During the first lockdown, according to recent research, almost half of us in the UK gained 5lbs. For me, this was true too. On average, our Italian and French cousins gained 4.2 lbs and 5.5 lbs, and I’m sure the picture is the same across the rest of Europe too. No-one feels good about carrying excess weight. So, before our Christmas indulgences lead to yet more weight gain, let’s work together during this second lockdown to lose those extra pounds.
Why did we gain weight?
Back in March, as well as our obsession for buying toilet rolls, we stripped the aisles of flour. In those early weeks of lockdown, we either stayed at home, flicked through recipes books and baked biscuits, cakes, crumbles and pies. Or we worked flat-out and ate what we could, when we could. Our eating habits shifted to our new reality, and we ate more snacks as well as piling more food onto our plates. But eating more yummy treats and more food wasn’t the only reason we gained weight. Stress, lack of sleep, changes to our work patterns and money fears have played havoc with our hormones.
What happens when our hormones become unbalanced?
When hormones become out of sync, especially the seven connected to appetite, mood and sleep, it can lead to weight gain. In a nutshell, it looks like this. Stress increases the production of adrenaline and cortisol. The latter sends cravings for sugary, starchy foods for instant energy in readiness to fight or flee—even though we rarely need this response. If we respond to our cravings and eat quick-energy foods, then we are likely to spike our blood sugar levels. When this happens, it causes a cascade of body reactions, including the release of insulin. The key role of insulin is to mop up excess sugar from our blood when our blood sugars levels become too high. Insulin helps the body temporarily store this sugar as energy in the liver or muscles, or it converts the sugar and stores it as body fat.
Watching the late-night news before bedtime means our eyes sense the blue light emitted from TV and digital device screens. Blue light holds back the release of melatonin, whose primary role is to make us sleepy. Without enough melatonin, we may not sleep as well as we should, and it may also impact on the production of serotonin. This hormone helps us to wake up. Poor sleep also skews the hormonal balance of leptin and ghrelin. Leptin tells us we are full while ghrelin tells us we’re hungry. Without deep, restful sleep, leptin is weakened, which makes us perceive we’re still hungry when we’re not.
To lose lockdown pounds—surely I need to diet?
No. All diets, in the long run, fail. To lose weight and stay at a healthy weight, the changes you make have to be sustainable and lifelong. Dieting takes you to a place of feeling deprived and makes you feel like you have failed for not being slim. This is the exact opposite of what is needed. Successful weight loss and staying slim has to come from a place of love for yourself—not hatred of your body.
Learning more about nutrition and digestion helps make better food and drink choices. Being curious about comfort-eating triggers and recognising when eating from habit rather than to satisfy hunger also helps. Changing what you eat naturally isn’t a quick, snap-your-fingers way to lose weight – but it is more likely to help you become slim and stay slim. In essence, self-love is the key to finding and remaining at your natural weight which is healthy for your unique body.
If dieting isn’t the answer, how do I lose weight?
To lose weight means helping your body use its stored—rainy-day energy—body fat. Your body does this when it doesn’t have enough energy for its needs. Your body is continually adjusting its energy levels. Food replenishes the amount of energy available. Bodily functions and physical activity deplete energy levels. Every cell in your body receives energy via the bloodstream. Excess energy is temporarily stored or convert into body fat. It’s not a static process, and the body is superbly fine-tuned to keep this process going day and night, year in and year out.
However, you can influence the body’s storage and release lockdown pounds following these five easy steps.
Step 1. Cut out snacks
We’ve grown up with a concept of three meals a day, eaten at specific times. But many people snack between meals—and these snacks can easily lead to weight gain. Most snacks are processed foods high in sugars, fat or artificial sweeteners. Snacking stimulates the production of the body’s digestive juices. Then due to their highly processed state, they are digested quickly and re-stimulate the appetite.
If you regularly snack, consider whether you are genuinely hungry, or whether you are eating for comfort or that it’s just a habit. If you are hungry, then the preceding meal needs to contain more protein. Cutting out a snack bar containing only 100 calories doesn’t sound like much. Still, in a month, that’s a saving of 3,000 calories—more than one day’s energy requirements for a day. Small changes add up to a significant change over time.
Step 2. Crowd out the bad stuff
Apart from Christmas Day and a few other special days in the year, we generally eat the same volume of food every day. Understanding the amount we eat is relatively static, it’s possible to add healthier foods which ‘crowds out’ the space for the not-so-good foods. A few examples might include: switch from a biscuit to an apple; add more coloured vegetables instead of having potatoes. Or, replace a packet of crisps with a baked sweet potato. See photo comparison. True, a baked potato by itself is not particularly tasty. But adding 25 g of feta provides the same number of calories as the crisps – but it will be a lot more satisfying. Merely choosing one more nutritious food over a less healthy one will slowly lead to weight loss.
Step 3. Add more vegetables
My mantra is ‘Eat more veggies’. Eat a lot of green and coloured vegetables—all kinds apart from regular potatoes which are best avoided or limited. Nutritionally, vegetables give us so much. They often contain high levels of vitamins and minerals, along with an array of phytonutrients that promote optimum health. Phytonutrients have anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-oxidant properties. At the same time, some phytonutrients specifically fight off cancer cells or are protective against specific diseases. Dietary fibre improves the health of gut bacteria which strengthens the immune system. And because vegetables contain a high percentage of water, they are low in calories. Reducing your portion size of rice, pasta and meat while increasing the amount of vegetables will lead to meals that are healthier and lower in calories.
Step 4. Complete a Food Diary
Almost everyone I know hates completing a food diary. Yet doing so is eye-opening. Even without expert nutritional analysis, you can begin to see where your food choices are leading you astray. The first step in any change to your food choices is awareness of what you are currently eating. Doing a food diary will help you do that. Download a Food Diary Form here.
Step 5. Prioritise sleep and relaxation
There is growing evidence that shows that an imbalance of the hormone leptin plays a crucial role in weight gain and also the struggle to lose weight. Leptin and ghrelin work in partnership.
Ghrelin is secreted into the stomach as it empties, which increases your appetite. After eating, leptin is released from our fat cells, which sends a message to the brain, to say we are full. This message stops the release of ghrelin. When we are sleep deprived, leptin levels drop so the full message is weaker a is the stop message to ghrelin. When leptin doesn’t switch off ghrelin, it can lead to overeating and yet still feeling hungry. Sound sleep is so crucial to your health, wellbeing, and to stay slim. See my articles on this: How good sleep can help you become slimmer and Unable to sleep? Wide awake or so sleepy?
Let me know how you get on. And if I can help you, please email me or call me on 01305 821799. I offer one-to-one Healthy Weight Loss coaching and a new 8-week Eat Well—Be Well program will be launched soon