By Shelley Levitt
Great news: you can cheat on your diet without suffering the consequences – if you do it right. So go ahead and bend these weight-loss rules…
If living with your parents taught you anything, it’s that the more rules there are, the more you want to break them. And losing weight can seem like nothing but rules. Fortunately, rebellion has its advantages: disregarding strict food guidelines could be the secret to a successful slim-down. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that people with a flexible approach to eating – one that allows for sweets and other perceived slip-ups – had a better record of maintaining weight loss than dieters with an all-or-nothing strategy. How can you do it without skidding into a diet danger zone? We got top nutrition pros to confess the supposedly vital weight loss principles they violate. Employ their secrets to stay satisfied without gaining a gram.
1. The diet rule: eat five small meals a day
Who breaks it: Megan Pentz-Kluyts, a dietician based in Cape Town. “My schedule often doesn’t give me time to prepare healthy snacks, much less eat them. On days like these, I make sure I get what I need from three square meals a day.” (Check this out: Why You Can Eat All The Pasta You Want.)
Why you can, too: The “graze, don’t gorge” philosophy is based on the premise that having frequent small meals keeps your blood sugar steady, your metabolism ramped up and your appetite in check. But some studies show a link between obesity and eating more than three times a day, most notably in women: more frequent noshing means more opportunities to overeat. Plus, says Pentz-Kluyts, having to constantly think about what you’re going to eat can be stressful, especially for emotional eaters.
Do it right: To keep hunger pangs from overriding your willpower throughout the day, eat fibre-rich foods at meal times – they make you feel fuller and take longer to digest. Shoot for 21 to 25g a day, starting with a high-fibre grain cereal like Kellogg’s All-Bran Hi-Fibre cereal, which offers 24.3g of fibre per cup (50g), or Bokomo Right Start Fibre Plus, which has 26.1g of fibre per cup (90g), with some low-fat milk and fruit. For lunch and dinner, Pentz-Kluyts advises you to fill half your plate with salad and vegetables, a quarter with carbs and the other quarter with lean protein.
2. The diet rule: don’t eat late at night
Who breaks it: Dr Ann Kulze, author of Dr Ann’s 10-Step Diet: A Simple Plan for Permanent Weight Loss and Lifelong Vitality. She sits down to dinner every night at 9pm or later.
Why you can, too: “A kilojoule consumed at 9pm isn’t handled any differently by your body than one consumed at 9am,” says Kulze. It’s less about when you eat than how much you eat. A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that obese women were more likely to eat meals late at night than svelte women, but they were also more likely to eat more, full stop. And a US study showed that your metabolism hums along at the same rate no matter how you time your meals. Delaying dinner does have one undisputed advantage: it helps eliminate late-night snacking, one of the worst diet-busters.
Do it right: One reason you’re likely to stuff yourself late at night is that you’re ravenous from not having eaten since lunch. A healthy snack in the late afternoon (around 4pm if you’re planning to eat at 9pm) can help avoid this pitfall. Studies have found that the fat in nuts is particularly satisfying, so grab a 400kJ pack of almonds when you’re on the go. When you finally find the time for dinner, actually sit at a table and nix the distractions. Scarfing a meal in the car or in front of the TV means you usually aren’t paying attention to what – or how much – you’re eating (4 Things To Avoid If You Want To Keep Your Metabolism Burning).
3. The diet rule: skip dessert
Who breaks it: Joburg-based dietician Jeske Wellmann, co-author of Snacks and Treats for Sustained Energy 1. Wellmann has “a few bites of something decadent” when she dines out.
Why you can, too: We all discover a little more room in our stomachs when the dessert menu is handed out. Studies show that when you’re offered a variety of foods, you never achieve what’s known as “sensory specific satiety” – your appetite is stimulated anew as each novel flavour is introduced. Outsmart your tastebuds by planning ahead. Wellmann’s trick: she looks at the dessert menu along with the main menu and, if she decides to end the meal with, say, a raw dark-chocolate mousse, she’ll order a salad dressed with balsamic vinegar and a main meal without carbohydrates (chips, mashed potato, rice or pasta) – grilled fillet steak or grilled fish are both good options. This is because the dessert itself acts as the carb in the meal. “It’s important to compensate and to not deprive yourself,” says Wellmann. “It’s also a good idea to share your dessert, as restaurant portions are usually too big.”
Do it right: Desserts are, quite unsurprisingly, high in kilojoules (8 Chocolate Recipes So Delicious You Won’t Believe They’re Healthy), and restaurants tend to serve enormous portions. Order something to share, or consider opting for sorbets and fruit, which will satisfy your sweet tooth minus the masses of kilojoules. Dining at home? Try a chocolate raspberry parfait that Wellmann prepares: top a quarter of a cup (four tablespoons) of fat-free ricotta cheese with a teaspoon of cocoa powder and half a cup of fresh or frozen raspberries. “This snack offers just enough sweetness to calm a sugar craving,” she says.
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