How to lose (almost) half a stone in six weeks

How to lose (almost) half a stone in six weeks
How to lose (almost) half a stone in six weeks

Although it doesn’t feel like it after weeks of constant rain, summer is beckoning. But if the dreary weather has made you fall off your diet wagon, don’t despair. There’s still time to lose weight before the sun really shows its face.

By making a few tweaks to your daily diet and exercise regime, it’s possible to lose one pound a week by the end of May. In calorific terms, that’s either eating 500 fewer calories a day, burning off the equivalent with exercise, or a combination of both.

Juls Abernethy from The Body Retreat suggests kick-starting a new regime by walking for at least 30 minutes five times a week. It depends on your body type, but one mile equates to around 100 calories burned.

She says: “Walk at a generous pace which creates a bit of puff. Then over the next six weeks, make it more of a challenge. You could increase your pace, the distance, or carry extra weight by putting some cans in a rucksack. That will put more load on the system and make the heart work harder.”

Then, week by week, follow these tips below.

Week one: cut portion size and change proportions

Cutting any food group out entirely can lead to cravings so in week one focus on reducing portion size. A 2021 review of 14 studies in the British Journal of Nutrition concluded smaller portions decreased daily energy intake and could lead to weight loss over time.

Rather than weigh food to reduce portions, Abernethy has a simple trick: eat from smaller plates. “Plate sizes have almost doubled over the last few decades, so you could be eating up to 40 per cent more volume of food than you need. Ideally, eat off a 9 inch-wide plate.”

Plus, second helpings are now strictly off the menu: “one and done” is the rule.

The proportion of food groups on the plate is also important, especially if you like to pile the pasta high. The nutritionist Alex Allan advises: “To put a balanced meal together, a quarter of the plate should be protein, a quarter complex carbohydrates like root vegetables, brown rice or quinoa and half the plate green veggies. That way you get the right balance between energy, protein and fibre, and it’s incredibly filling.”

Tip: use a portion-control plate to help serve the right amount of food in the right proportions
Tip: use a portion-control plate to help serve the right amount of food in the right proportions - Clara Molden for The Daily Telegraph

Week two: increase fibre intake

Fibre is a secret weapon in the battle of the bulge. Soluble fibre – found in oats, apples and carrots – keeps us fuller for longer, and insoluble fibre – found in bran, wholegrain and nuts –  keeps us regular.

“Foods with soluble fibre dissolve in water and turn into a viscous gel which helps us feel fuller for longer, feeds good bacteria and helps with cholesterol clearance,” Allan explains.

There are quick tweaks you can make to the food you eat to instantly add more fibre. “Getting protein is important, but increasing fibre is even more so,” Abernethy says. “You can still eat potatoes and sweet potatoes, but keep the skin on otherwise you’re losing the fibre. The same goes for carrots, parsnips and butternut squash. Plus, I love ground flaxseed, which you can now buy in most supermarkets. I add a dessertspoon to porridge, smoothies and juices.”

Week three: swap your carbs

The temptation when we try to lose weight is to go full Gwyneth Paltrow and remove any and all carbs from our diet. But instead, think about swapping highly refined carbs like white bread and pasta for healthier alternatives.

“Typically all plants have some form of carbohydrate in, but it’s a spectrum with green carbs like broccoli at one end right up to a donut, which is highly refined, at the other,” Allan explains. We want to limit those refined carbohydrates, because they’ve been processed to have a lot of nutrients taken out. Our body can rapidly digest them, causing a blood sugar spike. “Make sure your carbs are less processed or not processed at all, so you’re still getting requisite energy but without it causing that spike, which leads to weight gain.”

She suggests swapping rice for cauliflower rice, or mixing half and half. It might sound daunting but it’s easy to make – blitz florets in the food processor and cook in a microwave or oven with spices.

Week four: Mind out for sugar in the morning

A recent review linked ultra-processed foods – which can contain hidden sugars – to 32 harmful effects on health. Breakfast cereals are on the UPF list and can be packed with sugar. Eating all that extra glucose in the morning will set you up for a day of blood sugar highs and lows, leading to unnecessary snacking.

“I tell my clients to look at the sugar content on the back of the packet, even the ones deemed to be healthy,” Allan says. “How glucose affects our body is the same, whether it’s in the form of white sugar, honey, agave syrup, rice syrup, maple syrup, or dates.”

“Some types may have other health properties, but our body still breaks them down into glucose, which gives us that blood sugar spike, which then leads to insulin production and possible weight gain.”

Make sure your first meal of the day includes protein. “It could be full fat yoghurt, nut butters, eggs on rye toast or smoked salmon on a bagel,” Abernethy adds.

Week five: add pulses to your diet

A 2016 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that adding one serving of pulses to our diets every day could lead to weight loss. Consumption of pulses – think chickpeas, puy lentils or black beans – increased feelings of fullness by 31 per cent, and improved health by reducing bad cholesterol levels.

The nutritionist Hannah Hope says: “Beans, peas and lentils are among the most versatile and nutritious foods available. They are typically low in fat and high in vitamins and minerals such as folate and magnesium. They are a good source of protein and are a healthy substitute for meat which is higher in saturated fat and cholesterol.

“They’re a cheaper way to create nutritious meals and are a great source of fibre. Pulses are effective at reducing the postprandial insulin response in comparison to other carbohydrate foods, and as insulin is a fat storage hormone, this vegetable protein is a good inclusion in your daily diet to help with weight loss.”

Bean curry
Beans and pulses are a great source of fibre, vitamins and minerals - Getty

To get more pulses in your diet, Allan suggests cutting back on mince and bulking up dishes like shepherd’s pie or lasagne with lentils.

Week six: savour your food

Research has shown that eating mindfully can help lead to weight loss. A review of studies in Nutrition Bulletin in 2022 showed that common mindful eating practices include being aware of the properties of the food you are eating – its taste, temperature, smell and texture – and taking time to savour it; “listening to the body” by being aware of sensations such as hunger and fullness; and noticing what external cues make us want to eat.

“Eat seated at a table without any distractions, including no phone, television or reading material, and make sure you put down your cutlery between each mouthful,” Hope advises.

“This can mean you chew properly, digest your food effectively and know when you are full. Allowing your body to listen to its hunger and satiety hormones, leptin and ghrelin, can reduce overeating and the over-consumption of calories that are not required.”

In order to make us slow down our eating habits, Abernethy has another simple hack. “Set an alarm for seven or eight minutes into the meal and see what’s left on your plate. Ideally, meals should last at least 15 minutes – leptin, the stop eating hormone, is released 15-20 minutes after your first mouthful. Once you’ve got that going you won’t be back at the fridge a few minutes after eating.”


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