Why black and white thinking may be preventing you from losing weight for good.


Illustration by Robbie Horsepool.


Have you ever been on a rigid diet where you have a list of the foods you can eat (the good) and a list that you can’t (the bad) and you must eat a certain amount of each? Did you find that after a while you broke the rules of the diet and then gave up on it completely and went back to how you used to eat, only to put on more weight?

Well, this is a common experience for many trying to lose weight and some researchers have found that this ‘all-or- nothing’ way of dieting is one of the reasons why people who go on strict diets often gain more weight in the long-term. If you break one of the rules you are more likely to come off the diet completely, and go on to gain more weight than you originally lost.

So what is the best approach to losing weight?

The researchers found that a more flexible approach where the ‘bad’ foods, the fatty and sweet processed foods, are allowed once in awhile, helps people to lose weight and keep it off.

This more flexible approach can also be seem in terms of the proportions of what you eat, sometimes called the 80:20. It means that you aim to eat mostly good quality, fairly unprocessed foods, so home cooked meals, home prepared lunches, snacks of fruit or nuts.

This leaves room in your diet for the crisps, chocolate and cake which make up 20 % of what you eat. This approach can be much more successful than rigid rules about what to eat or not eat.

You can read more about this research here:


I hope you are enjoying all your new season foods. I had a lovely pub lunch of risotto with asparagus last week!


A guide to replacing sugary foods (and drinks) in your diet

Walnuts by Mister GC

Walnuts by Mister GC, courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It was good to hear the government are finally taking some action on sugar in soft drinks (in 2 years’ time!) with the soft drinks levy. Hopefully other measures to reduce sugar in foods will soon be announced.

It is difficult to escape the fact that, many soft drinks contain a lot of sugar, and so these are one of the first things to avoid when trying to reduce your sugar intake. But most processed foods also contain some sugar so reducing and replacing these in your diet, is a good way to reduce your sugar intake.

So what can you eat instead of processed foods such as chocolate, biscuits, shop-bought cakes, cereal bars, ready meals, sugary breakfast cereals? And what do you drink instead of soft drinks?

1. Chocolate. Sorry guys, chocolate contains a lot of sugar! Milk chocolate contains around double the amount of sugar that dark chocolate does, although some of this will be milk sugars (which are not classed as free sugars) but unfortunately this is not specified on the label. So try to reduce your chocolate intake if this is something you eat a lot of, or switch to dark chocolate (in moderation!). A few squares of dark chocolate with a handful of nuts makes a good alternative to a whole chocolate bar.

Maybe start to make the changes after Easter!

2. Biscuits, shop-bought cake, and cereal bars. These all contain a lot of sugar and processed fats so are best kept to a minimum, also for the moreish reasons. Make your own biscuits, cakes cereal bars where you can, reducing the sugar in the recipe and adding nutritious additives such as nuts, or dried fruit, and even making them with wholemeal flour or ground almonds. Home-baked cakes and cereal bars add some variety to your diet.

3. Ready-meals. Try to avoid these and check the amount of sugar they contain. If you are in a rush try these quick meals instead:

  • Omelette with mushrooms, chopped ham, or cheese, with a few boiled potatoes and some vegetables or salad.
  • Scrambled eggs on wholemeal toast with a fried mushrooms or smoked salmon and a handful of watercress.
  • Stir fried vegetables with frozen prawns and rice.
  • Pasta with a tomato-based sauce and chopped good-quality ham.

4. Breakfast cereals. The sugary versions can also add a lot of sugar to your diet. Check how much sugar they contain per 100g and go for the ones with the least amount of sugar, less than 5g per 100g if possible. Add some fresh fruit or a few raisins to sweeten.

5. Soft drinks (canned or bottled). Check labels for the amount of sugar per whole product and remember that one teaspoon of sugar is equivalent to 4g. If you find it difficult to stop drinking soft drinks, start reducing them and then gradually cut them out. The best thing to replace them with is water. Making this kind of change can take time and it is a process of building up the amount of water you drink.

Remember a can of cola has 9 teaspoons of sugar (over the maximum recommended amount for an adult of 30g or 7 ½ teaspoons per day). Also orange juice and other fruit juices count towards your free sugar intake as the fruit sugars have been taken out of the fruit. 150ml orange juice counts towards your intake of free sugars as 3-4 teaspoons. It is better to have the fruit instead.

6. Alcoholic drinks. Opt for wine or spirits as these contain less sugar and calories than other drinks, but drink in moderation (of course!). Most mixers contain lots of sugar so have these occasionally or have spirits on their own or with a dash of water.

I hope you have found this helpful. Remember it takes time to reduce your sugar intake, so do it in stages.

Have a good Easter,




8 Foods & drinks to beware of when trying to reduce your sugar intake.

SugarIn July 2015 the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN), a committee of scientist who advise the government, published a report on dietary carbohydrates (including sugar) and health and recommended an intake of no more than 5% of dietary energy as sugar. So I am starting this article with a run down of what this actually means. Then I will talk about foods to watch out for that contain a lot of sugar.

