Mediterranean Diet: Weight Loss Without Trying

Would you like to lose weight without even trying? With the Mediterranean diet weight loss happens without starving yourself, drinking weird concoctions, counting calories or extreme exercise regimes. 

It will make you look and feel better too.

These are big claims I know but science has proven them to be true.

In this post I will show you how you can lose weight easily.

There are a lot of practical tips here so you may want to download the free pdf version below.

Don’t have time to read the whole guide right now?

That’s ok. Let me send you a free copy so you can read it when it’s convenient for you. 

Just let me know where to send it.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?

If you haven’t have heard about the Mediterranean diet and its health benefits I’ll give you a quick summary.

As the name suggests, the Mediterranean diet is the typical diet of people living along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. 

There are subtle variations in the diet between countries but it usually comprises some or all of the following:

  • fresh, local and seasonal fruit, vegetables and herbs
  • wild fish and shellfish
  • lean meat
  • beans/legumes
  • nuts and seeds
  • whole grains
  • extra virgin olive oil

And, importantly, it is low in highly processed foods.

The Mediterranean Diet will Make You Healthier

With the Mediterranean diet weight loss is only one of the benefits you will experience.

Science has proven that people who follow the diet have lower rates of many illnesses including heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, asthma and strokes.

Mediterranean food for fat loss

Unlike other popular diets (you know the ones!), the Mediterranean diet isn’t a fad.

It has existed for as long as humans have inhabited the region and has not changed much in thousands of years. 

People living around the Mediterranean Sea simply harvested and consumed what was available and it just so happened that what was available is extremely healthy.

Not only is the Mediterranean diet low in many of the unhealthy foods that plague modern diets, it is abundant in nutrients that actively reduce health issues, such as antioxidants and healthy fats.

It is also delicious!

Mediterranean Diet Weight Loss: the Science

In the 1950s scientists noticed something strange: people who lived in countries around the Mediterranean Sea seemed to have much lower levels of illness, lived longer and were not as overweight as people in other countries.

Intrigued, they looked for the reasons why.

After nearly 70 years of study – the Mediterranean diet is by far the most researched diet on the planet – they discovered that the food people ate was the biggest factor.

Less belly fat, lower BMI

First off, they noticed that people following a Mediterranean diet have much less belly fat and much lower “Body Mass Indexes”.

It is so effective in making and keeping you slim that people following the diet are 51% less likely to be obese and are 59% less likely to have excess fat around their stomach!

Mediterranean diet reduces belly fat

I’m sure you know what belly fat is. It’s the unsightly fat that accumulates around our stomachs. Think “spare tyre” and “muffin top”!

You may not have heard of the Body Mass Index, or BMI for short. It is a measure of people’s weight based on how tall they are. The higher the BMI, the more overweight a person is.

If you want to check your BMI there are many calculators online. This one, for example, does the job without any frills

To translate the BMI into something that we can understand we can use the World Health Organisation’s classification:

Mediterranean diet lowers BMI

So, if your BMI is 23 you are considered to be a normal, healhty weight.

Easy weight loss (without trying)

Having discovered that people eating a Mediterranean diet were a lot slimmer, scientists decided to test whether people who started following the diet could also lose weight.

The answer is “yes” and they lost weight without even trying!

And it’s not just one study that shows this. There are many that have confirmed the findings. 

It’s no wonder that the Mediterranean diet was voted “Best Overall Diet” by a panel of experts in 2018.

Supercharge your weight loss efforts

So, if you eat a Mediterranean diet weight loss will follow without any effort.

Is there anything you can do to accelerate the process?

Yes, there is. By emphasising certain elements of the Mediterranean diet you can lose more weight, faster and the best bit is you can do so with little effort.

Let’s take a look at the things we can do.

Lose “weight” or lose “fat”?

Before we continue it is important to first clarify something.

I have used the word “weight” so far in this post because it is the word most people use. However, what we should really be talking about is losing fat.

This distinction is important as we do not want to lose lean tissue.
Unfortunately, this is exactly what many fad and commercial diets result in.

Fad diets, cutting calories and yo-yoing

Calories in, calories out

One of the problems with many weight loss diets is that they focus too much on “calories in, calories out”.

This is based on the belief that all calories are created equal (is 100 calories of doughnut really the same as 100 calories of lettuce?!) and that to lose fat you must burn more calories than you consume.

