10 ways to reduce your calorie intake without thinking about calories

  1. Use smaller plates and bowls.
  2. Replace short, wide glasses with tall, narrow ones.
  3. Use smaller spoons.
  4. Throw out the lolly jar (or replace it with a fruit bowl).
  5. Place healthy foods at the front of the refrigerator, and less healthy foods at the back.
  6. Repackage foods sold in large packages into small containers.
  7. Always put food into a plate or bowl, so you can better see how much you are actually eating. Never eat straight from the package.
  8. Snack only at the table, and only on a clean plate.
  9. Put everything on your plate before you start eating, and don’t go back for seconds and thirds.
  10. When serving your meal, try dishing out 20% less than you think you might want before you start eating. You probably won’t miss it.

Perhaps the easiest way to change your behaviour, is to change your environment.

[Hat tip to Wansick.]

A Body Acceptance Manifesto

Body, more than anything, you must know you are both beautiful and enough. Exactly as you are, in this very moment.

The only words deserving of you come from a place of admiration and appreciation. Disgust, hate and fat have no place for you.

I wholeheartedly believe you are beautiful. Negative judgements – from others or my unconscious self – do not reflect you. I promise another perspective will not be given the power to undermine you.

I know that scales don’t define your worthiness. You are filled with an abundance of warmth, compassion and love. No number changes that.

I accept you will change, and that you will wrinkle, expand and sag. But know this will never change your beauty, nor how I feel about you.

I am aware there will always be slimmer, taller and more defined bodies than you. Yet your beauty is unique, and can never be diminished by the presence of another.

I commit to always being grateful for you, as you exist to always support and look after me. My words cannot express how much I admire you, or how thankful I am to have you.

I choose to feel pride and joy when sharing you. I will not hide you, or feel ashamed by you, when being with another. It is a privilege to give them the opportunity to admire and cherish you, exactly as I have learnt to.

Nutritious eating, regular exercise and adequate rest are not only aspirations for you. They are each daily practices. It is both my responsibility, and my privilege, to respect and nourish you.

Yet the greatest gift I can give you is my unconditional love. A love that supports you into becoming the best and healthiest version of you.

Although you may not be there yet, my admiration for you now is possible because I understand you are both a work of art, and a work in progress. Just as I am, too.

Body, I love you. All of you. Truly, deeply, unconditionally.

[Download and print the body acceptance manifesto for free, here.]

How you can eat less sugar and not lose weight

An important nutrition principle is the one of replacement: for every food (or nutrient) you remove from the diet, another usually takes its place.

One common limitation I see with many popular diets is that they fail to appropriately advise on replacement. Low sugarlow fat and low carb can each be effective for better health and body weight. But they can each be pointless exercises, too.

To demonstrate, consider these well established research findings:

  • Replacing sugar (and other carbohydrates) with protein reduces weight gain. Yet replacing sugar with other carbohydrates (starchy foods like white bread, rice and crackers), does not.
  • Replacing fat with protein and fibre reduces body weight. Yet replacing fat with carbohydrate, does not.
  • Replacing carbohydrate with polyunsaturated fat (found in sunflower, safflower and soybean oil, and a variety of nuts, seeds and oily fish) reduces heart disease risk. Yet replacing carbohydrate with saturated fat (found in some meats, dairy and butter), does not.

Talking about what to eat less of, matters. But talking about what to eat instead, matters even more.

9 nutrition tips from those who live a long and healthy life

  1. Eat plenty of vegetables.
  2. Enjoy a variety of fruits.
  3. Include nuts and seeds daily.
  4. Eat legumes (beans and pulses).
  5. Choose high-fibre grains.
  6. Use extra-virgin olive oil.
  7. Eat oily fish.
  8. Drink tea or coffee.
  9. Enjoy a glass of red wine.

If you find yourself confused with the semantics of healthy eating, start with what we know to be associated with better health.

Once there, it’s hard to go too far wrong.

Why you should reconsider eating coconut oil for better health

A recent review on the health benefits of coconut oil finds:

  • There is not one human trial to show coconut oil lowers cardiovascular disease risk, and
  • Only 2 small human trials show coconut oil increases HDL (“good”) cholesterol, yet another 2 trials show no significant effect.

