5 Tips for a healthy diet through Lockdown
It's hard to make the most of your time during lockdown, but I achieved something last week when I attended a seminar hosted by Alon Blumgart, a naturopath and fellow trainer at MSC, answering "weightloss wonders". In case you're not aware of what a naturopath does, as I wasn't before that night, a naturopath essentially utilises sustainable diet and lifestyle changes to address the underlying causes of a health concern. That is to say, instead of prescribing a pill to reduce a client's high blood pressure, a naturopath would work with the client to implement meals and exercise into daily life to reduce the causes of high blood pressure.
In this seminar we covered not only basic principles of nutrition, but also how to implement these principles into daily life to achieve a healthy lifestyle without becoming obsessed with the weight of every morsel and crumb that enters your mouth cavity. Out of the hour long talk, I've broken down what I think are the 5 most important tips to stay healthy as Melbourne goes through lockdown 2.0.
#1 Calories in vs Calories out is always true
Understand the factors that influence the equation
When it comes to weight loss, the calories in vs calories out equation is always true, as it is a law of thermodynamics. Energy is neither created nor destroyed, merely stored and transformed, therefore if you eat more calories (like I have been doing during lockdown) you're either going to use them for movement, metabolism or store them (as glycogen, muscle or fat).
Sounds super simple, right? Well, if you've studied the human body you'll know it's never that simple. The equation is true, but there are a plethora of factors influencing calories in and calories out
Genes - Effect satiety and metabolism.
Food knowledge - The better you know how to cook, the more likely you are to eat healthily. This is mostly inherited from your parents.
Food palatability - Processed foods are easier to overeat.
Socioeconomic status - Creates causes of bad health outcomes such as stress, time poor, lack of knowledge and lack of money.
Hormonal status - PMS and menopause can cause changes in eating habits.
Medications - Can affect satiety and cravings.
Mental and emotional wellbeing - Not looking after your wellbeing can lead to sitting on the couch eating an entire tub of Cookies and Cream ice cream while crying over who goes home on Bachelor in Paradise (ABBY YOU DESERVE A MAN WHO LOVES YOU FOR YOU!). Take care of yourselves!
Movements throughout the day (NEAT) - Non-exercise activity thermogenesis is the amount of energy we expend on every movement which isn't planned exercise. Walking up the stairs, stretching after sitting for 15 minutes and household chores will all increase your total calories out, to name just a few.
Exercise - This one is obvious and well known... exercising more = using more energy.
BMR - Basal Metabolic rate is how much your body burns just to be. You can find out how much yours is by using this simple calculator!
Thermic effect of food - Protein rich whole foods actually require more energy to digest than other foods which means more calories out for you.
Hormonal status - Menopause, an underactive thyroid, low testosterone levels could all lead to an altered calorie output.
So, while purely restricting your calories is a scientifically valid way to lose weight according to our simple equation, it doesn't address the many factors that influence the two variables, calories in and calories out. This leads me to tip number 2...
#2 Don't rely on fad diets
Choose sustainable diets
Any diet that puts you in a calorie deficit will cause you to lose weight - whether it be keto, paleo, plant based, low fat, low carb, high fat, high carb - it doesn't matter, if it restricts your calories, the scale will show a lower number.
The problem with these diets is that they often focus purely on calories (or some other dubious bodily chemical) and neglect the nutrients needed for people's wellbeing, which if we remember back to tip #1 can lead to binges.
This is why people will often put the weight back on (and more) as soon as they stop the restrictive diet. This can lead to yoyo dieting - where people lose weight rapidly on a strict diet then gain it back as soon as they take a break, which only makes them want to diet more intensely and so it goes back and forth for years.
These diets lead to weight loss due to decreased calories in, but don't take into account all the additional lifestyle factors which have an influence on the way people eat and how much. This is why as soon as the fad diet finishes, they go right back into their old, poor-health habits.
A sustainable diet utilises these calorie restricting ideas - intermittent fasting, low fat, low carb - as the tools they are. They won't work for everyone just as a hammer won't work on every handyman problem. If you REALLY want to lose weight, don't just look at reducing the calories you take in, look at improving ALL the factors that influence calories in and calories out.
Unlike a fad diet, a healthy diet is one that you can adhere to... which leads me to my next tip:
#3 The 80/20 rule is your friend
A pinch of flexibility will life-proof your diet
Eat healthy, nutrient dense, whole foods for 80% of the time. Enjoy your eating and indulge yourself 20% of the time.
Credit to onlinefitnesscoach.com for creating this rough diagram to illustrate the point. Pizza and beer is absolutely fine to consume while trying to eat healthy, if the majority of your food is nutrient-packed and full of fresh, healthy goodness.
