get thinner with dinner!
Did you know that what you eat in the 4 to 5 hours before you head to bed has a major impact on your weight?
Whether you are trying to lose weight, gain weight or maintain your weight, what you decide to hoover down in the evening has a huge impact on not only your very important and health-enhancing 'beauty sleep' but also how the body stores and/or burns fat!
On the back of research into current and highly-respected dietary studies, I am determined to beat the drum and convince as many people as possible that what we eat in the hours before bedtime is one of the major keys to improved health, fat loss and weight management.
Rather many of us are all-too-familiar with disrupted sleep when we have been out for the evening and enjoyed a curry, a steaming plate of pasta or a burger and fries and eating in often involves a plate piled high with starch in the form of potatoes, pasta, rice and other grains because they are filling and feed our perceived need for a good and satisfying dinner after a long day. But… these are the very foods that the body doesn’t actually need later in the day unless we have been subjecting ourselves to some sort of gruelling exercise routine where our glycogen levels may need a bit of topping up.
Here are my top tips to ensure that you get plenty of energising nutrition throughout the day, enjoy dinners that keep your waistline in tact and promote a good night’s sleep:
don’t fret about breakfast
Some of us can’t function without a good and filling breakfast, others are simply not hungry so to label it as the most important meal of the day is somewhat simplistic and rather too generalised. It all depends on what you ate yesterday! If you are hungry first thing, have breakfast, if not, wait until you are. What’s important is that your first meal of the day, whether it be early morning or mid morning, is rich in protein and healthy fats rather than loaded with starch which does little other than prompt an energy dip and the need for another hit of starch or sugar before long. Here are a few perfect breakfast/mid morning choices:
Oats, apple, almonds, yoghurt, Manuka honey, Greek yoghurt and fresh mint leaves soaked overnight in coconut water and lime/lemon juice makes for a filling breakfast that requires nothing more than a quick scoop from the fridge before you head out for the day or can be easily transported to have later when hunger beckons.
Full fat natural yoghurt is hard to beat for the kind of nourishment you need to get you going early in the day. Top it with fresh berries or chopped, fresh fruit, a handful of fresh nuts and seeds and a drizzle of honey. This also travels well in a sealed container for a great mid morning snack.
Eggs are tops when it comes to protein-rich breakfasts. Boil them, scramble them, poach them or if you have the skills, omelette them and marry them with a slice of rye toast for a breakfast that should keep you going till lunch.
Smoothies are so now, so quick, so easy and so nutritious! Sling whatever fruits and vegetables are near to hand into a blender, add some protein in the form of nut and seed oils, oats, spirulina, protein powders etc and drizzle in something sweet and delicious like concentrated pomegranate syrup or fig pearls and the whole thing becomes a nutritional elixir! The secret here is to experiment until you find a few that give a boost your morning!
make lunch really matter
This is the best time to get some starch into your day! There are still a considerable number of hours left in your day when you have to be at your energetic-best so it is vital that you are sufficiently nourished to keep you firing on all cylinders throughout the afternoon and into the early evening. Lunch should always be a good mix of protein, fat and carbohydrate and this is where starch plays a role. It shouldn’t dominate but because the natural sugars in health-enhancing starchy foods are relatively quickly digested and absorbed into the blood stream, they feed both brain and body cells with much of what they need to generate energy to keep us going at full tilt. Here are a few perfect lunch choices:
Soup rocks! Aim for a bean, lentil, meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or vegetarian protein soup with lots of vegetables and don’t stress about the potatoes, pasta, noodles, rice or grain element - you are likely to need those sugars to get you through the afternoon and early evening. Top Tip: top your soup with a spoonful of natural yoghurt and a tablespoon of fresh nuts and seeds and turn your soup into a real meal in a bowl.
An open sandwich made with rye bread and topped with a good mix of protein and fats make for a great and nutritious lunch. The possibilities are endless but you may wish to start with mashed tinned salmon, chopped boiled egg, rocket leaves, natural yoghurt and toasted sliced almonds or mashed avocado, prawns, diced tomato and sliced red chilli.
Salads are not just for summer! Lots of leaves, grated raw vegetables, poultry and game or fish and shellfish, beans or lentils, nuts and seeds and a light dressing which can be quickly warmed through before drizzling over makes a Warm Winter Salad a perfect desk lunch.
Traditional Japanese, Chinese and Thai dishes concentrate on fish, beans, leafy greens, lightly-cooked root vegetables and broth with often just a small portion of rice or noodles alongside making them a great lunchtime choice. Just remember to stay away from the sweet and creamy sauces and the way-too-moreish deep-fried morsels of deliciousness - they are real waistline-wreckers!
do you really need a mid afternoon snack?