Now, compare this to:

  • A 5 year trial of over 7 000 people shows adding 50mL extra-virgin olive oil to the diet daily lowers cardiovascular disease by 30%.
  • A review of 8 long-term trials totalling over 13 000 people shows replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats (like sunflower, safflower and soybean oil) lowers heart disease by 19%, and
  • A review of 60 human trials shows conclusively that replacing saturated fats with both polyunsaturated fats or monounsaturated fats (like canola and peanut oil) lowers cholesterol levels. There are at least 26 human studies showing this for canola oil alone.

Whilst a lack of evidence does not mean unhealthy, we should prioritise eating what we can confidently say is healthy.

There are many oils that fit this description. I’m not yet convinced coconut oil is one.

Why the “healthy” weight may not be so healthy

1. Healthy behaviours and healthy weights are not the same thing:

  • Overweight people who exercise and eat healthily develop excellent metabolic health, even if they are still an “unhealthy” weight.
  • Slim people who are inactive and eat poorly typically have poor health, despite their “healthy” weight.

2. Much of what contributes to body weight is actually healthy:

  • Many people who work out regularly will develop significantly greater muscle and bone mass, improve their health substantially, yet are at risk of becoming an “unhealthy” weight.
  • Not all body fat is associated with poor health, with more fat in some areas (such as the buttocks and hips) linked to better health.

3. Not accepting our current body weight is highly stressful:

  • Body weight has a strong genetic component, and I don’t know of a single person who has found weight loss to be an easy and stress-free process over the long-term.
  • Seeing yourself as an incorrect weight is a constant emotional stressor (consider that 9 in 10 formerly obese people would choose blindness (!) over being obese again).
  • Constant emotional stress predicts significantly poorer health and early mortality.

4. A large difference between your current and desired body weight is considered a better predictor of physical and mental health, than a large current body weight!

  • There is no clear bodily mechanism that directly links being overweight to poor health.
  • The association between weight and health differs between cultures who perceive the same body weights differently.

Yes, a clear association does exist between body weight and mortality for the population.

But how can one point to this data and accurately conclude that a single individual must be of a particular weight if they wish to be healthy? Especially when the association between weight and health is largely influenced by the way that we perceive our bodies.

Healthier, I think, to do more healthy behaviours, than to stress about needing to be a “healthy” weight.

Why eating healthy isn’t as hard as you think

First, consider these 3 dinners:

  1. Cheese pizza, soft drink and chocolate.
  2. Beef lasagne.
  3. Vegetable and lentil salad with quinoa, kale and freshly grown herbs.

Next, notice these 2 observations:

1. There are some nutritional benefits to eating the beef lasagne. It contains protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc, and is more nutritious than option 1.

2. We don’t need to eat a meal like the vegetable and lentil salad every single night. Healthy eating is compatible with a wide range of foods, because one unhealthy food in small amounts doesn’t make a diet unhealthy.

This all means that good nutrition is far from black and white.

Thinking about food in terms of all or nothing only creates a cycle of aspiring to eat perfectly (unnecessarily), and beating ourselves up when we don’t.

Instead, good nutrition is best viewed as a scale, and best achieved like this:

Step. By step. By step. By step.

The goal is actually not to eat like someone very different to you.

The goal is to eat better than you did yesterday.

8 grain swaps that help support optimal health

  1. Swap brown rice for barley
  2. Swap pasta for wholemeal pasta
  3. Swap basmati rice for quinoa 
  4. Swap wholemeal bread for mixed grain bread
  5. Swap sourdough bread for rye bread
  6. Swap instant porridge for rolled oats
  7. Swap wholegrain cereal for muesli
  8. Swap wheat biscuits for bran cereal.

Yes, the first options are excellent choices when compared to refined cereals like most white breads, white rices, low-fibre cereals, rice crackers and noodles.

But you can still go one better if you choose.

Research suggests that slowly digested, fibrous grains are the healthiest of them all.

Eating foods that tick each of these 2 criteria will likely help to:

  • feed your gut bacteria and make you feel fuller, within hours,
  • improve markers of your heart and metabolic health, within weeks, and
  • substantially lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, bowel cancer and weight gain, over the coming months and years.

