Planning your own diet is always going to be better than trying to fit someone else’s plan to your tastes and into your lifestyle. Especially when it comes to losing weight over a period of weeks or months, and then keeping it off.
Our dietitian Lyndel Costain sums it up:
“People who lose weight effectively don’t rely on a quick fix or magic formula. They plan ahead. They get reliable and accurate information that suits their needs, tastes and lifestyle”.
So here’s our guide for putting together a healthy, balanced diet plan that works for you.
As you’re thinking about, and looking for ideas, for your plan – keep a pad and pencil in front of you.
There are lots of resources that will help you to do this, from recipe books to online resources like WLR. The point is that the more ideas you can get together, the easier it will be to make your plan.
Think about previous experiences you have had of dieting/trying to lose weight.
All of your thoughts and answers will help in building your new plan, but this next question is possibly the most important:
If you can remember the causes of why it all went wrong when you tried to lose weight before, use your hard-won knowledge to plan ahead for those possible diet saboteurs.
Here’s some ideas for some common problem areas, but it’s important to think about your own Achilles heel(s) and plan for them.
The first thing is to ask yourself is are you getting enough sleep? Lack of sleep can have a detrimental affect on weight, see our Doctor Usman’s Sleep and Weight Loss investigation. Make it part of your plan to get at least 7 hours a night.
Make sure you have plenty of lean protein and fibre at dinner. Beans are an excellent choice for keeping you fuller for longer, so don’t just think meat and fish.
Keep a stock of low calorie snacks in the fridge. Slice up peppers, celery, carrots, cucumber, spring onions etc, and keep them in a bag in the fridge. Grab a few when you need to munch on something.
Avoid sugary snacks, these will give you a quick high, leading to a quick low which will very likely have you raiding the cupboard again. If you know you’re going to crave something sweet, stock some low fat yoghurt, 80% cocoa chocolate (a single square (10g) should be enough to take the edge off), a piece of fruit, or a low cal hot chocolate drink.
If you know that snacking in the evenings is your downfall, make it part of your plan to clear the high calorie/high sugar snacks from your kitchen – and don’t include them on your shopping list.
If you normally just grab whatever’s quick and convenient during the working day, a bit of planning will pay real dividends.
It’s not just the calories, fat and sugar in lunchtime convenience and fast foods that will hurt your diet – the ‘eat fast, digest fast’ nature of many of these foods is not helpful when you’re trying to lose weight.
Packing your own lunch is ideal. You have complete control over how you spend your calories (does a cheese sandwich really need mayo?), and can make sure that your lunch contains a slow-burn mix of ingredients like fibre, complex carbs and protein.
Evening meals that suit themselves to packing up for lunch, can add a bit of a luxury feel to what you’re eating at your desk – just take note of the jealous looks from around the office!
If you’re really not that keen on the idea of a pack-up, do your homework on the local places you can get something to eat at lunchtime. What have they got that’s within the number of calories you want to allow, that will keep you going till dinner? Plan where you’re going to go and what you’re going to have.
Eating out, especially if you do it frequently, can be a minefield when you’re trying to lose weight.
Not only are you surrounded by delicious cooking smells, but portions tend to be large and dishes richer than you would cook at home. You might also find that a glass of wine or two washes away your motivation for staying on track.
Planning can really help here. Many restaurants provide their menus online now, giving you the chance to have a proper look and make good choices in advance. The trick is to stick to what you have decided when you get to the restaurant!
Here’s some tips
Once you’ve got some ideas you need to start thinking about how many calories you need each day to lose weight and how you want to apportion those calories throughout the day. You can find out the amount of calories you need to lose weight at your chosen rate in WLR, take a free trial.
Then it’s a question of calorie counting your ideas and matching them, or adjusting them, to suit the eating slots you have on your plan.
You should allow an ‘eating slot’ for every time you normally eat in a day.
For example, if you eat:
And your chosen calorie allowance is 1400 per day, your plan may look like this:
That comes to 1270 calories, leaving you 130 calories for drinks throughout the day. (Water’s great – no calories, black coffee or tea are also almost zero calories if you don’t add sugar.)
If you don’t snack between meals, then you could eat more at meal times, for example:
Giving you 1300 calories with 100 left for drinks.
Think about times when you prefer to eat the most, and allow larger portions of your calorie allowance for them.
Here’s a couple of well-balanced sample plans to give you an idea of what different calorie allowances look like:
Bran flakes (40g) with half a teaspoon of sugar, 150ml of semi-skimmed milk, plus a handful of fresh berries.