Some days the answer is a resounding “yes” but if you have had a really good lunch, the answer is more likely “no”. However, having said that there are always going to be days when you feel like you are losing the plot mid to late afternoon and just need a little something to get you back on track. With a bit of practice, you can learn to spot the signs of an energy dip or a blood sugar crash before they threaten to dominate and be ahead of the game. But… it is important to remember that a small, healthy snack is all that is required. Here are a few nourishing mid to late afternoon snack choices:
- A slice of fruit and/or vegetable bread and a soya milk latte
- A rye crisp bread topped with nut butter and sliced apple or chopped egg and prawns
- A small pot of hummus or cottage cheese with raw vegetable sticks
- A piece of fruit and a handful of fresh (unsalted) nuts
get thinner with dinner!
Protein, fats and non-starchy vegetables are the order of the day at this time of day. A good portion of protein encourages everything from bone-building to hormone-management, nerve health, enzyme action and tissue repair. Fats (especially the Omegas) help to keep the outer membranes of body and brain cells healthy, allowing the optimum transfer of nutrients in and waste out and do an excellent job of filling us up so we don’t overeat. Non-starchy vegetables (greens in particular) provide a fantastic range of vitamins, minerals and plant chemicals which not only strengthen our immunity, helping us to fight off infection and disease but are also vital for the many thousands of biochemical reactions that take place within the body 24/7. Here are a few delicious dinner choices:
Fish baked in foil with a colourful selection of sliced and diced vegetables makes a deliciously-light dinner and the opportunities to design your own parcels are unlimited!
Spicy meat, poultry or game casseroles are filling and satisfying and can be made well-ahead of time and simply reheated and served with a bounteous selection of steamed vegetables.
Eggs are wonderfully versatile, quick to prepare and marry beautifully with so many other foods. A baked frittata bursting with sautéed vegetables with a salad on the side or poached eggs atop flat mushrooms, spinach, avocado and smoked salmon are just two suggestions.
Treat yourself to a roast dinner when you have time. Roast a bird, a meat joint, a whole fish or sliced tofu on a bed of mixed vegetable chunks (onions, leeks, garlic, peppers, aubergine, courgettes, tomatoes, cabbage, kale, broccoli, sugar snap peas, chillies, herbs), let the cooking juices mingle with the vegetables and you’ve got a delicious meal and very little washing up!
Try a Week Without Starch after 6pm and you could lose 7 pounds in 7 days!
Unless you work out in the evening (when a portion of quinoa, brown or wild rice, ancient grains like amaranth, buckwheat, kamut, millet, spelt etc, a baked sweet potato and/or starchy root vegetables help to quickly boost depleted muscle glycogen levels), follow the above recommendations for just one week and my guess is that you will likely feel more energised, enjoy more restful and restorative sleep and if need be, lose weight!
Here are a selection of my recipes for starch-free dinners - click on the images to download and print off...
Warning! It is not uncommon, when you have been in the habit of allowing starch to form the greater part of your evening meal that it can take a little time for your body to readjust and you may suffer from an attack of the munchies before bed so the best tactic here is to have a small bedtime snack (around 40 minutes before you retire) which includes foods rich in the amino acid, tryptophan which encourages the action of the sleepy and relaxing chemical, serotonin and here’s an important but somewhat confusing thing to take on board - to enhance the delivery of tryptophan to the brain, a little (but not a lot) of starchy carbohydrate helps! Here are a few perfect bedtime snacks:
- A mug of Miso Broth with a couple of mini oatcakes.
- A small plate of porridge made with water, topped wth a dollop of double cream and a drizzle of honey.
- Sliced avocado and cottage cheese on a slice of nutty brown toast.
- A warming mug of hot chocolate made with very dark, rich chocolate granules and soya, almond, oat or rice milk.
- Have breakfast if you need it first thing in the morning. If not, have your first meal of the day when you are hungry - but try to go light on starch and make it protein and fat-rich whenever possible.
- Get a little starch into your lunch and marry it with a decent portion of protein and a few good fats to keep you energised and nourished for the afternoon and into the early evening.
- Have a mid afternoon snack if you feel an energy dip coming on but keep it small and do everything you can to avoid sugary snacks like biscuits, cakes, pastries and worst of all, fizzy drinks.
- Avoid starchy carbohydrates (particularly potatoes, pasta and white rice) after 6pm unless you work out in the evening when a portion of quinoa, brown or wild rice, ancient grains like amaranth, buckwheat, kamut, millet, spelt etc, a baked sweet potato and starchy root vegetables help to quickly boost depleted muscle glycogen levels.
- If getting to sleep and/or staying asleep is a problem in the early stages, have a bedtime snack.