The healthy way to lose weight

How to lose the weight safely and stay in great shape



Runners know that the miles they log on the road, trail and treadmill are great for keeping them fit, and that running is an amazing weight-control tool. However, losing the weight in the first place is a different story. Runners often think they can eat whatever they want and still shed the pounds. Sadly, it’s not true.

Running is only half of the equation. You have to look hard at what you eat – and how you eat, too. Leslie Bonci, author of Run Your Butt Off!, pinpoints eight crucial nutrition rules of weight loss. Her advice can help any runner who wants to lose weight – whether it’s five pounds or five stone. She’ll show you how to track your food intake, space meals throughout the day to ward off hunger, and honestly count the calories you consume. By following these rules and running regularly, you’ll lose the weight safely and stay in great shape. Over to you.

If you're a women and you liked this article, why not check out our Women's Running channel

Rule 1: Do not rush weight loss

In Bonci’s experience of helping clients lose weight, she’s noticed the self-education process takes about 12 weeks. You need those three months to train your brain to make a habit of eating well: getting used to reading labels at the supermarket, learning how to plan your meals and shop accordingly, and figuring out how to add more fruit and vegetables to your diet. Quick-fix or fad diets, such as those that rely on one ingredient (the cabbage soup diet, anyone?) or exclude nutrients (usually fat or carbs), are destined to fail because they’re just that – a quick fix. “You want habits that are sustainable for years, not a few days,” says Bonci. And it takes time to develop these habits. Remember, you’re a work in progress – as an eater and a runner.

Make it work
One of the keys to slimming down for good is avoiding some of the common mistakes people make when trying to lose weight quickly. They’re usually errors of deprivation: limiting options until your taste buds become bored, or holding yourself to impossible standards. Then, when you fall off the wagon, the bad habits quickly return. Be flexible and don’t ask too much of yourself.

MAKE YOUR FOOD TASTE GOOD
“When people go into diet mode, all they eat is grilled chicken salad,” says Bonci. “Pretty soon their eyes, tongue and brain start begging for something else – such as salty crisps or sweet ice cream.” She suggests trying foods with different textures, spices and flavours. The more variety you have, the less you’ll experience cravings for unhealthy foods.

KEEP FINE-TUNING YOUR PLAN
Sometimes an injury ruins your race plans. So you readjust and come back stronger. The same holds true for your diet. A good way to re-examine your strategy is to use a food log (see Rule 5). You might realise you’ve been hungrier on tough workout days and need an extra snack. Or you might see you’ve been rushing through lunch and should slow down.

DON’T GIVE UP
Just because you had an extra custard cream, don’t fall into the ‘I’ve blown it’ trap. “People set up such rigid guidelines,” Bonci says. “Then it’s, ‘Uh-oh, I deviated, so I might as well continue eating until bedtime.’ Maybe it was more than you wanted, but it’s not the end of the world. Move on. You’ll be far more successful on your path to weight loss.”

Rule 2: Beef up your protein intake

Protein is essential for a healthy body: it builds muscle and preserves lean body mass. Every day, runners need at least half a gram of protein per pound of body weight. For an 11st person, that’s 75g. Protein also plays a key role in weight loss, says Bonci. It takes longer to digest, so you feel fuller for longer, and it helps keep blood-sugar levels steady, so you don’t become ravenous and feel the need to overeat.
You also need to keep an eye on when you consume protein. Studies show that you should spread your protein intake throughout the day, eating some at every meal. “Doing so is better for bone health, muscle mass and satiety,” says Bonci. “It’s more beneficial than eating very little protein during the day, then at night having a huge piece of meat.”

Make it work
Even if you add protein to every meal, it can be hard to meet your daily needs. Bonci suggests getting more by adding it to snacks. “Many snack foods are high in simple carbohydrates that are digested quickly and are low in protein so they don’t keep you full for long,” says Bonci. These weight-loss-friendly options offer a dose of protein to satisfy your hunger.