What does it mean ‘5% of dietary energy as sugar’? 5% of a person daily allowance of 2000kcal (often considered to be an average amount) is 25g. SACN also recommended that adults should consume no more than 30g of sugar per day. How much is 25g in lay terms? This is about 6 sugar cubes or teaspoons (or 7 teaspoons in 30g). What do they mean by sugar? They mean ‘free sugars’ that is sugar in unsweetened fruit juice, honey and syrups and the table sugar we add to food and drinks and that is added to many foods. What is excluded? Sugar found naturally in milk and sugar naturally present in whole fruit and vegetables. Why did they recommend this? Because of the link between sugar intake and tooth decay and drinks containing added sugar with type 2 diabetes and weight gain.

Which foods and drinks which contain a lot of sugar?

Sugar is in many different foods. It is naturally present in milk, fruit and vegetables and this isn’t a problem. But it is added to many processed foods, mainly as it makes things taste better. These can be foods that we would not consider to be ‘sweet’ such as soups, baked beans, sushi, ready meals, and sandwiches. Then there are the obviously sugary foods like sweets, chocolate, biscuits, cakes, cereal bars and canned drinks. Being aware of the sugar in foods is one step towards reducing your intake. So which foods should you be aware of that contain a lot of sugar?

  1. Drinks. Many soft drinks contain a lot of sugar, particularly the fizzy ones. Or you may add sugar to your tea and coffee, which can easily mount up over the day. Even fruit juices with ‘no added sugar’ are a way of putting a lot of ‘free sugars’ into your diet.
  2. Chocolate. Particularly milk chocolate, but also dark chocolate, both contain quite a lot of sugar, that is why this is a food that it is best to eat in moderation (but as many of us know this is harder to do than it sounds).
  3. Biscuits. Lots of sugar goes into the average biscuit, and often chocolate too. One or two biscuits are okay, the problem is that biscuits are so moreish we often eat more than 2.
  4. Cake. Cake comes in many guises, some are seen as more healthy, such as the flapjack, but shop-bought versions can contain an eye watering amount of sugar. Eating regular cakes of any sort can add a lot of sugar to your diet.
  5. Cereal bars. Beware the cereal bar, as like the flapjack, it is seen as ‘healthy’ but it is very difficult to find one which has not got lots of sugar in it.
  6. Ready-meals. Best avoided in my opinion, but on the odd occasion you eat one, you may choose the one that is ‘low-fat’ but this often means it has more sugar than you would expect. This is a good reason for cooking, because you know what goes into it.
  7. Breakfast cereals. Some of the whole-grain versions are ‘sugar free’ but most have some sugar added. So even if you don’t add it yourself you are still getting sugar as part of your breakfast. Check the box.
  8. Alcohol. This can be a big source of sugar if you are drinking cocktails, alcopops, or anything with sugary mixers in, but alcoholic drinks themselves such as wine, spirits, and beer have relatively small amounts of sugar.

Next time: what to replace sugary foods with.

Thanks for reading,

Have a good weekend,


Useful links:

‘SACN’s sugars and health recommendations: why 5%?’, Public Health England, July 2015, accessed 10/3/16 at:


‘How much sugar is in your alcohol’, The Telegraph website, accessed 10/3/16 at:


Why bother to plan your meals?

As a student I would often find myself eating a jacket potato with ‘something’ for dinner. The jacket potato would be microwaved and the something would be grated cheese, tinned fish or sliced ham. I would also have a vegetable component in the form of steamed broccoli, sliced tomato, or maybe a bit of lettuce. But after a while of eating like this, I started to get bored. It was then that I discovered meal planning. I found some recipes which looked easy and I liked. I bought the ingredients in my next shop and started cooking delicious meals which I repeated each week. As I was having a different thing each night, I didn’t get bored with my food.

So far this year we have been looking at making goals for the year and beyond and how to ensure these goals get put into practice. Having goals helps to spur you into action, as long as the bigger goal is something you want. If one of your goals is to feel healthier and have more energy, then a good place to start towards this is to make sure you eat home cooked meals. When I was a student I found that eating interesting, rather than microwaved, meals, gavMenu planning 003e me more energy and I was less prone to colds.

Of course time to cook delicious meals is not always easy to find amidst the busy lives we all lead. But in order to give yourself a good chance of achieving this most of the time, I recommend meal planning. Make a list of the meals you are going to cook for the week. You can plan this so that you have really easy things on days when you are going to the gym or are going out, and cook things that take a little longer on days when you have more time. Look out for a suitable notepad that you can use to stick on the fridge door with your list. Some stationary shops stock menu planning pads which are really useful.

I also recommend finding and making a list of 10 easy recipes that you like. Find them in your cookbooks or on-line sites such as:




If you don’t stick to it exactly it doesn’t matter. My clients and I have found that making a menu plan makes shopping easier, cheaper, and meal preparation quicker and easier, as you are never stuck for something to cook.

Have fun with your meal planning! Let me know how you get on.


How to ensure you put your goals into practice.

