Our HFG Diet & Exercise Plan is back and it’s better than ever! This year, editor Georgia Rickard asked readers who’ve been there to reveal the weight-loss challenges they faced – then asked our experts to devise foolproof solutions you can use anywhere.
We had no idea what sort of response we would receive when we published our 12-week diet and exercise plan last year. Little did we know that letters, emails and even faxes would pour in from all over the country, from readers who were improving their health, their eating habits and their lives.
“You have changed my life,” one reader wrote to us. “I have just put on a pair of size-12 shorts, and it’s all thanks to you!” wrote another. In fact, we heard from so many success stories that, last month, we celebrated the journeys of three very different Healthy Food Guide readers: Ella, John and Pauline.
But losing weight (and keeping it off) is more than a simple matter of what we choose to eat – it’s how and why we eat, that makes a difference. And we all struggle with this, sometimes – even our success stories admitted that they faced difficulties along the way.
So to make this year’s diet plan even better, we asked readers who followed the 2008 HFG Diet & Exercise Plan to reveal the challenges they faced on their way to weight loss success. Next, we asked our experts to come up with foolproof solutions that you can use to beat self-sabotage, once and for all. Finally, we packed these pages with the best of the best advice we could find – and to help you find lasting weight-loss success, we incorporated it into our diet plan. Read on for more…
“I can’t stay motivated”
How often have you made it to Thursday night drinks, and decided to blow off your diet until next week? You’re not the only one, says accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia Milena Katz. But there’s good news. “Diets fail because they’re restrictive, difficult to follow and involve changing your habits dramatically,” she says. While they will usually work in the short-term, “they’re not realistic. Say the word ‘diet’ to someone, and they instantly think of being deprived, which no one can maintain for too long.” Instead, Milena advises making small changes to your eating habits that you can maintain over time. “Learn not to cut anything out,” she says. “You can still have ice cream and alcohol. Healthy eating is not all about eating healthy food – it’s simply eating unhealthy foods only some of the time, not all of the time. Allow yourself treats a couple of times a week, and you’ll probably find you won’t want them so much, anyway!”
Use the plan
Who says weight loss has to be hard? Turn to p19 of the HFG diet plan for meals you can eat out or order from your favourite takeaway, and learn how to include ‘forbidden’ foods in your day on p23 of the plan.
Going out blow-outs
“I eat healthily – until I’m out with friends”
We’ve all been to a gathering and eaten more than we intended. Research shows we consume nearly twice as much when we eat with a large group of friends. “There is very little we do in social groups that does not involve food,” says Professor Ian Caterson, director of the Institute of Obesity, Nutrition and Exercise at the University of Sydney. In this case, it’s usually men who are most susceptible, he adds. “Of my female patients, 70 per cent are emotional eaters who know exactly what and how much they should eat, but every once in a while they ignore that. Mostly, it’s men who don’t realise what and how much they’re eating – they’re much more influenced by social circumstances,” he says.
Regardless of your gender, having an overweight social circle increases your likelihood of being overweight. A prominent study, conducted over 32 years by Harvard Medical School’s Dr Nicholas Christakis, found that obesity risk increases by 57 per cent if you have overweight friends, 40 per cent with overweight siblings and 37 per cent with an overweight spouse. It’s likely, Dr Christakis says, that we unconsciously adopt the eating habits of those around us. Combined with a tendency to eat more in social settings, this makes it difficult to control your portions!
So how can you lessen your risk of overeating, without having to sacrifice social activities? Professor Caterson says it’s all about habit. “Stop and think twice before you put another bite in your mouth. Ask, ‘what are my limits? Am I hungry? If I’m not hungry, why am I still eating?’ ”It sounds simple”, he says, “but most of us don’t do it.”
If your friends are forever urging you to have “just one more beer,” or a slice of cake, consider asking them to join you on the HFG Diet & Exercise Plan. Research published in 2009 in the New England Journal of Medicine says making healthy lifestyle changes alongside others in a ‘group’ environment can help you lose more weight than if you go it alone.
Use the plan
Use the portion guide on p12 of the HFG diet plan to get an idea of the right amount to eat.
