Ever wondered how celebrities such as Elle McPherson and Victoria Beckham keep so slim? Well, they are wealthy enough to have someone cook and prepare them perfectly balanced calorie controlled meals for a start. And as a journalist who is often writing about weightloss, I was interested this week to read a little piece of research that says women who keep a food diary and therefore monitor their calorie intake, have more success at losing weight – and keeping it off.
I was interested because since Easter, and having wanted to lose a few pounds for the summer but not having enough weight to lose to be accepted by a slimming club, I have kept a food diary myself. And interestingly, without any effort at all – and eating a take away curry every Saturday and chocolate every day – I have lost a stone (which is more than I set out to lose but it’s great to be back to the weight I was in late twenties!)
So how did I do this? Well, because I love food and eating out, cutting anything out of my diet wasn’t an option. But because a food diary – I used Sainsbury’s online one, which automatically counts the calories – tells you exactly what you are eating, it is easy to tailor your diet to fit.
This is what I have learnt!
* All diets are basically calories in and calories out. If you eat more calories than you use, you will put on weight and if you eat less than you use, you will lose it. A calorie is a calorie and your body really doesn’t know or care whether you have got it from a carrot or a chocolate. Of course you want to eat healthily – and a food diary calculates all this. However, bottom line is this – it doesn’t matter how the diet is dressed up with points or sins or whatever, it is still calories that count. And if you overeat by just 100 calories a day (that’s a little more than one chocolate from a box) then in a year you will be around a stone heavier so it is a balancing act…
* Unless you are an athlete or running marathons exercise does keep you fit but does not help you lose weight much and bizarrely could be to blame for helping you get fatter. I know this because for the last 15 years I have run approximately 15 miles a week and gone to a gym four to five times a week. But in fact even if you exercise like this, you only need an extra hundred or so calories a day – which isn’t much (and the food diary will take your exercise into consideration when calculating how much you can eat.) In hindsight, I believe this is where the extra pounds came from – me doing long runs which made me starving and then believing I could eat anything because I was a runner. Not so! Of course I still exercise regularly but in moderation and therefore I am not as hungry after the gym – incredibly the weight has fallen off.
* Keeping a food diary educates you as no other diet does. For example I recently went out to lunch and ate a small seafood salad, which I believed was pretty light. I even still felt peckish afterwards. But in fact, when I put it into the calculator, it came out at a whopping 520 calories – probably because it was doused in hidden dressings and oil.
* A word about oil and fats. Most commercial diets recommend a low fat diet. In fact the jury is out right now on whether or not low fat diets are actually that good for us with a number of nutritionists claiming a higher fat diet is actually more nutritious. The other problem is lots of low fat foods actually contain a lot of sugar, which is believed to be stored by the body as fat. Diet clubs recommend low fat diets because fat contains more calories so if you cut out the fat, you cut out the calories. But the truth is you can eat higher fat as long as the calories in and calories out still work… My tip – eat what you want and check the calories and portion size and interestingly it is very difficult to go over the recommended fat anyway.
* Most people who fail with their diet or put weight on again do so because they have been on a ‘diet’. So they might not have eaten a curry or chocolate for weeks and then they binge. I don’t believe life is happy without eating what you fancy and most ‘diets’ are simply impossible to stick to forever. So eat it anyway but cut back on the portion to fit it into your calorie count and clearly you won’t be denying yourself anything. Most women can eat 2000 calories a day and not put on any weight (or lose it) – this is actually quite a lot of food.
* You can easily drink at least 300 calories a day in teas and coffees. And if you enjoy a glass of wine, that can be quite calorific. But although I cut back on sugar (I used to have two in every tea and coffee) I decided life was too short to go without. And there is only 15 calories in one spoonful of sugar.
* I need far more calories than the 1250 a day recommended by many weightloss programmes to survive – ie: my body uses more than that just keeping my heart beating and I’d usually eaten that amount by the end of lunchtime. But I could still lose weight by just cutting around 300 calories a day (which meant I lost half a pound to a pound a week and never any more.) However, it is actually much healthier to lose the weight very slowly.
* Avoid ‘slimming foods’. For example a slimming quiche comes in at only a few calories less than the standard version and the standard version tastes much better! A food diary will also allow you to compare versions of foods and understand your own recipes (you can input them into the food diary.) I now know exactly how many calories are in the chocolate chip cookies I make and how to make some home-cooked meals healthier.
* If you are totally honest with yourself, a food diary will show you where you’re going wrong and where you’re going right – for example, I discovered my veg and fruit intake was naturally much higher than I thought and that ultimately I eat a very healthy diet with a wide variety of meat and dairy products. But I also discovered that naan bread has an incredibly high amount of calories (swap it for Chapatti bread and you get rid of half the calories in a curry) and that I’m probably not as quite as active as I thought (despite my running I am sat at a desk all day…) And it also ensures you eat enough!
Of course I am not a diet expert or qualified to give any dietary advice – but it has been a revelation to me!
Have you kept a food diary? Did you lose weight with one? Let us know below and we would love to hear any diet tips you have as well…