Vowing to eat more healthily can feel like limbering up for a massive battle. You need weapons, of course – a fridge bursting with salad supplies. But most of all it’s about having the determination to beat your flab’s, erm, flabby ass. Losing weight is a 24/7 challenge for both your mind and body.
“Keeping your motivation up is one of the most difficult aspects of dieting,” says behavioural expert Judi James. She’s not wrong – six out of 10 women give up on their healthy eating plans just six days in*. But you can give yourself a fighting chance. “Making a plan and sticking to it is the key to success,” adds Judi.
All good in theory – in fact, we’ve made an outline for you here, with optimum eating times and everything – but what about when life throws you off your game plan with your mum’s roast or an unexpected boozy sesh? Channel your inner Katniss Everdeen and take on the Hunger Games. It’s survival of the fittest, and with our bulge battlers, the healthy odds will be ever in your favour…
D (diet) day plan of action
Brekkie The kick-start
Time 08:00 hours
“Breakfast means ‘breaking the fast’,” says nutritional therapist, Nicola Ragon, from Ilovegreens.co.uk. “It’s the longest amount of time our bodies have been without food so a good breakfast is essential to wake up your metabolism. It’s best to eat within an hour of getting up. If you wait too long, your body goes into survival mode, breaking down food slowly to preserve energy.” Choose a protein-rich breakfast, such as a poached egg with avocado and fresh chilli on one slice of wholemeal toast, to keep you satisfied until lunch and help burn calories – the spice is known to kick-start metabolism.
Elevenses The snack superboost
Time 11:31 hours
“To keep blood sugar levels balanced, we need to eat every three to four hours,” says Nicola. “Any longer and you might find you get irritable and crave sugary treats or stimulants such as caffeine.” A mid-morning snack will stop this, but studies found that eating between the hours of 10.30am and 11.30am was the worst time of day if you’re trying to lose weight. That’s because it’s too close to brekkie so your stomach has unrealistic expectations of how much it should be fed, encouraging scoffing later on**.
Try low-fat cream cheese and tomato on two oatcakes at 11.31am.
- Get your oats Porridge is packed with fibre, which is released slowly, helping you feel fuller for longer. Make it with skimmed milk to keep the calories down.
Lunch The big gun
Time 13:30 hours
Lunch should be bigger than dinner because you have more chance to burn it off during the afternoon as you’re more active. If you’re planning a lunchtime spin class, wait until after your workout to eat. “Eat within 30 minutes of physical activity so blood sugar levels don’t drop too far,” advises Nicola. “Get a good mix of carbs and protein, filling up with salad to keep your metabolism moving without loading up on calories.” Make your lunch interesting so you won’t be jealous of your comrades’ greasy chips. Try a superfood salad by mixing rocket leaves, cherry tomatoes, 50g feta cheese or cooked chicken, grated carrot, peas and a handful of toasted sunflower seeds. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and tuck in. After hot stuff? Make a casserole with Quorn sausages, (low-fat and high in protein), courgettes, carrots and chopped toms. Serve with brown rice.
Sneaky snack The re-charge
Time 16:00 hours
Late afternoon is the worst time for dieters to fall victim to the boredom binge. “This is why it’s wise to have a whole day plan,” says Judi. “Eating the wrong food at lunch can lead to the afternoon cravings.” So choose something healthy and trick your brain into thinking it’s a treat. “A pear with some low-fat probiotic yoghurt and a drizzle of honey feels luxurious but is really good for you,” says Nicola. “If you’ve got access to a blender, make it into a smoothie and add a scoop of whey protein powder. This slows digestion and keeps you fully charged.” Not a fruit fan? Coax yourself into it by having a banana, then treating yourself to 10 Peanut M&M’s. Give the rest of the bag away.
Dinner The slow down
Time 19:30 hours
This should be the smallest meal of the day, as we don’t need much to keep us going till bedtime. “You should eat around three hours before hitting the sack,” says Nicola. “Digestion slows as we sleep, so eating late can ruin all your good work.” Indulge in carbs, which aid sleep by producing serotonin, helping us to relax. Try a jacket potato with tuna and sweetcorn, mixed with a blob of low-fat mayo, and a side salad of chopped cucumber, spring onion and peppers. Wash it down with green tea as it’s thermogenic, which means it heats up your body, making it burn more fat before you get into your PJs.
- Light night Ever wondered why going to bed full means you wake up starving? Your body goes into insulin-producing overdrive as you sleep, which means you crave food to re-balance blood-sugar levels in the AM.
Surviving friendly fires
Don’t let these sneaky saboteurs throw you off your game
Secret weapon Sparkling water
Nights out can equal diet disaster. We either get tipsy and forget all our good intentions or end up drinking the wrong things. “With approximately 190 calories in a large glass, wine is a big no-no when you’re slimming,” Nicola warns. “Stick to clear spirits, such as gin mixed with fresh lime and soda.” Alternate with sparkling water to keep calories and drunkenness down.
Secret weapon olives
Your mate’s cooking dinner and she’s taking ages faffing over the sauce while your stomach groans. Be the perfect guest and offer to bring a starter to nibble on while she perfects the main course. Snacking on something healthy will prevent hunger pangs and mean you’ll eat less later on. Olives are packed with mono-unsaturated fatty acids that can help lower cholesterol and the risk of heart disease.
- The snack sniper
Secret weapon Popcorn
Cupcakes, biscuits and crisps, oh my! There’s always someone trying to sneak contraband treats into the office. Fend off the food pushers by keeping your own supply of snacks handy. A buttercream sponge might look yummy but it’s just a ploy to put you off your game, and it probably doesn’t taste as nice as it looks. Instead, have half a bag of sweet and salty popcorn. Or share a whole one with your office. Lower in cals, but the same treat hit.
Secret weapon Green beans
You can’t say no to Mum’s sumptuous Sunday lunch, so load up on veggies and lean meat first, leaving little room for roasties and Yorkshire pud. Your mum won’t even notice to nag you. Green beans are one of the best veggies for helping you feel fuller for longer, so put in your side order early.