Eating till you’re stuffed
“I’m not hungry but eat whatever is on my plate anyway”
J. Turner, 58
It’s normal to overeat occasionally, but if you’re constantly eating past your point of fullness, “you’ve probably lost touch with internal hunger signals,” says Milena. Common reasons for this include “really liking the taste of something, and mindlessly eating without noticing you’re full. You may also finish everything on your plate because you don’t like waste, or are mistaking thirst for hunger.” And if the food is free, such as at a buffet or a friend’s house, “it’s not portion controlled, so you can overeat then, too.” To overcome this, Milena suggests eating every two to three hours, “and don’t overeat at night,” she adds. “In my experience, it’s the days when you wake up hungry in the morning that are a sign you’re starting to get in touch with your hunger signals again. This shows your blood sugar regulation is returning to normal, which goes hand in hand with hunger.”
Mindful eating is also really important, she adds. “Pay attention to what you’re putting in your mouth.” Indeed, a study in the journal Obesity Research reported that people ate up to 24 per cent less – but felt as satisfied – when they were forced to pay closer attention to the experience of eating by being blindfolded. So close your eyes mid-meal to gauge your hunger. “When you’ve had enough, you’ll feel it.”
Use the plan
The goal-setting tool on p6 of the HFG diet plan will help you establish a goal to eat small, regular meals and snacks. Then, turn to p9 of the plan to find out how to build the right-sized meal for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
“I have a ‘second stomach’ for dessert”
Jess Klich, 28
Ever eaten a giant plate of food – but still had room for dessert? You’re not the only one, says Dr Gie Liem, social and behavioural nutrition lecturer at Deakin University. “Humans can’t survive on one food – our brains are programmed to seek out variety,” he says. So when you’ve finished your dinner, but something sweet still sounds good, “you’re experiencing what’s known as ‘sensory specific satiety’,” he says.
This is a function we needed as hunters and gatherers to ensure we got the most nutrients possible out of our food, he says. “But the huge variety of foods available at our fingertips these days can encourage us to keep eating even when our stomach has had enough. Sensory specific satiety isn’t just about variety of tastes, either, he says – “studies have shown that people eat more of their sandwich when it has more than one filling in it; that people will eat more pasta when you’ve got different pasta shapes as opposed to just the one shape in your bowl. So textures, colours, anything that gives you a ‘selection’, makes a difference to how long it takes to feel satisfied.”
Still, you can use sensory specific satiety to your advantage, he says. “This is also the reason why the first few bites of chocolate taste amazing, but why, after that, they stop tasting as good. It can also work to stop you from overeating.” If you want to eat less, he says, “use very intense flavours, as these will satisfy you faster, and don’t use a lot of different flavours in the one dish.” An ideal meal, he says, would be a rich, spicy curry, followed by a couple of squares of intensely rich, dark chocolate. “And don’t forget to add a rainbow of different-coloured vegetables to your plate,” he adds. “It’s the one instance sensory specific satiety can be used to get you eating more!”
Choose foods with a tougher texture, he adds. “Studies of liquids versus semi-solid and solid foods have shown that the chewier the texture, the less we consume. You get greater satisfaction out of chewing than drinking, and a sense of satiety sooner.”
Use the plan
You’ll find a deliciously rich lamb curry on p14 of the HFG diet plan – it’s high on taste, but low on kJ. And check out these low-kJ sweet treats:
Why is it that some of us can eat a brownie and not feel guilty about it, but the rest of us eat one then feel so bad we decide to have another – and maybe a packet of chips and a big bowl of ice cream to go with it – and end up ‘blowing off’ the whole day (or even the whole week) of healthy eating?
If this sounds like you, then you may be part of a group that researchers call ‘restrained eaters’ – people who restrain their eating habits in accordance with ‘rules’ they’ve made about what they can and can’t eat; only to ‘break’ their rules and usually end up overeating. A famous 1975 study asked a group of restrained eaters, and one of non-restrained eaters, to each drink either zero, one, or two milkshakes. After that, they were told they were participating in a ‘taste test’, and were allowed to eat as much ice cream as they wanted. While the non-restrained eaters ate until they were full, a different, counterintuitive pattern emerged in the restrained eaters: those who had a milkshake, actually ate more ice cream than those who hadn’t eaten anything.
So why do restrained eaters push past their fullness signals? Recent research suggests that this kind of counterintuitive eating almost always involves a belief that certain foods are forbidden, along with low self-esteem. These people are also usually in the habit of coping with negative emotions by eating, so when they ‘break’ their diet and feel upset with themselves, they often end up eating more to feel better about it. To overcome your ‘rules’ but still eat healthily, research suggests the first step is to practice reminding yourself that it’s okay to eat whatever you like – in moderation. If you do overeat, get back on the healthy eating horse with ‘recovery foods’ that help stabilise blood sugar levels.
