There are countless diet and exercise plans out there which claim to be the magical solution to weight loss and fitness that you have been looking for. A lot of these diets and exercise programmes have little or no basis in science, and the truth is, there are some proven guiding principles that must be followed to achieve optimum health.
- 1 The principles of managing your weight
- 1.1 Energy balance
- 1.2 Get the timing right
- 1.3 Pay attention to what you eat
- 1.4 Base your diet around foods which give you a lot of nutrients for few calories
- 1.5 Be consistent
- 1.6 Be physically active
- 1.7 Protein and weight management
- 1.8 How much protein is needed to manage your weight?
- 1.9 The role of amino acids
- 1.10 The role of healthy fats in weight management
- 1.11 ‘Good’ fats vs ‘bad’ fats
- 1.12 All calories are not equal
- 1.13 Almonds
- 1.14 Delicious ways to enjoy almonds
- 1.15 Almonds and what the research says
- 1.16 They are a better bet than carbs for helping you lose weight
- 1.17 They can prevent weight gain
- 1.18 Final thoughts
The principles of managing your weight
To lose weight, you must create a negative energy balance, which means that you must burn off more calories than you consume. If your calorie intake matches calories burned off, your weight will stay the same, and if you consume more calories than you burn off over time, you will gain weight.
Some diets encourage unbalanced or disordered eating by cutting out entire food groups or being based around one sole foodstuff, such as cabbage soup. The way to manage your weight and achieve good health is to consume a diet which includes whole grains, a variety of fruit and vegetables, low fat dairy products, and lean protein. The better the balance of nutrients in your body, the more likely your body is to settle at a weight where it is happy.
Get the timing right
To manage your weight, it’s best to take in calories when they are most likely to be better used by the body. We tend to be more active earlier in the day, so this is when we should take in most of our calories. Research has consistently shown that people who eat breakfast weigh less than those who don’t, and that eating 5-6 smaller meals per day is the best way to keep our metabolism ticking over all day long.
Pay attention to what you eat
Keep a food diary to monitor everything that passes your lips. This makes you accountable, and stops you from ‘forgetting’ the mayonnaise, butter, and sauces you added to meals, which can add hundreds of calories to your intake every day.
Base your diet around foods which give you a lot of nutrients for few calories
Foods like celery, and other fruit and vegetables are rich in nutrients, and contain a lot of water and fibre for relatively few calories. Water and fibre helps you to feel full which means that you will feel satiated but you won’t have taken into too many calories.
Healthy eating is a lifestyle, not something to do just to shed the extra pounds before your holiday. If you eat a balanced diet, 80% of the time, there is room to enjoy treats the rest of the time. Adopt a regular exercise plan too, and aim to exercise at least 3 times per week.
Be physically active
This includes taking structured exercise, like jogging, or going to the gym, but also just being generally more active throughout the day, by taking the stairs, gardening, and getting off the bus a stop early, for example. Research has shown that the optimal amount of exercise for reducing the risk of chronic disease is 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day on most days of the week.
Protein and weight management
All nutrients are not made equal. Protein is probably the nutrient that supports weight management and loss the most. Protein also helps you to retain calorie-burning lean muscle, reduces cholesterol, boosts your immune function, and stabilises blood sugar, which helps you to manage your weight.
How much protein is needed to manage your weight?
Many people, especially those on weight loss diets don’t get enough protein, so they end up losing muscle mass, which is the last thing you want if you want to look lean and toned. It has been found that a diet consisting of around 30% protein is optimal for weight management.
The role of amino acids
The amino acids that make up protein can boost metabolism, especially leucine. A good way of boosting leucine intake is to consume some high-quality whey protein. This protein is very useful to the body. In terms of food sources, cottage cheese, red meat, cheese, milk, eggs, pork, fish and chicken are high in leucine.
If you are taking in enough protein, the amino acids prevent muscle loss, so the weight lost will come from fat. The amino acids help the muscles to use glucose as fuel, therefore that means there is less glucose in the body, which is better for blood sugar balance.
