The warm weather and bright summer sun are here in full force — along with the motivation to get in better shape for those shorter skirts, sleeveless tops and bikinis. These are my favourite top tips to slim down and shape up for the season.
1. Bump up your protein
If we don’t get enough protein in our diet, we can experience mood disorders, memory loss, increased appetite and cravings, decreased metabolism, sleep disruption, muscle loss and weight gain. In fact, I find that many patients are eating too many carbs and not enough protein when they initially come for an assessment. Protein packs a punch because it stimulates the activity of many of our fat-burning and appetite-controlling hormones when we consume it in the right amounts.
Your serving should be the size and width of your palm (at least three times a day and half of that amount for snacks).
Bottom line: I recommend you consume the protein on your plate first to help speed the signal to the brain that you’re full — this simple change can make a huge difference.
2. Balance your meals
Although we hear this all the time, it’s truly an important step in calming cravings, curbing appetite and shedding body fat. You should enjoy low-glycemic carbohydrates and healthy fats at each meal and snack. Non-starchy vegetables should occupy two-thirds of your plate at lunch and dinner. Healthy fats, like olive oil, nuts, and avocados help us feel full and satisfied because of their effects on our appetite-controlling hormones. This not only prevents cravings, but helps us to lose weight when we consume them in the right forms and amounts.
3. Enjoy carbs later in the day
In general you should enjoy a serving of starchy carbohydrates, the size of your fist, once a day (twice a day for men). Highly active people may need to increase by another serving. Select lower-glycemic carbs such as squash, beans, sweet potatoes or quinoa. Be sure to eat your starchy carbs at lunch or dinner, rather than breakfast, for better appetite control.
For breakfast, stick to a protein-rich breakfast of eggs or whey-protein smoothies. In a study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers found that participants who consumed eggs for breakfast had greater feelings of satiety, and consumed significantly less energy, grams of protein, carbohydrate, and fat for lunch. With this simple trick, you will encourage the hormonal balance that will lead you to eat less throughout the day and stay free of food cravings.
4. Time your meals
Aim to eat every three to four hours and enjoy your meals at the same times daily. Remember that the body likes structure and responds very well when it sticks to a schedule. You’re also less likely to binge eat if you’re eating in regular intervals. Some people may prefer three larger meals and two snacks, while others may like four or five smaller, equally-sized meals.
5. Break your fast
Eat within one hour of rising and avoid eating within the three-hour period before bedtime. If you must eat before bed, opt for a lighter meal or snack that’s high in protein and low in carbohydrates and fat, such as Greek yogurt, a protein shake made with berries, almond butter and water, salad with grilled chicken, or shrimp and veggie stir-fry.
6. Modify your pre- and post-workout nutrition
To maximize fat-burning, never consume high-sugar foods before your workouts and always eat within 45 minutes of finishing an exercise session. Your post-workout meal or snack is the only one of the day that should limit fat and can be higher in carbohydrates. For example, try a whey-protein smoothie made with a small amount of juice, fruit and protein powder — but no almond butter or flaxseed oil. This will help fill your muscles with lost glycogen from your workout. Even better, opt for a high-quality post-workout drink added to whey protein isolate.
7. Boost your fibre
Fibre slows the flow of sugar into our bloodstream. This causes less insulin release, and thereby provides us with a steady supply of energy. It also aids the removal of toxic estrogen from the body. In men and women, too much estrogen, a condition called estrogen dominance, causes toxic fat gain, water retention, bloating and a host of other health issues.
Bottom line: I recommend that you consume 35 to 40 grams of fibre per day for optimal digestion, and use a fibre supplement if necessary to help you reach this amount. Revisit my article on selecting the best fibre-rich foods for optimal digestion.
8. Prioritize your sleep
Most sleep experts agree that seven to eight hours a night is optimal. Some people may, however, require more or less sleep than others. When your sleep is insufficient, your cortisol and hunger hormones both surge, causing a corresponding increase in insulin, which packs on belly fat. You also experience decreases in the fat-burning and appetite controlling hormones.
Bottom line: If you wake without an alarm and feel refreshed when you get up, you’re likely getting the right amount of sleep for you.
9. Get to bed earlier
More than half the respondents to a recent National Sleep survey reported they’re morning people with higher energy earlier in the day, while 41 percent considered themselves night owls. Evening people were more likely than morning people to experience symptoms of insomnia, sleep apnea, enjoy less sleep than they felt they needed and take longer to fall asleep.
Staying awake into the wee hours causes hormonal imbalance because it increases cortisol, decreases leptin and depletes growth hormone. This causes us to eat more and wreaks havoc with our metabolism. Cortisol naturally begins to increase during the second half of your sleep — a small boost at 2 a.m., another at 4 a.m. and the peak at around 6 a.m. If you’re just getting to bed immediately beforehand, you’re missing out on your most restful period of sleep.
Bottom line: I advocate getting to bed between 10 and 11 p.m. for this reason.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.
-Article originally published June 2011.