Haven’t exercised in years (or ever) and need to drop 15, 20 or even 50 kilos? Take it off painlessly – and for good – with this eating plan

You’re ready to lose a large amount of weight. Great! So you commit to a diet that dictates every bite you take, plus a rigorous workout plan that would make a fit guy beg for mercy. It seems like a good idea, but it’s not. The extreme approach is impossible to live with long-term and, if you’re currently overweight, could lead to injury and tip the scale in the wrong direction. A smarter strategy: modest changes. Walk more, do basic body-weight exercises, and be a bit more careful about what you eat and drink. Experts agree that the small-steps strategy can not only spare your joints but also instill healthy habits and deliver results – so you’ll never need to lose weight again.

Part one: Smarten Up to Shrink Your Gut

Cutting calories is just one part of the weight-loss equation. For results that last, you’ll need to change your eating and the way you think about food. For help, we sought out the brains at Precision Nutrition – Brian St. Pierre, director of per­formance nutrition, and coach Ryan Andrews. Use their guidelines to gradually transform your meals and painlessly peel off the kilos.

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The Perfect Plate

– 2 palm-size portions of protein (eggs, chicken, beef, fish, pork): it keeps you satiated and builds and preserves muscle. Plus, your body burns more calories as it digests, netting a bigger postmeal burn.

– 1 to 2 handfuls of carbs (fruit, oats, wild rice, quinoa, sweet potatoes, beans): fibre-rich carbohydrates – such as whole grains and legumes– fill you up, fuel you up, and help your body recover from exercise.

– 2 fist-sized helpings of veg: aside from their pay­load of vitamins and minerals, vege­tables contain plenty of belly-filling volume, fibre and water. That means you’re less hungry despite the low calorie total.

– 1 to 2 thumb-sized portions of fat (butter, olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds): fats boost immunity and help your body absorb vitamins. Omega-3s reduce your risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Start Small, Eat Better This Year

Don’t overhaul your entire diet at once. Change just one daily meal – breakfast, say – each week. This helps you ease into your new habits. By month’s end, you’ll be eating like a fit guy and more likely to do so for good.

Week One
Revamp your breakfast based on our “Perfect Plate” meal formula (left). For example, have:
A four-egg omelette made with a handful of spring onions and peppers and cooked in a pat of butter
1 banana (or other fruit)
Coffee and water

Week Two
Keep eating your breakfast, but now switch your lunch, following the same formula of lean protein, carbs, vegetables and fat. One to try:
1 large chicken breast, grilled
2 handfuls of mixed cucumber slices and baby carrots
2 slices whole grain bread
2 Tbsp guacamole
Seltzer water

Week Three
Now transform dinner. Create any combo that meets the standard. For example:
225g steak, salmon or pork chop
2 fist-sized portions of roasted broccoli, seasoned to taste
1 medium sweet potato
1 Tbsp olive oil (for roasting
the broccoli)
3 squares dark chocolate
with a pear, for dessert
Wine and/or water

Week Four
When you need a bite between meals, go for it, but snack only once a day, sticking to this formula:
1 palm of protein or 1 handful of carbs or up to 1 fist of vegetables
or 1 thumb of fat.
Some ideas:
1 cup Greek yoghurt
1 handful of fruit, like berries
or apple slices
1 thumb of seeds or nuts

3 Simple Food Rules

1. Eat in 20 Minutes
If you finish a meal in five minutes flat, you’re probably scarfing down too much. Aim to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner in 20-minute spans, timed from the first to the last bite. “This gives your brain enough time to recog­nise how much you’ve eaten,” says St Pierre.

2.Stop at Satisfied
Put down your fork when you’re satis­fied, not stuffed. Of course, this can be tough to gauge when you’re staring down a pile of chips or wings, but here’s a trick: ask your­self, “Would I still want to keep eating if that were a pile of steamed cauli­flower?” If the answer is yes, nosh on; if it’s no, stop eating.

3. Have Fries with That
Eyeing the fries? Go for it. “There are no good and bad foods,” St Pierre says, “only foods you should eat more or less often.” This mindset eliminates guilt and deprivation and helps you stick to your good-eating plan in general. Aim to hit your “perfect plate” foods 80% of the time.