Getting in shape for summer
Welcome to the very first A Stroke of Luck nutrition blog, a monthly article where you’ll be able to find out more about the role of diet and nutrition in stroke recovery, learn about what a balanced diet really means, and pick up some simple but effective tips to help you make healthy changes that will support your recovery journey.
Each month, the blog will follow a theme that ties in with the time of the year, and this month we will be looking at getting in shape for summer.
With sunshine and summer holidays on the horizon, it’s common for many people to think about losing a few pounds in anticipation of the warmer weather. And it’s not just us, it’s something that the diet industry is really keen for us to do too! I don’t know if it’s just me, but I seem to be seeing adverts everywhere at the moment promoting different diet methods from slimming clubs to tracking apps and meal replacement products to help us achieve our weight loss goals.
But before we look at the best way to achieve our goal weight , let’s take a brief look at why maintaining a healthy weight after a stroke is important and how it can support recovery and reduce the risk of a further stroke.
Carrying too much weight can increase our risk of having a stroke, and this is because it increases our risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and atherosclerosis (a potentially serious condition where arteries become clogged with fatty substances called plaque). Each of these conditions is linked to an increased risk of stroke, so maintaining a healthy weight is a really important part of reducing our risk. A healthy weight can also help to improve mobility and make exercise easier, by reducing pressure on joints. Not only does this lead to better health, it’s important for achieving personal recovery goals – anything from being more mobile and independent at home to running around with the family at the park, or even taking up a new sport!
But with so many different diets and weight loss approaches available, what really is the best way to safely and sustainably achieve a healthy weight? I’m going to share my top tips below:
Choose the right plan, not the fast one.
“Lose 7lbs in 7 days! Drop 6 sizes in 90 days!” Although we might be drawn to the promise of rapid weight loss, research doesn’t back up its effectiveness long term. Consider this: weight gain tends not to happen overnight, so it also makes sense that weight loss won’t happen overnight either. Aiming for a weight loss of around 0.5lbs -2 lbs per week is an achievable amount and will avoid the side effects that can result from a rapid weight loss diet, such as a slower metabolism, muscle loss, dehydration, poor nutrient intake and feeling ravenous.
Don’t eat less, eat smart.
One of the misconceptions that many of us have about weight loss is that we should “eat less”, “cut back” or in some other way restrict our food intake. This is partly true – we need to eat less calories than we are burning for energy – but it’s also really important that we focus on putting the right foods on our plate:
- lean proteins to keep us feeling fuller for longer and to maintain muscle mass
- non-starchy vegetables (these are the ones that grow above the ground) to provide the vitamins and minerals our bodies need
- and a smaller amount of starchy, wholefood carbs and/or natural sources of fats (foods such as brown rice, sweet potato, nuts, seeds and avocados).
If we think of our dinner plate, we might aim to fill 50% of the plate with non-starchy veggies, 30% with lean protein and the remaining 20% with starchy, wholefood carbs and/or natural sources of fats.
Focus on wholefoods.
Whole foods are foods that are minimally processed and close to their natural state as possible – for example, fresh fruits and vegetables, fish that looks like fish, brown rice and beans. Eating more of these foods for our meals and snacks, and less ready-made, processed foods can help us lose weight because they change our body’s hunger signals, meaning that we feel less hungry and are less tempted to eat sugary or fatty processed foods such as pastries and cakes.
On the other hand, many ready-made foods (particularly those high in both fat and sugar) damage our hunger signals, increasing cravings and preventing us from feeling full. These foods are generally created by food scientists who know that these kinds of foods have a powerful effect on our hunger signals – that’s why it’s so difficult just to eat one chunk of chocolate, or a few crisps from a sharing bag.
Progress, not perfection.
All that said, it’s important not to take an all-or-nothing approach to healthy weight management. Food should make you feel good and fit into your life, instead of forcing your life to fit into a meal plan. Deciding that chocolate, crisps, cakes or whatever treat foods you enjoy are off-limits is a sure-fire way to fall off the wagon – it’s perfectly fine to enjoy these foods from time to time as part of a balanced diet that focuses on healthy, whole foods. Strive for progress, not perfection, and you’re far more likely to succeed.
Green Food of the Month
A Stroke of Luck is all about red, amber and green, and this blog is no exception. However, we’ll be focusing on a green food each month as I don’t believe that individual foods should be demonised, or that anyone should be made to feel bad for eating something that they enjoy. This month’s green food is asparagus, which is in season right now and therefore the very best time to enjoy this tasty and nutritious vegetable. Asparagus is low in calories and a great source of nutrients, including fibre, folate and vitamins A, C and K. Additionally, eating asparagus has a number of potential health benefits, including weight loss, improved digestion, and lower blood pressure. Green means go, so go ahead and add some asparagus to your plate!
This blog was written by Hannah Rushton, nutrition and lifestyle coach and expert team member at A Stroke of Luck. Hannah specialises in helping people with a neurological diagnosis to improve their health and wellbeing goals and support their recovery. You can find Hannah’s website at https://nutritionbyhannah.com/ or follow her on Instagram and Facebook at @neurohealthcoach.