Use the plan
Pizza, pasta, sausages, meatloaf … yes, you can still enjoy these for dinner! See p13 of the HFG diet plan, then turn to p25 for helpful ‘recovery food’ meal ideas for when you’ve indulged a little too much.
“There’s just not enough food to eat on a weight-loss program!”
Florence Briggs, 62
Finished your meal and are still hungry? That’s pretty normal, says associate professor in nutrition and dietetics at the University of Newcastle, Clare Collins, “and there are lots of things you can do to address it, without sabotaging your good intentions.” Firstly, she says, accept that for the first couple of weeks, your body is going to take some adjusting to the smaller amount of food. “So you’re going to feel that you haven’t eaten enough.” To overcome this, she suggests two things. “Use diet foods such as diet jelly, diet soft drinks and diet chewing gum. I wouldn’t say they’re a long-term solution but they really help.” Secondly, she adds, “slow down your meals by chewing more. This has been proven to help”.
If you’ve passed those first couple of weeks and still find yourself hungry, “you might not be eating the right type of foods,” she says. “If you’re ‘allowed’ a certain number of calories and you choose to eat two Vita-Weats and Vegemite, you probably won’t feel very full. But if you eat a whole bunch of carrot sticks with some dip, or an apple, which requires lots of chewing, you’re going to feel more satisfied. You should also take a close look at your rate of weight loss, she says. “If, after those first weeks, you’re still losing greater than 1.5 to two kilos each week, that is considered rapid weight loss; consider increasing your kilojoule level and slowing down your weight loss.”
If you’ve done all those things and still find you’re not satisfied, take heart – your stomach will eventually change its mind. That’s what researchers concluded in a study published in Appetite, which found when a group of women ate less high-fat foods over a six-month period, they actually began to prefer lighter foods.
Use the plan
Check out the lists of ‘free foods’ you can munch on to your heart’s content – see p24 of the HFG diet plan.
“I eat well (or not much) during the day – it’s after 4pm that’s the problem”
Gerry O’Hearn, 45
A recent HFG website poll showed up something we pretty much knew already – the most common times we reach for less healthy food options are all later in the day. “The majority of people we see report the most difficult time in relation to food is in the late afternoon and after dinner,” says Dr Julie Malone, a registered clinical psychologist at Sydney-based practice Self Essentials.
"A number of possible factors contribute to this,” she says. “Late in the afternoon, energy levels tend to drop off; if you haven’t been eating healthily and consistently throughout the day, you increase your chances of having a ‘low’.” To combat this, Dr Malone suggests eating a balanced diet with sufficient energy to get through the day, having breakfast, and eating every 2–3 hours.
If you are eating well, food might not be the only issue, says Dr Shantha Rajaratnam, a lecturer in medicine at Harvard University who specialises in chronobiology (the science of our internal body clock).
“Our bodies have evolved to rely on natural light and darkness for cues on when to produce both sleep and energy-inducing hormones,” he says. “Natural light has the effect of enhancing our alertness. And research has shown that even if you deprive people of sleep slightly, you can actually improve their alertness and cognitive performance by putting them in a brightly lit environment.” So if you’re inside all day, he explains, your body won’t receive the same cues to produce ‘energy’ hormones. Next time you’re feeling drowsy, try stepping outside for a few minutes, rather than opening the fridge. Even if it’s not sunny outside, you will find the exercise a good pick-me-up.
Finally, Dr Malone says “there is also a difference between eating because you are hungry and eating due to emotional reasons such as boredom, sadness and stress”. If you’ve finished dinner but find yourself reaching for more, “you might find it helpful to learn how to be mindful about why you are craving food,” she advises.
You’ll also need to confront the emotional patterns that prompt you to overeat, which research suggests can be accomplished by writing down how you feel whenever you eat.
Use the plan
For a ready-made journal you can start using today, turn to p26 of the HFG diet plan. Then, turn to p8 for breakfast ideas that’ll have you raring to get up each morning, and p22 of the plan for snack ideas that’ll help you sail through the afternoon slump.
Follow the HFG diet plan and get healthier in just 12 weeks!
The free HFG 12-week Diet & Exercise Plan attached to the October 2009 issue will guide you to set weight loss goals, and then show you how to achieve them. It’s packed with tips on portion control, smart food choices and how to stay on track to achieve your weight loss goals. Try it and see for yourself!