Healthy, long term weight loss? It works! We'll show you how you can achieve your goals with a balanced diet.
Healthy weight loss? It's possible!
Low-carb, Dukan Diet or weight loss during sleep. Nowadays there are countless diets available, suitable to any lifestyle or preference. Most of them have similar elements: for weeks you have a taboo on carbs and your favourite meals are forbidden in order to shed a few kilos by the end of it. If you fall off the bandwagon, you're confronted with the well known and often shaming Yo-Yo effect, and the kilos you lost are back in no time. Does this mean that we’re stuck in some kind of diet-limbo? Thankfully not. We’ll show you how you can lose weight sustainably, keep it off and enjoy food (as well as life!)
For any successful diet change or weight loss journey, the first step is to understand the relationship between the human body and food and nutrition. Some key terms you need to know:
The Body-Mass-Index is often used to classify a 'healthy' vs. 'unhealthy' weight. Weight classes are categorised into three groups: underweight, normal weight and overweight. The following formula is used to establish this number: body weight / height ^ 2. The validity of the BMI is however controversial. It ignores factors like age, sex and body structure. The BMI also cannot distinguish between bone, muscle or fat weight. It can therefore tell you that you are technically 'overweight' even though it might be primarily muscle mass and therefore not a health risk. For these reasons, we will not be referring to BMI for the rest of this article.
What do most diets have in common? The calorie deficit. This means that we burn more calories than we consume and therefore have a negative net calorie intake. The body is then forced to turn to fat reserves for energy sources, which leads to fat burning and weight loss. For healthy weight loss, this calorie deficit should be between 300-700 calories per day. Even better to calculate this on a daily basis, as a too large deficit can cause your metabolism to slow down, cause fatigue and compromise your physical activity. This in turn can cause sudden cravings – a typical side effect of crash diets – and are a symptom of the yo-yo effect. So, if you want to lose weight sustainably, starving yourself is counterproductive.
But how many calories per day are appropriate? To establish this, you should figure out what the recommended calorie intake is for your build and activity level. Here are some popular diets that can help you figure it out:
Intermittent fasting is a diet, based on the principle of avoiding food for long periods of time. Typically, you don't eat for 16 hours of the day, and have your first meal in the evening. Some people use intermittent fasting to lose weight, to recalibrate their digestive system or to cure autoimmune diseases.
It is ill advised to go to bed with a full stomach. Best to eat 2-3 hours before you go to sleep. Dinner canceling can be an effective way to avoid calories and let your metabolism work over time in the evening. However, cutting out an entire meal (often at a time where we're hungriest) is not necessary for weight loss. Discover our tips for a healthy dinner that is in line with a weight loss journey!
You've probably noticed the exponential growth in vegan and vegetarian options found in supermarkets and on restaurant menus. This is a reflection of the growing trend following veganism. More and more people are avoiding meat or animal products entirely. This also includes non-food items like wool or leather. Veganism is often much more than a diet, and an all-encompassing lifestyle. If you're interested in learning more about veganism, check out this article. Our vegan shopping guide can also help you make informed decisions when grocery shopping!
People who follow a 'clean' diet, exclusively eat unprocessed foods like fruit, vegetables, legumes, nuts, rice, vegan dairy products, whole grains, healthy fats and superfoods. In addition, a lot of value is placed on regional and seasonal produce. Clean eating is therefore perfect for people who are also vegan, vegetarian or gluten free. A lot of foods in this category are suitable for a low-cal/low-carb diet as well (nuts and rice for example are not low cal).
What does it mean to have a balanced diet and how does it actually work? Simple, a balanced diet relies on diversity. Nothing is forbidden or labeled as ‘bad’--porridge for breakfast, a raw cake with your coffee break, a veggie bowl for dinner. You eat what you feel like eating. What’s important, is that you keep a balance and focus on moderation.
