Call me a cynic, but I find that Valentine’s Day often marks the official end of the “diet season”. To that end, we thought it was perfect timing to launch a new feature, which will offer regular advice on healthy eating. You can get further details at www.lailahammam.com, but without further ado, let me introduce you to Lunchquest’s Official Dietician!
Get Back in Shape, the RIGHT Way!
The period right after Christmas and New Years is always an exciting time for me. As a dietician, I am always intrigued to hear about all the crazy diets that people try, and the sheer pain and suffering they endure in the attempt to shed some of those festive pounds. There are numerous outrageous diets out there, so for the first of my regular contributions to Lunchquest, I will give you all a quick refresher on some of the basics of nutrition and healthy eating, so that you never have to resort to those diets again!
Before we begin, let me take a quick moment to introduce myself. My name is Laila and I’m a registered dietician. I have worked in several areas in the field of nutrition, including teaching people to cook healthy meals through “cook&eat” programs, and as a clinical dietician in a big London hospital. I have written articles for health and fitness websites, and I have now recently opened up my own private practice in Athens, Greece.
Well, enough about me! To get started let’s briefly go over some of the basics, to make sure we are all on the same page. The eatwell plate represents the different food groups, and the proportions we should be consuming.
Each day, we are meant to eat a certain amount from each of these groups. The amount varies from person to person depending on whether they are looking to lose, gain, or maintain their weight.
If we take a closer look at the plate, you can see that the biggest groups are fruit & vegetables (the green section) and bread, rice, potatoes and pasta (the yellow section). This means that we are meant to have at least one portion of these two groups at EVERY meal. So much for the “carbs are bad for you” myth! We need carbs (carbohydrates) for energy, which is why it is important to have these at each meal, along with fruits and vegetables which is where we get most of our vitamins and minerals from.
The two slightly smaller groups on the plate are milk and dairy foods (the blue section), and meat, fish, eggs and beans (the pink section). We need to have at least one portion of each of these groups at two of our meal times. The main nutrients these two groups provide us are calcium, protein and iron. And finally, the smallest segment of the plate represents the foods and drinks high in fat and/or sugar (the purple section). Foods and drinks from this group should be consumed in small amounts. Most of the foods and drinks in the group can be considered “empty calories” where they do not provide us with any real nutrients, only calories! Yes, you are allowed them every now and again, but this group should not take up the majority of your plate!
So how do you determine if you’re a healthy weight? This can be done by calculating your body mass index (BMI) and finding out what category you fit into. BMI is calculated by taking your weight in kilograms, and dividing it by your height in meters squared BMI = kg/(m2). To make things easier, you can also use a BMI Calculator to do this for you. Knowing your BMI is a good place to start. If you fall within the healthy range, there is no need for weight loss, just eating healthy and staying physically active. If you are underweight, you may need to eat more, and if you are overweight or obese you probably should look at reducing portion sizes, eating healthier, and increasing physical activity. Both spectrums of the body mass index have increased health risks, therefore it is important to try and get back into that healthy range. The downside to looking at BMI is that it does not take muscle mass into account. If you are very athletic and full of muscle, your weight will be higher than someone who has more fat but has the same body shape as you since muscle is denser than fat.
Now, let’s take a quick look at some diets that are out there in the media and see what they are really telling us to do. First of all, these crazy diets that make obnoxious claims about weight loss are known as fad diets. I am sure you have all heard about a fad diet, and some of you have probably even tried some of them out. Right now I’ll just briefly explain what they are, and later I will go through specific ones (if there are any in particular you would like to know more about, please leave me a comment, below).
For months, actually more like years, low-carb was the most popular fad diet around for weight loss. The Atkins, South Beach and Zone diets were some of the more recognized high protein diets, where dieters were dropping pounds by eating high calorie, low-carb foods like butter, steak, sausages and cheese. There has now been a shift in the trend, and there are a whole lot more diets out there claiming rapid weight loss whether it’s low-carb, low-fat or low-calorie. So, has anyone ever been able to stay on these diets for a long period of time? Did they lose weight? Did the pounds stay off once they went back to eating normally?
Take a look at the following fad diets and see how many you’ve tried, or someone you know has tried…
Low-carb/high protein diet
Baby food diet
Cabbage soup diet
Raw food diet
The juice diet
The tapeworm diet
…and the list could go on and on…
If you followed any of these diets, you are not alone. These diets are so popular, but the reality is that if any of these fad diets really worked we’d all be on it, and we’d stay on it. What fad diets offer is rapid weight loss. This weight loss however, is not usually fat loss, but just body water and even muscle or bone loss. The moment dieters start eating a normal diet again, this weight is usually regained soon after. So, unfortunately, fad diets do not work!
How on earth can we lose weight then!? The basic concept behind weight loss is quite simple really. If you eat fewer calories than your body burns, you lose weight and if you eat more, you gain weight! Calories do matter! The hardest part is the willingness to change our habits and the motivation to get started! The key to successful weight loss is finding the right balance of eating healthy (and actually eating foods you like!) and staying physically active. Just remember that any diet which eliminates any of the five food groups I mentioned earlier are not the way to go, and can have health consequences. All of these food groups on the eatwell plate make up a balanced diet in the right proportions and provide us with the nutrients our bodies need to function.
To start off with, I would recommend keeping a food diary and recording everything that you eat or drink throughout the day. This will be for your eyes only, so be honest and write EVERYTHING, even that little piece of chocolate you had! By looking through it at the end of the day, you will most likely be able to identify some things you could change to reduce the amount of calories you consume during the day. If you are not physically active now, try and find ways to get moving, and remember to do at least 30 minutes each day. This does not have to be done in one go, but a total of at least 30 minutes during the day…it all counts!
Keep checking for more nutrition info coming up soon…until then stay healthy, stay well, and stay off fad diets!