Dieting isn’t a lot of fun – let’s just say that upfront. It’s so much easier when you just walk into the kitchen, a shop, or a restaurant and simply choose what looks good. The problem? We have a tendency to beeline for the things that are worst for us, foods that are full of sugar, saturated fats, and ingredients we don’t know how to pronounce, let alone what they really are.
So, how do we go about losing weight, and is it all… worth it? Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight will know that it takes a painfully long time to get weight to come—and stay—off, and seems to come back the moment you loosen your grip. Read on to learn why you should pay attention to what you eat and whether you should eat intuitively or count calories.
7 Benefits of Watching What You Eat
“You are what you eat!” It’s a saying we’ve all heard, and the truth is, it couldn’t be more true. Everything we eat is digestive and anything with nutritional value (anything but fibre) permeates into our bloodstream where it gets to work doing good (or bad) things for our body.
- You look better – it’s superficial, but it’s true! We all look better when we are at a healthy weight.
- Your insulin won’t spike as often – insulin is a hormone that controls your blood sugar levels. When our blood sugar spikes, insulin tells our body to start storing it in our liver for when we need it later. If we continue to eat excess carbohydrates and sugars, however, that starts being stored elsewhere in the body. Worse, our bodies can become resistant to the effects, meaning we need more to get the same effects, which push the pancreas (where insulin is made) into overdrive. If pushed too hard, it can burn out, and that’s when type 2 diabetes can appear. Fortunately, a healthy diet and weight loss have been seen to reverse the effects.
- You’ll feel better – When our diet’s bad, we feel bad. We are more likely to experience headaches, fatigue, sleeping problems, and inflammation, which can lead to everything from arthritis to heart disease if prolonged over years. Most fruit and vegetables are actually anti-inflammatory, which help protect you from those problems.
- You’ll have better energy levels – fibre helps balance our insulin levels, which helps our body use glucose over a longer period, rather than all at once. When we eat sugar, it hits us in a rush and then we crash. However, if we eat the same amount of calories in a wholegrain, we’ll have sustainable energy for longer. Fibre also passes straight through the body, so you can eat it and not “use” them.
- You can avoid the dentist – yes, one of the ways you can avoid those dreaded trips to the dentist is by improving your diet. Sugar eats away at our tooth enamel, making cavities and other expensive problems far more likely.
- You’ll notice mild food intolerances – do you joke with friends about less-than-enjoyable trips to the bathroom after some meals, or have to wear different clothes on days you feel bloated? We often brush these occurrences off as just one of those things, but the truth is your body is probably trying to tell you something. If you’re eating healthier foods more often, you can look for patterns when you are uncomfortable after a meal and eat less of any foods that cause you trouble. Around 60% of people develop at least a mild lactose intolerance as they age, so that’s one to keep an eye out for.
- You’ll live longer (and save money!) – Of course, the biggest benefit is that you’ll live longer and better. When you eat well and try not to overindulge on sugary and fatty foods, your lifespan will be extended and that won’t be time you spend in a care home, either. Your organs, joints, and brain will be healthy, and you’ll be able to enjoy life to the fullest.
Healthy eating can also save you money – because you’re of a healthy weight eating healthy foods, you’ll save money on private medical care, chiropractors, physiotherapists, and on your life insurance policy.
Why count calories? Is it good or bad for you?
Counting calories, when done correctly, is a tried-and-true method of losing weight. Essentially, the weight-loss equation is simple:
Calories in – calories burnt = weight loss (if there is a deficit), weight gain (if you eat more calories than you use), or stability (you eat the right amount of calories for your body.
Technically, you will lose weight if you suddenly only eat one small bar of chocolate a day (say, 250 calories), but you’ll also fast become malnourished.
So, if you work out that your BMR (basic metabolic rate – that’s how many calories your body will burn just to function) is around 1250 calories, and your activity takes it up to 1750 calories, you know that you need to eat 1250-1750 calories a day to lose weight.
Generally, we start losing weight the moment we ditch unhealthy foods, because it causes our bodies to do strange things like hold a lot of water, but those are the numbers that will get results in this example. Again, you could eat nothing but processed, sugary and fatty foods for those calories, but you’re not going to feel healthy and you’re certainly not going to see the results you could if you changed what you were eating, not just how much.
Counting calories is good for us because it helps us get realistic about what we should be eating each day for fuel, not just for taste. It’s not good, however, because it makes us focus on a number instead of the nutritional value. It can be a breeding ground for obsessive behaviour, and some people become addicted to eating less or weighing their food to the nth gram.
Is intuitive eating better? Does intuitive eating actually help me lose weight?
Intuitive eating only works for weight loss if you have a great emotional relationship with food, and have a good understanding of nutrition and what your body needs. It’s also difficult to start doing if you aren’t coming from another, more restrictive diet, where you have been eating clean, whole foods.
Why? Because when we’re eating a lot of sugar and processed foods, our bodies become slightly addicted to it – and that doesn’t account for the fact that many of us have an unhealthy relationship with food. We eat when we’re down, socially, when we’re happy, and even when we’re bored. That makes intuitive eating difficult.
The idea behind intuitive eating is that you only eat when you’re hungry. It’s so simple, yet most of us rarely wait until we’re genuinely hungry before we eat. We’re either tuned in to when we “should” eat or eat for the reasons we touched on above. That means we may get the “go eat” signal from a part of our brain that associates food with pleasure, but our stomach is perfectly happy (and likely busy digesting whatever we last ate).
That “go eat” signal will appear to you in every way like your intuition, and it will also tell you to go and grab a cookie, not an apple.
So, what should I do?
If you know you overeat now, start by simply grabbing a notebook and writing down everything you eat and why. You can note down the nutritional values if you like, but that’s not important. Just be aware of why you’re eating – you don’t even need to make a change yet.
If you find you’re eating for emotional reasons (boredom counts!) then first try to curb that. When you get up to grab a snack because you’re bored or worried, either choose something healthier or get a drink instead.
If you don’t have a problem with snacking and eat 3 meals a day, try drinking more liquid beforehand and eat slowly, paying attention to when you start to feel satisfied. Many people find success eating 6 small meals a day (around every 3 hours), so if you get hungry after stopping, simply finish your meal a little later. If your plate is mostly vegetables, you’ll be able to eat as much as you want, so make sure you learn which vegetables you like and learn the best ways to cook them. If you don’t ever roast your veggies in olive oil, definitely give it a try!
Ultimately, what works for you won’t work for someone else, so try a few different things and find the path of least resistance – you should be happy(ish!) about the food you’re eating instead of processed foods. Make small tweaks and make an effort to learn about the nutritional benefits of your food. Awareness of what you are putting into your body, and what it does there, will be a great first step toward changing what you eat for the better.