Cheddar cheese sandwich made with wholemeal bread and a small tomato, plus an apple.
Chicken Piccata with Pasta (recipe available in WLR) and green beans finished off with a low fat chocolate mousse.
Boiled egg with a piece of wholemeal toast and brown sauce, pus a low fat fruit youghurt.
Mozarella, pesto and cherry tomato on slices of baguette with a mixed green salad, plus a pear.
Balsamic & Thyme Steak with Dijon Mash and Cabbage, followed by strawberries with 2 tablespoons of single cream.
Using healthy eating principles will help to ensure that your diet is big on good nutrition as well as low in calories.
Doing this will help enormously in helping you to transition from a ‘diet’ that helps you lose weight, to a sustainable way of eating that will keep you slimmer and healthier for life.
This doesn’t mean you have to be puritanical and never eat chocolate, cake or crisps again – but it will help you to put these foods into their right balance with other foods that you eat, and help you create healthier and leaner eating habits for yourself.
Here’s a brief list of things to think about whilst you are planning:
Build in at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day
This is really basic for any good diet plan, and vital for sustainable weight loss.
Not only do fruit and veg contain vast amounts of nutrients, they are low in calories and full of fibre that keeps you fuller for longer.
Fruits are an ideal choice if you fancy something sweet but are trying to cut down on the chocolate. And the natural sugars in fruit, when eaten in their whole, natural, state are not bad for you like the added sugars in processed foods, or even table sugar.
Vegetables add different colours, flavours, textures, tastes and health-promoting nutrients to a meal – all for very few calories. They’ll help fill you up, and can make a low calorie plate look like a banquet.
If you’re not usually that keen on veg, have a look at different ways of preparing and eating them.
Here’s some ideas to get you started
Crunchy – raw peppers, celery, cucumber or carrots, with a little yoghurt dip
Comforting – cooked carrot and swede mashed together with a little black pepper
Tasty – Shredded cabbage and finely sliced leek, gently sweated in a little butter
Zingy – Broccoli stir fried with thinly sliced garlic and a little oyster sauce
Sweet – Fresh or frozen garden peas, simmered with some shredded lettuce
Spicy – Cauliflower and potatoes, or carrots and sultanas cooked with Indian spices
Around a Third of Your Diet Should be Starchy Foods
This food group includes foods like potatoes,bread, pasta, rice, breakfast cereals and other grains.
Go for high-fibre varieties where available, such as wholegrain cereals, wholemeal bread and brown rice.
These foods provide carbs, fibre, B vitamins and small amounts of calcium and iron. They should fill roughly a third of your plate at mealtimes.
Get Enough Good Quality Protein
This food group includes meat, fish, eggs, beans and pulses. WLR recommends aiming at about 20% of calories from protein when you’re trying to lose weight. It helps you feel fuller for longer and may help to protect against muscle loss when you’re on a reduced calorie diet, especially if you get some exercise.
Aim for two servings of fish each week, one of which should be oily fish like slamon. mackerel, sardines or tuna.
Include Dairy, or Dairy Alternatives
Choose low fat options like skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and low fat youghurts.
Be careful about the amount of sugar in yoghurts and some dairy alternatives, some really healthy-looking options are loaded with sugar.
Overall your focus should be on getting enough of the above good things into your diet, along with small amounts of, mainly unsaturated, fat.
It’s OK to make room for the odd sugary or salty snack – just focus on getting the good stuff first, eat less calories than you need to maintain your current weight, and your diet will be healthy and you will lose weight.
The beauty of batch cooking is that you can cook meals for a week, or even a month, in a few hours that are convenient for you.
That means you get to sit down to a proper home cooked meal after a hard day, that you’ll actually enjoy, with low time and effort required.
What more could you ask for? Well here’s a few side benefits of this strategy:
Once you have your plan, shop for it online, you will be much more organised and methodical. If you make your plan in WLR, it will produce a shopping list for you.
Getting your shopping list online means you’re less likely to forget stuff, and less likely to get pulled in to buying things that are not on your list.
If you do prefer to shop at a supermarket, or other shops, print off your list and cross it off as you go – and don’t buy anything edible that’s not on your list. Also, don’t shop for food when you’re hungry!
The best laid plans . . . etc! Don’t let a day that doesn’t go to plan put you off. Life really does get in the way sometimes – the worst thing you can do is beat yourself up about it and give up.
Get back on plan next day, and make some adjustments if you feel you need to.