Friday, September 3, 2010

My Ideal Diet

Having lost a significant amount of weight in the last couple of years (more than 35 kilograms), I often get a number of people asking me what sort of diet I used to accomplish this.  This is not necessarily the best diet for someone to lose weight, but it is the diet that I aim for to suit my active and busy lifestyle.

Right up front I want to say that I don’t diet.  I won’t restrict myself to salads or just starve myself.  That sort of thing doesn’t work.  Instead, I’ve approached eating with a bit of science and recommendations from established research that I’ve come across in sport science books and articles.  So when I talk about my “diet” I am actually talking about what I like to eat, not a special plan or menu.

So what do I eat?
Lots of protein such as red meat, chicken, fish, some milk/dairy products, and legumes such as beans.  Protein fills you up, keeping you feeling satisfied for longer, and is harder for your body to get energy from which means you will have a more consistent supply of energy.  If you eat lots of sugary foods and fizzy drink, that energy is dumped straight into your system which has no hope of using it all (even if you get a sugar high and go crazy bouncing off the walls).  The excess energy in your system tells your body that it doesn’t need to use stores of fat for energy and you are less likely to get rid of the excess poundage.

You might have latched onto the idea in the previous paragraph, but I’ll restate it here for emphasis.  To burn fat for energy, whether that is fat eaten or stores in your body, you need to have a slow but consistent supply of energy.  

Foods that provide too much energy are either simple (often processed) carbohydrates such as sugary drinks and lollies which dump too much energy into your system too fast; or energy rich carbohydrates such as potatoes, bread, rice, pasta, and anything else that is starchy.

Foods that contain a lot of fibre are good because they do not digest easily.  Carrots are an example of a type of food that actually takes more energy to digest than they provide, assuming you eat them raw.

There is some research that shows that if you eat anything you want one day out of seven, taking that one day as a day to totally indulge yourself, you are more likely to stick to good eating habits the rest of the week, and you reset particular hormone levels in your body to stop it going into energy/fat storage mode.

I love green salads with chicken or feta and some balsamic vinegar.  I love green apples for snacks and I tend to eat the core to get the minerals and vitamins in the seeds.  If I get bored of water I will drink sugar free fizzy drinks like Coke Zero.

Simple meals are generally better for you rather than complex or elaborate meals.  They are also quick/easy to prepare.  Sauces add a lot of flavour but are an unnecessary source of energy and often disguise the natural flavours of the food.

Find relatively low energy foods that you love and can snack on when you are hungry before your meal.  Exchange lollies for a sweet fruit if you have to have something sweet - the natural sugars are better for your system than processed sugars.

My ideal meal will be about half a kilogram of lean red meat with a bit of salt and a large green salad with feta cheese and cherry tomatoes.  This is one of the most satisfying meals for me.

According to one of my favourite Sport Science books, if your meal is appropriately balanced you will not feel hungry for 3 or 4 hours after the meal.  If you do then you need to look at what you ate and see if there is anything missing (protein, carbs, fat, water).

For the average person with an averagely active lifestyle you should consume about 2000 Kilojoules of energy per meal and have roughly 3 or 4 meals each day.  You can see how much energy you are consuming by looking at the packets of what you eat or searching online for guides.  I tend not to worry about kilojoule or calorie counting because it makes me worry and stress about feeling hungry.  I just try to focus on topping up my tummy with protein or green apples if I feel hungry because I know these things will fill me up fast, I will enjoy eating them, and I will stay full for longer.

So there you have it.  A little all over the place, but that is some of the things I’ve found that work for me.  If you are a good learner you will experiment and develop your diet over a number of years.  Don’t be afraid to try things out.  You may find that your biggest challenge will be eating within a budget, as carbohydrates are ridiculously cheap and protein is expensive.  There is no way around this, but know that protein does leave you feeling full longer so it might pay off in the end to spend a bit more on your food.