A balanced diet has the ultimate goal of providing the body with sufficient amounts of all the important and essential nutrients that it needs. This highlights the problem in many conventional diets: eliminating certain core foods. For example, sugar and carbs are the enemy, and caloric or fat-containing foods are also forbidden. Labelling many foods we love as absolute no-go’s is never particularly constructive. As many of us know, what we can’t have, we want more of. Because the forbidden fruit tastes the sweetest!
How can you do it better? Simple: combine different food groups in your diet plan and consume these in the right amounts. Ideally, ¾’s of your food should consist of vegan foods (fruits and vegetables). These are high in vitamins and minerals and low in calories. Animal products are also included to cover your daily need of fats and proteins. Even carbs are allowed, if not encouraged!
Last but not least, listen to your body! It will signal to you pretty clearly what kind of nutrients it's missing, and which foods are beneficial to your health. This form of listening to your body is known as intuitive eating.
The Food Pyramid
1. Consistency is key
Even the best, most nutritious recipes are ineffective if they aren't complemented by consistency. Healthy weight loss doesn't happen overnight, it doesn't even happen in 1-2 weeks, but rather requires patience and routine. Try as best you can to integrate a nutritious, balanced diet into your every day life. This could be something simple like swapping out an unhealthy ingredient for a healthier one e.g. regular pasta for wholegrain pasta. Sweet potato instead of a regular potato. Wholegrain pasta might have more calories in total, but they are also higher in protein and fibre which will keep you feeling full for longer.
Healthy eating is really easy, as well as delicious! Getting into a routine of eating healthy meals is the best way to achieve your goals. This also applies to physical activity and sleep. The more seamlessly these are integrated into your day, the easier it will be to get results!
2. Time to get cooking!
It's no secret that many of us have quite a one-sided diet, meaning we eat a lot of the same foods, on repeat. Between jobs, family, friends, a social life there's often little time leftover for a thorough preparation of healthy meals and coming up with exciting, nutritious, new recipes. What happens when we’re hungry but don’t have enough time to cook? We tend to fall back on snacks that are quick to prepare, but maybe not the healthiest or conducive to a weight loss journey. This is not a problem if it happens from time to time, (who doesn’t love the occasional cheese toast?), but long term your body won’t be supplied with the necessary nutrients that it needs and your weight loss goals will be less achievable.
This is a real shame, not only because cooking can be fun, but it's also a great opportunity to tear yourself away from your desk, your tasks and your stress for a few minutes. Chopping vegetables, preparing, stirring, waiting…did you know that cooking can be an excellent form of meditation? In case you're lacking inspiration, we have a suitable article for you 'What Should I Cook Today?' for some delicious ideas. For moments where you have no time, but don’t want to compromise on the quality of your diet, our selection of bowls, soups, smoothies etc. are here to save the day! Done in under 10 minutes….even the shortest lunch time can make room for that!
Healthy eating – what does it mean exactly?
1. Macro and Micronutrients
Both food groups are an essential part of our diet and should be consumed daily. There are 3 macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) which primarily serve as energy sources. There are a multitude of micronutrients, the most common are vitamins, trace elements, minerals and secondary plant substances. All of these are important for our health and to maintain our metabolism, our immune system as well as bone development. Many micronutrients are found in fruits and vegetables such as apples, berries or spinach. When you do your grocery shopping, pay attention to regional and local produce. This increases the likelihood that the vitamin and mineral content are high (levels sink during transport or extended storage).
2. Fill your plate with colour
Lots of fruit and vegetables are key in a balanced diet. Not only are they vibrant and colourful, but they are filled with essential nutrients. Vitamins, antioxidants, fibre, minerals, trace elements…you name it. Furthermore, fruit and vegetables are typically low in calories and fat– a real win win!
