weight loss

4 minute read

Here’s everything you need to know about following a healthy diet

By Kirsty Mason | Medically reviewed by Dr Jaskirt Matharu
how to follow healthy diet

We’re currently tackling an obesity epidemic. According to a survey by the House of Commons, around three-quarters of adults aged 45-74 are overweight or obese in the UK. It’s a shockingly high statistic and has huge implications on the general health of the nation and the strain that goes on the NHS. 

With obesity a risk factor for severe COVID, the pandemic has added another layer of pressure on maintaining a healthy weight. But losing weight isn’t easy and some people inherit genes that make weight loss even more of a challenge.

As experts in the field of nutrition and weight management have told us, a healthy diet is absolutely critical for losing weight. But there’s an abundance of misinformation about nutrition that makes healthy eating even harder. Luckily, there are some common diet mistakes, and once you get to grips with what they are, they can be easily avoided.

What are the most common diet mistakes?

There’s no specific diet that works for everyone and to add to the challenge, there’s an abundance of misleading and false information circulating when it comes to healthy eating. On top of all this, more and more new diets claim to be the best and simplest way of shedding the pounds, making it even more difficult to know what will actually work for you. 

Through the noise of the latest fad diet, it’s critical to remember one detail: weight loss essentially boils down to a calorie deficit. This means that if you consistently expend more calories than you consume, you will lose weight.

If you think you’re following a healthy diet and still not losing weight, then you could have been misled by some confusing information. Some common diet mistakes include:

  • Not keeping a food diary: You may think the odd banana or spoonful of nut butter won’t add much to your calorie count but if you don’t keep track of exactly what you’re eating and drinking, then you might be surprised to learn just how many calories have sneaked into your day. 

  • Getting misled by food labels: Foods that are labelled as having health benefits aren’t always as healthy as they appear. Be wary of products labelled ‘high protein’ or ‘low fat’ as they’re often loaded with sugar. Also, make sure you’re eating whole grains in bread, rice and pasta. Bread that’s labelled ‘multigrain’ contains multiple grains but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s made with whole grains. To decipher the true health benefits of what you’re purchasing, always check the ingredients label.

  • Eating too much after exercise: After a good workout session, people tend to reward themselves with a treat. While you may think this has no impact on your weight loss, people often overestimate how many calories they’ve burned in a gym session and actually consume an even greater amount of calories after the workout. It’s best to avoid a treat after exercise so you can see the true benefits of physical activity.

  • Weighing yourself too regularly: Weight naturally fluctuates throughout the day based on numerous factors including what you’ve eaten, drank and even how you’ve slept. You should weigh yourself once a week at the same time, every week. This will help you to get a clearer picture of how your weight loss journey is going and avoid the feelings of disappointment that could ultimately lead to a binge.

  • Giving up too soon: If you’re not seeing fast results, it can be tempting to give up. When done healthily and sustainably, losing weight is a slow process. It’s important to stick to your weight loss regime and revisit any areas that you may be able to improve on.

What’s the best diet for weight loss?

Although it’s critical that you consume fewer calories than you burn when trying to lose weight, you should still incorporate a healthy balanced diet into your lifestyle. Very low-calorie diets are rarely recommended and only in very specific circumstances. This is because there can be negative side effects such as hair thinning and low energy.

A good balance of nutrients will help you to feel energised, promote normal production of your hormones (such as testosterone), and encourage a sound night’s sleep. But it’s important that you select the right foods and consume fewer calories than you expend.

Although cutting carbs may lead to rapid weight loss, studies suggest this method of weight loss is unsustainable and the best way to achieve long-term weight loss success is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. That means you should have a good proportion of carbohydrates, protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Protein and fibre are two critical nutrients when it comes to weight loss. This is because protein aids metabolism and promotes feelings of fullness. A study that looked at the effects of a high-fibre, low-fat diet found that it led to sustained weight reduction in people with type 2 diabetes.

Understanding which nutrients you need to include in your diet is one thing but putting it into practice and selecting the right foods is a whole different ball game. 

To get a healthy dose of fibre in your diet, try and include some of the following foods:

  • Fruits: Berries, apples, pears

  • Vegetables: Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, carrots, artichokes

  • Legumes: Lentils, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans

  • Nuts: Almonds, chia seeds, sesame seeds

  • Whole grain and wholemeal: Whole grain bread, whole-wheat couscous, whole grain rice, whole-wheat pasta

Good sources of protein include the following:

  • Poultry: Chicken breast, turkey breast

  • Lean meat: Pork, beef

  • Fish: Salmon, mackerel, prawns

  • Dairy products: Greek yoghurt, cottage cheese

  • Legumes: Kidney beans, black beans, lentils, chickpeas, split peas, tofu

  • Nuts: Almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds

Good snacks include:

  • Nuts and seeds

  • Boiled eggs

  • Raw vegetables and houmous

Foods and drinks to avoid or keep to a minimum:

  • Sugary drinks including fruit juice and fizzy drinks

  • Alcohol

  • Cakes

  • Pastries

  • White bread

  • Fried foods

  • Processed foods

  • Fast food including pizza, chips and burgers

  • Sugary breakfast cereals

One of the reasons that the above foods are categorised as either healthy or unhealthy is because there’s an important difference between refined carbs and complex carbs. Refined carbs, or ‘simple’ carbs, which are found in white bread and sugary foods and drinks, have little mineral or vitamin content and are easily processed by the body, meaning you’ll experience a spike in blood sugar and soon feel hungry again. Complex carbs, which are found in whole grain bread, brown rice, vegetables and legumes, are digested slowly by the body, meaning that you’ll feel full and energised for longer. They’re also a good source of vitamins and minerals.

With all the different types of foods that you should and shouldn’t eat, it’s difficult to know exactly what meals to make. As a basic rule-of-thumb, try and base your meals around a meat or legume and then add plenty of vegetables. 

The numan take

When it comes to weight loss, it’s critical that you stick to a healthy diet. That means avoiding refined carbs high in sugar and processed foods. Instead, opt for high-fibre and high-protein foods that will keep you feeling fuller for longer.