According to Science Daily, the number one reason why diets fail is because dieters underestimate the amount of calories they consume.
I call bullshit on that. In my opinion, the number one reason why diets fail is because dieters want to eat things that most diets don’t permit.
In short, diets suck. I am not prepared to go for extended periods of time avoiding the foods that I love in the name of weight loss. I love beer, pizza, chocolate, and ice cream, and I don’t want to avoid eating them as part of a long-term eating regime. There has to be a better way.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to change your eating habits in more acceptable ways that result in weight loss. You can have your cake and eat it too – literally. In this post I want to focus on some simple changes you can make to your eating habits that will result in just as much satisfaction from what you eat, but with less impact on your waistline.
Eat Breakfast (But Eat It Whenever You Want To)
I am so bored of the endless flow of studies and articles arguing when and how you should eat breakfast.
Some say that you should eat breakfast because it leads to increased satiety throughout the day. That makes sense, but what about those of us who do not feel like eating in the morning?
I have a simple solution: eat breakfast, but eat it whenever you want to. If you want breakfast at 7am, go for it. But if you want it at 11am or even 1pm, be my guest. If breakfast is getting a little too close to lunch for your comfort then simply have lunch a little later, or skip breakfast altogether.
In my opinion (and I’d love to see a study on this), the later you eat breakfast, the less likely you are to consume excess calories later in the day. So get that first meal of the day in if you’d like, but eat it whenever you want to.
As for those who argue that you must eat breakfast first thing in the morning to keep your metabolism going, I say this: I’ll do what my body tells me to do first and pay attention to studies second. If the thought of eating something when I wake up turns my stomach, I’m not going to eat. I’ll eat when my stomach is good and ready, studies be damned.
Eat a Protein-Rich Breakfast
In an article on WebMD about hunger-curbing foods, Purdue University nutrition professor Wayne Campbell, PhD had the following to say about the satiety benefits of protein:
You are most likely to feel fuller after eating protein than other nutrients, including fiber, and one of the theories behind why higher-protein diets work well with weight loss is because it helps you not [to] feel hungry.
This was on the back of two studies from Purdue in which it was demonstrated that you are likely to feel less hungry from eating a protein-rich breakfast when compared to an equivalent meal made up of carbohydrates.
I can personally attest to this – when I switched from cereal to eggs for breakfast, I no longer got hunger cravings at around 11am. Furthermore, I could go all the way through to lunch having eaten less calories for breakfast than I used to.
Speaking of eggs, in a study presented at the 2007 Experimental Biology meeting, researchers at Pennington Biomedical Research Center compared weight loss between two groups of dieters. Researcher Nikhil V. Dhurandhar, Ph.D. concluded the following:
Compared to the bagel eaters, overweight women who ate two eggs for breakfast five times a week for eight weeks, as part of a low-fat, reduced-calorie diet, lost 65% more weight, reduced waist circumference by 83% [and] reported higher energy levels.
When people eat eggs, rich in protein, at breakfast, they felt more satisfied and consumed fewer calories throughout the day, compared to those who ate a primarily carbohydrate meal like a bagel.
The moral of the story is this: don’t feel too bad about having bacon and eggs in the morning. Make it grilled bacon and poached or boiled eggs and you may find yourself losing weight rather than gaining it, despite the common perception that it is a relatively unhealthy meal.
Eat Protein-Rich Snacks
You’ll have no problem with this one if you’re a meat lover: rather than reaching for the chocolate bar when hunger strikes, eat some animal instead.
My particular favorite is smoked salmon (what can I say — I have expensive tastes). Speaking of fish, smoked mackerel works too, and tinned tuna is really convenient.
On a meatier level, the ready-to-eat chicken and beef packs you can get at supermarkets work too, but make sure that they’re not packed full of crap!
If you’ve got a craving for an unhealthy snack then make this one simple tweak: eat half now and half later. This is especially effective if it’s a mid-afternoon snack. Eat half of it to take the edge off, then maybe the other half will do after dinner in place of a whole other snack or dessert.
Furthermore, don’t combine snacks. You should never eat more than one snack at one time – split them them up and you’ll enjoy them much more! This applies especially when it comes to soda – the sugar/sweeteners in them will blunt the sugary goodness of sweet snacks, and you won’t enjoy either of your treats as much.
Don’t Keep Unhealthy Snacks in the House
We all get cravings for unhealthy snacks, and I for one am not going to tell you not to eat them. Life’s too short. However, I do have a suggestion that may help you to eat less of them: don’t buy them as part of your regular shop.
How does this help? It’s all to do with convenience (or to put it another way, playing to our innate laziness).
In an article on overeating, Suzanne Phillips, PsyD, referenced a handful of studies that hammer home the effects of convenience on eating (paraphrased):
In one study a dish of chocolate kisses was moved over the course of weeks to different locations in secretaries’ office: the corner of the desk, the top of the left hand drawer and on a file cabinet 6 feet from the desk. It was discovered that the further the dish was from people, the less they ate – a difference reflected in 225 extra calories a day. In the debriefing, the secretaries revealed that the longer the distance, the more time they had to talk themselves out of eating another piece!