How much fruit and vegetables should you eat a day to maintain a balanced diet? Generally, it is advised that 3 portions of vegetables and 2 portions of fruit should be eaten every day. Our tip: try and select regional and seasonal produce. This is not only more sustainable, but also tastes better! Don’t have any fruit at home? A handful of nuts is also a great source of energy and nutrients. Legumes such as beans, peas and lentils are rich in fibre and protein and should definitely not be left out of your diet plan.
3. Protein – more than a muscle-maker!
Protein is found in many animal products (e.g. meat, fish, eggs, dairy products) but lots of plant based ingredients are high in protein. These include: chickpeas, seeds, nuts and broccoli. How to get enough protein in a vegan diet is explain in detail in our article on vegan protein sources.
But why are proteins important? And what are they exactly? Proteins, in addition to carbohydrates and fats, are three macronutrients that make up the largest components of our diet. Proteins support the maintenance and development of muscles and organs. They consist of long chains of amino acids that vary in length. In total there are 20 different amino acids. Many amino acids are produced by the body, but 9 out of 20 are not, and therefore need to be supplemented through our food choices.
If you want to lose weight, then you absolutely need to include proteins in your diet. These also help prolong the feeling of being full and support your metabolism.
4. Fats ≠ fat
Fats are deemed as an absolute taboo when it comes to weight loss, because the assumption is if it includes fat, it will make you fat. The food industry supposedly has the ideal solution for this: fat-free or light products! On the surface these might seem like a miracle option: the same product you love, but minus all the ‘bad’ stuff. However, if you scratch below the surface, you realise this is actually far from the truth. In order to maintain a pleasant flavour, light or fat free products replace the fat with sugar or artificial sweeteners, which in turn can actually cause weight gain and not loss.
In reality, some fats can actually promote fitness–yes, you read that correctly! You want to power through your working day or try a new tough workout? You want to keep your hormones in balance? Then you should reach for unsaturated fats such as fish, nuts, avocados or olive oil. They are not only nutritious, but the fat content helps keep you feeling full and avoid midday snacking!
What many don’t know, is that fats act as an important energy source and possess important biological functions. Fats are used for your cell membranes (to protect your cell structure) and also play a crucial role in the production of testosterone. In addition, fats are essential to promote the absorption of vital nutrients.
So next time you’re about to eat a vegetable, let's say a carrot stick, plainly, try drizzling some olive oil over it. This will ensure that the absorption of Vitamins A, D, E and K into your system.
5. Low carb? No, hello carbs!
Low carb diets (cutting out all carbohydrates) do in fact lead to weight loss. But let’s be honest, who wants to spend their life saying no to bread, pasta or chocolate? Nobody! Life is too short to go without these delicious foods. But here again, balance and moderation are the key to success. Because the culprit behind love handles, a muffin top or a double chin are not carbs themselves, but the types and the quantities in which we consume them.
Carbohydrates are a fast-releasing source of energy, and, as mentioned, are a type of macronutrient. In addition to energy, they are also a source of fibre which is important for your digestion. Similar to good and bad fats, there are also good and bad carbs. Refined carbs, or carbs that contain white flour, are higher in sugar and low in fibre. If you eat a lot of these, then your blood sugar will spike and cause you to be hungry again shortly afterwards. Instead, you should swap out refined carbs for whole grains and fruit. Find a helpful vegan shopping guide with nutrient-rich foods to put you on the path of a balanced, diverse diet.
Do you love breakfast but often struggle to find time for it? Then discover our delicious overnight oat recipes – the perfect quick and tasty solution. Prepare them the evening before and enjoy in the morning!
6. Stay hydrated!
Even though we’re talking about eating and food a lot, let’s not forget that drinking is a major part of a healthy diet. A staggering 70% of our bodies consist of water (!) and we need to make sure that we drink enough to maintain optimal health.
Fluids such as plain water, tea or unsweetened drinks are important in order for our cells to be provided with the nutrients and energy we ingest via our food. Without enough water, many of our metabolic processes would function less well. In addition, our body expels large amounts of liquid each day, in order to free our body of harmful toxins, so we need to make sure that the amounts that leave our body are refilled. Long term insufficient water intake can cause dehydration. This not only causes physical harm, but can also affect our mental state and cause concentration issues, fatigue and headaches. If you don't drink enough, it can cause sudden food cravings and cause you to overeat when in fact you're just really thirsty.
