How to cut your calorie intake (without putting yourself in danger)
It sounds deceptively simple: to lose weight, and decrease your likelihood of succumbing to a range of weight-related diseases, just reduce your calorie intake.
Indeed, this week we’ve learned that a clinical trial involving 300 people in Scotland and Tyneside, funded by Diabetes UK, discovered that an 800 calorie diet can reverse type 2 diabetes (which is strongly linked to poor diet and excess weight) in half of cases.
A number of diets aimed at a more general audience — that is, those who want to shift weight but don’t necessarily have diabetes — are also based on significant calorie restriction.
Within a healthy, balanced diet, a man needs around 2,500 calories a day to maintain his weight, while a woman should have around 2,000, according to NHS advice. Some diet plans involve cutting this back to as little as 1,000 calories or fewer. For example, Fasting Mimicking Diets (FMDs) such as ProLon restrict calories to between one third and half of normal intake, providing approximately 750 to 1100 calories per day for a five-day period. When the FMD regime, developed by researchers at the University of Southern California, was tested, those on it were found within three months to have reduced biomarkers linked to ageing, diabetes, cancer and heart disease, as well as less overall body fat.
But dietitians and nutritionists stress that rapid weight loss is often unsustainable. Restricting calorie intake, moreover, must be done within a safe range, they say. The British Dietetic Association recomperform mends a 500 calorie deficit on your daily needs if you’re trying to lose weight.
Very low calorie diets of 800 calories per day or fewer “are typically for adults who are obese — defined as having a BMI over 30 — but should not be the first option to manage obesity,” says the NHS. “These diets should only be followed under medical supervision for a maximum of 12 weeks continuously, or intermittently with a low-calorie diet — for example, for two to four days a week.”
Most people who want to lose weight do not need to follow a very low calorie diet, they advise. Such regimes, after all, can leave dieters deprived of the nutrition they need, as well as feeling low in energy and suffering headaches, dizziness, cramps and hair thinning.
So how should we restrict our calories enough to lose some weight but in a safe and sustainable way? We asked some nutritionists for their tips. Here is what they told us ...
Nutritionist Kim Pearson says low calorie diets can be done healthily as long as they’re done in the right way and by the right people (not those with eating disorders, for instance). She cautions that it’s not just a case of how much you eat, but what you eat. Pearson advises eating foods as close to their natural state as possible and trying not to rely on processed food, including those such as bread and cereal.
“Many people have a very carbohydrate-heavy diet and perhaps don’t get enough protein or the right types of protein,” says Pearson. “Protein is satisfying. It fills us up and keeps us full for longer.” She recommends a palm-sized portion of protein at each meal.
Eating the right kind of carbohydrates is important, says Pearson. Those that release energy slowly are the ones to go for. Plenty can be found in vegetables, so large helpings of bread, pasta and rice are not necessary. “We have a habit of basing our meals around starchy carbohydrates,” she says. “A good rule is to fill your plate half full of vegetables.”
Water it down
Many people eat to excess because they are actually thirsty and confuse their thirst for hunger. Some nutritionists recommend drinking a glass of water before every meal to keep hunger — or perceived hunger — under control.
When you haven’t had enough sleep, your body increases secretion of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, warns Pearson. Studies have found that adults who sleep for less than seven hours a day are 30pc more likely to be obese than those who sleep for 9 hours or more.
Rhiannon Lambert, a leading Harley Street nutritionist, says sauces, dips and condiments can rack up your calorie intake, as well as your intake of sugar and salt. “One tablespoon of mayonnaise, for example, can add nearly an extra 60 calories to your meal. By making your own, you can see what ingredi- ents are added and make sure no unnecessary additives are in the mix,” she says.
Swap your packet of salt and vinegar crisps for vegetable crisps or popcorn, suggests Lambert, whose book Re-Nourish is published later this month. By making this swap, your dietary fibre intake will be increased, keeping you fuller for longer. Other healthy snacks include veggie sticks with hummus, peanut butter on rice cakes, and fruit. These have higher nutrient content than vending machine snacks, will fill you up for longer and increase your daily vitamin and mineral intake, says Lambert.
Eat your protein
Play your carbs right
Make your own condiments
“Being distracted when eating does not allow your brain to acknowledge when your stomach is full, so you usually end up eating the whole plate,” says Lambert, who cites television and mobile phones as distractions to avoid during mealtimes. Studies have shown that eating when distracted made subjects eat 30pc more than people who were mindful about their meal, she says.
“As we enter the festive period, everywhere is selling their version of the toffee nut or billionaire shortbread coffee for example, and while they taste tremendous, often these drinks contain a high calorific amount and a very high sugar content,” says Lambert. Swap your daily gingerbread latte for a coconut latte or cappuccino, she advises, and restrict high sugar coffee drinks to an occasional treat.
Don’t drink your calories
Some diet plans involve cutting this back to 1,000 calories or fewer.