I’m seven months into my diet and have lost nearly 4 stone (53 lbs / 24 kg).
Here are some of the things I’ve learned – and new habits I’ve adopted – since I started my diet in January 2008.
(I’m going to add to this page as I think of new things.)
Eat only when you’re hungry
This might sound obvious and trivial but this has been the biggest deal for me. I was very rarely properly hungry. Sure, I’d want to eat and WOULD eat (too much, too often), but my body wasn’t giving the physical signals of actually being hungry.
Keep an online food diary
From the very first food diary I posted, I was already making different decisions about what and how much I ate. And the process helped me to reflect on what I was doing.
Tell your friends & family you’re on a diet
Don’t be embarrassed to let your friends and family know that you want to lose weight. Be upfront. Since I am photographing all my meals during my diet – and now that people can see a difference in my size – no one should put any pressure on you to have “just a little piece of cake”, or whatever.
Let your spouse take care of their own meals
I found that I was cooking bigger and more fattening things when I was cooking for both me and Frank, such as pastas with creamy sauces.
However, Frank’s not really bothered about food in the way I am and so he wasn’t really impressed with the extra effort I was putting in. Instead, truth be told, he actually put on about 30 lbs from my cooking. I am perfectly content with a salad or a pile of veg and, so a few years ago, we decided to be responsible for our own meals.
We prepare meals and eat separately most of the time. Some evenings we’ll have our dinners together in front of the TV and some times I’ll cook something for both of us. But, most of the time, I just prepare food for myself and, as a result, I’m eating a lot less.
Eat as soon as you’re hungry
Even if it’s an hour after last eating, have something small to eat. If you wait too long, you’ll over-compensate and make too much.
Use small plates to control portions
Use side plates and small bowls. Eat with a teaspoon when possible.
Reorganise your cupboards so that the smaller plates are the easiest to get to.
Cramming food onto a small plate satisfies the mental need to eat. The teaspoon will slow you down, allowing your body to signal your brain that it is, in fact, satiated.
If you’ve over-eaten for a few years, your stomach is probably enlarged, which means you’ll need more food to satisfy you. Smaller portions will help shrink your stomach to a normal size so that you get full quicker.
Don’t worry about throwing food away
If something doesn’t taste good or if you’re full and the food won’t keep, throw it away. A few wasted pennies is trivial compared to the effect unnecessary food will have on your body.
At buffets, fill your plate once
Buffets are effectively all-you-can-eat opportunities. To help deal with the problem of grazing, take a bit of everything you fancy at the beginning as if you were at a sit-down meal. Don’t go back for more unless you’re really actually hungry.
Look for menus online before eating out
If you plan to eat out, look for a menu or, better still, nutritional information for the restaurants you’re considering before the day so that you can decide what to eat.
Having the information means you’ll be in control of things come the meal. No one need know you’re on a diet, it’ll just mean you’ll know in advance what you’ll order.
If the restaurant has a web site but doesn’t publish nutritional information, e-mail them as you will likely find that they have the information in a form they will send out. I have found that with Pizza Express and Yo! Sushi.
Feed your guests low-calorie food – it won’t kill them
If you’re on a diet and ask people over for dinner, don’t cook something that’s high in calories because you think it’s what they want or expect. Your friends will want you to be comfortable and healthy – they would NOT want to put you in a situation where you’d eat too much. Cook them low-calorie food – you know that it doesn’t have to be bland.
Eliminate left-overs after entertaining
When having people over for meals, be mindful of what might be left in your kitchen after they’ve gone. Either give fattening left-overs away, ask your partner to eat them or throw them away.
Bring your own food
If you go to a conference or somewhere public where food is provided, take your own food just in case what’s on offer is too high in calories.
Have a low-cal flavourful drink instead of eating
If you’re hungry regularly and think it’s “too soon” to eat, have a flavourful drink such as low-calorie hot chocolate.
Don’t tempt temptation
If there’s something you find impossible to eat in moderation, don’t have it in the house.
I don’t keep these in the house (I prefer savouries to sweets):
- proper mayonnaise
- crisps (potato chips)
- full-fat cheeses
Buy loaves with small slices
Rather than buying diet bread, buy small loaves of sliced bread. These are regular breads but the bread in a sandwich goes from 220 calories to about 130 calories.
Cut sandwiches into four
A sandwich cut into four is more satisfying than two halves. The first quarter is yum. The second is more of yum.
You then look down and see that you have two more pieces left. The third goes by and you savour the last.
Have a kid’s-sized pizza
Supermarkets sell 7″ freezable pizza bases with tomato and cheese. Pizza Express have small pizzas on their menu. Alternatively, share a regular pizza with a friend and/or ask for it without cheese.
Don’t believe anything labeled SKINNY
Skinny is used by coffee shops to mean low fat. However, food marked this way is usually very high in carbohydrates – a skinny muffin might have around 300 calories, more than a regular slice of cake.
Get skimmed milk at coffee shops
Ask for skimmed milk at coffee shops. Or, as I have done, switch to tea to cut down on milk.
