Disordered eating has become second nature in our society, with individuals embarking on their weight loss journey and turning to behaviours that promote an unhealthy relationship with food. With varying advice across the internet, it can be difficult to understand which practices will not only support your weight loss journey, but enhance your life overall and encourage a balanced lifestyle.
In this article, we are going to unpick some common practices that individuals fall upon during their weight loss journey, including calorie counting, cheat meals, cutting out food groups, and skipping meals in the hope this will arm you with the best knowledge for embracing your weight loss journey.
Firstly, what is it? Calorie counting is the act of counting the calories you consume, whether this is via an app or keeping a log in a notebook, to understand the amount of calories you are eating and maintain your daily intake within a set range.
Calorie counting can be a useful tool to understand the amount of calories you are consuming, as often our expectations can be a lot less than reality. This can allow us to make informed decisions regarding the food we eat, supporting our weight loss journey.
However, calorie counting is only a rough estimate, and it’s not actually that accurate as there are other factors to consider like our metabolic rate, the type of food, and our gut microbiome! This might sound stressful, but this is why it’s important to focus on the quality of your food rather than getting hung up on the numbers.
For example, try swapping brown rice for white rice. Calorie wise, there’s not much difference, but the nutritional content of brown rice is much higher in vitamins and minerals due to how they are processed. Eating brown rice will leave you feeling fuller quicker, and for longer, which overall will support your weight loss journey!
Focusing on the type of food you eat will have a much greater impact on your weight loss journey, and allows you to remain in a positive headspace seeing food for the fuel and joy it brings, rather than a number on a plate.
A "cheat meal" allows intentional deviation from your meal plan, aiming to boost adherence to your prescribed diet. Tailored to individual preferences and goals, these meals, popular in fitness circles, are gaining traction in mainstream diets. But do they work and are they supportive of weight loss?
The "cheat meal" theory centres on leptin, the "fullness hormone." When calorie intake drops, leptin levels reduce, increasing hunger. The idea is that a cheat meal temporarily boosts leptin, tricking your body and preventing overeating. However, limited scientific backing calls for further research.
Studies suggest that weight loss associated with “cheat meals” stems from reduced overall caloric intake rather than the leptin theory. Cheat meals may foster unhealthy behaviours, like binge eating and can lead to emotions of guilt and shame, and potentially eating disorders. Shifting to a positive mindset, framing treats positively, and maintaining a balanced diet offer a more sustainable and effective approach to weight loss than restrictive periods followed by guilty binges.
Cutting Out Food Groups
When it comes to weight loss, it’s common practice to not only reduce our calorie intake but also to cut out food groups. Most of the time, these diets focus on cutting out carbohydrates or fats, but do they deserve the bad press that they receive?
Carbohydrates are an essential part of our diet, as they are our body's main energy source and support various bodily functions. Carbohydrates come in 2 forms:
- Simple sugars: These are quickly digested and cause a rapid blood sugar spike. These can be found in foods such as fruits and table sugar.
- Complex carbohydrates: These are broken down more slowly, providing sustained energy. Complex carbohydrates, found in foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, also contain dietary fibre important for digestive health and feeling full.
Fats are also an essential part of our diet. They are vital for energy, cell structure, vitamin absorption, insulation, hormone production, and satiety. Once again, fats come in different forms:
- Unsaturated fats: These have a positive impact on our heart health and can be found in foods such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, and fatty fish.
- Saturated fats: We should aim to have less saturated fats and focus on unsaturated fats due to their negative impact on heart health and cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are found in foods such as meat and dairy products.
- Trans fats: These are the fats that we should avoid, and are commonly found in ultra-processed foods. They have negative impacts on our health.
Weight management involves avoiding excessive intake of any nutrient therefore carbohydrates and fats don’t deserve the bad press. It’s important to focus on wholefood carbohydrates and unsaturated fats for a healthy lifestyle. Weight loss from cutting out food groups tends to occur due to a reduced calorie intake, rather than a specific nutrient, so engaging in a balanced diet with a range of nutrients is vital for overall health.
Skipping meals may feel like a wise choice to lose weight, however it’s not universally considered a healthy approach to weight loss and isn’t sustainable. Skipping meals may lead to initial weight loss, however it may have the following negative impact:
- Slow down your metabolism in an attempt to reserve the food you have provided your body.
- Trigger overeating later in the day due to intense hunger.
- Cause nutritional deficiencies due to omitting meals.
- Negatively impact your blood sugar.
- Lead to disordered behaviours or thoughts around food.
A more sustainable and balanced approach to weight management involves consuming regular, well-balanced meals and snacks. Focusing on nutrient-dense foods and meeting your nutritional needs allows you to go about your day to day life, without obsessing over food or dreaming about when your next meal will occur due to restriction.
To summarise, there is no better way to engage in your weight loss journey than through balanced, sustainable behaviours that promote your overall health and wellbeing. Restrictive practices, such as the ones listed above, can cause obsessional thoughts around food and weight to be regained. Ensure you are engaging in a balanced, nutrient-dense diet that provides not only what you need nutritionally, but leaves you feeling satiated, both physically and mentally.
If you are struggling with disordered eating behaviours, please book an appointment with one of our Mental Health Practitioners who will be able to provide support and advice for your concerns. Additionally, you can book into eMeds CBT Programme to address your concerns and learn new behaviours to cope with disordered eating patterns.