The ‘rules’ around food seem to keep changing – but the basics are constant

If you’re someone who struggles with maintaining a healthy weight, and tends to judge yourself negatively, I have something important to tell you. It honestly can’t wait a moment longer. It’s harder for you. Truly. 

If you’re struggling with excess weight, it’s because you’re different. You have a different body, which is functioning in a different way and has been on a different life journey to all those people who seem to be able to maintain a healthy weight so effortlessly. It’s not your fault. 

Over the past twenty years of seeing patients, I’ve witnessed the same thing in my surgery time and time again. People come in full of enthusiasm about some trendy new weight-loss plan, convinced it’s the final answer they’ve been looking for. But when I see them a few months later, they’re back to where they started – or worse. It’s heartbreaking to witness but it’s also, sadly, predictable. 

Conventional diets generally don’t work because they put people on a regime of hunger and willpower that’s simply not sustainable. They also fail because they usually tackle only one or two areas of life – what you’re eating and how you’re moving – rather than treating the whole life and the whole person. 

My new book sets out to help people understand the true causes of their weight gain – and help you lose weight in a responsible, sustainable way, and in a way that’s going to make you more energetic, increase your self-esteem and live longer. 

You’re not going to be surprised to hear that food’s going to be a major part of your weight-loss journey. You don’t need me to tell you that eating less sugar and cutting back on pastries is going to be a good idea. You already know that. It’s not necessarily a lack of information that’s causing you to carry excess weight. 

In fact, I’d argue there’s too much information out there. Every month there seems to be a new set of rules for healthy eating. One day we’re off carbs, the next it’s all about Paleo or plant-based food. The problem with all this back and forth is that it can lead us to think, “Well, the experts don’t know the answer, so what’s the point in trying?”

But there are some things we’re pretty sure about…

Eat more real food

This is one of the most powerful pieces of health advice I can give anyone. What I mean by “real food” is food that’s minimally processed, close to its natural state and instantly recognisable – fish that looks like fish, meat that looks like meat, vegetables that look like vegetables. It’s often the biggest game-changer and leads to people feeling better in every way: mind, body and heart. This one simple habit has three almost magical benefits:

You’ll feel less hungry.
Your body will automatically manage your weight for you.
You’ll be less tempted to eat what I call “blissy foods”.

 Avoid ‘blissy foods’

These are products that are about as far away as possible from the real foods I’d like you to eat. They’re often created by scientists who know that certain foods have a powerful effect on our hunger signals. This is how they make their products so devilishly successful. Anyone determined to eat healthily is pitting themselves against teams of incredibly smart people who’ve spent decades designing foods that are utterly irresistible to the human brain. These chocolate bars, crisps, sweets and salty, fatty meals have been engineered to hammer at your hunger signals.

Food manufacturers know that when you open that bag of crisps it will be extremely hard to stop eating them, and that one chunk of chocolate can so easily lead to eating the whole bar. These foods have been deliberately built that way. Our brains are wired to uniquely respond to a few specific properties in food, including certain kinds of carbs, starch, sugar, protein, fat, salt and the savoury “umami” flavour which is found in foods like cooked meats, broths and seaweed.

When our food contains these flavours in certain combinations, the brain releases a chemical called dopamine, which has a powerful effect on our behaviour and impacts the food choices that we make. In fact, once we’ve eaten these foods and experienced the “bliss” they provide, our brains will even release dopamine in anticipation of eating these foods again.

Avoid foods with ingredient labels

I’d like you to eat more real food by focusing on one-ingredient foods. These are foods that don’t tend to come with ingredient labels. Examples include carrots, apples, potatoes, avocados, fish, eggs and beans. Have you ever noticed that we don’t form habits and cravings for these types of foods? Try your best to ensure that the majority of your diet is made up of foods like these – either eaten by themselves or combined together in simple wholefood meals.

These simple, real foods don’t naturally come in blissy combinations of fat-salt-sweet. They’re not designed in a laboratory to stimulate the dopamine-releasing regions of the brain. Nor do they drive up levels of inflammation in the body and play havoc with the body’s natural hunger and fullness signals. In effect, they work with your body and not against it.

Six tips to help you eat more one-ingredient foods

Shop on the outermost aisles of the supermarket. Most one-ingredient foods tend to live here. 
Keep frozen vegetables in the house at all times. They are easy to steam, cheap to buy and can be super-tasty, especially with the simple addition of herbs and spices.
Keep chopped garlic and onions in the fridge or freezer to speed up cooking and preparation time.
Use herbs and spices freely. They are a simple and healthy way to add more flavour to real-food meals.
Stock up on one-ingredient store cupboard essentials such as tinned tomatoes, canned fish, coconut milk, lentils, beans, brown rice, nuts, etc. – so you always have something at hand when hungry or ready to cook.
Batch cook at the weekends (or another convenient time) so you always have real-food options for later in the week when you may have less time.

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