Before you begin any regime, it really helps to understand food and its relationship to your body. By understanding the food your body is craving you can choose the foods that will help satisfy you for longer. Before you reach for a snack, think carefully about what food you need. Some foods are better at satisfying hunger while others are better at giving you energy.
It is all too easy to grab a chocolate bar for a quick pick me up, so it is important to understand what effect this has on your body. Gorging on 'bad' foods results in a roller-coaster of highs and lows of 'false' hunger pangs, temporary emotional highs and mood swings brought on by increasing and decreasing blood sugar levels.
Calories are a simple way to measure energy. Generally speaking, people expend 1 calorie per minute when sitting relaxed. Protein, carbohydrates and fats make up the calorie content of various foods in various quantities. One gram of:
- Protein contains 4 calories
- Carbohydrate contains 4 calories
- Fat contains 9 calories
- Alcohol contains 7 calories
Your calorie needs are unique to you and depend on a number of factors including your age, gender, metabolism, activity level and body size.
Depending on your age, current weight and gender, your body in a resting state needs a certain number of calories every day to perform basic functions such as breathing, digesting food and body repairs. This minimum number is referred to as your Basic Metabolic Rate (BMR) or your metabolism.
To lose weight your calorie intake simply needs to be less than the amount of calories you burn which can be achieved by reducing the number of calories in your diet and by increasing the amount of physical activity in your lifestyle.
Top line, there are 3,500 calories in 1lb of body weight. Over the course of a week, if you cut your daily calorie intake/expenditure by 500 calories you can expect to lose 1lb a week. To lose 1 and half lbs a week this should be a daily reduction of 750 calories, and to lose 2lbs a week you need to eliminate 1,000 calories a day via food intake reductions and /or exercise.
A faster rate of weight loss is generally associated with weight regain and yo-yo dieting in the long term, so set yourself realistic goals for long term sustainable success!
Even though we all need fat in our diet, eating too much makes people more likely to become overweight. Too much saturated fat can also raise cholesterol, which inevitably increases the risk of heart disease. This is why it’s important to cut down on the amount of fat we eat, and choose foods that contain unsaturated fat. Being overweight also raises the risk of other serious health problems, such as type 2 Diabetes and high blood pressure.
But not all fat is bad. Some fat is necessary in our diet as it helps the body absorb certain nutrients. Fat is also an energy source and provides essential fatty acids that the body is unable to make itself.
Types of fat
There are two main types of fat found in food - saturated and unsaturated. Saturated and unsaturated fat do contain the same amount of calories. But as part of a healthy diet, attempt to cut down on foods high in saturated fat, and eat foods that are rich in unsaturated fat.
Understanding portion sizes
Western diets tend to include far higher portion sizes than necessary as highlighted in the documentary ‘supersize me ’. However, there are many reasons for unnecessarily large portion sizes:
- Plate sizes – the trend is towards oversized plates which we feel obliged to fill with food when we dish up dinner. Revert to smaller plate sizes and naturally portions will decrease.
- Keeping up with the kids – as our children grow, so their appetites increase. As adults we feel obliged to dish ourselves up more food than our children. Accordingly, as their plate sizes increase, so do ours and all of a sudden, even though our appetites are probably the same, we are serving ourselves up unnecessarily large portions.
- Food type proportions – Western diets tend to be far too heavily biased towards calorie rich carbohydrates. By using the Government’s Eatwell plate you can get a better understanding of what an ideal plate of food should consist of.
The body uses carbohydrate compounds for energy. They are found in almost every type of food you eat. All carbohydrates are made up of individual molecules. There are two different types. The first is the most basic of carbohydrates which includes the sugar you put in your tea. This ‘simple’ carbohydrate consists of just one or two of these molecules.
The other more complex carbohydrate is found within starchy foods. These are made up of a number of sugar molecules joined together. These are found in bread, pasta and rice, as well as some types of fruit and vegetable.
Why do I need carbohydrates?
Carbohydrates are your body’s most important source of energy. When you eat a carbohydrate, it’s broken down by your digestive system into single molecules of glucose (which is the main form of fuel for your body). The glucose is then circulated in your blood to every cell within your body.
If you don’t consume enough carbohydrates within your diet, your body will begin to break down fat followed by protein, to get the glucose it needs. Protein is vital for your body to be able to grow and repair, so using it as an energy source leaves little protein to carry out these vital functions. Eating enough carbohydrate will prevent this.
Which carbs are good? Which are bad?
Carbohydrates are not as fattening as has been suggested. It’s not good to consume too much, but if you eat more carbohydrates than your body can burn off as energy, your body’s glucose stores will become saturated and the excess will be converted to fat. So in this case, your body will begin to put on weight. But removing them from the diet is not a viable option as carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy diet. The key is picking the right type of carbohydrates as some carbohydrates are healthier than others.
Sugary foods such as cakes and biscuits are high in fat, but do not contain many other useful nutrients. They contribute to your energy intake but have little other value. Not only that, but sugary foods contain a lot of calories. It’s therefore best to limit your intake of sugary foods and stick to starchy foods.
Generally the best starchy carbohydrates are wholegrain foods including bread, pasta and cereal. Wholegrains contain a host of important nutrients that are considered to reduce your risk of heart disease and bowel cancer. Wholegrains are also more likely to keep you feeling fuller for longer – as they normally take longer to digest than processed foods and contain more fibre.