Dr. Heather McKee's Evidence Based Insights

Part 3 – Action

Ambition is often cited as the first step to success, if you have read the last post on goal setting then you’d have set out your health ambitions. The next step is action.

One of the first actions you can take is preparation. Although it doesn’t initially seem like a psychological skill, preparation is vital to weight maintenance success. Not only does it help you avoid temptation but it also can solidify your commitment to your health. Here, I am going to talk about preparation from a dietary point of view as this tends to be an area where people gain the most benefit. However, preparation is also a necessary skill for other behaviours  (e.g. scheduling in exercise sessions). Yet, as I discussed in the last post trying to change too many habits at once can dilute your success at your main goal. So for the purpose of this post I going to talk about preparation to improve dietary behaviours.

I want you to ask yourself-what you know about your eating habits over the past few days? How often did you eat or drink things you hadn’t planned to? How often did you go to a shop with the aim of getting something healthy but come out with a something  completely different? For the next week I urge you to track how many unanticipated meals, snacks and drinks you have. I recommend an app like this, or simply noting down each time this happens and what you had on your phone. At the end of the week add the calories together.

For some people this can be a real eye opener. Positively however, you can save yourself 100’s (and in some cases 1000’s) of unplanned calories* by the action of preparation alone. Preparation may sound boring and time consuming but it doesn’t need to be, simply setting aside an hour or so on the weekend or two hours spread over the week can have a monumental impact on your eating habits. Having things prepped in advance can help us avoid that situation when we are hungry and willing to forgo our healthy eating goals in order to grab whatever is available. Tal and Wansink (2013) have shown that we should avoid choice when we are hungry as we tend to choose unhealthy, higher calorie foods and snacks. Having prepared our own food in advance can prevent us falling into these traps. Wolfson and Bleich (2015) have demonstrated the more time spent cooking and preparing meals at home the less you eat overall. Further, these positive habits can also translate into healthier choices at restaurants too! So why not take action and get prepared this Christmas. I recommend the following life hacks to make your preparation easier;

  • Food shopping online will help you resist the temptations that supermarket shopping often brings. It makes weekly preparation seamless. For example; you can specify to shop only by the healthiest options or recipes and you can repeat shops in a single click-saving you having to write a new list each week.
    • UK wise:
      • Ocado is one of my favourites given their wide selection of health and wellness products and instant shop set up.
      • Sainsbury’s have a useful healthy recipe index
      • At Tesco’s you can shop by dietary preference and they can even provide you with pre populated shopping lists of healthy foods
  • If you struggle for shopping list ideas: Make a list of the healthy meals you’ve made, take photos and set up an album of your favourites. Try creating a Pinterest page or use instagram for healthy meal inspiration. Over time you can gather a shortlist of your favourite recipes for when you are short of ideas.
  • Don’t just prepare main meals. Its crucial to prep snacks too. This is often where people fall down. The research has shown that having something healthy to snack on can stop you eating too much at your next meal. Snacks like almonds and pistachios are particularly good at staving off hunger (more on optimal snacking in a future blog).
    • Get to know your vulnerabilities. For example, it’s very common to come home after work famished and raid the cupboard in search of anything that can tide you over until dinner. One thing you can do to offset this is to prepare a big batch of soup on the weekend so that you can quickly heat up something warm and comforting when you get home from work. Even just a small mug of soup can not only help you avoid snacking but it can also reduce the amount you eat at your next meal. Hailed as ‘a successful dieters best kept secret’ it has been found that physiologically soup passes through the body slower and therefore can keep us fuller for longer (Flood & Rolls, 2007). In particular, vegetable soup has been found to be best. Some of my favourite hearty and nutritious soups can be found here and here.
  • Batch baking is key. Prepping your meals in batches not only saves you time and calories but can also save you money. Personally I like to make one big dish like this and then divide it up and add a simple salad for lunches during the week-it freezes well too! For inspiration I’d recommend the following blogs on batch baking;
  • Finally, make sure you get yourself some good quality and fun lunchboxes to make it all bit more interesting http://sistemaplastics.com/ are my faves and should be available at the above online shops.

As we draw ever closer to the party season I will be giving tips on how to strike the balance between indulgence and keeping yourself on track of your health goals. Throughout December, I will also be giving away 5 free spots on my new programme starting in early 2016. These are specifically for those looking to improve their weight loss success. You can sign up now through the contact page or by emailing info@weightlosstemptation.com to be in with a chance of being involved.

*(Note: in this case calories are a guideline on the amount or volume you are eating. Personally, I don’t feel calories are something you should overly rely on for weight loss-more on this in a later blog)


Published on 22nd Nov 2015 at 10:10 by Dr. Heather McKee

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This work is in no way meant to replace any medical advice. Dr. McKee is Non-HCPC-registered. Photography by Dylan Madden.

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