24 hour fast for charity to give yourself extra motivation and see what the experience is like. Whatever works for you.

Your Turn

I once scoffed at the notion of fasting. After all, I love my food, and eating less of it is rarely an attractive notion.

However, I’ve never been a huge fan of breakfast and I’m not too fussed about lunch either. Dinner is where it’s at for me. So skipping these meals isn’t such a big deal.

I tend to skip breakfast most days (as and when I feel like it) and occasionally miss breakfast and lunch (often when I’ve eaten gluttonously the day before and feel less inclined to eat). It’s not a big sacrifice for me (in fact, it doesn’t really feel like a sacrifice at all) and enables me to lose weight. That’s a win/win.

May be it’ll work for you too! Give intermittent fasting a go. See if it suits you. If it does, you may well have just found another powerful weapon in your dieting armory. What’s the worst that could happen?

Dieting: The One Question You Must Ask Yourself

When it comes to dieting, as far as I’m concerned, you have two options:

  1. Pursue a rigid, wildly overcomplicated and ultimately unsustainable eating plan
  2. Think simply and intuitively

The first option typically results in quick weight loss followed by a serious wagon-related incident that results in you falling off said wagon. Chocolate and/or ice cream would probably be involved.

The second option, given the right circumstances, would result in achievable gradual long term weight loss and ongoing weight management at a level that is naturally suitable to you.

I’m not guaranteeing you a “perfect” Hollywood-style body – you would have to work seriously hard for that. But I can offer you the chance to be healthy enough – to enjoy your food without sending yourself down a path leading to diet-related illness.

If you’re interested in option two, all you have to do is ask yourself (and periodically return to) one simple question:

Could I remain on my current diet for the rest of my life?

That’s it folks – the key to effective dieting, locked down in one simple question.

At any given time, your answer to the above question will indicate that you’re either:

  1. Not eating enough, which means that your diet is probably unsustainable.
  2. Eating too much, which means that you will eventually become obese (or worse) if you continue to eat as you are.

Your mind and body are more than capable of calling the situation as it is – far more so than any diet plan or so-called health expert. If you’re willing to be honest with yourself, you should have no problem answering the above question and acting accordingly.

Eat more, eat less, or eat the same. That’s all there is to it.

I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that this course of action is completely effortless. By its nature, it demands you to think consciously about what you are eating and make changes when necessary. But those changes should be gradual and bearable.

Stick around – I’ll be talking plenty more about the kind of changes you can make in the coming weeks and months.

A Foolproof Diet Plan for Those Who Lack Discipline

When it comes to dieting, few things are more important than discipline.

The strength of your discipline is often the difference between you reaching for that candy bar or throwing it in the trash. It’s a powerful weapon in your weight loss armory.

But what if your discipline has the analogical strength of a pea shooter? How are you expected to succeed in your dieting plans if you can’t go more than a few days without succumbing to temptation? The answer lies not in trying to force discipline upon yourself, but in exercising your discipline and increasing its strength over time.

The Mistake Most People Make

We’re all attracted to the notion of quick weight loss. That’s why the dieting industry is so enormous – marketers and entrepreneurs are getting rich off of people who are in desperate search of a quick fix.

The attraction of quick weight loss is twofold:

  1. We need to quickly see the benefits of our efforts, not only for aesthetic reward, but also to provide us with greater discipline in order to continue.
  2. We want the diet, which is invariably onerous, to be over and done with as quickly as possible.

Even when people succeed using such diet plans, they’ll often slip back into old habits and put the weight they lost back on over time. Then the cycle repeats, and the dieting industry keeps growing.

Why does this happen? Simple: dieters call upon their willpower to engage in a course of action, but once their willpower is exhausted, their discipline is not strong enough to maintain the original course of action.

The Difference Between Willpower and Discipline

The words willpower and discipline are often used interchangeably, but for the purposes of dieting, they have distinct meanings.

Willpower: the faculty by which a person decides on and initiates action.

Discipline: to train oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way.

Willpower is what gets the engine turning over; discipline is what keeps it running once it’s fired up.

