Weight-loss is all about calorie counting and nutrient watching, right? Well, not necessarily. With a few smart shifts to the way you eat, the why you eat and your environment, you can lose weight without ever counting a calorie.
In your head
Think back to your last meal
Hungry? Remember what you had for lunch. Research from the University of Birmingham published in the journalAppetite has found that making a positive effort to remember your last meal suppresses appetite and reduces the desire to snack on junk food. Easy.
Stop emotional eating with four words
Emotional eating is common: research published in 2013 in the journal Appetite found that stress was a key factor for women, while men tend to overeat in response to boredom as well as anxiety. Each time you want to eat something, ask yourself, ‘What is this about?’ suggests Professor Julia Buckroyd, psychologist and specialist in eating behaviour at the University of Hertfordshire. ‘It creates a moment of reflection that diverts your attention from food, like the emotional equivalent of counting to 10 to help you work out whether what you’re feeling is emotional or real hunger.’
Notice your patterns
Be conscious of when you eat more than you’d like. ‘You’ll soon find a pattern emerging of when and how you overeat,’ says Jacqueline Hurst, a clinical hypnotherapist specialising in body image and emotional eating. Keep a diary listing what you ate, and when and how you were feeling when you ate, for a week. ‘Look at the typical times and feelings that cause you to overeat,’ she says. ‘They’re the times you’re at your most vulnerable so think of what you can do differently to feel more nourished without food’.
Change the script
We’ve all got our mindless eating zones – when you get in after work, maybe, or earlier, on the evening commute. Dr Brian Wansink, professor of consumer behaviour and nutritional science at Cornell University and author of Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think, suggests a technique called ‘Rescripting,’ which is simply doing something different. ‘After work snacking could be rescripted with a stick of gum rather than whatever is in the fridge, while you’re preparing dinner,’ he says. The same goes for taking a different route home, if your current one always results in a jumbo bag of Quavers.
In your kitchen
Out of sight, out of your belly
The average adult makes 200 food decisions a day, Dr Wansink’s research found, many of them influenced by your environment. Wansink is also the author of Slim By Design in which he explains how to turn your home into a weight-loss friendly zone. One of his secrets? Hide naughty food. ‘The more visible a food, the more attractive it is,’ he says. Cover healthy leftovers in clingfilm and Sunday’s chocolate cake remainders in foil. ‘If you can’t see it, you’re less likely to eat it,’ he says. To eat less, choose plates that contrast with the colour of what you’re eating, Wansink advises. ‘Serving rice on a white plate led to people eating 20 per cent more – so rice and white foods on darker plates, and darker foods on lighter plates, could help you eat less’.
At the dinner table
Soft jazz, dim lights
Music and lighting can not only set a passion-promoting scene, they can also create a healthy one. In one of Dr Wansink’s experiments people in a fast food restaurant listening to soft jazz ate 18 per cent less food than those listening to 70s rock and roll. ‘The louder and faster the music, the more and faster you eat,’ says Dr Wansink. Keep your dining room lighting medium too, he suggests. ‘Bright fluorescent lights or lighting that was too dark both made people eat more,’ he says.
But it’s not only darkness that can help you reduce portion sizes without you really noticing it. Another great idea for portion control is swapping carbs for veggies. Cauliflower is currently having a moment as the perfect carbohydrate substitute. If you are watching your weight you’ll be happy to know that 100g of cauliflower only contains 25 calories. It’s also low-glycaemic and virtually fat-free, making it a much healthier substitute for pasta or creamy, high-glycaemic sides such as mashed potatoes. Read more about the health benefits of cauliflower.
In the bathroom
We’ve seen a lot of advice against weighing ourselves, mostly because it can lead to obsessive behaviour, but research suggests we should. The US National Weight Control Registry found three quarters of people who lost weight – and kept it off for ten years – weighed themselves at least once a week. But last month, other researchers in the journal PLOS One reported that weighing yourself daily was optimum for weight loss. Either way, probably best not to throw the scales out just yet.
During your food shop
That online grocery service you’ve been using may be delivering more than convenience. A study in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity found that people who do their grocery shopping online make healthier choices than those who do traditional supermarket hauls.