To lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat. Wise food choices can help you eat fewer calories and daily (or almost daily) physical activity helps you burn off some of the calories you consume.
A healthy balanced diet should include all food groups and support good health. Many diets cut out whole food groups and this is something that should be avoided if you want to stay healthy. It can lead to a nutritionally compromised diet as you may not receive the vitamins and minerals you require. It is best to eat something from eat food group for a well-balanced healthy diet. Be aware of your portion sizes and record what you are eating every day in a food diary to help you monitor your intake. Below are some handy tips that have been adapted from American Heart Association.
- Keep portions smaller than your fist. It’s easy to overeat when you have too much food on your plate. Placing smaller portions on your plate helps prevent overeating. If you enjoy seeing a full plate of food decrease the size of the plate. For most foods, a reasonable portion size is ½ to 1 cup – roughly the size of a woman’s fist. Not all foods fit the “fist” rule. The two most common exceptions are:
- Lean meat, chicken and fish. For these foods, keep portions the size of a deck of cards (about half the size of your fist) and trim all visible fats before cooking.
- Plain vegetables, including salads without dressing. You can have as much as you want because these foods are nutritious, filling and low in calories.
- Control your hunger with filling low calories foods. Foods such as vegetable soup, salad, fruits and vegetables can help fill you up without adding a lot of calories. These foods will satisfy hunger and reduce your calorie intake. Research shows that people feel less hungry when they eat a certain volume (amount) of food. High-fibre foods, such as fruits and vegetables, can provide a feeling of fullness and also digest slowly. That helps you feel satisfied longer so you eat less.
- Keep track of what you eat. When you keep track of what you eat, you’re more likely to meet your food goals. Studies show that keeping a food log or diary helps people lose weight and keep it off. It is also easier than counting calories.
- Make trade-offs to reduce how much salt, fat and sugar you eat. Foods high in fat and sugar are often high in calories. Learn to make trade-offs instead. If you want occasionally eat your favourite dessert or meal, enjoy a smaller portion and eat a lower-calorie meal.
- Enjoy more physical activity. Increasing your physical activity helps burn calories and therefore will help you lose weight. Exercise also has important health benefits.
There are 5 foods groups – carbohydrates, fruit and vegetables, protein, dairy foods and foods high in fat and sugar as illustrated in the Eatwell plate below.
Carbohydrates (bread, rice, potatoes, pasta) provide energy and are low in fat. Choose wholegrain varieties to fill you up. Aim to have 2 portions per meal and overall 6-8 portions per day.
A portion of carbohydrates is:
- 1 slice of bread or toast
- ½ bread roll/bagel
- 2 crisp breads
- 3 small crackers
- ½ pitta or 1 mini pitta
- 3 tablespoons (tbsp.) breakfast cereal/dry porridge oats
- 2 egg-sized potatoes / ½ medium jacket potato
- 2 heaped tbsp. boiled rice (1oz / 25g uncooked)
- 3 heaped tbsp. boiled pasta (1oz / 25g uncooked)
- ½ English muffin
- ½ fruit or plain scone
- 3 cups plain popcorn
Protein helps to keep you satisfied. It is needed for muscle growth and repair. Choose lean/low fat versions i.e. chicken with no skin. Include 2-3 portions per day.
A portion of protein is:
- 60-90g (2-3oz) cooked lean beef, pork, lamb, mince, chicken, turkey or oily fish
- 75-120g (2 ½ – 4oz) raw meat, poultry or oily fish
- 2 thin slices of lean cold meat
- 150g (5oz) of cooked white fish or canned tuna (in brine or spring water)
- 2 eggs
- 5 tbsp. baked beans
- 4 tbsp. cooked peas, beans, lentils or dahl
- 120g (4oz) of soya, tofu or quorn
Dairy Foods – provide calcium, B vitamins and fat soluble vitamins A, D and E. Choose low fat versions to help reduce your intake of saturated fat. You need 2-3 portions of dairy foods per day to meet calcium requirements.
A portion of dairy is:
- 200ml (1/3 pint milk) semi or skimmed milk
- Small pot low fat yoghurt / fromage frais
- 25g (1oz) cheese / low fat cheese
- 75g (3oz) cottage cheese
- 50g (2oz) low fat soft cheese
Fruit and Vegetables – provide us with vitamins and minerals and are low in fat. Aim to get your 5 a day. Fill half your plate with vegetables at lunch and dinner to fill you up on fewer calories. A portion is equal to 80g.
A portion of fruit is:
- 1 medium size piece of fresh fruit e.g. half a large grapefruit, a slice of melon or 2 mandarins
- 2-3 small pieces of fruit e.g. plums, apricots
- 1 handful of grapes
- 1 medium banana
- 7 strawberries
- 3 heaped tbsp. fruit (stewed or tinned in juice)
- 1 small glass fruit juice (150ml)
- 1 heaped tbsp. dried fruit e.g. raisins, or 3 dried apricots
A portion of vegetables is:
- 3 heaped tbsp. cooked vegetables e.g. carrots, peas or broccoli
- 1 side salad (the size of a cereal bowl)
- 1 tomato, 7 cherry tomatoes
Foods high in fat and sugar can be eaten as part of a balanced diet however they provide little or no nutritional value (except energy). Limit the portion sizes and frequency of these foods to help keep you on track with your weight loss goals. Aim to include healthy fats from this section such as olive oil, rapeseed oil, avocado and sunflower oil in small amounts in your diet.
Remember to include all food groups in your diet while maintaining a calorie deficit to promote weight loss in a healthy way.