Interview: Nutrition tips for losing weight

Want to lose weight? In our interview, nutrition expert Tanja Micheli from Helsana’s health consultation service explains how to achieve your target weight in a healthy way.

08.02.2023 Daniela Diener 6 minutes

Ms Micheli, at what point does someone need to lose weight?

Once your BMI level exceeds 25. Exceeding this level eventually causes health problems. Of course, the BMI is not the only thing to look at. A bodybuilder with a high muscle mass, for example, quickly reaches a BMI above 30 and is still healthy. Muscles are of course not fat. Provided you stay within the healthy BMI range of 20 to 25 percent, you can easily lose weight to achieve the weight that makes you feel good. And losing weight is obviously also a good idea if your weight leads to secondary health conditions, such as increased blood pressure.

What kind of diet should we eat?

A balanced one. This does not mean you have to forego some things entirely, like some diets require. Your body needs fat, protein and carbohydrates to function properly. So, you can try changing portion sizes for some things you eat. For example, you can cut down on carbohydrates. Or you can skip a meal. However, you must keep eating a balanced diet, otherwise you will suffer from a nutrient deficiency. It is not advisable to eliminate certain components completely, especially regarding your metabolism. Because if you then eat normally afterwards, you will experience a yo-yo effect.

Reducing individual components doesn’t sound that easy. How can you know which ones to cut down on and by how much?

There are simple ways to do this your day-to-day life, you just have to know how. And of course you can also call us at the health consultation service or go to a nutritionist. This is especially important if you are very overweight and may already notice the effects on your health. 

Do you have questions about your diet?

Our health consultation advisors are happy to help you. They will answer all of your nutrition-related questions and show you how to enjoy a balanced and nutritious diet.

What if you want to try going ahead without any help first?

For a healthy person just wanting to lose some weight, we recommend that you fill half your plate with vegetables and salad and the other half with protein and carbohydrates in equal parts. This is a simple rule. But it needs to be applied according to the individual. For example, you cannot give the same advice to a construction worker as you do to an office worker.

How many times a day should we eat? Have you got any tips on this?

The rule used to be: you must eat five meals. You can move away from that a little bit. We now know that longer breaks between meals are good for our health. This is also consistent with our genetics: in the past, we humans didn’t live abundant lifestyles. It is better to take longer breaks instead of constantly supplying the body with energy and making its metabolism work non-stop.

But even this rule is very individual. We should not wait so long between meals that we suffer from hunger pangs. If you don’t manage to eat anything from breakfast to noon, you should make sure you have a small snack in between the meals. The snacks must be healthy and low in calories though.

How long should you wait between meals?

Generally, if you eat three meals per day your breaks between meals should last four to five hours. This makes sense. You should also have a light meal in the evening however, and eat earlier rather than later. Doing this enables you to take a long break from eating overnight of at least twelve hours. This time period allows the body to optimally digest and absorb all the nutrients. It also eases the strain on the liver. 

Five hours without eating – that sounds like a long time.

That’s true. The fact that we live in a world where there is always plenty of food has made us forget how to tolerate an empty feeling in our stomachs. It is completely normal to sometimes feel hungry for half an hour. We have to learn to accept this feeling again. If we are active at a normal level, the body is easily able to take a break from eating for five hours. Nothing negative will happen as a consequence. The body always maintains its reserves. It gets sugar from the liver, for example. For someone who works hard physically and suffers from circulation problems if they don’t eat for a longer period of time, it is, of course, a different story. 

What if somebody gets really hungry during the period in which they are not eating?

Instead of eating, one thing to do is to drink something. We often confuse hunger with being thirsty. Our body tells us that it is lacking something. And we tend to wrongly interpret these signals of thirst as a sign of hunger. Here are some suggestions: if you feel hungry, first drink a glass of water and see what happens. After the feeling of hunger wears off a quarter of an hour later, you were just thirsty and so don’t have to eat anything.

And what should you drink when you are trying to lose weight?

It is recommended to drink water and unsweetened tea. Generally, 1.5 to 2 litres per day. 

What about milk?

Milk counts as food and is not a drink. It contains lots of nutrients and doesn’t quench your thirst. So, you can’t simply drink milk instead of water. It also contains calories that count towards your daily intake.

What do you think about diets?

When people call us wanting to lose weight, we don’t use the term dieting, we talk about a change of diet. In its original meaning, dieting means that someone has to give up eating something because of an illness: for example, diabetes.

What benefits are there of changing your diet as opposed to going on a diet?

A diet commonly carries a sense of “going without”. A change of diet, however, is something long term. It should be a sustainable solution. Instead of dieting, we recommend eating a Mediterranean diet. It is plant-based and very well balanced. This diet contains everything you need. It is not a diet in the stricter sense, it is a form of nutrition. It allows you to lose weight sensibly without dieting. 

Healthy weight loss with the Helsana Coach app

Want to follow our advice but don't know how to go about it? Our Coach app has lots of tips for you: For example, you can find out how to sleep better and relax, and how to burn off those calories. Or find out how to get nearer to your target weight by eating healthy, tasty and simple-to-make food with our recipes.

Are there diets that are explicitly rejected by nutritional science?

Yes, all the diets that require you to completely give up something. So, the extreme forms like no-carb and no-fat. But on the other hand, low-carb diets may be a good idea, but only for a short time. And “just eat half” diets, where you only eat half the amount you normally eat, don’t make sense either. 

How can I lose weight while playing sport or exercising without going on a diet?

You are recommended to combine strength training with endurance training, ideally three times per week. Increasing your muscle mass also increases your resting metabolic rate. This means you burn more calories even when you are resting. Your metabolism is also stimulated and, as a result, so is your calorie consumption. It is important to choose a form of exercise or sport that you enjoy doing and that you can easily incorporate into your daily routine. By the way, the recommended 10,000 steps per day is an absolute minimum amount. It is separate to any sporting activity you do.

What else needs remembering when trying to lose weight without dieting?

You must cut out stress. This is one of the most important criteria. Any form of stress automatically prevents us from losing weight. Constantly high levels of the stress hormone cortisol prevent the body from burning fat.

What’s the best way to get rid of stress?

First, by doing exercise, as this breaks down the stress hormone cortisol, and secondly, by relaxing. This is why we must get enough sleep if we want to lose weight.

Read more

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