A very realistic plan to lose a pound (or how to banish your Christmas ‘food baby’ in 5 steps)

by sophie on January 13, 2010 · 15 comments

There’s a school of thought in nutrition that say’s that it’s christmas that’s ruining our waistlines.  Most of don’t gain nearly as much as we think we have over the festive season (on average about a pound) but the problem is that most of us don’t lose that pound in the early months of the new year.  When you think how many Christmases most of us have had (some more than others), you can see how this can start to add up to weighty problem.

Returning to how you were eating on a normal day pre-holiday is a great start but is likely to lead to you staying steady at your new weight rather than losing.  The good news is if you put your mind to it, that post-christmas pound can actually be dealt with pretty swiftly.  This is my favourite five step plan for losing that christmas food-baby.

1. Assess the damage

Once you’ve had a couple of days eating normally, weigh yourself so that you know what you’re dealing with. A pound is about half a kilo.

2. The Maths Part

For every pound of fat you’ve put on, you need to create a deficit of 3500kcal. This is not a trifling amount but it is achievable, especially if you combine eating less calories with being more active.  To lose a 1lb in a week takes a deficit of 3500 kcal in that week, or to put it another way, 500 kcal every day.  Here’s a ready reckoner for how long it will take to lose your festive foodbaby:

to lose 1 pound (0.5kg) = 500kcal per day less for 1 week
to lose 1 pound (0.5kg) = 250kcal per day less for 2 weeks
to lose 2 pounds (1kg) = 500kcal per day less for 2 weeks
to lose 2 pounds (1kg) = 250kcal per day less for 4 weeks

3. Cast your mind back
Think back to what you were eating before the holiday season or some other time when your weight was steady.  What did typical day’s eating look like then? Think about what you had for breakfast, and what kind of foods you ate for snacks.  This is your baseline intake that you need to make a 500 kcal deficit from (not the amount you were eating over the holidays).

4. Make a plan
Get a notepad and make a list of changes you can make that can add up to 500 kcal per day. You might need to do a bit of label reading. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • have an open sandwich at lunch on one slice of bread instead of two (100 kcal)
  • swap a substantial cereal bar for 2 skinny oat biscuits (100 kcal)
  • trade a chocolate bar for a piece of fruit (100 kcal)
  • use low fat spread instead of butter (about 50 kcal per teaspoon)
  • eat a clementine instead of drinking a glass of orange juice (about 50 kcal)
  • cook about 30g (one ounce) dry weight less pasta or rice than your usual serving size (100 kcal)
  • measure (don’t slosh) your olive oil when cooking (120 kcal for each tablespoon of oil not used)
  • skip the salad dressing and use lemon juice or balsamic vinegar instead (50 – 100 kcal)
  • walk briskly for half an hour (150 kcal)
  • go for an hours cardiovascular exercise class like boxercise, dance or aerobics (about 300 to 400 kcal)
  • skip the large glass of wine in the evening (150 kcal)
  • have a bottle of alcohol free beer instead of a pint (100 kcal)

5. Monitor your progress
It’s easy to forget, but do remember to check how your efforts are paying off. I’d suggest weighing yourself after a week – more often than weekly and you’re likely to get distracted/elated/depressed by day to day fluctuations in fluid.

I hope this is useful for some of you. I don’t normally write about weight loss on Mostly Eating, preferring to concentrate on just good, healthy food. But sometimes it’s useful to have a reminder about the maths behind how we gain and lose weight. Breaking it down into steps and logic can make the whole problem easier to tackle.

If you’ve got more weight to lose than just a couple of pounds from overindulging on mince pies then you might find a more structured approach than this helpful and to get some support with changing how you eat, as well as what you eat.


Elaine January 13, 2010 at 22:11

Excellent post, Sophie.
Not only is it helpful for losing the Christmas “food-baby”, as your put it, but I think implementing a few to all of the steps in #4 “Make a Plan” can help prevent gradual weight creep that occurs as we age & our metabolism naturally slows down.
“Calorie-counting” doesn’t work for everyone, I know, but in the past when I was doing outpatient counseling, I observed many clients achieve gradual wt loss on a “500 kcal deficit per day” eating plan.
Lovely photo of the “undressed” healthy greens, too.

Lisa (msla) January 14, 2010 at 04:43

I’m trying to work out how kcals are comparable to calories. I tried an on-line converter, but I think I used it wrong! Are they straight across?
Great tips Sophie. many thanks.

