Hi everyone. I’m Naomi and I’m Health Strategy Manager here at LloydsPharmacy Ireland. I’m also the team leader for our Change Your Health Direction initiative, which has made a major difference to the health of hundreds of customers all over Ireland; over the past 8 weeks, over 850 people have been taking part in our 8 Week Weight Loss programme, with a combined loss of over 3,600 lbs! That’s how much a hippo weighs! Well done to all of our colleagues and customers for doing so well. I hope you’ve been reading our weekly blog, featuring advice on healthy eating from some of the experts in LloydsPharmacy, along with the amazing recipes our own colleagues have been sharing with you.
There are endless sources of weight-loss advice, including lists of foods and tactics guaranteed to help you shed the pounds. But in my humble opinion, there are no secrets. If you follow one simple rule, you will reach a healthy weight* – Take In Less Than You Need. Eat fewer calories than you use every day. Simple as that.
I thought I’d use my experience going from 12 stone to 9 stone and maybe help you on your journey by sharing what I thought were the easiest and most effective changes or switches to make to your lifestyle in order to reach a healthy weight and BMI. I’m not crazy about sharing the pictures below with you but this was me at my usual weight of between 11.5 and 12 stone, as I’ve been most of my adult life (I’m 35). I never considered myself to be overweight but with a BMI of 25.9, I certainly was. A BMI of 25 or more, or a waist circumference of 32 inches or more for females, 36 inches for men, puts you at high risk for developing illnesses like diabetes or high blood pressure (my blood pressure averaged at 132/99).
Below are more recent pictures of me. By December 2013, I had reached 10 stone through healthier eating and exercise, and by June this year I reached 9 stone and have reduced my blood pressure to 99/79.
What follow are what I found to be the most impactful yet easiest changes to make to everyday eating. Not only have I lost weight, but I now have sustained energy levels all day, less colds and coughs and feel far more positive and well than ever. Always consult a health care professional before making significant changes to your diet or activity level, especially if you suffer from any illnesses or medical conditions.
Weight Loss vs Healthy Eating: When losing weight, focus on your calorie intake and portion control by recording what you eat each day. This is incredibly useful for increasing your awareness of calorie content and portion sizes. But don’t become obsessed! When you reach your goal weight, you should be in the habit of cooking and eating well so try not to rely too heavily on calorie-tracking or diet plans or else you will not sustain it.
Drinking – Do It Right: It’s no secret that you need to ensure you drink plenty of water. But there are also plenty of things you shouldn’t be drinking! Did you know there could be 300 calories in a latte? That’s a whole meal! Many people drink away their calorie allowance, with milky coffees or alcohol. If you’re like me and like a regular glass of wine (or two), cut it out during the week and you’ll be amazed at the effect on your waist line… and your wallet! Drink water and green tea. Avoid fruit juices high in sugar. Opt for skinny coffees or none at all.
Get Your Daily Intake Right: To lose weight, women need to eat 1200 calories per day and men 1800 per day. You should have 3 main meals, each measuring the same amount of calories along with 2 snacks, all spaced out to ensure you eat every 2.5-3 hours (e.g. for women, 300 calories for breakfast, lunch & dinner, 2 snacks at 150 caloriess each). You need to eat even if you’re not hungry to maintain your energy levels evenly throughout the day. A lot of people go through the day eating sporadically and not enough, only getting a proper meal at home at the end of the day. Would you drive your car around all day without fuel and then fill it before you leave it in the driveway for the evening??? Snacking is a tough habit to get into but do it! If you let yourself get too hungry, you’re more likely to opt for something unhealthy.
Focus On The White Stuff!: An easy switch, guaranteed to help you lose weight, improve your digestion and make you feel fuller for longer. Swap white rice for brown, white bread for brown bread, white pasta for brown pasta. Always opt for whole grain or whole wheat versions of whatever you can. And as for white sugar, cut it out! Use healthier options for sweetening foods, such as raw organic honey or maples syrup. Swapping to low-fat or skimmed milk is also very impactful for calorie control.
Avoid Diet/Low-Cal/Low-Fat products: Most times, when the fat or sugar is taken out of a product, it’s replaced by something worse. Fat might be replaced by sugar; sugar might be replaced by chemical sweeteners. You are better having the full-fat version of a product and just have less of it. This applies to drinks, yoghurts, jams, ready-meals… everything!
Get Good At Eggs: Eggs are amazing. A superfood that’s super-cheap. I was terrible at cooking them but now I eat at least two every day. Poached eggs are great on main dishes; scrambled eggs can be mixed with spinach or kale.