Turn milky coffees into diluted coffees
We regularly make proper coffee with an espresso machine. The resulting coffee is so strong, we add it to two-thirds of a cup of heated milk. Instead, I now heat 2cm of milk, add just enough coffee to reach the desired colour and then top up with hot water. Tastes fine.
Freeze pasta, rice and potatoes in portions
Cook large batches of pasta, rice and plain-mashed potatoes and freeze them into servings. Mark the weight on the bag.
100g of cooked:
- sweet potato = 76 calories
- potatoes w/skin = 87 calories
- basmati rice = 109 calories
- long-grain rice = 130 calories
- pasta = 158 calories
Have a piece of someone else’s dessert
When eating out, instead of ordering an ice cream, cake or dessert for yourself, have a small piece of your partner’s.
Limit olive oil & and hard cheeses
A gram of olive oil is just under 10 calories. Use more lemon juice instead. For an alternative dressing, consider fat-free yoghurt with a small dollop of sweet chilli sauce.
Limit hard cheeses, such as cheddar, to 20g per serving or 40g a day, if that.
Add oil for flavour when serving, not during cooking
Oil is rarely needed for cooking – use water, stock, juice or balsamic to stop things cooking – you can omit it entirely in soups and stews.
Whenever possible, rather than add oil for flavour while you’re cooking, don’t cook with any oil. Instead, drizzle a small amount on your serving. Although you can easily add oil afterwards, you can’t take it out of a big batch of something cooked.
Cottage cheese is your friend
Cottage cheese is nutritious and can be very low in calories.
Consider Quark – virtually fat-free soft cheese – for a substitute to cream cheese and cream.
Always have crisp breads available
Look for Ryvita wholemeal Crackerbreads (20 calories each) and Finn Crisp rounds (40 calories each) and Thin Crisps (20 calories). They are good substitutes for bread and biscuits, and also for letting you think you’re eating more.
Take ONE piece – you can always have more later
When you have moreish or calorific food, take one piece, slice or portion. Eat it slowly, savouring every mouthful.
Fifteen minutes after you’ve finished, if you still feel hungry and want more, get a second piece.
Eating one piece satisfies both the mental and physical urge to eat. The few minutes it takes to eat it will silence the mental clamouring to eat and you’ll probably find you won’t actually want more.
Make soup once a week
A big bowl of home-made low-fat soup is less than 200 calories. Besides being tasty and nutritious, soup is useful to alternate with solid food and for when you want something filling that’s not high in calories.
Fill up on veg
Although you’ll be hungry a couple of hours later, fill up on:
- steamed broccoli
- green beans
They’re very low in calories – you can have lots and feel you’ve had a big meal.
Include flavourful treats
I always have some combination of the following in my kitchen – they’re not low in calories but don’t need to be as they’re only ever used in small amounts:
- sweet chilli sauce
- jalepeno Tabasco
- Branston sandwich pickle
- corn relish
- sun-dried tomatoes
- soya Baco-Bits
- semi-dried figs
- semi-dried prunes
- olive oil
Grate your cheese
Rather than keeping a slab of cheddar in the fridge, grate it. You’ll end up using less because a handful looks like a lot when it’s grated.
Limit seeds and nuts
Seeds and nuts are very high in calories. I tend to now add up to 10g per meal, about twice a month.
Ration calorific fruit
Some fruits are high in calories – you get 100 calories from:
- 112g banana
- 136g figs
- 148g kiwi or grapes
- 154g mango
- 158g cherries
You get 100 calories of the lowest calorie fruits from:
- 335g watermelon
- 310g strawberries
- 277g honeydew melon
- 258g peach
- 232g blackberries
Note that a 240ml (8 oz) glass of orange juice is 100 calories. Fruit juice is one of the things I have chosen to omit from my diet.
Don’t make carbs most of what you eat
I try not to have too many carbs during the day nor in any one meal. I will rarely have more than two slices of bread a day.
Aim to get your day’s calories from:
- 25% protein
- 50% carbohydrates
- 25% fat
- 1g protein = 4 calories
- 1g carbohydrates = 4 calories
- 1g fat = 9 calories
So, if you’re on a 1,200 calorie/day diet my tool works out the weights work as:
|Proportions||25 – 35%||40 – 55%||25 – 30%|
|Calories||300 – 420||480 – 660||300 – 360|
|grams||75 – 105g||120 – 165g||33 – 40g|
|ounces||2.6 – 3.7oz||4.2 – 5.8oz||1.2 – 1.4oz|
I never intended to count calories and resisted it for years. But, one day, I wanted to know how many calories I’d eaten for breakfast and lunch so I could work out what I could have for dinner.
Tracking calories (and protein, carbohydrates and fat) has taught me – and, seven months on, continues to teach me – a lot about food. I still get surprised by things.
I get information from the information printed on packaging and from calorie-count.com
Consider subscribing to the My Food Diary resource to help track what you’re eating with the minimum of effort.