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Ways to lose weight - part 3. Drinks

Drinking is something a lot of people do very badly. Not enough water and too much alcohol are the main culprits

In part three of this series of article on weight loss and healthy eating, I'll look at drinks.

Drinking is something a lot of people do very badly. Not enough water and too much alcohol are the main culprits, as are treating items such as milkshakes or smoothies as if they were drinks, when actually they're foods. This is a ridiculously easy way to pack on a lot of pounds, so here are some tips for healthy drinking.  

1    Cut out the booze. There are hundreds of calories in it and alcohol does you no favours. Yes, some wines have good antioxidants, but so does grape juice.

However, we are what we are, and a couple of times a week a small glass of wine with a meal won't kill you - but make it small. If you have a tendency to fill your glass, which you shouldn't (you're meant to use the air space), stick to a sherry glass instead of a wine glass. My Victorian wine glass is tiny, but the average pub measure has crept up from 125ml to 175ml to 250ml in the past ten years, with some white wine glasses now holding over 360ml - no wonder there are now calls for cutbacks in the interests of public health: the UK is becoming a nation of alcoholics. 

Personally, I'd generally avoid beer and cider, and I'd avoid spirits altogether. It's hard to drink a small amount of beer or cider, and pure spirits are nothing but bad. Again, however, one beer on a Friday night won't kill you. 

2   If drinking is a big part of your social life, think about getting some new friends. OK, I'm kidding, but just as fat friends make you fat, drunk friends make you drunk. The average age of patients at the famous Priory clinic has dropped from 45 to 35 and under, inside the past decade, and reseachers say these patients are mainly social drinkers with no real background problems - it's simply that boozing has become a way of life in the UK.

If you want to cut down your alcohol consumption or cut it out but you're worried about peer pressure, try the following:

* Switch to mineral water and a slice of lemon - it looks exactly like a G&T and no-one will nag you.  

* Try non-alcoholic beer. It's pretty rubbish, and not good for your health, but as an interim measure, it may get you off the real stuff.

* Red or white grape juice looks the same in a glass as red or white wine.

* Try doing things in the evening that don't necessarily involve drinking - watching a film, going bowling, going to the gym, going for a walk.  Meeting your mates down the pub every night is a recipe for disaster. 

3    Don't drink fizzy drinks (soda), including Coke, Pepsi, Tab, bitter lemon and all the rest of this filthy tribe. Packed with aspartame and other carcinogens, this stuff is pure poison. If you like the fizz, wean yourself off it with a flavoured water such as lemon or lime Perrier, then onto plain fizzy water, then onto non-fizzy water.  

4    Drink your drinks at room temperature, not ice cold or piping hot. Why shock your digestion in this way? You might think that a cold glass of water is more refreshing, but in fact you'll drink more, and more easily, if you take your fluids at room temperature.  

5    Drink only a few fluid ounces with meals - just enough to moisten your food and no more. Don't swill your food down with liquids - it impedes your digestion. Also, if you can, don't drink for 20-30 minutes before a meal, nor a couple of hours afterwards. Allow your digestive juices to do their job properly without being diluted.  

5    Cut out the caffeine. Here's where I fall down, because I drink one cup of black filter coffee a day, for breakfast, and I LOVE it. But that's that. For the most part, if you want a pick-me-up, instead of caffeine you should stick to herb teas (proper, single ones such as camomile or peppermint, not made-up versions such as Red Zinger).  Roobios is quite good too, if you like it (I don't), while white and green tea are much lower in caffeine than black tea, and are packed with antioxidants. But don't keep falling back on caffeinated drinks out of habit - if you're thirsty, drink water, and if you need a mid-afternoon boost, eat instead of drinking.

6    Drink water. And I'll repeat that. Drink water. It is one of the best favours you can do for yourself. If your skin is dry, if you have a headache, if you're tired mid-afternoon, if you have a sore throat, if you're  constipated, more than likely dehydration is the cause. Don't rely on thirst alone - it's a poor indicator, but if you are thirsty, don't ignore it - your body wants water so give it what it needs. Keep bottles by your bedside, on your desk, where you cook, by your armchair...

As a rough guide, you need to drink half as many fluid ounces a day as you weigh in pounds - I weigh 122 pounds, so I drink about 60floz (three pints) a day. You don't need to go overboard on this if you're eating a lot of fruit and vegetables, because they already have a high water content, but if you're taking in alcohol or caffeine, you need to drink more to make up for it.

Tomorrow: the phases of the day and how to eat accordingly 

Ways to lose weight - part two

If you want to lose weight, or simply eat healthily, here are some guidelines to follow (part two)

Following on from yesterday's piece on diet and nutrition, here are some tips on how to eat.

Food is medicine, and what you eat, and how you eat are among the most important decisions that you make on a daily basis. Respect your body when you eat - find time and space to do it properly. 

How to eat 

1    Create an ambience - a nice tablecloth, flowers, music, candles. Don't detract from the food by eating in front of the television or at your desk - the more exciting the meal and the paraphenalia of the meal, the more satisfying the experience, and the quicker you will feel full. If you have to eat in your office, there's still nothing to stop you using proper plates, cutlery and napkins - it will amuse the hell out of your colleagues. If the weather's right and you can get to a park, make a picnic for yourself (your friends will probably join you).