If you’ve ever started a healthy eating regime and fallen off the wagon after a matter of days or weeks, you have experienced an unsuccessful transition from willpower to discipline.

So a lack of discipline is often the cause of dieting failure. I’m not disclosing any revelations here; you’re almost certainly aware that your discipline is lacking. So the question is, what can you do to strengthen your discipline?

On Setting Impossible Goals

If I told you that you had to run a 3hr marathon or bench press 300lbs tomorrow, how would you react?

You’d probably tell me that it was impossible (unless you happen to be an avid runner or weightlifter). Despite that, many of us impose similarly absurd goals when it comes to dieting.

We decide to cut out all fast food, soda, candy and “unhealthy” foods in one fell swoop. We replace them with lean meats and fresh fruit and vegetables, all cooked from scratch (despite the fact that you’re used to eating out or cooking your food in the microwave). In short, we impose an exhaustive overhaul of our eating habits overnight.

Is it any wonder that we fail? It’s the equivalent of transitioning from doing no exercise to running ten miles a day in the space of a week.

There is no shame in failing to adopt an entirely different eating regime overnight. You’re being unreasonable on yourself in expecting such a quick change. You’re asking your discipline to perform impossible feats of strength.

Of course, those feats don’t have to be impossible. If you work on strengthening your discipline over time, you will eventually be able to stick to a diet that results in long term weight loss and weight management.

Cumulative Dieting

The key to strengthening your discipline is to do it gradually.

On day one, if you allow yourself to eat as you please, you will require no discipline. On day two, you might choose to replace one snack with something healthier or reduce your serving sizes by 10%, which would require a modicum of discipline.

The key is to maintain that small change until your discipline is strong enough to handle a greater load. When you feel ready to move on, make another small change to your diet and repeat the process.

If you move too soon and find yourself struggling to maintain a change, don’t let the whole diet fall to pieces. Instead, take one step back into your comfort zone, and attempt to make another (perhaps alternative) change when you feel ready again.

Dieting shouldn’t be a race. Unless you are suffering from a pressing health concern and need to lose weight now, you have the rest of your life to get in decent shape.

All other things being equal, a daily deficit of just 100-200 calories will result in 15lbs of weight loss over the course of a year. The notion that you should be losing weight at a rate of 3lbs per week is absurd (and unsustainable). If you focus on cumulative dieting – making positive changes to your diet at a rate that your discipline will permit – not only will you reach your weight loss targets, you’ll keep the weight off.

If you’re looking for some ways to kick start your cumulative diet, why not start by adding one or more of my healthy (yet tasty) recipes into your week? You may also want to check out these articles from the archives:

An Easy Approach to Dieting

Perhaps the greatest thing about this approach to dieting is that it’s easy.

You’re never pushing yourself – you exist in a constant state of moderate and manageable discipline. Take as long as you need to get to where you want to be and never push yourself beyond your discipline’s ability, and success is all but assured.

5 Low Calorie Ingredients With Big Flavor (Pt 1)

The problem with dieting is that the most satisfying foods are often the most calorie-dense.

Or are they? While I’m not about to deny that a bar of milk chocolate or a serving of fries are not pleasurable to the tastebuds, there are in fact a number of ingredients out there that can boost flavor without adversely affecting the calorie count of your meal.

If you learn to use such ingredients when cooking, you’ll be able to create meals that are both good for you and tasty. And I don’t mean that in a “low calorie, tastes okay but feels like it’s missing something” kind of way – I mean it in a “holy crap, my mouth is alive with flavors!” kind of way.

So without further adieu, in this first of a series of posts, let’s take a look at five low calorie ingredients that can add big flavor to your meals. We’re going to start with the basics, then branch out into some less common ingredients in future installments.

1. Salt and Pepper

While you may consider this an obvious suggestion (and you’d be right), salt and pepper are often woefully underused and/or misused.

First of all, don’t be afraid to use salt and pepper in relative abundance. I know the health community is up in arms about salt intake, but if you’re making your meals from scratch, you are incredibly unlikely to use too much. The human body is a remarkable machine and is more than capable of telling you when you’ve put too much salt in a meal.

