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So you’ve got the hotel and flights booked and your holiday request approved at work for your July jaunt to sunnier climes.
You’re itching to go swimwear and flip flop shopping and have already ordered a couple of guidebooks ready to begin researching an itinerary of cultural attractions and restaurants (OK, and maybe a few bars) to visit whilst on your travels.
If, however - like most of us - the thought of baring your bulging bod on the beach fills you with horror and much of your trusty summer wardrobe is not wearable because you’ve piled on a few pounds since your last holiday - get set for summer, lose weight and feel great with our six easy steps to success.
Before you begin, try keeping a food diary for a week or two but be brutally honest with yourself – write down EVERYTHING you eat and drink, even those couple of fries pinched from your friend’s fast food meal. You may be surprised just how many calories you’ve been consuming without even realising it. Identifying changes in habits can also help you to recognise where extra calories are coming from, for example, having three biscuits with your morning coffee where you used to stick to one or, perhaps every Friday night is now takeaway night when previously it was a monthly treat.
Some people find the act of consciously making mental note and then taking actual notes about their eating habits helps them to better understand their relationship with food, and identify possible problem behaviours. It’s all part of the mental preparation that could mean the difference between long term, sustainable success and failure. After a day or two of keeping a food diary, you might even find that you naturally start to think twice before shoving that second piece of Battenburg into your cakehole, which is all part of the preparation.
Experts agree that gradual weight loss while ensuring you are meeting your body’s nutritional needs is the best way to lose weight and keep it off, so don’t be tempted to crash diet or rely on meal substitutes. Your metabolism may respond to what it deems as starvation or a food shortage by slowing down the rate at which it burns calories, which is counterproductive – and frustrating!
The vast majority of pre-packaged foods available in the UK now feature prominent front-of-pack nutrition information, known as the traffic light system. These typically provide an at a glance indication of fat, saturated fat (the ‘bad’ kind), sugars and salt, each highlighted in green, amber or red for low, medium or high respectively so go for green wherever possible.
Get into the habit of checking food labels at the supermarket, familiarise yourself with the typical values of your favourite foods and actively seek out lower calorie/fat/sugar alternatives. For some food swap ideas, read on.
It’s always worth checking appropriate serving sizes, as there’s little point in following per serving fat, sugar and carbohydrate guidelines on food labels if you eat two or three servings in one sitting. (Step away from the Jaffa Cakes)
Grilling instead of frying, trimming all visible fat from meats and choosing naturally low-fat meats and fish – chicken, turkey and most types of fish are good low-fat/high-protein choices.
While pre-packaged foods, sandwiches and salads are convenient when you’re pushed for time or grabbing lunch on the hop, they usually contain far more calories than you may realise and that BLT triple sandwich you grabbed at the petrol station on the way to work is definitely more than a portion. Try and set aside a few minutes to prepare your own sandwiches, salads and snacks at home, that way you know exactly what you’re eating and can better manage your calorie intake.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the NHS have been telling us all for years that we should aim to eat at least five portions of different fruits and vegetables every day, but only 15% of us are regularly doing so. To find out what constitutes a portion, visit NHS Choices.
Try bulking out your meals with extra vegetables wherever possible – aim to fill a third of your plate. Not only will you benefit health-wise from the extra nutrients, fibre and antioxidants from a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, you’ll feel fuller for longer and will also be consuming less sugar, salt and fats which will naturally help you to stay trim.
Cheese - Try a reduced-fat version of your usual cheese and eat in moderation.
Bread - Instead of a traditional two slice sandwich, try a one slice open sandwich to cut your carb intake in half. Pile high with salad and a sliced boiled egg.
Pasta - If you feel cutting down on carbohydrates may be helpful to you, try swapping pasta for healthy veg alternatives, such as courgette spaghetti or grated cauliflower pizza bases, available from many supermarkets. Some experts suggest that cutting fat, not carbs, is the best way to lose weight. If this doesn’t appeal, try weighing out a portion of pasta before cooking to make sure you don’t overeat.
Milk - Try mixing semi-skimmed with skimmed until you get used to the taste, then make the switch to skimmed to cut your fat intake. Tea and coffee can be a low-calorie option if using skimmed milk – but no sugar!
Breakfast - Swap sugary cereals with whole milk for a low-sugar, high fibre cereal with skimmed milk and add a handful of fresh berries for sweetness and one of your five-a-day.
Snacks - Ditch the crisps and chocolate bars and invest in some small snack boxes and some bags of dried fruits and nuts such as apricots, cranberries, brazil nuts and pumpkin seeds. Refill your snack box each day with a teaspoon of each for a handy snack to take to work or nibble in front of the TV. Be sure to eat in moderation, as dried fruit and nuts can still be high in fat and natural sugars – however, unlike cakes and crisps, they are packed with healthy nutrients.
Fizzy Drinks & Squashes - Switch to sugar-free versions of your favourite drinks or better still, buy yourself a fancy reusable water flask to keep on your desk or work area.
Tuna - Switch from tuna in oil to tuna in brine, and try mixing with vinegar or very low calorie dressing instead of mayonnaise to fill jacket potatoes, add some protein to a salad or in a sandwich.
Dessert - Try a 0% fat dessert-style yoghurt instead or make your own fruit salad with a dollop of low-fat Greek yoghurt.
Fruit Juices & Smoothies - While fruit juices and smoothies can provide a healthy vitamin and fibre boost, don’t rely on them too often as large quantities of condensed or blended fruit can be surprisingly high in sugar, albeit the natural kind. Try alternating a small fruit smoothie with a vegetable one, although these can be an acquired taste!
Minced Beef - Try 4% fat turkey thigh mince for a healthier, low-fat alternative to beef in your Bolognese, lasagne or cottage pie. Turkey thigh mince has a meatier flavour than breast mince, and you could try crumbling in a meaty stock cube and some extra herbs during cooking to beef things up a bit more.
How about comparing vegetarian options? - Check out the vegetarian section of your local supermarket and compare fat quantities to your usual burgers, sausages or bacon to the vegetarian alternatives and consider giving them a try – you might be pleasantly surprised!
Before you head outside and especially before you hit that beach in your bikini, have you read the latest guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) on the use of sunscreen and staying safe in the sun?
BMI check: To check if your body mass index is within the healthy range, visit nhs.uk/bmi
The NHS Change4Life website offers a range of smart tools designed to help individuals of all ages, and families, including tips, apps and more to help you on your way to a healthier, more active lifestyle.
For expert information from NHS Choices on losing weight and increasing your physical activity in a sustainable and healthy way click here. There’s a free 12-week weight loss guide for you to print and use at home and you can also signup for email support to help you stay on track.
The British Dietetic Association has also produced a series of Fact Sheets, written by dietitians, to help you on your way to a healthy lifestyle, available to download and print here.
Beware of fad diets! We've all been there, a few people you know are singing the praises of the latest detox/zero carb/all meat diet but, if you hadn't noticed, very few of these types of diet stick around for very long and there's a reason for this.
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