It is important to note that we are all individual and we all react to foods very differently. There is no ‘one diet fits all’ approach to weight loss but there are things that most of us can do to help. The internet and media are flooded with diets which promise quick results, however, these results are rarely sustainable and the health benefits are often questionable.
Blood sugar imbalance
If 4pm sugar cravings and post-lunch energy dips sound familiar then it is likely that your blood sugar is out of balance. This is a very common reason people struggle to lose weight and should be one of the first things to be addressed.
When you eat food containing carbohydrate (and to a lesser extent, protein), this results in increased blood sugar levels and a responsive, proportional increase in insulin secretion. Insulin is a hormone which helps glucose enter into your cells for energy production and it moves sugar out of the blood and into the muscles and liver for energy. Excess carbohydrates that we do not need right away are stored in our fat cells.
Increases in blood sugar levels are dependent on the total glycaemic load ("GL") of carbohydrate consumed. The higher the GL of a particular food, the more rapid the rise in blood glucose and the greater the release of insulin and the potential for greater fat storage.
Low and high GL foods
Low GL: pumpernickel, rye, sourdough, linseed, oat cakes
High GL: White, wholemeal, French stick, rice cakes, bread sticks, bagels
Low GL: Long grain rice, bulgur wheat, pearl barley, quinoa
High GL: White rice, white pasta
Low GL: Berries, apples, pears, oranges, figs
High GL: Pineapple, mango, banana
Habitual consumption of higher GL carbohydrates causes greater insulin secretion over time which can lead to weight gain, obesity and reduction in the sensitivity of insulin receptors which results in insulin resistance and diabetes. Adding protein and/or fat to a meal reduces the total glycaemic load and your body's insulin response.
Removing sugar is a really great way to start achieving any weight loss goals. However, before you reach for the diet coke or foods which are sweetened artificially, bear in mind that this could actually be hindering your weight loss. Researchers have found that consuming high amounts of low-calorie sweeteners may promote fat formation1.
The study analysed the effect of sucralose, a popular sugar substitute, on stem cells and the researchers found that the stem cells showed an increase in the expression of genes that are indicators of fat production and inflammation.
Artificial sweeteners can play havoc with your hunger by tricking the brain into thinking you have consumed regular sugar. Your body expects the hit of glucose and calories that regular sugar would provide, and when this does not happen, your hunger and sugar cravings increase.
Fat-free and ‘Free from’ foods
There has been a lot of hype recently, and quite rightly so, against the ‘fat-free’ phenomenon. Food manufacturers that claim foods are ‘fat-free’, ‘reduced-fat’ or ‘light', may take out fat, however, something needs to replace that fat to make the food palatable. Sugar, flour and thickeners are often used, which all have a negative effect on blood sugar and hinder weight loss.
Gluten-free foods have become enormously popular recently, and are a wonderful option for coeliacs and for those with a gluten intolerance. However, when gluten is taken out, it needs to be replaced with something. Unfortunately, sugar is often used to make up for any change in flavour in gluten-free goods, so make sure you check the back of the packet when buying gluten-free products. Or, even better, make your own - why not try these easy linseed thins, sugar-free cookies or these coconut cupcakes?
You know how it is - skipping breakfast because you are in a rush, grabbing a soup for lunch and powering on until you get home exhausted, then consuming the entire contents of your fridge. Skipping meals, in general, is not a good idea if you want to maintain a healthy and steady weight loss whilst boosting your metabolism. To keep your blood sugar stable, you want to eat three meals and one or two snacks per day. Each meal and snack should include protein and healthy fats which will balance out your blood sugars and low GL carbohydrate in the form of vegetables and whole grains.
Yes, it is important to eat regularly to maintain a steady blood sugar and snacks can have a part to play in this. However, try and keep track of what you are eating and make a conscious effort to plan your meals and snacks for the day and stick to those. You may find it easier to take to work only the food you need for that day or put your snacks in separate Tupperware instead of keeping a supply in your desk drawer. Your afternoon snack of a portion of almonds and an apple can turn into the whole bag if you are not careful. A guideline would be to aim for 12 almonds and a piece of fruit for a snack, or 3 tablespoons of hummus and some veg.
A food diary is an excellent way to keep on track of what you are eating and then you’ll be able to see where those extra calories are sneaking in. The odd biscuit here and there, the handful of crisps before dinner, can all add up.
What is the best way to keep your blood sugar stable?
- Eat regular meals and snacks
- Eat protein with every meal and snack
- Make the main focus of your meal protein, some healthy fats and low GL vegetables (think green and leafy)
- Avoid artificial sweeteners
If you are serious about wanting to lose some weight, try and limit yourself to one or two portions of whole grains per day, no more than two pieces of fruit and make sure you are including protein and fat with every meal.
Stress and sleep
Lack of sleep can profoundly influence your weight. Sleep helps weight loss by regulating the function of hormones that directly correlate to appetite and mood. If you feel tired, you are much more likely to make unhealthy food choices; reaching for sugary options for a ‘pick me up’, or ready meals for convenience.
Lack of adequate sleep causes our bodies to release an excess of the ‘hunger hormone’ called ghrelin which causes our appetites to increase. Leptin is our fullness hormone, which tells our brain that we are satisfied, however, we produce far less of this if we are tired. A key to weight loss is balancing out these hormones.
Stress has an adverse effect on a lot of areas of health. Acute, short-term stress can temporarily stunt your appetite due to the very high levels of adrenaline which will be coursing round your body. Chronic and long-term stress, however, can negatively impact weight management.
When you are stressed, your body releases cortisol, otherwise known as the ‘stress hormone’. Cortisol makes your brain less receptive to leptin, increases cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods and stores fat in the visceral area – deep within your stomach and internal organs.
Type of exercise
A great way to boost your metabolism is to build muscle. Cardiovascular exercise has a whole host of health benefits, from heart health to stress, however, weight bearing exercise plays a key part in weight loss. Lifting weights and strength exercises are a very effective way of losing fat and building muscle