Secondly, use freshly ground sea salt and black peppercorns. While sea salt has no real flavor difference when compared to table salt, it offers a unique texture (with little “pops” of flavor as each flake hits your tongue) that can’t be matched by table salt. As for freshly ground black peppercorns, when it comes to adding depth of flavor to a meal, nothing beats it.

2. Garlic

Garlic (along with onion) serve as the base for most Western recipes, and with good reason. I love garlic, and personally speaking, I think it’s woefully underused. An obligatory clove of garlic in a recipe for two is doing its taste potential a disservice.

In my humble opinion, it’s tough (but admittedly possible) to put too much garlic in a dish. Don’t pay it lip service by dismissively throwing a clove into your recipes; toy around with amounts until you know how much garlic you should include so that you can taste and appreciate its presence.

3. Herbs

I once considered herbs a bit pointless. I didn’t appreciate what they could bring to meal. But the thing about herbs is that it’s not all about the taste (although certain herbs can add big flavor to a dish) – it’s about their aroma and how they alter the appearance of a meal.

Coriander is definitely one of my favorites. Included in asian-style dishes (like my chicken stir fry or chicken tikka, lentil and spinach salad), it not only adds a unique flavor, but the smell it produces is pretty divine, not to mention the bright green color that it adds to a dish.

Aside from coriander, herbs I tend to use more than most include basil, dill, mint and thyme. If possible go for fresh (it makes a big difference), but don’t turn your nose up to dried herbs – they’re better than nothing.

4. Spices

Spices can define a meal – turning it from something utterly bland to bursting with flavor. If I could only use one item from this list of five, it would be spices.

While there are an enormous number of spices available that I encourage you to experiment with, a few of my favorites include cinnamon, paprika, cumin, coriander seed and cardamom. Furthermore, popular spice mixes (such as Chinese five spice and curry powder) can completely transform a meal.

Want an example of how big a difference spices can make to food? Coat a breast of chicken with a teaspoon of allspice mixed with olive oil and fry it over a medium heat until cooked through (around 10-15 minutes). Yum.

5. Stock

Stocks are the savior of many a bland meal, turning otherwise unexciting (yet healthy) ingredients into something far more appealing.

My favorite example is couscous. Cooked plain, it could hardly be more unexciting. But add some vegetable stock (and as I often like to, some chopped onion and pepper) and it is transformed. Throw some freshly ground black peppercorns into the mix and you’re really firing on all cylinders.

No cook’s cupboard should be without a selection of stocks (in cube form is fine). I tend to most commonly use beef, chicken and vegetable stock.

Stay Tuned

This is the first of a four part series. I’ve started with some of the more obvious examples of low calorie ingredients that can offer big flavor, but as we get deeper into the series I’ll be discussing some lesser-known ingredients, along with examples of how they can be used.

The Truth About Frozen Foods (And How They Can Help You Lose Weight)

There’s nothing wrong with eating frozen and I believe you should do it more often.

According to a study by the British Institute of Food Research, some frozen foods are more nutritious than their fresh counterparts. Why get your knickers in such a twist over a marginal or non-existent reduction in nutrition?

Furthermore, if most of your food is frozen then you don’t have to worry about it going off (at least, not for months). That reduces food wastage.

That’s not all though. Using more frozen food and less fresh products prevents you from eating something purely on the basis that it’s going off. If it aint in the fridge kicking up a stink, you don’t feel the need to eat it (regardless of whether you should).

Finally, if you have relatively healthy meals in sensible portions ready and waiting in your freezer, you’ll be far less tempted to reach for the takeout menu when you can’t be bothered to cook anything. This has saved me from the call of Papa John’s on more than one occasion in the past.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t eat fresh, but I do encourage you to think about your habits. How often do you find yourself throwing food away because it’s gone off? How often do you opt for a less healthy meal when you haven’t the inclination to cook something nutritious? Even if frozen food is nothing more than a backup to prevent you from resorting to takeout, it’s performed a noble task.