Get Good At Freezing: One of my problems was not having enough healthy options available. And when I did buy fruit or veg, I ended up throwing it out. Making meals ahead of time and freezing them means you can avoid this issue. Freeze raspberries or blueberries and throw in your porridge in the morning. You can also freeze Kale or Spinach to be thrown into curries or stir-fries. Frozen veg is also easily added to meals to boost their nutritional content.
Make Sure Your Tupperware Collection Is Complete: Especially useful are small sizes for sauces or dressings. Have enough to make sure you can bring your lunch and two snacks with you everywhere you go.
Dinner Is Lunch: Whatever you cook for dinner in the evening, make enough for lunch the next day. Helps with planning and budgeting.
Make Something Big On Sunday: You see a lot of websites where super healthy folk portion out every meal for the week on a Sunday. I’m not that organised but I do find it easy enough to make a big one-pot dinner (e.g. chilli, bolognaise, curry) on a Sunday that will do for dinners and lunches during the week.
Swap Olive Oil for Coconut Oil: For cooking – olive oil is fine if you’re not heating it. Heating it makes the fat in it easier for your body to absorb. Coconut Oil is tougher and won’t be absorbed in the same way when heated.
Protein + Carb + Veg/Fruit: Everyone one of your meals or snacks must contain all of these. This will help you get all the necessary nutrients every time you eat. Do not cut out carbs! You need them for energy and digestion. Just choose the right ones.
Utensil Size: This might seem mad but I find it works! Use smaller plates when you’re plating up meals so you don’t fill them so much. And eating cereal or porridge with a teaspoon makes it last longer.
Cooking for others: In the past, when I was cooking or being cooked for by my partner (who was 2 stone heavier than me and 5 inches taller), I’d have the same portion sizes. Nonsense! I do not need to eat the same amount of food as someone who is bigger than me or who does more exercise. And kids certainly don’t need the same amount of food as adults. Don’t automatically give everyone the same amount of food. And don’t be afraid to ask for less or to leave food behind if someone else is cooking.
Know what you’re eating & Cook from scratch: No two ways about this one. Making meals using fresh ingredients prepared yourself is infinitely healthier and more beneficial than buying something pre-made. Many people argue that this makes eating more expensive. The trick is to be organised with your shopping, planning your meals in advance so you can budget appropriately. Check out our blog on Healthy Eating on a Budget for more tips. When it comes to packaged foods, check the labels and note the daily allowances – it’s great that most products contain this information now.
Eat After you exercise, not before: Maybe it was just me but I used to think that going for a walk after dinner would mean I’d burn off more of the dinner. But inevitably, I’d get hungry again after the walk! Time your exercise so you have a snack about 2 hours before and then eat a main meal afterwards.
Favourite Meals: Make it a point to quickly get to having a few ‘go-to’ healthy meals that you’re awesome at cooking and can whip up easily. This means you won’t mind cooking them so much, even when you’re tired, and you’ll almost do them without thinking. This also means that the ingredients will become normal shopping list items for you. Take the thinking out!
Get plenty of ‘Good Fats’: Many people trying to lose weight become obsessed with reducing fat in their diet. Fats and oils from fish, nuts, oils, vegetables, etc. are good for you. Avocados contain a lot of calories but a hell of a lot of nutrients too! Don’t cut fat from your diet – just choose the ‘good ones’. You’ll benefit from improved health and better energy levels.
Exercise – be mindful: Regular exercise is essential to a healthy lifestyle. Be aware however of launching head-first into a healthy-eating AND exercise regimen. Remember that if you’re doing more, you need to eat more. 1200 calories will not suffice if you are running 10km that evening! Introduce exercise slowly and use apps to monitor calories burned so you ensure you are eating enough. Personally, I found it easier to get the food thing right before tackling the fitness. But the key is not to set yourself up for a fall by doing too much, too soon.
My Top Ingredients: These are my favourite superfoods and healthy ingredients that are always in my press. You can’t go wrong if there are only healthy options within your reach. These are all tasty too: porridge, eggs, dark chocolate, prawns, sweet potato, kale, rocket, spinach, hummus, rice cakes, nuts, seeds, granola (recipe here), brown bread, carrot sticks, chai seeds, green tea, brown pasta, avocados, Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese, slimline milk, coconut oil, chilli pesto, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, soba noodles. Get to know your top ingredients and get used to buying them.
And that’s it! I really found these to be the most impactful changes for me. And as already stated, it’s not just about weight loss; it’s about overall health and wellbeing. You will quickly get used to a healthier regimen if you stick to it for at least 4 weeks – and you will reap the benefits for a lifetime.
*sufferers of illnesses or diseases, including thyroid or metabolic disorders, may have other reasons for weight gain or lack of weight loss. Ensure you speak to your GP.