There is SO much confusing information about what we should be eating to be healthy and lose weight. Everywhere you look you get a different message right? Carbs are bad, sugar is bad, fat is bad, gluten is bad, everything gives you cancer…
What the hell can we actually eat?!
Many women just don’t know where to start, and it’s completely understandable.
Most of what you hear and read is not necessary – health and weight loss comes down to just a few basic principles.
The goal of this blog is to break things down and teach you what you REALLY need to know to feel at your best and maintain a healthy weight. Once you have a basic understanding of nutrition, you’ll be free to focus on what really matters and see the results you’re after.
It’s a long one, so feel free to skim read and pick out the bits that interest you, and just drop me an email at email@example.com if you have any questions.
It’s really important to understand that weight loss is determined by calories above everything else.
You can eat the healthiest, cleanest, most nutritious foods on earth and cut out anything deemed ‘bad for you’, but if your calorie intake is too high, you’ll still GAIN weight rather than lose it. You can also LOSE weight eating sugar, fat, carbs, gluten, pizza, chocolate, and anything else your heart desires, if you still keep your overall calories below your body’s maintenance level.
Of course, we need good nutrition to function at our best, so it’s important to priortise eating healthy foods most of the time.
The 80/20 rule is a good principle to follow:
Aim for 80% of your intake to be made up of quality natural foods such as meat, fish, vegetables, fruit and healthy fats. The remaining 20% can then come from convenience foods and the less healthy options that you really like (chocolate, cake, wine, crisps, the odd takeaway etc).
Do I need to count calories?
Unless you want to, or are aiming to get very lean, it’s usually not necessary to meticulously count calories. But it’s definitely very useful to have at least a rough idea of your intake, and check nutrition labels or search online when you’re unsure. A simple google search of ‘calories in X food’ (whatever you’re eating) will give you the information you need, and then you can adjust your portion size so you’re having an appropriate amount.
If you’re stuck losing weight and don’t know why, spend a few days jotting down the calories that are in your foods to work out where you’re currently at. Once you know where you’re starting from, you can look to identify some small easy changes such as:
- reducing portion size,
- swapping a high calorie food to a lower calorie alternative
- swapping carbs for more vegetables
- cooking with less oil
- reducing snacking
This might also make you aware of mindless eating habits, which are extremely common. Most of us take little nibbles of food, the odd bite here and there, have a biscuit we forget about, a handful of crisps, or add oils and sauces to our meals that we don’t consider as having an impact. These can all very easily add up to a few hundred calories per day. Just realising this and making an effort to be become more aware can suddenly release the brakes on your weight loss.
How many calories should I be consuming?
This can vary a lot depending on your size and activity levels. To give a ballpark figure, depending on your starting weight and how active you are, most women can lose 1-2lbs per week while consuming somewhere between 1400 and 1800 calories per day.
Broken down into meals over the day, it could look something like this:
- Breakfast – 300-400 calories (including 20-30g protein)
- Snack – 200 calories (including 10-20g protein)
- Lunch – 300-500 calories (including 20-30g protein)
- Snack if needed – 100 calories (yogurt / fruit / Nakd bar)
- Dinner – 400-600 calories (including 20-30g protein)
This is just an example. It doesn’t actually matter how often you eat or what time you eat – the total AMOUNT that you eat in the day is what will determine your progress.
If you’re going out for dinner, you may need to allow 1200 calories for the evening. So you could just have 300 calories for breakfast (omelet/protein porridge) and 300 calories for lunch (tuna/chicken salad) then save the rest for dinner.
Everything can be flexible to fit your day and your lifestyle. The goal is that it SHOULDN’T cause you stress – at first calorie counting can seem confusing, but once you have the knowledge of how much you’re eating, you’ll find it so much easier to make progress. It doesn’t need to be a long term habit unless you want it to be. See it as more of an educational tool, and once you are confident you’re on track, go back to eating intuitively to see how you get on.
Food can be broken down into three main (macro) nutrients – protein, carbohydrates and fat. Let’s go through them briefly one at a time…
How much protein do we need?
A lot of my female clients were completely new to protein, and now love nothing more than a bowl of chocolate flavour protein porridge, or a tasty nutrition-packed shake in the morning. Mix a scoop of chocolate protein powder into some ready-cooked oats, and top with frozen berries, and you have a sensational start to the day.
Good protein sources include:
- Lean beef
- Grilled bacon
- Whey protein powder – a good value place to buy from is HERE: myprotein.com
- Total 0% Greek yogurt / Arla protein yogurt / Liberte Yogurt / SkyR yogurt
- Beans and pulses (especially puy lentils)
- Nuts and seeds (just be mindful of portion sizes)
Fat can cause problems when you’re trying to lose weight because it has more calories per gram (9) than carbohydrate and protein (both of these have 4). This means that you need to be aware of portion sizes and potentially weigh or measure the fats you’re consuming. For example, a tablespoon of oil or nut butter is around 120 calories. If, like many people, you’re a little more generous with your oil or peanut butter than you realise, you could easily be adding a good 100-200 extra calories to your meal. Over time
, this can easily add up and stall your progress.
Despite the calories, fat is still a really important nutrient for your body, so you definitely don’t want to cut it out completely. Every cell in your body needs fat in order to exist and function properly – it is essential to keep you healthy. It also plays a very important role in hormone production, particularly for women.
From a weight loss perspective, it will keep you fuller for longer and give you more stable and sustained levels of energy. That in itself can lead you to burn more calories just by generally moving around a bit more than you otherwise would. A guide to portion sizes is listed below.
