“Never put off till tomorrow what you can do a day after tomorrow just as well,” the humorous saying goes. Sadly, when it comes to dieting, most of us tend to take it as a rule.
It’s easy to indulge in bad eating habits during the winter months, but come spring, all our sins come to light. The quick approach of summer sets us all into full panic mode, so we start searching for a quick fix to erase our past misdeeds.
Luckily, there are some shortcuts to losing weight that can help you reach your weight loss goals just in time for the bikini season. And, if you continue with your new dieting plan once the summer is over, you’ll be able to maintain a healthy weight in the long run.
Dieting: the what, when, and how
To put it simply, the key to losing weight is knowing what, when, and how much to eat. It’s a piece of cake, really (well, sorry).
The main contributor to gaining weight is not so much indulging in junk food as eating overly large meals. Combined with a lack of physical exercise, this inevitably leads to weight gain, because you’re taking in more calories than you’re able to burn.
Resorting to starving yourself will only make matters worse: once you go crazy with hunger, you’re very likely to succumb to overeating.
While nobody can deny the bliss of comfort food, reaching for your secret stash of unhealthy snacks in moments of desperation will result in your feeling guilty and ashamed, thus leading into another starving phase.
And starving will actually not help you lose weight – quite the contrary. Several hours after eating, your metabolism will temporarily slow down in an effort to conserve energy, meaning that your body will be storing calories rather than burning them – also meaning that all the extra calories will be stored as fat. Furthermore, once your blood sugar level drops down due to food deprivation, you will feel even hungrier than before.
The science of snacking
To break the vicious circle, the first and the most obvious thing to do is adopt a healthy, well-balanced, and rationally portioned diet. The next step is to ditch the unhealthy snacks in favour of their healthy counterparts.
Snacking on mixed nuts, seeds, and fruit between meals is a good way to control your appetite, keep your metabolism in check, and satisfy your hunger with something that is at the same time tasty and healthy. Combining nutritious, high-protein snacks with food rich in carbohydrates and the “good fats” will make you feel full, satisfied, and less prone to overeating outbursts.
So the next time you’re craving food, rather than reach for a candy bar, opt for a low-calorie snack, such as low-fat cheese or tuna on whole grain crackers. Greek yoghurt with berries is a tasty high-protein snack that will boost your mood and energy: keep a stash of antioxidant fruits such as blueberries or raspberries in your fast-defrosting Viking freezer so you can always have them at hand. Blending frozen berries with yoghurt and honey will get you energising berry smoothies, which are a much healthier option than your usual sugar-sweetened drinks.
Who says healthy isn’t tasty?
Dairy products are great for keeping hunger at bay: include low-fat yoghurt with granola or cottage cheese with flaxseed in your weight-loss plan. Tired of cheese? Hard-boiled eggs with asparagus, and carrots or cucumbers with hummus make great combos.
Avocados or pears with ricotta cheese is another filling, nutritious snack that you can indulge in with no guilt at all. If you’re feeling extra lazy or aren’t that hungry, take a single banana or a zero-calorie fruit such as grapefruit, sweetened with honey if you prefer so.
For simpler snacks, you can combine grapes with walnuts, a banana or an apple with peanut butter, or a slice of cheese with pistachios. Better yet, borrow some ideas from the Italian cuisine: cherry tomatoes with mozzarella, cantaloupe slices wrapped in prosciutto, and marinated artichoke hearts are super-tasty, super-healthy in-between-meals options.
If you get bored with nibbling on fresh red bell peppers and celery sticks, or can’t bear to take another look at dried fruit or berry oatmeal, wrap up a few turkey rolls with cucumber and cream cheese or mustard, or bake some kale chips to keep you going until it’s time for the main meal. This can be a carrot and ginger soup, a chicken and broccoli soup, or spicy black beans and lentils – all of them filling, healthy, satisfying meals.
Dealing with the numbers
Of course, you will not be able to enjoy your meal if you’ve loaded up on snacks beforehand, so take a snack only if you’re feeling hungry, and not just because you’re bored. Timing your meals, including snacks, is necessary for a viable weight loss plan, so for starters, don’t skip breakfast, and second, try not to eat dinner after six in the afternoon.
Stick to eating three to five smaller meals during the day, with snacks taken halfway between meals. Plan your snacks consciously: eating absent-mindedly while watching TV or working will make you forget about what and how much you’re eating.
Counting the calories is the least fun part of losing weight, but unless you’re aware of how much calories you’re consuming, you won’t get much done. No matter what they consist of, your healthy snacks should not contain more than 100 to 150 calories, up to 250 calories in case you’ve skipped a meal.
If you are physically active, you might be forced to raise the number a bit, but in that case, try keeping a food diary so you can track your calorie intake.
The path to feeling and looking better
In addition to scheduling and portioning your meals, including healthy, nutritious snacks in your diet will get you great results both in the short and long term. Paired with good eating habits, healthy snacking will provide you with the right combo of fibres, protein, and Omega-3 fatty acids, which will contribute to your overall health, give you an energy boost, and improve your concentration.
The important thing is not to succumb to temptation, so keep only healthy snacks at hand and stick to a regular schedule of smaller meals. By doing that, you are sure to look and feel great not only this summer, but every other summer to come.