Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Play Swapsies or How To Lose Weight Without Even Dieting

This is the time of year when so many people feel slug like, bloated and in need of losing a few, (or a lot of!) pounds. You can do it without even thinking about going on a diet. Sounds too good to be true? It's as easy as pie - but it all depends what pie you choose. Simple swapping can save all the calories you need to shed those pounds without feeling deprived, irritable, bad tempered and exhausted.

Throw out the diet gurus, dump the dodgy doctors, forget the food fascists - they're all the weakest links. You don't even have to think about the all-protein/no-carbohydrate diet, the cabbage soup diet, eating for your blood type, the zone diet, or any of these other wacky ideas. All you need to do is to make better choices when it comes to eating. If you stuff in more calories than you burn up, you'll gain weight, and if you use more than you consume, you'll lose it - and that is the absolute truth for 99% of people who have a weight problem.

Here are two simple tips to get you on your way.

Leave your TV autochanger on top of the set - the minute you get a zapper you gain a pound a year because you're not getting out of your chair to change the channel.

Anyone who eats two slices of bread and butter a day less, and walks for 20 minutes a day more, will lose a pound a week even if they don't do anything else.


Here's how to swap some of the most fattening dishes for lower calorie and lower fat alternatives which you'll enjoy just as much. Start with breakfast.

The proverb says breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince; dine like a pauper, yet more and more people leave home in the morning with little more than a cup of tea or instant coffee inside them. Few people apparently cook a traditional English breakfast for themselves, but this isn't good news as those stopping at the greasy spoon, the hamburger chain or the doughnut take-away stall are increasing phenomenally.

The right breakfast sets you up for the day, providing a hefty proportion of your nutritional needs and the sustaining energy to keep body and brain running in top gear through till lunch. Kids at school do better with breakfast; it improves your concentration on complex tasks in the workplace; it fuels the body for any physical exertion. Without it your blood sugar level is at rock bottom before you're halfway through the morning and you're attacked by the chocolate munchies and the doughnut withdrawal symptoms. Even worse, you may be tempted to stop at the greasy spoon or burger bar and have a traditional English breakfast at 1300 calories and 72 grams of fat, or a BLT at over 600 calories and 38 grams of fat.

Instead choose one of these filling but healthy options.

Muesli with fresh fruit

Start with real sugar-free oat-based muesli like Jordan's and in the Swiss tradition, prepare it the night before by adding semi-skimmed milk and leaving in the fridge. In the morning add a low fat natural yogurt, a sliced apple, two teaspoons of honey and your favourite fresh fruit - a sliced banana, berries, grapes, or a sliced ripe peach. 125 calories, 2 grams of fat, twice your day's requirement of vitamin C and loads of iron and calcium.

English breakfast - the healthy version

Put one large mushroom, two extra lean rashers of bacon, a tomato and a real traditional sausage under the grill. While that's cooking, put a large plate on top of a saucepan of simmering water. When the plate is really hot break an egg on to it and let it cook - a trick taught to me by the great chef, Anton Mosimann. Eat with a slice of good wholemeal toast. 290 calories, 19 grams fat, and lots of vitamins A and C, and iron.

Dutch Delight

Two slices of wholemeal toast with a scraping of butter, each covered with thinly pre-sliced low fat Dutch Gouda cheese. Cover with thin slices of fresh tomato and have with a glass of fresh orange juice. It takes moments to make, is cheapest perfect if you think you haven't got time for breakfast. 300 calories, 25 grams fat, more than two days' worth of vitamin C and a third of your calcium and vitamin A.


I worry about how many women eat the same thing for lunch every day - the favourite seems to be tuna mayo sandwiches - good nutrition comes from variety. So if your lunch is always a sandwich swap the tuna mayo (340 calories, 15 grams fat), for wholemeal pitta with humus and salad (300 calories, 8 grams fat).

If you normally head straight for the burger bar, burger and chips (480 calories, 19 grams fat), why not choose a jacket potato with baked beans (350 calories, 1 gram fat, loads of protein, lots of calcium, some iron and plenty of fibre).

If you're off to the pub turn your back on the Cornish Pastie which will give you almost 500 calories and 30 grms of fat, and ask for a generous portion of fish pie (under 300 calories and only 13 grams fat) and lots of iodine to keep your thyroid working and help you lose weight.

Evening meals are a real problem for working women. It doesn't matter if you're single or going home to feed a family after work, you're tired and constantly on the lookout for the easy options. The easiest is often the takeaway and this is where swapping your regulars for better choices can make a huge difference to your total calorie consumption. Swap your normal fish and chips at 839 calories, 48 grams fat, for a real lamb shish kebab - not your favourite doner which is oozing with fat. Eat it with a wholemeal pitta, piles of salad and chilli sauce, and you'll get masses of protein, lots of vitamins and only 460 calories with 18 grams fat.

Feeling oriental? Then definitely avoid the sweet and sour pork with egg fried rice at around 1000 calories and 50 grams fat per portion. Instead have a spicy vegetable curry with plain boiled rice, a portion of dahl and a couple of papadoms which altogether adds up to 360 calories and 11 grams fat, with loads of betacarotene, vitamin C, protein and fibre.

There's always the other option of microwave ready meals but in general these are not the healthiest of choices because of their high fat and calorie content. If you opt for the 'healthy' options, they may have less total calories and fat, but will inevitably contain much more salt or sugar depending on whether they're sweet or savoury. These instant meals are seldom good nutritional value for money anyway, so why not make a serious swap here and try this quick, inexpensive chicken dish instead. Mix two tablespoons of olive oil, the juice of a lemon, two smashed garlic cloves, a teaspoon of paprika and black pepper. Cut four skinless chicken breasts into two inch cubes, add to the marinade, and leave for 15 minutes stirring occasionally.

Oil the rack of your grill pan, and cook chicken pieces under hot grill for 10 minutes, turning and basting with the marinade. Serve with rice or boiled potatoes and a green vegetable.

Per portion: 200 calories, 6 grams fat, loads of protein, phosphorus, potassium and selenium, and heart-friendly.

Of course, no-one eats just three meals a day, after 50 years of working with patients I know that virtually everyone nibbles in between; and there's nothing wrong with that, as long as you swap the baddies for the goodies. Instead of a slice of chocolate cake at 320 calories treat yourself to a piece of cherry cake at 165 calories or carrot cake at 227. Swap your Danish pastry (415 calories and almost 20 grams fat) for a doughnut ring (230 calories and only 12 grams fat). You could choose four rich tea biscuits or three jaffa cakes at 120-130 calories instead of one eclair at 340 calories and 21 grams fat.

Any diet that deprives you of all your pleasures will never work so it's important to have the odd indulgence. To make your daily food intake even healthier and seriously bump up your regular consumption of all the wonderful plant chemicals that boost your immunity and protect you against illnesses like heart disease and cancer, have as many of your snacks as possible as fresh or dried fruits. A small bar of chocolate is about 250 calories, an apple is only 47; a banana contains 95 calories and a Mars bar 203; 10 cherries are only 20 calories, 10 Matchmakers 95; 5 dried apricots will give you 85 calories and a huge quantity of protective nutrients, 5 After Eights supply 165 calories and little else of value.


You don't need a calculator to tot up how easy it is to save well over 2000 calories a day by swapping the worst for the best. Just sensible changes will save you 1000 calories a day, which is 7000 a week, which is the equivalent of losing 2 lbs of fat.

Just imagine that if you adopt these simple swaps it's the equivalent of getting rid of four half pound packets of lard off your hips every week - worth it?


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