Lisa (msla) January 14, 2010 at 05:07

After I commented, I came across this article in our national newspaper:

Sophie January 14, 2010 at 21:20

Elaine, yes, it’s not an approach that works for everyone but for some people this seems to be an approach that feels manageable and achievable. The pretty salad leaves were the last salad salvaged from my garden before winter set in (chard, lettuce, parsley, spinach and nasturtium if I remember right)
Lisa, a kcal is technically 1000 calories but in reality many people use the terms interchangably (i.e what most people refer to in conversation as a calorie is actually a kilocalorie). I love that article you’ve found – there are a whole load more good swaps in there.
For those of you who work in kilojoules, the conversion is about 4.18 e.g the 100 kcal swaps I talk about are about 418 kj

Katerina January 15, 2010 at 01:22

I lost weight a few years (ago) and kept it off with this philosophy, making small adjustments as necessary to maintain.
I think your best point is the one about severity and perception. I overheard a few women in a cafe the other day claiming that 7!!! was the average weight gain ( in lbs) over the holidays. That just … can’t be right. But I think we all give ourselves excuses too. Easier to think it was because of holiday treats than a sedentary lifestyle right?

kathryn January 15, 2010 at 02:15

Great post Sophie and a very sensible approach. It’s always good to be reminded of the facts and figures involved in weight loss.
You really show how often it isn’t necessary to change *everything* when trying to lose weight. Instead it’s a matter of shaving a few kilojoules off here and there.
I do find cutting down on alcohol is a hard but useful step for many. I see many people who regularly drink 2+ glasses of wine a night. And cutting out one or more of those goes a long way towards achieving the kilojoule deficit you need.

Wendy January 15, 2010 at 08:07

Your article has made me realise I should probably reduce my calorie in take. I eat well but am used to exercising a lot and weather is making it sooooo difficult to do that! It’s so icy I can’t go running or get my car into the gym car park. Making do with Wii Fit and (very cautious) doggy walks for the moment.
Ought to implement some of these tips too.

Helen January 15, 2010 at 20:05

Hello! Long time no comment..
Ok so you know I am a fan of your blog and your advice as ever, is sound but, do you really advise people to eat low fat spread? To me, low fat spread is a hideous manufactured product. I don’t understand why anyone would ever eat it. Why not eat 1 less slice of toast with the glorious natural product that is butter?

Wendy January 17, 2010 at 16:24

Helen – Kathyn raised this subject a few months ago and I thought you might like to read the thread. Some strong feelings!
Me – I use low fat marg as a moistener on filled sandwiches and on toast IF I’m using jam too. But if the spread is the star of the show then it’s butter. :)

Helen January 17, 2010 at 18:04

Sorry Wendy, I’m being a bit thick – where is the thread?

Sophie January 17, 2010 at 20:09

Helen, your comment re. the low fat spread made me laugh!
The advice I give people regarding spread varies a lot depending on the circumstances. My personal preference is the same as Wendy’s – I’ll have real butter if the bread is the star of show, then olive oil spread on sandwiches. But I see a lot people with my hospital dietitian hat on who either have a lot of weight to lose or very high cholesterol levels. I’ll usually weigh up all of the pros and cons with them and let them make up their own mind e.g stick with real butter and have less of it, change to an olive oil based spread (not less calories but arguably better on the cholesterol), or try a low fat spread.
For people who want to lose weight but eat a lot of bread (e.g toast for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch), the low-fat spread sometimes wins. Amazingly I do see quite a few people who (gasp) aren’t really all that bothered what their food tastes like.
I think the URL wendy posted got gobbled up. I’ll try posting it again here:

Helen January 17, 2010 at 21:40

A very measured and sensible answer to my frantic comment in defence of butter!
“Amazingly I do see quite a few people who (gasp) aren’t really all that bothered what their food tastes like. ”
Oh yes, I forgot about that ;)

Wendy January 18, 2010 at 17:14

Hmmmm, think I was the thick one and didn’t put the link in. Thanks, Sophie!

chelsea January 22, 2010 at 18:01

Thank you! This is a great post – it’s so helpful to see those swaps. I hate to be a calorie-counter, too, but it’s good to have a rough idea and to see the potential effect of making these small changes.

Dia March 2, 2010 at 07:25

This is a good approach!
Loved the comment that folks don’t put on as much holiday weight as they think, they just don’t get it off!
I’ll always remember the Doc’s advice to my mom when she was in her 50s, & needed to loose some weight – he suggested she take special occ. & holidays into account & ‘budget’ for them, eating a bit less BEFORE, then taking some of everything she wanted to – but slightly smaller portions: & AFTER eat less for a few days, never considering it ‘blowing’ her diet!
He told her that he saw that as the main issue – that folks think ‘oh, well! I broke my diet anyway – I might as well have . . . ‘
I am a butter & coconut oil gal myself! I tend to eat more rice cakes, or Gluten free bread – my fav. spread is probably tahini (sesame butter) w a bit of coconut oil.
Thanks for visiting ‘the Vale,’ it will be interesting to see how the okahijiki does! I plan to use some kelp on it, (in the ground) & perhaps a tich of salt!

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