When deciding which grain to eat, it is important to remember that both slowly digested grains and higher fibre grains provide health benefits that are unique and equally important.

An optimal diet, therefore, is one that consistently contains both.

4 natural ways to lower your cholesterol

High cholesterol increases your chances of developing heart disease, the leading cause of death in Australia.

Whilst new research finds 1 in every 3 Australian adults has high cholesterol, it can be reduced significantly with simple dietary changes:

1. Eating more viscous fibre, by:

  • Taking a psyllium supplement (with water) daily,
  • Switching to oats at breakfast,
  • Learning to use barley instead of rice, and
  • Ensuring you eat plenty of legumes, fruits or vegetables by incorporating more of them into every meal. Okra and eggplant are particularly rich sources.

2. Increasing your intake of soy protein, by:

  • Having soy milk or soy yoghurt instead of cows milk or cows yoghurt,
  • Switching from regular bread to soy & linseed bread,
  • Incorporating 1/2 cup soy beans into main meals a few times each week, and
  • Using tofu instead of meat a few times each week.

3. Incorporating plant-sterols into your diet, by:

  • Switching from butter to a plant-sterol enriched margarine, and
  • Enjoying plant-based oils and green leafy vegetables daily, such as spinach, kale and cabbage.

4. Eating nuts daily, by:

  • Replacing one of your current snacks with a handful of unsalted nuts (particularly almonds), and
  • Adding nuts to your main meals, such as salads and stir-fries.

The interesting thing is that standard dietary advice, such as reducing saturated fats or cholesterol from the diet, has little impact on heart disease risk alone.

Yet these 4 dietary changes reduce cholesterol by up to 30% within weeks, and lower heart disease risk significantly. This is an effect comparable to taking cholesterol-lowering medication.

And if you have high cholesterol and all of these changes are overwhelming you, don’t despair.

Start instead by asking the question: which of these changes can I do?

The high-fat, high-calorie foods that you should be eating

The idea that we should limit the intake of all high-fat, high-calorie foods is now outdated and actually unhealthy.

Research conclusively tells us that most plant-based fats and oils should be promoted and encouraged, because adding them into our diet results in significantly better heart and metabolic health.

What’s more, this impressive health benefit is one that few other dietary changes can achieve.

From the literature, I think we can confidently conclude that even eating more fruits and vegetables or more whole grains, whilst still important, is unlikely to give us the same heart health benefits that eating more plant-based fats and oils does.

What are plant-based fats and oils?

Not all plant-based fats and oils are equal, but some examples I encourage are:

  • 30 grams (1 handful) of nuts or seeds,
  • 50mL of most vegetable oils (particularly extra-virgin olive oil or canola oil),
  • 50 grams (or 1/4) avocado,
  • 20 grams of nut spread,
  • If using salad dressings, to opt for full-fat salad dressings instead of low-fat salad dressings, and
  • If not using avocado or nut spreads, to opt for margarine instead of animal-fat or lower-fat alternatives, such as butter, honey or jam.

Will eating these foods make you put on weight?

Research now clearly tells us that the fat and calorie content of a food does not, surprisingly, predict its effect on our weight.

For example:

  • some high-fat, higher-calorie foods, such as nuts and cheese, are associated with less or no weight gain.
  • some low-fat, lower-calorie foods, such as soft drinks and refined grains (like white bread and white rice), are associated with significant weight gain.

Whilst there are a lot of factors at play here, fat is well-known to slow down digestion, and thus changes our hormonal response after eating.

This is thought to contribute to a foods impact on our weight in the long-term, and might be partly why skim-milk or low-fat milk does not appear to be any better for our weight than full-cream milk.

The bottom line

The healthiest way to manage your weight, I believe, is to mostly enjoy a wide variety of minimally processed plant foods, including the plant-based fats and oils listed above.

If your daily consumption of calories is something that needs to be addressed, the first step is eating less highly processed or “treat” foods, such as cakes, biscuits, soft drink, refined grains and confectionary.

The total calories that you consume every day is still important.

But the total calories (or total fat) found in a single food, is not.

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