Daily ‘tweaks’ can keep you in shape

No need for grand give-up-everything schemes. Anna Magee asks the experts for the little strategic regular changes that can help you tackle the bulge.

If you’re intimidated by elaborate diets — each one more complicated than the last — some simple maths could help ease the confusion.

Several studies have shown that simple diet ‘tweaks’, such as using a smaller plate or guzzling a glass of water before eating, could significantly impact your waistline.

Plus, with more known than ever about the sneaky daily tricks that can increase your metabolism, you can get your body burning more energy with less effort.

6.45am: Less-is-more movement

It’s the best fitness news of the decade. The right kind of shorter workouts produce better results than the wrong kind of longer ones. “You can see remarkable changes with short periods of interval exercise,” says Dr Chris Shaw, an exercise scientist at the University of Birmingham.

Studies have shown that people who do shorter, high intensity interval training lose more weight than those slogging away on the aerobic machines for hours. It’s this easy: whether walking, jogging swimming, riding an exercise bike, rowing machine or cross-trainer, go as quickly as you can for 30 seconds, then come back down to an easy pace for two minutes. “Continue this for 10-15 minutes for maximum impact,” says Dr Shaw.

7.55am: Use a smaller plate

Here’s a sneaky psychological trick. By putting your breakfast — or any meal — into a smaller bowl or on a smaller plate, you’re likely to be more satisfied with it. A Cornell University study found that when a fixed portion of food was eaten from a smaller dish, the meal seemed more substantial and people tended to eat less.

8am: Eat some eggs

We plead — if you want to lose weight don’t skip breakfast. Women who forego this meal are four and a half times more likely to be obese than those who eat breakfast. Having protein in the morning requires more energy from your body to break down so can keep you fuller for longer. In one study, overweight women who had two eggs a day for eight weeks lost 65% more weight and had an 83% greater drop in their waist measurements than those who ate plain bagels.

8.30am: Slim down your coffee

Hurrah! Coffee could help weight loss. ‘Caffeine has a ‘thermogenic’ effect — it can slightly raise your metabolic rate after you have consumed it,” says dietitian Sarh Shenker. But, a large milky latte can clock up around 230 calories. Swap it for a large Americano with a little bit of hot skim milk and you save around 200 calories!

10.30am: Really want those digestives? Ask your phone

Many of us snack when we’re bored, overwhelmed or simply out of habit. Now, a fantastic new app can help you gauge exactly why you’re reaching for the biscuits, the crisps or that pesky Yorkie bar. The Comfort Eater Beater, created by Dr Jaqueline Blissett, a psychologist at the University of Birmingham, helps you break habitual or emotional eating cycles by asking you quick but sharp questions designed to help you work out whether you’re actually hungry or simply bored, stressed or on auto-pilot, then provides links to handy distractions to help get your mind off the cookie jar. Free from iTunes.

12.45pm: Eye up the packaging

People who read labels on food packaging before buying eat 5% less than those who don’t. Look out for hidden sugars that commonly masquerade as any of the following: barley malt, cane juice, corn sweetener/syrup, dextrin, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, maldodextrin, polydextrose, sucrose, maltose, date sugar, microcrystalline cellulose and high-fructose corn syrup.

12.55pm: Drink some water, make it iced

Could it get simpler than drinking a glass or two of water before eating? One study found those that drank two glasses of water before a meal lost an average of 4.5lb more over 12 weeks than those that didn’t. Add some ice and you give your metabolism a kick, says Prof Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating (Hay House). “Your body uses energy to heat up an iced beverage so you will burn one calorie for every ice cold ounce you drink. If you have eight glasses of iced water a day that burns an extra 70 calories a day.”

1pm: Power up your lunch

Many of us don’t get enough magnesium and a lack is now implicated in obesity, says Schenker. A magnesium-rich lunch she recommends is sweet potato soup with two tablespoons of hummus in a wholegrain pitta with baby spinach leaves. Alternatively, you could make up a big salad of spinach leaves and add mackerel and pumpkin seeds. A drizzle of Balsamic helps too — adding vinegar to food lowers its Glycaemic Index rating, helping control insulin levels, keeping you full longer. One study found this led to eating around 200 fewer calories through the day.

1.40pm: Take a walk

As there are so many vitamin D receptors in the body it is now being implicated for all over health, says Schenker. Studies have also shown it’s essential to weight management. “The sun is too low in the winter months to help us make vitamin D when it hits the skin,” says Schenker. “But it’s possible to make all you need during the summer by walking outside between 11am and 3pm for 20 minutes and exposing your face, neck and forearms to sunlight,” she says. You’ll walk a mile in this time and, according to Prof Wansink, burn 100 calories – if done daily that’s up to 10 pounds a year.

4.30pm: Grab some monkey nuts

If you snack out of habit at this time “you might need a more sustaining lunch and stick to three meals as this will take your mind off eating,” says Schenker. “But if you are hungry, a handful or raw, unsalted peanuts will keep blood sugar levels stable and satisfy you.”

6pm: Chew off your cravings

As far as diet danger zones go, cravings after a hard day’s work is a definite contender for most of us. Prof Wansink suggests a technique called ‘Rescripting,’ which is as simple as doing something different. “Afterwork snacking could be rescripted with a stick of gum rather than whatever is in the fridge, while you’re preparing dinner,” he says.

7.30pm: Plate geometry

Portion sizes are important, says Schenker. “The simplest way to stick to smaller ones at dinner is to make only one third of your plate the pasta, rice or potatoes portion, another third the protein — which should be no more than the size of your palm (or 100 grams) of meat, fish, poultry, eggs or beans — and the final third salad or vegetables.”

9pm: Switch the lights off

Sleep is one thing we all want in bed and the amount and quality we get impacts our weight. Too little decreases levels of the hormone leptin, essential to fat-burning and appetite regulation. It also causes a spike in the stress hormone cortisol which disturbs blood sugar and leads to fat gain around the tummy. For at least an hour before bed, limit your use of computers or late-night telly and if you get up to go to the loo do it in the dark. A study into the effects of light on mice found that those under bright light gained 50% more weight than those in darkness.


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