  •  Smoothie with low-fat chocolate milk and whey protein isolate (27g protein)
  •  150g fat-free Greek yoghurt (15g protein)
  •  110g cottage cheese with vegetables to dip (14g protein)
  •  40g roasted soy nuts (13g protein)
  •  70g edamame beans (11g protein)
  •  35g bran flakes with 120ml skimmed milk (9g protein)
  •  Two tablespoons of peanut butter on a banana (9g protein)
  •  Two slices of reduced-fat cheese with an apple (7g protein)

Rule 3: Add colour to every meal

Eat red, yellow, orange, green and purple food – and Bonci doesn’t mean red wine and Haribo Starmix. She’s talking about packing your diet with fruit and vegetables. They’re low in calories and loaded with the vitamins and minerals your body needs to maintain strong bones and muscles, and keep your immune system working well. Fruit and veggies are also rich in fibre, which is key for slimming down. Researchers at Tufts University in the US have found that people who eat high-fibre diets are less hungry
and lose more weight than people who eat less fibre. It takes longer to process fibre, so you feel full for longer.

Make it work
“Many people have good intentions and buy a bunch of fresh produce,” says Bonci. “Then they forget to use it and find it later rotting in the bottom of their fridge.” While fresh is great, it’s not the only way to work fruit and veg into your diet.

“Frozen, canned and dried fruit and vegetables – those are all fine, too,” says Bonci, who suggests filling at least one-third of your plate with vegetables. Use these ideas to colour every meal and you’ll be on the path to good health and weight loss.

Breakfast

  •  Add a sliced banana to cereal
  • Add berries to yoghurt
  • Have a glass of tomato juice
  • Add salsa to scrambled eggs
  • Top a waffle with canned peaches

Lunch

  • Put cucumber or shredded carrots in sandwiches
  • Use hummus as a spread instead of mayo or butter
  • Eat raw vegetables in place of crisps
  • Blend frozen fruit with soda water for a refreshing drink

Dinner

  •  Grill vegetable kebabs as well as meat
  • Add dried apricots or golden raisins to pilau rice
  • Roast a job lot of vegetables at the weekend and add to your salads all week
  • Add frozen veg or canned white beans to pasta sauce

Rule 4: Always have a plan

Runners – like anyone else – encounter trouble when there’s nothing healthy to eat at home. What’s for dinner? Nothing? Might as well have a takeaway. “You can cut out a lot of calories by creating a menu and making a meal plan, and then shopping ahead of time for the ingredients you need to execute that plan,” says Bonci. That doesn’t mean you have to be rigid about your menu if, for example, you get held up at work. But you should have a sense of what you’re going to eat over the next seven days.

Make it work
Set aside one hour every weekend to map out your meal plan for the upcoming week. Then create a shopping list for the ingredients you’ll need. Stock up on quick and healthy staples, such as tomato sauce and wholewheat pasta, for busy days. When you take the time to plan meals, you will notice that one thing will be missing from your supermarket trolley: junk food. “If you’ve got fruit, veg, dairy, lean meat and grains in there, the crisps, biscuits and fizzy drinks become the top-off instead of the major component,” says Bonci. “There just isn’t room for the bad stuff.”

Rule 5: Take really good notes

Writing down the details of everything you eat may sound tedious, if not downright obsessive, but it pays off: studies have shown that people who regularly log their food intake keep more weight off than those who don’t take notes.
Bonci recommends recording everything you
eat for at least one week (and then doing so again every few weeks after that), including important details such as when, where, why and how much you eat. You’ll be surprised how useful this exercise can be. “Reviewing these details will help you glean important information about your habits and highlight ways you can make healthier choices,” says Bonci.

Make it work
Keep a comprehensive food log: a notebook will do the trick, as will an Excel spreadsheet or even storing details on your mobile phone. Bonci suggests recording whether or not you’re hungry when you eat and grading the day from 1 to 5 (1 being unhealthy and 5 being super-healthy: be honest!). “This can be a reality check, as in, ‘I’m not doing so badly, after all’ or ‘My diet is worse than I thought’,” says Bonci. Armed with the right information, you can then take the right steps.