Woman stretching_Witthaya Phonsawat

You have set your goals (short, medium and long-term set), so what’s the next step? It is important to ensure they aren’t just something you write down and put in a drawer only to forget all about until next January. So how do you ensure that you put your goals into action?


An important part of putting your goal into action is the preparation. For example, if you have decided to cook and plan delicious meals 3 times a week, you need to find the recipes, buy the ingredients and equipment, and then plan when you will cook the meals. Without doing these things you will not be likely to reach this goal.


In fact, planning is a crucial step. Planning when you will do the activities that will help you feel healthier will ensure that you know when you should be doing them and can focus on them. For example, when and how will you do your 30 minute exercise? Will you go for a jog in the morning, a walk at lunch, or do the hoovering in the evening?


I read somewhere that ‘what gets measured gets done’ and after testing this out, I have found that it works. So for an activity such as ’30 minutes activity per day’ have a ticklist where you mark off which days you have done this and put it somewhere visible so you can see your progress.


Which brings me to the final step to ensure success, you need to have a reward system. If you stick to your goal 75-80% of the time then you deserve to recognise this so give yourself some sort of reward. It could be a trip to the cinema, buying a new top, or going out to lunch, whatever you enjoy doing and is within your budget.

To recap, once you have set your goals, to ensure you put them into practice, there are a few steps to follow. First, prepare. Get the equipment you need, clear the time in your diary, clear a physical space, whatever it is you need to achieve your goals. Next plan when you are going to do the activities and write this down. Then create a ticklist to measure when you have done what you are planning to do. Finally reward yourself for achieving 75-80% of what you planned to do. Keep going with the tasks until they become second nature.

If you missed my blog on setting goals for the year then you can see it here:


Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhoto.net courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat.

Mindful eating – what is it and can it help you to feel healthier?

Mindfulness is a way of thinking which is popular today in healthcare. Put simply it means paying attention to our thought, emotions or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis but without judging them. The intention is that we pay attention to what is going on in our minds.

That sounds like quite a lot of work doesn’t it? Listening to your thoughts, emotions and experiences every moment! Well another way to think of it is that if we are in a neutral state we have a connection already to these things. We notice them. But in todays world because we have so many things to do, so many places to go, so many things to read and listen to, and so many things to eat, we have lost touch to a large extent with how we feel inside. So mindfulness attempts to redress the balance and now it is being applied to eating, where as well as paying attention to what is going on in our mind, we also pay attention to what is going on in our body.

Instead of categorising foods into right and wrong and then feeling proud or guilty for eating those foods, depending on which types of food you eat, mindfulness acknowledges that there is no right or wrong way to eat but varying degrees of awareness around eating.

This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter what you eat, rather, there is no need to feel guilty about eating certain foods. Instead you take note of what you feel (without judgement) mentally, emotionally and physically when eating and view eating as a positive and nurturing opportunity and one where it is helpful to listen to your own inner wisdom. This can bring about a gradual shift of your relationship with food so that you eat food that you really enjoy and is nourishing to your body, rather than seeing it as just ‘fuel’.

Mindful eating also means the awareness of the link between the earth, living beings and cultural practices and the impact of a person’s food choices on those systems, so that you have an appreciation of the food and where it has come from.

So what does this mean in practice?

1. You listen to your thirst and hunger more

We all have a routine around eating. If it is a work day, we may eat breakfast soon after we get up, regardless of hunger, eat lunch at 1 o’clock, because that is our lunch break, and eat dinner once we have prepared it and got all our jobs for the day done. Mindful eating is not saying that that is a bad thing, remember it is a way of thinking that is non-judgemental, but encourages us to be aware of how we feel eating, whether it is hungry, not-so-hungry, full, thirsty, rushed, stressed or relaxed. This way of eating could help with eating to your appetite when you do sit down to eat, rather than clearing everything on the plate.

2. You allow yourself some time and space to be able to listen to what is going on inside and also around you?

In terms of space, that might be making sure you eat at a table instead of in front of the T.V., where you can feel more relaxed whilst eating rather than trying to watch tele and get food in your mouth. It may mean that you don’t eat at a crowded table with non-food related things all over it but you make sure the table looks nice and you have all the things you need, and maybe even a nice table decoration.Vegetable soup_table decoration 028

In terms of surroundings, make sure you don’t have loud music or the T.V. blaring out, but gentle music and if possible someone else to talk to whilst you eat. On your lunch break, you try to leave your desk and find somewhere else that you can go and eat. It means doing what you can to create a nice eating environment so you are able to relax and respond more to your body’s cue that you are full (or still hungry).

3. You listen to the effect of foods on your body?

We are all different and different foods affect each person differently, but to apply mindful eating, you may notice the effect that first coffee of the day has on you (good or bad), or that can of coke, or bag of m&ms in the evening. Being more aware of how you feel eating foods will help you to change habits that are really not making you feel very good.

Mindful eating is an approach to eating that could help you to enjoy your food more and make better food choices by freeing yourself of habitual patterns of thinking, feeling and eating.

I would be interested to know if you have applied any of these suggestions to your eating and what the results were?