Don’t Make Healthy Eating the Enemy

When it comes to dieting, there are two broad paths you can follow.

The first (and most popular) is one of heavy restriction – a no-holds-barred healthy eating regime. In theory, such an approach should yield dramatic results in a relatively short space of time.

The second (and less glamorous) approach is based upon moderation. Instead of implementing drastic change, a ‘moderate’ dieter will slowly adjust their eating habits at a manageable pace. There are no blanket bans on certain food types and no jarring changes in eating habits.

I don’t know about you, but the second approach sounds far more appealing. Sure, you may not see results as quickly, but you’ll be embarking upon a far more bearable, manageable, and sustainable journey.

The biggest problem with the first approach is that you make a powerful enemy: healthy eating itself. A restrictive diet encourages resentment of what should really be your greatest ally – healthy food. Resentment almost always leads to a loss of motivation, and ultimately, failure.

To make healthy eating your ally, you should seek to adjust your poor dieting habits gradually and subtly. Start keeping a food diary. Work on reducing hunger pangs. Switch to a protein-rich breakfast. These are all things that encourage your perception that healthy eating is an ally – not something to be dreaded or hated, but something to be utilized as a valuable tool in your weight loss efforts.

This approach is most important to appreciate when you feel most motivated to lose weight (and invariably most motivated to embark upon a highly restrictive diet). For instance, I recently came back from a two week vacation in Florida in which I managed to put on 10lbs (impressive, I know). In the past I might have thrown myself into a restrictive eating regime, barring myself from any number of foods that I love to eat, but I would have fallen off the wagon pretty quickly, as one is inclined to do when such enormous change is imposed.

Instead, I went back to normal – using healthy eating as an ally to encourage inevitable weight loss. That approach is far less taxing (and in my opinion, far more likely to yield beneficial long term results) than making healthy eating the enemy by implementing a drastic eating regime.

When it comes to weight loss, there is no rush. There is no deadline. There certainly should be no “90 day program.” As long as your weight is heading in the right direction over a period of weeks or months, you will reach your goal. Make sure you are treating healthy eating as an ally rather than an enemy, and let time do the rest of the work.

Greek Chicken With Vegetable Couscous and Tzatziki

If you’re anything like me, you have to give this recipe a chance.

I used to be the kind of guy that would scoff at the notion of couscous, but what is admittedly a rather dull ingredient can be combined with other ingredients to make a delicious meal.

I implore anyone who is unfamiliar with Greek cuisine to try this recipe. While I’m not going to say that it’s authentic Greek (after all, I’ve never even been to Greece), it does provide a nice little introduction to Mediterranean eating. And as always, it’s good for you and easy to make.

Ingredients

Serves 2 / takes ~15 mins

For the couscous:

  • ½ cup couscous (not pre-cooked)
  • 1 red pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped (and de-seeded if you’re not a fan of spicy food)
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • A handful of frozen peas
  • A few halved olives (omit if you hate olives!)
  • A small handful of fresh dill (dried is fine)

For the chicken:

  • 2 chicken breasts, whole
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • Glug of olive oil

For the tzatziki:

  • ½ a cucumber, finely grated with excess water poured off
  • 2 tbsp Greek yoghurt
  • Juice of ½ a lemon
  • A small handful of fresh mint (dried is fine)

Instructions

Pound the chicken with a rolling pin until about ½” thick then toss with salt, pepper, oregano, allspice, lemon and olive oil until well coated. Place under a grill on a medium heat for 8-10 minutes, turning once.

Put the couscous and peas – well seasoned with salt and pepper – in a pot with 1 cup of boiling water over a low heat for 5 minutes.

Combine the tzatziki ingredients in a bowl, mix well and season.

After 5 minutes, add the remaining vegetables and dill to the couscous and stir well. Leave to simmer for a further 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the water has evaporated.

Remove the chicken from under the grill and slice. Place the couscous on a plate, put the chicken on top, then finish by pouring the tzatziki and crumbling feta over the whole thing.