Rule 6: Measure what you eat

Get out a cereal bowl and fill it as you normally would with your favourite brand. Read the label to find out the recommended serving size and the calories per serving. Now look at what’s in your bowl. Is it more than a serving? Less? The chances are, it’s more than you think, so use some kitchen scales or a measuring cup to find out.
“We measure with our eyes, and our eyes are terrible judges of portions,” says Bonci.
A study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found people serve themselves up to
53 per cent more ice cream when simply given a larger scoop and bowl than they’re used to. And because research shows we eat about 92 per cent of whatever is in front of us, it pays to know what an appropriate serving looks like. The only way to know that is to measure what you’re eating.

Make it work
While it may seem a hassle at first, measuring out food can quickly become part of your daily routine. And after a few weeks of practice, you’ll begin to train your eyes and brain to recognise what a serving should look like without having to actually measure it. But you need the right tools to get started.

KEEP EQUIPMENT HANDY
Leave some scales and a set of measuring cups and spoons on your kitchen counter so you remember to use them when you’re preparing your meals.

THINK CONVENIENCE
Put a measuring cup in your favourite breakfast cereal so it’s easy to measure during your morning rush.

SNACK SMART
Read the label on snack foods and divide biscuits, crisps and crackers into sensible individual servings. Store each in an airtight bag or container.

MAKE YOUR MARK
Read the label on a block of cheese to find out how many servings are in the package, then score the cheese appropriately.

Rule 7: Stop grazing

A few years ago, the idea of ‘grazing’ became a popular dieting option. The idea was that instead of eating three meals a day, you’d eat six or so small meals. It seems logical: you’d never get hungry, so you wouldn’t eat too much at any one meal. But a study in the journal Obesity found that people on low-calorie diets feel more satisfied when they eat three times a day than when they eat six times a day.

People also tend to graze on unhealthy foods, such as biscuits. “Most people don’t graze on vegetables,” says Bonci. Eating constantly throughout the day increases saliva secretion and the production of digestive enzymes that stimulate the gut, she says. “You can’t know if you’re hungry or full if you’re constantly exposed to food. Cows graze. People shouldn’t.”

Make it work
Divide your calories around three meals and one or two snacks, going at least three hours and up to four or five without eating. The goal is to eat when you’re hungry but not starving, which reduces the risk of overeating. It will take a few weeks to find the timing that suits you, but here are two plans to try.

Rule 8: Slow down

Here’s another mealtime experiment for you. Check the clock when you take your first bite of dinner. Look at it again when you’ve finished eating. How much time has elapsed? Five minutes? Ten? The longer, the better.
It takes at least 15-20 minutes for nerve endings in the gut to send the signal to the brain that says, “Yep, I’m fed. You can stop eating now. I said...” Wolfing down a meal faster than that can lead to overeating – and that can result in serious weight gain. In fact, a study published in 2008 in the British Medical Journal found that people who
eat quickly (and eat until they feel full) are more than three times as likely to be overweight than people who take the time to eat slowly and enjoy their food.

Make it work
You have to teach yourself to eat slower, it’s as simple as that. It can be a gradual process of increasing the amount of time you take for meals. “If you’re used to taking three minutes for breakfast, slow down – take five, then make it 10,” says Bonci. “If you eat your lunch in front of the computer in five minutes, stretch it out. Eat half, wait a few minutes, have a few sips of water, then eat the rest.” The other benefit of slowing your eating? “You might actually enjoy the experience,” says Bonci. “Chew your food and savour it, rather than inhaling it and moving on to the next thing.” Try Bonci’s other tips for slowing down your next meal:

SIT DOWN
Don’t eat standing – it makes it easier to get distracted or quickly refill your plate. Sit down
at your kitchen or dining-room table.

AVOID ARMCHAIR FEASTING
When food is at arm’s length, you’ll eat more than you need. Keep extra food in the kitchen.

BE WARY OF THE TV
If you’re hungry while watching TV, measure out a specific amount of food and put the bag away before you sit down.

DON’T EAT ALONE
It takes longer to eat (and is more fun) when you’re chatting to other people.

EAT IN LIKE YOU’RE EATING OUT
Mimic restaurant eating when you’re at home. Put salad on the table as a starter, eat it, and then serve the main course.

DON’T DRIVE HUNGRY
Try to go a whole week without consuming anything while you’re driving. You can’t be concentrating on the road and your food.

If you're a women and you liked this article, why not check out our Women's Running channel


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