Derval O'Rourke: Approaching various types of weight loss and why a good foundation is key

This week I’m discussing the various approaches to weight loss and why a good foundation is key.

Recipe-wise it’s my stuffed butternut squash with lentils and feta plus a delicious lamb curry.

Since launching my website late last year, I’ve had lots of people signing up and I’ve been chatting to them about their health goals. It’s been great to see people following my eight-week food plan as well as using all the other resources on the site.

While my plan was not specifically developed to help people lose weight, it is a goal for many people to drop a few pounds. After a lot of research looking at long-term sustainable healthy food habits, I decided doing a ‘foundation’ plan was a really important first step for people. Gaining some basic and simple knowledge is key for long term success.

This week I will explain three approaches to weight loss that are the most common at the moment. These are tracking calories, weight management clubs and intermittent fasting.

Tracking calories and macronutrients

This is a method doing the rounds for a while now and one that I am sure most of you will be familiar with. While I believe tracking short term can help people get a grasp on portion sizes and get an idea of where they are starting from, the truth is that the majority of us don’t need to track our food consumption long term. Most of us are already busy with work, family etc. Rather than jumping straight in to downloading an app and tapping all your food consumption into it consider these key points first:

  • Am I basing the majority of my diet around whole foods?
  • Can I cook three to fivemeals from scratch?
  • Do I know the roles of protein, carbohydrates and fats in the body?
  • Do I eat regularly throughout the day?
  • If you are not doing the above already then you are going to make long term weight loss much harder by simply using tracking as your weight loss strategy. When it comes to losing weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit. However, you do not need to count calories in order to achieve this. Many of us would be better served by developing healthy habits that allow us to make better food choices and move a little bit more. This is why I developed my eight-week food and fitness foundation courses, to give people a good working knowledge of carbohydrates, fats and protein and an idea of how to portion them out at mealtimes.

    My experience - both from a personal perspective and from talking to experts - is that it is possible to go a long way towards your weight loss goals by getting to grips with the basics first.

    Slimming or weight management clubs

    These can be an important first step for some people. I understand embarking on a new healthy lifestyle can be daunting and that having the support of a group or a set of rules to follow might make that easier to begin with.

    I always believe in collaborating with experts in various areas. For my food foundation plan, I collaborated with a nutritional scientist. If you are considering doing a weight management plan make sure you do some research into the nutritional principles it is based on. Often when we want to shed a few pounds we are in a vulnerable place emotionally and will look to the quick fix, the reality is that there isn’t a quick fix. The weight didn’t go on overnight so you need to give your body some time to lose it.

    Weight loss clubs often demonise foods that can fit perfectly into a healthy balanced diet, for example nuts, avocados and olive oil, while pushing highly processed foods

    There are no inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. There are foods that service our health needs better than others but there are no foods that make us failures or bad people. Be cautious about how the messaging around any plan you undertake makes you feel.

    Intermittent fasting

    This is now a major dieting trend whereby you alternate between periods of eating normal amounts of food and periods of eating no food at all. The most common protocols are the 5:2 days or the 16:8 hours variations. Personally, I do not see it as a long term solution. It will work while you stick to it just like any other diet that creates a calorie deficit. It’s difficult to know whether there are any longer-term health benefits beyond weight loss because the majority of the studies we have are animal studies and those done in humans are contradictory, short term and don’t control for other health-seeking behaviours.

    For some, it’s an easier or more enjoyable way to create a calorie deficit. For others, it can look very similar to the binge restrict cycles we see in disordered eating patterns.

    It’s important to look at your relationship with food and your current lifestyle before deciding if this is the best strategy for you

    While all the above methods are tried and tested weight loss approached, I believe it’s important to focus on laying a good foundation first. If you work on building sustainable healthy habits as a first step then you set yourself up in a far better position to lose weight long term.

    We need to look at the bigger picture and realize that weight loss and ‘dieting’ are only ever meant to be a short term journey. We are not meant to spend our lives jumping from diet to diet losing and regaining the same 5-10 pounds. The real focus should be on longer-term weight maintenance and living a healthy and happy life.


    The Grazia Life Advice podcast

    This is not fitness related but is something I’ve really enjoyed listening to over the last few weeks. It’s the perfect companion to your morning commute or evening stroll and there are guests and topics to suit all interests. I loved the Vogue Williams interview on it.

    Stuffed Butternut Squash with Lentils and Feta

    My household is a meat and fish-loving one, dinner often centres around this. But each week we have a couple of dinners that have neither meat or fish. These stuffed butternut squash are a big hit.

    They are full of flavour and are a great combination of ingredients.

    I love to use butternut squash. They seem to last forever after you buy them so they are a great ingredient to throw in your shopping trolley and have in the kitchen.

    Serves: 2

    Prep time: 5 minutes

    Cook time: 30 minutes

    Nutritional Information (minus pine nuts): Protein – 16g Fat – 21g Carbohydrate- 20g Calories – 700


    1 butternut squash, halved with the pips scooped out

    150g green lentils

    3 tbsp olive oil

    1 onion, diced

    1 tbsp ground cumin, ground turmeric and paprika

    2 garlic cloves, crushed Tin chopped tomatoes

    75g feta, crumbled

    Optional: 40g pine nuts to sprinkle on top Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.


    Place the butternut squash in an oven proof dish and bake for 30 minutes.

    Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat.

    Add the onion and the spices and saute for five minutes. If the pan gets dry add a dash of water.

    Add the garlic and lentils and cook for about two minutes making sure all the ingredients are well mixed.

    Add the tin of tomatoes and leave to simmer for 20 minutes.

    Stir occasionally making sure the lentils do not stick to the bottom of the pan. If the mixture is beginning to get dry add a little water.

    Carefully remove the butternut halves from the oven and spoon the lentil mixture into them.

    Crumble over the feta cheese and sprinkle the pine nuts on top, if using. The stuffed butternut squash is ready to serve.

    Lamb Curry

    This recipe takes a little bit of preparation because I like to marinade the lamb. I love curry recipes. This is a mild curry so those of you that don’t like heat will happily eat it. It’s the type of dish that tastes even better the next day so it’s well worth making enough for a couple of dinners.

    Serves: 4

    Prep time: 2 hours

    Cook time: 1½ hour

    Nutritional Information (minus the rice or couscous): Protein – 27g Fat – 31g Carbohydrate – 14g Calories – 507


    1 lime, zest and juice

    3 garlic cloves, crushed

    800g diced lamb

    3 tbsp coconut oil

    1 onion finely chopped

    1 tbsp medium curry powder

    1 tsp cumin

    1 tin of coconut milk

    2 tbsp tomato puree

    1 tbsp tabasco (optional for those that like heat)

    1 tbsp honey


    Chopped fresh coriander to garnish Brown rice or couscous to serve Mix the lime zest, juice and garlic in a large bowl. Add the lamb and use your hands to massage the marinade into the meat. Cover and leave in the fridge fortwo hours.

    Heat the coconut oil in a large casserole over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for about five minutes.

    Cook the lamb in batches in the casserole, until browned on each side.

    Stir in the curry powder and cumin and cook for one minute.

    Stir in the coconut milk, tomato puree, tabasco and honey and cook for another five minutes. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for at leastone hour. Stir occasionally and add a little water if the curry seems dry.

    Ladle the curry into warmed serving bowls and sprinkle over the coriander. Serve with brown rice or couscous.

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