A high protein diet also helps to lower blood fat levels, which means that the hormone leptin can signal faster to your brain that you feel full.
The role of healthy fats in weight management
Fat was always thought of as a bit of a health enemy. Low fat diets were always touted as the best way to lose weight. Recent thinking has turned this on its head though, and it has been recognised that not all fats are equal, and while yes, saturated and trans fats should be avoided, there are some fats which can be beneficial to health and can assist in our weight loss goals.
‘Good’ fats vs ‘bad’ fats
Monounsaturated fats, found in nuts, seeds, and olive oil can bring us health benefits, especially for heart health. Saturated fats and trans fats can be harmful to health when eaten in excess.
Healthy fats can make us feel full which can help us to lose weight, but remember that even if they are ‘healthy’, they are still calorie dense so they should still be consumed in moderation.
All calories are not equal
Knowing how best to approach weight loss can be confusing, and it may be counterintuitive to you to consume fat if you’re trying to lose weight, but think about the choices you might have. If you feel like having a snack, do you consume a handful of nuts which are high in calories and healthy fats, but which give you lots of nutrients, or do you eat a ‘diet’ food, which is lower in calories, but also full of preservatives and sweeteners?
Almonds contain ample protein and plenty of healthy fats. The humble nut is now thought of as a health food. It is the seed of the fruit from the almond tree. Almonds are usually off-white in colour, covered by a thin brown skin and encased in a hard outer shell. There are 2 varieties, sweet or bitter. Sweet almonds are the ones that are usually eaten. They are oval shaped, and have a buttery taste. They are available whole or sliced.
The bitter variety is used to make almond oil which is used as a flavouring for foods and liqueurs, like amaretto.
Almonds have been around for thousands of years. They are referred to in the bible, and they originated in North Africa and in Asia. Almonds are now grown in Mediterranean regions, as well as Morocco, and California.
Almonds are an excellent source of many nutrients including vitamin E, manganese, biotin, copper, magnesium, vitamin B2, and ¼ of a cup contains 7g of heart healthy monounsaturated fat in the form of oleic acid. They are quite low in calories compared to other nuts, and around 10 nuts will add up to around 78 calories. They are packed with fibre, which will help you feel full.
Delicious ways to enjoy almonds
Add them to plain yoghurt with some dried fruit.
Add them to some curried vegetables for a nuttier taste.
Add some to a protein shake to further boost protein and nutrient content.
Boost your energy with a snack of almonds and sliced apple.
Add them to a salad with rice, currants, and garden peas.
Add sliced almonds to a chicken salad.
Replace unhealthier snacks or even ‘diet’ snacks with a handful of almonds. They will provide you with a hit of protein, healthy fats, and fibre to make you feel satisfied and stop you reaching for those sugary snacks.
Increase the protein content of your breakfast by adding almonds to your cereal, porridge or yoghurt. Have almond butter with a slice of wholemeal toast, or sprinkle almonds in your soup or over a salad. This will add calories, but they are valuable calories which will keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Spread some nut butter on a bagel for a perfect pre- or post-workout snack.
Make a delicious sandwich by spreading organic peanut butter and grape jelly on some whole grain bread; the perfect adult version of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!
Dip some celery sticks in nut butter for a healthy, energy-boosting snack.
Almonds and what the research says
They are a better bet than carbs for helping you lose weight
A study in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders found that a low-calorie diet, enriched with almonds can help overweight and obese individuals to lose more weight than a low calorie, carbohydrate rich diet. The study looked at 65 overweight people. Half of the individuals on the almond rich diet consumed 39% of their calories from fat, 25% of which was the healthy monounsaturated kind. The others on the high carb diet, only took in 18% of their calories from fat, of which only 5% was monounsaturated. After 6 months, the people on the almond rich diet had lost 18% of their weight versus only 11% for those on the high carb diet. Their waistlines had reduced by 14% versus 9% for the other group, and their body fat had reduced by 30% as opposed to 20% for the other group. Individuals with diabetes who had followed the almond diet managed to reduce their medication dosages by a massive 96%.
