“How do you manage to stay so slim, when you are eating so much?”
3 “hacks” to stay slim without food restrictions
I’ve recently been away with a few friends on a fully organised tour programme where meals were included and where we spent a lot of time eating. One friend, commented more than once: “How do you manage to stay so slim when you are eating so much?”
What I have noticed in the past number of years since I trained as a Nutritional Therapist is that people either make assumptions about how I eat (“O, I didn’t think you’d eat meat!” “You are just so disciplined”) or they assume that I just have super genes and a fast metabolism. Neither of these things are true.
I do eat meat. I do hate kale. I don’t like mackerel. I love red wine and Gin & Tonic. I do not feel I am restricting myself. I do not consider myself particularly disciplined. I actually have a gene that makes me prone to gain weight (If you like to find out more about nutrigenomics testing, let me know!). I have an under-active thyroid and despite taking tablets with artificial thyroid hormones, my blood values are not always in the ideal range. I do not go on diets.
So, if it’s not in my genes and I’m not being disciplined – what are the things I am doing that most likely are the reasons that I haven’t gained weight in the last 15 years despite going through menopause?
First of all, of course, there are certain foods that I don’t eat (anymore). And yes, when I started my healthy eating journey, there was some discipline and willpower involved. I did have to challenge myself, but it came relatively easy as I understood WHY I was doing it.
I challenged myself to cut out all sugary foods and carbohydrates for 4 weeks to start with. After that, everything just tasted so disgustingly sweet or was tasteless (such as pasta) that I just never went near it.
I still do short challenges regularly to reset my body. I’ve found that just a few days of not eating sugar, my tolerance goes down and I simply don’t like it anymore. And that means, I don’t miss or crave it.
I do avoid processed food, not only because I know it’s bad for me, but I am finding most of it just tastes disgusting.
But generally, I would eat anything, and I would eat quite a lot of food (and calories).
However, I am convinced that these 3 things are the major reasons why I haven’t gained weight:
Constantly working on building muscle
I know when I am full (and I don’t eat foods that override my satiety hormones)
I eat mindfully
The more muscle mass you have the higher your Basic Metabolic rate, i.e. the number of calories your body requires to simply function properly. I.e. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn, even when you are sitting on the sofa. Having more muscle also helps you be more insulin sensitive, i.e. when you eat sugary foods, your body is well able to deal with it. You can easily take sugar out of the bloodstream into the cells to produce energy, instead of storing fat. Your overall metabolism functions better when you have more muscle. Apart from being able to eat more, you also benefit from better brain function, healthier bones, and overall better well-being when you have more muscle mass.
HOW to build more muscle mass:
Simply walking more can already contribute to more muscle mass, but I suggest actively doing strength training. The best option is going to a gym where personal trainers give instructions on how to lift weights safely. If you feel these types of gyms are too expensive, you can always avail of some personal training and get your home equipment. I can highly recommend a Personal Trainer and Physical Therapist. Physio Strength Therapy | Physiotherapy & Exercise Specialists | Dublin Many of my clients tell me they can’t go to a gym because of back or knee issues. Going to someone who understands how the body works and creates a personal programme will help you get stronger in a safe way.
Also make sure to move more throughout the day where possible: Taking the stairs instead of the lift. Doing a few squats every 30 minutes when you’re sitting at your desk. Getting off a bus stop earlier than you need to. Carrying the heavy shopping bag to the car instead of driving the trolley right to your car. Don’t get upset when the lift is broken and you need to take the stairs. Take a detour to get a hill into your walk. There are loads of examples that you can find if you look out for it.
- KNOW WHEN YOU ARE HUNGRY AND WHEN NOT? One of the biggest problems of processed foods is that it over-rides our satiety hormones. You can never over-eat on broccoli. Your body will tell you it had enough after a while. You also don’t tend to over-eat on a steak. But it’s easy to over-eat white toast and jam. It’s easy to over-eat on salted peanuts or crisps. The combination of sugar and fat or salty and fat does not exist in nature. Combining the two completely overrides our satiety hormones. We tend to eat way more salted nuts than unsalted nuts. You might have seen a lot of “healthy” snack options consisting of salted or honey-coated nuts. There’s nothing wrong with them, but it’s so much easier to overeat on them than just eating plain nuts. So, be careful not to fall into that trap!
How often have you said after a meal “Gosh, I am so stuffed” and then comes the dessert menu, and you order something sweet? Again, the sugary dessert overrides your satiety hormone.
