Whether you’ve been inspired by the new Henry Dimbleby report into the UK food industry or you just can’t live with your lockdown love handles another day, there is no better time to start losing weight for good than now, when the sun is shining.
But most of us have already tried many different types of diet plans so how can we find the one that will really work?
While experts don’t always agree on the best methods, there are a couple of indisputable truths: we need to move more and eat less if our bodies are going to change shape, alcohol is liquid sugar and metabolisms slow with age. Having said that, what can we do to make a real difference?
Eat nothing between 8pm and 8am
Intermittent fasting – when you give your body extended periods without food to kickstart the process of ketosis, where fat is broken down and used for energy, rather than carbs – has become hugely popular. Dr Michael Mosley, who helped devise the method with his book The Fast Diet, suggests you ease your way in. “How you start intermittent fasting very much depends on you and your sort of personality type,” says Mosley. “I normally recommend people start gradually. So, start by consuming your food in a 12-hour window, and fasting the rest of the time. Once you’ve got used to that, move on to a 10-hour period of eating.”
He is particularly interested in the mounting evidence that it is better if you finish your evening meal earlier, rather than having a late meal, skipping breakfast, and then fasting until lunchtime. “I recommend you try and stop eating by 8pm and then not eat anything again with calories before breakfast the next day. If you are fasting for 12 hours, you can have breakfast at 8am.” Later, suggests Mosely, you might try moving the start time on a little bit to 10am for breakfast. “In that case, you might want to have something like a meal replacement shake for breakfast, which might be more convenient if you’re at work. If you are really pushing it towards eating all your food in eight hours, which is trickier, then you’d probably aim for something like skipping breakfast altogether and having lunch around noon or 1pm.”
Crack on at breakfast
Start the day with eggs, says Mosely: “Boiled, poached, scrambled or as an omelette – they’ll keep you feeling fuller for longer compared with cereal or toast. Delicious with greens and Parmesan or smoked salmon and a sprinkle of chilli.”
Eating plenty of protein is an important part of the Mediterranean diet – a way of eating that is high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods. The NHS says that the Mediterranean diet has been linked with good health, including a healthier heart.
Mosley agrees: “A low carb Mediterranean diet has unique power not just to restore your body’s ability to reach its ideal weight and stay there, but also to cut your risk of serious disease. It doesn’t come from a place of restriction but rather it’s about eating more of the right foods. Not only will these foods keep you feeling full, but they also offer important nutrients and health benefits, and taste delicious.”
Improve your liquidity
Dietician Sian Porter says summer is the perfect time to go for foods with a high water content – as they will refresh you as well as fill you up. “High water foods have a low energy density,” she says. “That means they have fewer calories per ounce of food.” Think fresh fruits and veg rather than biscuits. Fish and lean chicken are also low-density foods.
The British Nutrition Foundation points out that studies have shown people tend to consume about the same amount (weight) of food each day, but not necessarily the same amount of energy (or calories). So it may be possible to consume less energy, without feeling hungrier, by eating a lower energy density diet, which still makes up the same weight of foods overall throughout the course of a day.
You can also apply this theory when you go for a drink, Porter adds. Choose a white wine spritzer over a large glass of Sauvignon Blanc. And dilute cordials or fruit juices.
While exercise alone will not help you lose the stubborn fat from around your middle, says Mosley, it can be crucial for helping reduce the risk of regaining fat as well as lowering blood sugar levels and improving insulin sensitivity.
Mosley is a fan of HIIT (high-intensity interval training – short bursts of strenuous exercise) and his exercise bike. “Not only is it a highly effective way to get fit,” he says, “it’s also unbelievably quick, which means there’s no excuse not to do it. I recommend just 10 minutes on a static bike three times a week, plus quick strengthening exercises which don’t require special equipment. If you don’t have an exercise bike you can try pedalling on your road bike furiously up a hill, running up the stairs, or doing short sprints when out on a run, or just pick up your walking pace until you are breathing hard. The main thing is that these bursts should be brief (30 seconds maximum when it comes to the stairs, or running), but hard enough to get your heart rate up.”
Soup it up
Start a meal with a bowl of cold soup like gazpacho, suggest Sian Porter. Not only will it add more fluid to your day, but studies at Penn State University in 2007 showed that drinking a low-calorie soup before a meal can help cut back on how much food and calories you eat at the meal.
Get an extra hour’s sleep
Nutritionists believe that not getting enough sleep alters our metabolism so our bodies cannot process food as effectively, says Mosley. “An extra hour’s sleep could help you to lose weight within weeks.” A study from the American Institute for Cancer Research claims late nights mean we snack more, and exercise less.
“Getting enough sleep when trying to lose weight,” says Mosley, “means your body will reset its hormones to make better food choices. And this is just the start: with a high-fresh, low-carb diet, intermittent fasting, and regular exercise, you can completely reset your appetite. You won’t want to eat unhealthy food, and the weight that you lose won’t come back.”
If you are not sure how to get more rest, the independent body The Sleep Council recommends reducing the intensity of artificial light in your home by using dimmer switches or low wattage bulbs, switching off tech – including the phone – a couple of hours before bedtime and avoiding consuming too many liquids before you sleep.
Choose whole grains
Eating three portions of whole grains a day slows the onset of middle-age spread by half, a study at Tufts University in the US has found. Researchers found people who ate the fewest whole grains (which feature the entire kernel, including the bran and germ) saw their waist size swell by around 1.2 inches every four years. However, for people who regularly ate three portions of whole grains a day this figure dropped to around 0.5 inches. The most common whole-grain foods in the study were brown breads and porridge oats. Whole grain is healthier than more processed grains because the outer layer is packed with fibre while the inside is rich in nutrients such as B vitamins, antioxidants and healthy fats.
Dr Caleigh Sawicki, of Tufts, says: “There are several reasons whole grains may work to help people maintain waist size. The presence of dietary fibre in whole grains can have a satiating effect, and the magnesium, potassium, and antioxidants may contribute to lowering blood pressure. The soluble fibre, in particular, may have a beneficial effect on post-meal blood sugar spikes.”
Take a cold shower
Scientists have been investigating the physiology of cold-water immersion, says Dr Mosley, and it appears it may have a surprising array of benefits. “Cold water swimming has been rising in popularity with claims that it can transform your body and mind. It’s an exciting field of research with the potential to offer new treatments for a variety of conditions – from high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, to depression and could help boost your mood, brain, immune system and heart. If you don’t live near open water, a cold shower will do the trick.”