We're not all physique competitors who need every slight advantage we can get over the next person, so we don't need to eat like one. If you can eat healthy foods 80% of the time you will be making progress towards a healthier, happier body. If you indulge yourself 20% of the time you will be making progress towards a happier, healthier soul.
This rule is based on flexible dieting - because life is messy.
It also helps address the fact that if I specifically tell you not to do something, you will want to do it more.
Don't click on this link: Cute, funny animal images
Therefore, when a diet specifically tells us "don't eat carbs or you will get fat", we are eventually going to crave carbs. Then when we finally have a bite of a muesli bar or (heaven forbid) accidentally buy the salad with quinoa in it, we feel like a failure who is going to get fat - which is completely ridiculous when based entirely around the single carb we ate.
Putting strict absolutes in our diets leads to poor adherence which creates poor mental health and we end up back on the couch again with Connoisseur's belgian chocolate ice cream in one hand and a box of tissues in the other because Emelia bested Laura in the Masterchef 2020 finale.
This is no way to lose weight.
Remember, only Siths deal in absolutes.
Add some flexibility into your diet with the 80-20 rule, and adherence becomes much easier (and you get one step closer to becoming a jedi). As I said before, a good diet is the one you can stick to.
#4 Sleep is the second most important factor
Sleep has a big impact on weight loss (among other things)
Yep, right up there on the list of factors influencing weight loss, behind the food you eat, is the number of hours you sleep.
Melatonin and cortisol are hormones in our body that regulate our sleep-wake cycle by opposing each other. The balance is often thrown off in our modern lives due to working inside all day, then spending the nights with lights and blue screens, leading to a decrease in melatonin.
The seminar went into more detail on the topic but honestly, this shouldn't be a surprise to anyone: our modern day lifestlyes often sacrifice sleep, but we must prioritise it for our own health. As I mentioned in my recovery article, not getting enough sleep has been scientifically proven to inhibit human functioning. I can't think of a better way to put it than that, sleep is important for just about everything - including weight loss.
It's not always easy to get our required (roughly) 8 hours of sleep per night, but if your health is important to you, sleep needs to be made a priority. Don't have time? Make the time. Can't sleep? See a professional. Make the effort, it will be worth it.
And if all else fails, add siestas into your daily routine.
So, if you have the eating side of things down, but the weight just doesn't seem to be shifting, try focusing on improving your sleep habits and you might find it makes all the difference.
* Side Note: The 80/20 rule applies here too. As long as most of the time you are following a healthy sleep schedule, you don't need to fret about enjoying a few late nights! (thank goodness!)
#5 Make your home a safe space
Fill your home with healthy foods
What the hell does 'safe space' mean? I hope that word didn't bring up images of precious millennials being offended by name calling. This one is really simple: if you're trying to eat healthier, make that the easy option at home.
If you wanted a packet of chips right now, and I mean you realllly had the craving for the satisfying, salted crunch of fried potato, would you eat it if it was in the cupboard? If you are merely human like the rest of us then yes you would probably indulge yourself and potentially offset your calorie goals to satisfy the craving.
But if you didn't have any chips in the house, could you face changing out of your pyjamas, braving the cold, wearing a face mask and hoping the wackos stockpiling anything they can get their hands on haven't chosen your favourite flavour at the supermarket?
Most of the time we will eat food because it is convenient, which means if you don't buy the packet of chips in the first place you will remove the temptation.
Your home should be a safe space for healthy eating, especially since we are now spending so long indoors (and might be here for a while to come). Instead of sweets or processed foods try having a piece of fruit, oats, yoghurt and honey, or a combination of the above for a healthy snack.
Make plenty of food for dinner so it is the easy option for you to reheat for lunch the next day.
Or maybe now is the right time to get into baking some 'healthy' snacks where you know all the ingredients that are going in.
Seriously, there are some incredibly delicious recipes at that link. They're still going to bump up your calorie count, but you will also get some nutrients as opposed to store bought sweets.
With most people working from home, we have been given more control over what temptations we have. Take this opportunity to fill your home with nutrient dense, whole foods to make eating healthy even easier.
I want to finish this article with another piece of advice from Alon: don't get obsessed over each and every gram that you put into your food. Use your hands as the measuring device. Two fistfuls of vegetables, a fistful of protein and a cupped hand worth of carbohydrates per meal is an example of a good place to start. You can add or take away from there based on how it's going.
Understand the factors that influence the Calories in vs Calories out equation
Choose sustainable diets
Add flexibility by using the 80/20 rule to life-proof your diet
Sleep has a big impact on weight loss (among other important things)
Fill your home with tasty, healthy foods
It's probably not a great time to target a huge loss in weight, but it is always a great time to eat healthy. Follow these tips to target the cause, not just the symptom, of unhealthy diet choices just like a naturopath would.