‘Good fats’ and ‘Bad fats’
You probably know that certain fats are better than others.
Yep, unfortunately the above photo would fall into the ‘not that good for you’ category.
To keep things as simple as possible, fats in natural foods other than meat tend to be classed as healthy, and fats in cuts of meat and anything processed would be deemed less healthy. Don’t forget, whether they are healthy or not, they’ll still cause you to gain weight if you eat too much of them. But of course it will definitely benefit your body to prioritise getting your fats from the healthier choices.
Fats to limit or avoid are the ones that offer very little nutrition for the calories they contain. These are generally found in processed foods like chocolate (although quality dark chocolate is better), cakes, cookies, biscuits, crisps, fried foods and some ready meals. Be aware of full-fat cream and cheese – these are fine in small amounts but very calorific, so you may find it better to switch to the low fat versions.
All the fats listed below are healthy, nutritious, and would make excellent choices to add to your day. The important point that many people miss is to look at the context of the day as a whole. If it’s a day where you perhaps go out for dinner, or have a slice of birthday cake, then it would be a good idea to just include one healthy fat to leave some calories spare for other foods you’re eating. On a normal day, two or three of these healthy fats (in their appropriate portion sizes) would serve you well.
Heathy fat sources and portions sizes:
- Avocado (half)
- Oily fish (palm size fillet)
- Eggs (2)
- Coconut oil (2-3 tsp)
- Olive oil (2-3 tsp)
- Flax oil (1tbsp)
- Nuts and seeds (1 tbsp)
- Nut butters (1 tbsp)
- Organic butter (1 tbsp)
- Flaxseed (1 – 2 tbsp)
- Chia seeds (1 tbsp)
This photo is a collection of the healthy fats I have in stock in my kitchen…
Carbohydrates can get demonised when it comes to weight loss, but just like fats, including them in the right amounts can be extremely helpful for weight loss and general health. Carbs are your body’s preferred source of energy, and they taste good too, so from a physical and mental perspective it can definitely benefit you to include them in your diet.
Having said that, carbs are not as important to have throughout the day as protein and healthy fats, so they can be reduced to help you consume less calories and burn fat. But don’t cut them completely, as they are still important to keep your hormones balanced and your body energised. It’s a good idea to eat carbs before and after exercise, as this is when your body can make the best use of the fuel they provide.
Some carbohydrates are a lot better for you than others. The best types are those that are most natural and minimally processed, as they tend to have the least effect on your blood sugar levels, and contain vitamins, minerals and fibre that keep your body healthy and functioning at it’s best.
Sugar is also a carbohydrate. Refined carbohydrates like chocolate, crisps and cake contain a lot of calories and very little nutrition, so they need to be minimised, but not necessarily avoided. Just be aware of how much of them you are eating and how many calories they contain. Prioritise eating your carbs from healthy natural sources when possible, so that when you do see something sugary you really want, you can have it and enjoy it!
Cutting out bread, pasta, sugar, gluten etc is only necessary if this bloats you or your body reacts badly after eating it. If not, as with everything, include the foods you like, just don’t overdo them.
Good natural carbohydrate sources include:
- Potatoes (sweet and white)
- Beans and pulses
Other sources of carbs
These options have less nutrients and more calories per serving, but are still ok to include as long as you are aware of portion sizes:
- Bread (wholemeal is slightly better than white but white is ok if that’s what you prefer)
Convenient lower calorie sources of carbs
A few recommendations for how you can still have your bread or chips and enjoy them (these are much lower in calories than your standard bread and chip options)
- Warburtons thins (great low calorie alternative to bread)
- Bagel thins
- McCain 5% fat chips and/or frozen sweet potato chips (both good convenient options for emergencies / bung-it-in-the-oven meals)
Portion sizes are where many people go wrong when it comes to weight loss.
For many of us, we aim to clear our plate, regardless of how much food is on it. Suddenly we take our last mouthful and realise we’re actually pretty stuffed, and by then we’ve maybe eaten a couple of hundred calories more than we actually needed. So it’s a good idea to
If you think your portion sizes are too big, a great tip is simply to eat from a smaller plate. Your eyes still see that the plate is full and your brain is tricked into thinking you’re eating a lot of food still. Eat slower than you normally do and you will probably end up feeling just as full.
The composition of your meals is can also make a big difference to how full up you feel. Decreasing carbohydrates, and increasing protein and vegetables, are often easy ways to enjoy a larger and more filling meal for the same or less calories.
What would a well-balanced meal look like?
- A palm sized portion of protein
- A fist sized portion of vegetables
- A cupped handful of carbohydrates (in 1-2 meals per day, not all 3)
- A thumb sized portion of healthy fats
Don’t stress if you don’t get the balance in every meal – protein and calories are key, and the balance will get easier as you practice.
Below is a brilliant infographic from Precision Nutrition (www.precisionnutrition.com) that explains this easy method of portion control:
KEY POINTS TO SUM UP
Is protein important?
Yes, whatever your goal, protein will help. aim to get 2-4 servings of protein over the course of each day.
Is fat good or bad?
Fat is GOOD, as long as we don’t eat too much of it, and get most of our fat from natural sources. Aim for 2-3 small servings of healthy fats each day.
Should I eat carbs?
If you enjoy eating carbs and feel good after having them, yes, eat carbs! Portion sizes are the most important area to look at. If you’re aiming to lose weight, stick to 1-2 servings per day, preferably in the meals before or after exercise.
What’s most important for weight loss?
Calories. Get your nutrition from healthy sources as much as you’re happy and able to, but make sure you stay aware of calories too.
Just comment below, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org