Avoid, if you possibly can, the business lunch - over-large portions, unknown ingredients, lots of talking and a possibly stressful situation are not conducive to good digestion - you may already be aware of this if you get 'wind' every time you have a business lunch. 

2    If you specifically want to lose weight, eat from a smaller plate, then it looks like there's more food. I eat my meals from what is technically a sideplate, otherwise my portion would just look stupid. Buy a special plate, cutlery and glasses that make you feel happy - something beautiful and celebratory so that when you sit down to eat, you feel relaxed and stimulated. 

3    Cut your food into small pieces. The more times you lift your hand to your mouth, the more signals you will give your brain that you're eating and the quicker you will reach satiety. The complete antithesis of this is, say, a burger, which you bring up to your face and snarf down without moving your hands much. This lack of hand/mouth/brain signalling is one reason that fast food is so dangerous for your waistline. 

4    Chew your food. This is the number one most important thing you can do, and when I say chew, I mean really chew. Remember that old adage of 32 times? It's not enough - you need to chew 40 or 50 times before swallowing. Chew - and this is crucial - until you can't tell what the food is by its texture. This is the key. You will become satiated very quickly and you won't get indigestion from former culprits like raw root vegetables, radishes or nuts. Also 'chew' your drinks, if you're having things like fruit juice or almond milk - swill the stuff around in your mouth so your saliva mixes with it and begins the process of digestion.

5    Once you're full, stop eating. Yes, I know it's easier said than done. Like many post-war baby boomers, I was brought up to eat everything on my plate, even if I wasn't hungry, but it is a terrible, awful habit. It's your food - you're under no obligation to finish it all. As time goes by, if you begin chewing your food really thoroughly, you'll find you eat less and less, but the last thing you'll be is hungry.

Tomorrow: part three, what and how to drink


Ways to lose weight - part one

If you want to lose weight, or simply eat healthily, here are some guidelines to follow

I've been thinking a lot about diet lately, and about how there's so much fixation on diet and weight loss when there should really be more fixation on health.

I don't claim to be any sort of expert here, but since I'm fitter and healthier right now at 45 than I was at 25, I thought I'd share a few tips I've found useful.

The way I eat isn't a diet, it's just a way of living, and with it, despite having both ulcerative colitis and GERD, I manage to remain drug- and symptom-free. If you eat like this, you'll be fit and healthy for life, and if you're overweight you'll lose it without much effort. 


1    Avoid processed food. What's processed? Anything in a packet or a tin. Anything you remember seeing advertised. Anything mucked about with (sausages, pate, bacon, bread, pasta etc). Much processed food is high in salt, much of it is high in fat or sugar, and all of it is a long way removed from nature.  Eat fresh, simple food - shop two or three times a week to stock your larder if necessary. 

2    Base your diet on fruits and vegetables. Although humans are able to digest meat, fish and complex carbs, it's not what we're best designed to do. We have an enormously long digestive tract, mostly flat teeth and a circular jaw action - all characteristics of herbivores. For most of human history, people were hunter-gatherers who foraged, ate fruit and dug up vegetables, as well as eating whatever bits of meat or fish they came across (much as our nearest rellies, the chimps, do). Agriculture and grain-based diets are relatively recent in the history of humankind, which is one reason that some people find them hard to digest - they lack the essential enzymes to process them. Fruits and veg, though, are easy-peasy for us all to both chew and digest.

If in doubt about a food, ask yourself if you can eat this food raw - if the answer's no (eg: wheat, potatoes, oats etc), put it further down your list of desireables.

3    Buy organic where you can (it isn't always possible or affordable). Wash and peel your veg before eating to remove chemical residues.  

4    Reduce your daily protein consumption to a gram for every kilogram of body weight. I weigh 55 kilos, so I can have 55 grams of protein - not very much.  


5    Cook less. We tend to automatically cook items such as beets, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, but they're perfectly edible raw - you just need to chew them well (more on this tomorrow). Always eat your fruit raw in preference to cooked. 

6    Cook without adding fat. Steaming is probably the best way overall and works for virtually all vegetables (try studding whole shallots with cloves and steaming them, for instance, for a different taste). It also works well for fish - if you usually grill your fish, try seasoning it and wrapping it in foil then steaming it instead. You can also steam light meats such as chicken and duck - just cut up into dice, season and wrap tightly in foil.

Stir-fries also use very little oil - just add a teaspoon or so to a wok and wipe it around with kitchen paper: if the food sticks when you're cooking, add a shot of water, not more oil.  You can even roast without adding fat - when you roast a chicken, for instance, add only wine or water to the roasting dish, and drain off the fat afterwards rather than making gravy from it. A chicken cooked this way turns out beautifully moist and tender. 

7    Use little or no salt. This takes some getting used to, but we need very little salt in our diets, and we all know that too much causes hypertension. Try adding just a pinch during cooking, and don't put salt on the dinner table. Grey, unrefined sea salt is the best, and is also less 'salty' than table salt. Beware of salt that doesn't clump into damp lumps - it's had anti-caking agent added.

8   Season your food with freshly chopped herbs or ground spices rather than with butter, oil, mayonnaise or salad dressing.  A squeeze of fresh lemon juice (not long-life) is also good. Allow your food to taste, essentially, of itself rather than smothering it with other flavours. 

Tomorrow:  how to eat and what to eat