In another study a cooler full of free ice cream was placed in a cafeteria. It was in the same place every day, but on some days the glass lid was left open and on other days it was closed. On the closed lid days only 14% of the diners had ice cream compared with 30% on the days it was left open.
We’re talking about a simple exercise in psychology: if you’re getting a craving for a particular snack, then put yourself in a position where you have to put effort into get hold of it. Don’t make it as simple as opening a cupboard – make it so that you have to walk or drive to your local store.
That little extra effort required may be enough discouragement to convince you not to have the snack (or choose a healthier, protein-rich alternative that you already have in the house). Worst case, you’ll burn a few more calories making the trip to get the snack!
If you want a more challenging version of this and your local store is a semi-considerable distance away (say a mile or so), resolve to walk to the store if you want to get a snack. Your net calories consumed will be lower.
Drink More Water
You’ve undoubtedly heard this before (perhaps here on Healthy Enough), but it bears repeating.
There are a bunch of reasons as to why you should drink more water – not the least the fact that around 60% of your body is made up of the stuff. It stands to reason that you should keep your levels topped up. But for the purposes of this article, you should drink more water because it encourages weight loss and increases satiety.
One study conducted at Virginia Tech offers evidence of water’s weight loss effects. The following is a paraphrased summary of that study, courtesy of Wikipedia:
Davy et al. took a group of 48 overweight and obese Americans aged 55 to 75 who were considered inactive and divided them randomly into two equal-sized groups. The control group followed a calorie-controlled diet equating to approximately 1,500 calories per day for the men and 1,200 calories per day for the women. The second group followed exactly the same diet but drank 500ml of water before each meal. Both groups kept up the diet for 12 weeks.
Although both groups lost weight on average, the water-drinking group lost about 5lbs more on average (an 30% increase in weight loss). Because the water-drinking group reported feeling both more full and less hungry, the researchers believe that the water acts to suppress appetite.
Subjective effects also reported by the water-drinking group were feeling less hungry, having a clearer mind and a better ability to think. There were no negative effects reported.
While this study is far from perfect (for instance, the sample size and phsyiology of the subjects is limited), it does point towards the positive effects of drinking plenty of water. Furthermore, the study is backed up by an enormous volume of anecdotal evidence of the benefits of water consumption on weight loss.
Finally, drinking water prior to meals is advised in order that you do not confuse thirst signals with hunger signals. In my experience, it also encourages you eat less than you might otherwise.
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: first in five minutes, second in 30 minutes. The study concluded that when subjects savored the ice cream over the course of 30 minutes, they felt fuller and more satisfied than when they ate it in a mere five minutes.
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.
Stop Eating When You’re Full
This is a tough one, especially for people like me – those who seemingly only feel satisfied when they eat to the point of slight nausea. It is however an effective way of eating fewer 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. I’d eaten the meal so fast my body hadn’t had a chance to transmit the ‘full’ signal to my brain, 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, 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). Then, the 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.
Measure Your Meals
In the past a typical serving of spaghetti for me would be anywhere from 160 to 200 strands of spaghetti, which equates to 525–700 calories (I like pasta). I would grab a healthy handful of spaghetti (perhaps 150 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 100 grams (which is around 100 strands). In doing so I save myself from consuming a considerable number of calories. 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, your 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.
Use an Appropriate Plate
According to Brian Wansink, head of Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab and the author of Mindless Eating, dinner plate sizes have increased 36% since the 1960s. That corresponds with an increase in obesity in the US from ~15% in 1960 to ~30% in 2004. While we know from my previous article on yo yo dieting that correlation does not necessarily mean causation, the relationship between these two variables is thought-provoking.
With the above in mind, you’ve probably read that if you use smaller plates, you’ll eat less. However, that is not necessarily the case – a plate that is too small can simply convince you to go back for seconds or thirds, thus rendering the whole exercise pointless.
So instead of using smaller plates arbitrarily, find your ideal serving size (by measuring your meals and using the Portion Reduction Method), then grab yourself a set of plates that makes your meals look suitably piled up. A mountain of food on a relatively small plate will seem bigger to you than a meal spread across a larger plate.
According to a study by the British Institute of Food Research, some frozen foods are more nutritious than their fresh counterparts. There’s nothing wrong with eating frozen (why get your knickers in such a twist over a marginal or non-existent reduction in nutrition?) and I believe you should do it more often.
Why? One reason is simple convenience: if most of your food is frozen then you don’t have to worry about it going off. That reduces food wastage.
But buying frozen food achieves something else too: it 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 right now.
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.
What Suggestions Do You Have?
The above suggestions can help you to lose weight without any reduction in your perceived satiety and satisfaction. Like I said, you can have your cake and eat it too. Mmm…cake.
While you’re not likely to lose weight at an accelerated rate (like a lot of the 5lb-per-week fad diets claim), following the above advice can lead to sustained fat loss over a prolonged period of time. The changes you can make are so subtle and have such a low impact that it takes very little effort to sustain them.
Do you have your own effective methods for losing weight while eating as you please? Let me know!