Step One

By Murtaza Ahmed MD

So now you understand that dieting isn’t about following some dictated, pre-formed set of rules and you know what food is made up of, I think you’re ready to take the first steps to improving your own diet and start losing weight in a healthy, sustainable way.

To start with you don’t want to rush anything as this has been shown time and time again to generally lead to failure.  You’ve probably been trying to lose weight or thinking about it for a while, so spending a few weeks now gently easing yourself into things won’t set you back and will be worth it.

The first thing you should do when making a change like this is understand what you are doing at the moment so you can see for yourself where you may have been going wrong.  This can prevent you from making the same errors again in the future.  You will actually be very surprised how many calories are in the food you eat.  I’ve lost count of the number of people who have come to me saying that they are dieting and just can’t lose weight and are convinced they have a medical problem leading to this.  When I sit down with them and dissect their diet with then they are astonished to find that despite good intentions they are actually still in a calorie surplus!  Genetic conditions leading to an inability to lose weight are actually very rare, so if you do things correctly you WILL lose weight.

Before you make any changes to your diet I want you to go to your fridge and cupboards and have a good look at everything in there.  In fact go and do it right after reading this.  Study the labels on all the packets of food and get an idea how many calories are in each.  Remember you are mainly looking at the sections on energy, protein, fat and carbohydrates.  Another important tool you will need in this exercise are some kitchen scales.  I do not believe you should become reliant on these as who wants to weigh their food everyday, but for now they are invaluable in your education into what you are eating.

Many of the labels will tell you the values per 100 grams and also next to it the values per serving.  You might just be tempted to assume that the values per serving apply to you but be very very careful here.  Take breakfast cereal for example.  The values per serving appear fairly acceptable and it seems reasonable to pour yourself a bowl.  You then go on with your day happy that you had a nice healthy breakfast.  Now go and pour yourself a normal bowl of cereal and weigh it on the scales.  Many people are surprised to find that what they class as a serving may be double what the box suggests.  This is not the fault of the person but instead the food companies, who purposefully publish small serving sizes to fool people into believing that their product is a healthy, hunger satisfying option.

Do the same with rice, pasta, oil (you’d be surprised how many calories are in a teaspoon of oil), nuts (extremely dense in calories), sauces (mayonnaise can double the calories in a sandwich), spreads and anything else you eat on a regular basis.  None of these foods are bad and you don’t need to avoid them.  I just want you to become more aware of their contents so you can decide how much of each you can have on a daily basis.   Never rely on anyone else, especially restaurants or companies to tell you if something is good for you as they will more than likely just be telling you what you want to hear so you buy their product (a classic example being “99% fat free” which generally actually means 99% sugar, something you now understand is not a good thing).

Once you are happy you know the content of everyday foods you will be ready to make the next step, which is making changes to your diet.

About Murtaza Ahmed MD

Dr Murtaza Ahmed is a General Practitioner sub-specializing in the field of Sports, Exercise and Nutritional Medicine. He graduated from The University of Nottingham, England, and in addition to his medical qualification he holds a Masters in Sports and Exercise Medicine (MSc), Bachelor of Medical Sciences (BMedSci) and Membership of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP London).
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