Some studies show that if you haven’t had sufficient amounts of protein, the only way your body can signal you to eat more is by giving you “cravings”. It can’t give you cravings for something protein-rich, so you’re craving something sweet. Therefore, making sure to always have a little protein with each meal is vital. Not only does protein keep you fuller for longer (as it takes longer to be digested) but it also seems to be the case that not getting enough protein makes you want to eat more (and usually you eat more sweet stuff).
HOW to avoid over-eating
- Have some form of protein with each meal and snack. Add nuts and seeds to your porridge, have some nuts with your apple, have protein with your salad, and add something protein-rich to your soups. Make it a non-negotiable rule!
- Eat plenty for your starter and main course, and you are less likely to want a dessert.
- Even if you want one, just say “no thanks” as soon as the waiter presents the dessert menu.
- Know that you will feel much more bloated and stuffed when you have your dessert with your dinner, which will also affect your sleep quality and how you’ll feel the following day.
- Avoid eating sugary foods, because most likely you’ll be hungry again an hour later when your blood sugar levels drop.
- Avoid all processed foods. The food industry wants you to over-eat and design foods that you can easily over-eat.
- Avoid foods that combine sugar and fat or fat and salt or worse that have sugar, fat and salt in them (Salted Caramel!)
- Increase your intake of vegetables and fibre which keeps you fuller for longer.
- Eat only real food. It’s hard to over-eat on broccoli.
- MINDFULNESS Mindful eating has so many health benefits and unfortunately is something that is often overlooked. I’ve had numerous clients come to me with various digestive issues, from heartburn, indigestion, bloatedness, cramping etc and these were gone within a week or two of simply slowing down when eating. Mindful eating means being fully present when eating, which in turn means that you can fully enjoy what you are eating. How often have you eaten a bag of crisps or a bar of chocolate, only noticing it when it was gone? And there was no enjoyment in eating it! We tend to often eat while we are stressed, which means ready to fight or flight, and all your blood is diverted away from your digestive system. This means that the food you eat is not properly digested and is causing you issues later on. It also means that most likely you are not absorbing the nutrients from the foods you are eating. You might be eating all the right things, but your body isn’t absorbing the good food, because you’re not fully present when eating, or because you are still worrying about other things going on in your life.
Practising mindfulness also helps you become more compassionate towards yourself. I have noticed that the more worried and anxious people are about losing weight, the less likely it is to happen. Do what needs to be done, but stop worrying. Practising mindfulness and eating more mindfully can help observe your thoughts around eating.
How to eat more mindfully?
I have a free online course, if you subscribe here, you’ll receive a handbook and a series of emails over a week to help you eat more mindfully.
Here are some simple steps to follow:
- Prepare your food, arrange it nicely on a plate, and put the plate in front of you on the table. Sit down.
- Remove all possible distractions such as newspapers, computers, phones, TV, etc
- Take 5 deep breaths in and long out-breaths to bring you into the para-sympathetic state, which is away from “Flight or Fight” mode into “Rest and Restore” mode.
- Sense of Sight: Look at the food and think about it: How did you prepare it? Where did you buy it? “Who made it?” “Where does it come from?” “Who would have picked or killed it?” “How did it live?” “How does it look on the plate?” “Is it colourful?”
- Sense of smell: “What does it smell of?” “What does the smell remind you of?”
- Sense of touch: Can you pick up some items from the plate, take them into your hand and feel them? “What does it feel like? Soft? Hard? Rough?”
- Sense of hearing: Could you hear something? Maybe while touching and moving it around? It’s prob not the easiest sense to engage with food, but there might be something.
- Sense of taste: Now put something of the food into your mouth, but leave it on your tongue and fully experience the taste of it. Move it around in your mouth a couple of times, before you start chewing. If it’s something liquid, even try to “chew” it a bit before swallowing. If it needs chewing, make sure to chew slowly until it is all nice and liquid before swallowing.
Mindful eating can also be used to think about whether you REALLY want to eat something. If you are craving some food such as chocolate for example, try putting it in front of you and while looking at it, think about how it will feel to eat it. How will u feel after eating it? How does chocolate make you feel? How long will that feeling last? Will you feel guilty afterwards? Or will you be proud that you didn’t eat it? Could you get that comfort feeling that you’re hoping to get from the chocolate from something else?
These 3 “Hacks” are really simple and easy ways to avoid overeating or mindless eating. However, like all new habits, they will need a bit of practice and reminders at the start. Having an accountability buddy, writing your successes down, keeping a food diary and a journal are all simple tools. Should you struggle with any of these, you can always book a call with me and consider working with me for a few weeks or months until these habits stick.
I promise, if you make those 3 things a priority, you will be able to eat plenty, feel satisfied with the foods you eat and you will never need to worry about gaining weight again.