They can prevent weight gain
Despite the many health benefits that they bring, many people avoid eating nuts because they fear that they will gain weight. A study published in the Journal of Obesity found that actually, people who ate nuts at least twice per week were less likely to gain weight than people who didn’t eat them.
A 2- year study involving almost 9,000 Spanish men and women found that people who ate nuts a few times per week were 31% less likely to put on weight than people who rarely or never ate nuts.
Another recent study appeared to show that people who ate 43g of almonds each day showed an increase in their vitamin E and healthy fat levels, but did not put on weight. The study included a variety of people, some who were normal weight and some who were overweight.
A Harvard study found that women who consumed around 5 oz of nuts per week had a 35% lower risk of heart disease than women who rarely ate nuts. A further study, also completed at Harvard, found that in patients who had suffered a heart attack, eating nuts twice per week lowered the risk of a second heart attack by 25%.
Whatever diet or exercise plan you follow, or whatever your health status or genetic makeup, there’s no escaping the fact that managing your weight successfully relies on a few key principles.
You have to follow a balanced diet, full of whole grains, fruit and vegetables, lean protein and low fat dairy. You should watch your salt intake and reduce refined sugars, and avoid sugar laden fizzy drinks and alcohol.
To best monitor your diet, it’s a good idea to keep a food diary, which makes you accountable for everything you eat. It’s easy to forget the odd tablespoon or mayonnaise, or butter, but have these a few times per day and they can add up to hundreds of extra calories.
You must create a calorie deficit to lose weight. You need to burn off more calories than you take in. You can achieve this by reducing overall calorie intake in your diet, but also by being more active and burning off extra calories through movement.
The current recommendations are that you should exercise for at least 30 minutes on 5 or more days of the week. This should be moderate activity, which makes you feel warm and out of breath. This can be in the form of structured exercise, like jogging or going to the gym, or it can be simply being more active throughout the day, like taking the stairs or walking to the shops at lunchtime.
Fad diets and questionable exercise regimes are not the way to go. While they may lead to weight loss in the short term, they do not teach you how to live a balanced lifestyle, and they are often so restrictive that they are not sustainable. They are responsible for a lot of yo yo dieting. These diets are often not backed by any sort of evidence, so they are at best unfounded, and at worst, unsafe.
Protein has been in the headlines in recent years, due to the popularity of high protein diets such as the Atkins Diet, and in the increase in people ditching the skinny look and wanting to be fit and athletic. Protein is an excellent weight management tool. It helps you to feel full and balances blood sugar, and helps to maintain muscle mass even when you’re losing weight. Animal products such as meats, and dairy products, like eggs, cheese, and milk are excellent sources of protein, though protein in the form of pure whey protein has been found in studies to be the most ‘bio-available’, which means that it is the form which is most useful to the body.
Fat used to be public enemy number one, though we now know that not all fats are created equal. A high intake of unhealthy saturated fats, found in pastries and processed meats is linked to heart disease, but a high intake of healthy fatty acids, found in nuts, seeds, and olive oil, has been linked to a healthy heart.
Almonds combine protein and healthy fats, plus a boatload of nutrients and fibre to help keep you feeling full. Many dieters might avoid eating nuts, believing they are ‘fattening’, when in fact, studies have shown that people who eat nuts are less likely to be overweight. Think about it, would you rather eat a heart healthy snack, packed with goodness, or a processed ‘diet’ snack full of preservatives and artificial sweeteners that make you want to reach for the chocolate an hour later, because you don’t feel satisfied and your body is crying out for nourishment?
Contrary to belief, it’s not fat that makes you fat. It’s processed, sugar-laden, artificially flavoured junk food which has no nutritional value for your body whatsoever. It’s overeating these foods, plus being inactive, and not using your body as intended, to walk, run, dance, swim, and move that makes you overweight.
Almonds are an example of a very nutritious snack that comes in its natural form, and this is the key to weight management; to go back to basics with your diet and consume food as close to its natural state as possible. As ever, natural is best.