How much water should you drink each day? This depends on a variety of factors, such as your weight, how active you are, and the temperature of the climate you are in, but a general good rule of thumb is about 1,5-2 litres of water per day.
If you want to lose weight and keep it off, being active is an unavoidable component. Remember the calorie deficit that we mentioned earlier? Physical activity helps achieve this faster. Whether you go for a brisk walk, take up yoga or start jogging, the choice is yours. The important thing is that you find an activity that you enjoy to help keep you motivated, and therefore keep you active! In addition to burning calories, you’ll tone your body and increase your happiness. Exercise releases happiness hormones like Endorphins which positively influence your mood and can help combat mood swings and depression.
Our tip: if you're just getting started with your fitness and nutrition journey, start with some easy, low impact exercises like a walk, bike ride or taking the stairs. This should be easy to integrate into your day and doesn't require much effort. From then on, you can gradually increase complexity and intensity and figure out which type of exercise suits you best.
How you can strengthen your mental as well as your physical fitness? The best recipe reads: plenty of sleep, movement and meditation. But also for your mental fitness, nutrition plays a key role. Let’s take a brief walk down memory lane. Remember the last time you paid a visit to your favourite burger-joint? It was probably really delicious, but 30 minutes or so after, feelings of fatigue and sluggishness took over. This indicates how powerful the influence food has over our mood, our feelings and our productivity. Supplying our brains with the right kind of fuel, aka nutrients, vitamins, minerals and water, is therefore essential for maintaining good mental health.
Our brain uses glucose as its main source of energy, which is found in carbohydrates. But also healthy fats, like olive oil, salmon, mackerel or herring are foods that are good for our brain. This is because they contain omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids which are important for the production and function of cell membranes in our brain. Individuals who have a very one sided diet or unbalanced diet risk compromised brain function.
Sleep is vital for our health. Many important bodily functions take place while we sleep. Only those who sleep enough have sufficient energy to function well throughout the day. We all know the horrible feeling of starting the day grumpy because we didn’t sleep enough. We feel drained and exhausted and the simplest task turns into a challenge. Sleep deprivation not only affects our energy levels but also has negative effects on our weight loss goals.
How much sleep you need depends on a variety of factors like your age, activity level and how healthy you are. Generally, getting between 7-9 hours of sleep per night is ideal. But what happens when we sleep? Do we really lose weight while we’re asleep? Yes and no. Just because you slept 8 hours doesn't mean that you’ll achieve your goal weight, but sleeping well will help make your goals achievable and realistic. Find a guide on how to get better sleep here.
Recent studies have shown that when we sleep, the hormone Leptin is released. This is responsible for causing feelings of fullness and satiety. Simultaneously, the hormone Ghrelin which controls our appetite, is suppressed. So if we don’t sleep enough, it's likely that we’ll wake up feeling hungrier and will therefore eat more than we normally would. Furthermore, Ghrelin slows fat burning which is evidently necessary for weight loss.
A balanced and diverse diet will supply your body with the necessary nutrients and energy that it needs to be highly productive. Extremes–whether it is too much or too little of one thing– are often a weight loss killer. We know it too well, if we’re told we can’t have something, we want it even more.
That’s why it's perfectly ok to occasionally munch on some chips or chocolate cookies. Denying yourself all the things you love, takes the fun away from eating and decreases the chances that you’ll stick to your diet plan. At the end of the time, it's essential to have a good understanding of the foods that are good and bad for you, as well as the ones you simply can't live without. Eating in moderation and paying attention to quantities is the key to success. Finding the fun, the right balance, and listening to your body is instrumental to staying disciplined and achieving long term change.
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