Calories in, calories out

It would take too long to go through all the things wrong with these beliefs so I will just say that whilst burning more calories than we consume is a factor there is much more to it.

The quality and type of food we consume are key.

Whether you follow the advice in this post is, of course, your choice. If you opt for another approach instead please be very careful. Diets that severely restrict calories will actually cause you to gain fat medium/long term.

(Car) crash diets

By cutting calories you will often see quick results on the scales.

The problem is our bodies think we are in starvation mode (we have not evolved much from times when food could be scarce) and so takes action to slow down the rate we burn calories.

Crash diets don't work

This is an effort to help us survive for as long as possible.

The initial drop in weight is usually just water and carbohydrate stored in our muscles which returns when normal eating is resumed. 

When we go back to eating our usual calories our body keeps the amount of calories we burn low so that we put back on weight as a protection mechanism just in case we encounter another “starvation” period.

What makes things worse is that it does not just wait until we have returned to previous weight levels it waits until we have added a bit more fat as “insurance”. 

This worked well when we were hunter-gatherers but just leads to yo-yo dieting in modern times.

To lose fat and keep fat off we need to do things differently. 

We need a diet approach that provides all the nutrition we need and does not trigger our body’s starvation response.

One of the key benefits of a Mediterranean diet is that it helps us become healthier and part of becoming healthier is stabilising bodyweight.

As we have seen, without taking any other measures studies show that the Mediterranean diet leads to fat loss over the long term and is more effective than other diets.

How to destroy your weight loss efforts before you’ve started

The most important meal of the day

It is often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I agree. It is also when many people eat food that causes them to eat too much of the wrong things later on.

These days we typically eat some form of cereal, baked goods or other carbohydrate-heavy breakfast. 

The issue with this is that, for many people, these foods screw up their blood sugar levels for the day which results in them eating more and eating more of the “wrong” type of foods for the rest of the day.

Carbohydrates (particularly the highly refined variety found in typical breakfasts) cause a sharp rise in blood sugar levels which is then followed by a crash.

When blood sugar levels drop we get hungry, tired, irritable and crave carbohydrates and sugar-laden foods. This is not the case for everyone, some people tolerate carbohydrates well. 

These people are in the minority though. If you are one of them then count yourself lucky!

Can you handle your carbs?

To test your tolerance to carbohydrates try this experiment: for a week consume 1-2 pieces of white toast with jam or honey at your normal breakfast time and note the time that you start to feel hungry again. 

Also note down whether you feel tired or energised, calm or irritable.

For the next week replace the toast with a breakfast of eggs and a handful of nuts at the same time as you ate the toast. Whether you have an omelette, scrambled eggs or something else it doesn’t matter. 

As long as you don’t add anything to it apart from a small amount of cooking fat.

Carbohydrate breakfasts cause weight gain

Again, note down the time you begin to feel hungry and whether you feel tired or energised, calm or irritable.

If your body does not tolerate carbohydrates well it is likely that you will see a marked difference in the results.

You should feel fuller for longer, more energised and calmer with the eggs and nuts breakfast. You should also find that you do not crave carbohydrate-heavy foods as much.

Why does it work? The protein in the eggs and nuts causes a slow rise in blood sugar levels which in turn avoids the crash. 

The healthy fats in the nuts help with the production of chemicals called neurotransmitters which keep our minds sharp and also raise blood sugar levels slowly.

Studies have shown that the addition of protein to meals leads to reduced appetite and increased feelings of fullness.

On top of this, when protein is eaten at breakfast it results in greater feelings of fullness than if the same amount of protein is consumed at lunch or dinner

Eggs reduce appetite

In fact, a study showed that people who ate eggs for breakfast ate up to 300 calories less at lunch and dinner than participants who ate either cornflakes with milk, toast and orange juice or a croissant and orange juice. 

Over time this reduction will result in significant fat loss.

Of course, some people are allergic to nuts so have to avoid them. If you are one of these people then you can substitute nuts for certain fruits that have been shown to cause slow rises in blood sugar levels. 

Not all fruits do this so stick to the following: berries, apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums and grapefruit. Even if you are not allergic to nuts be sure to rotate the type every few days to prevent food intolerances developing.

Protein melts fat

Eating more protein also has a major positive impact on fat loss. A whole book could be written on these benefits but I will summarise the major ones here. 

Eating protein:

How much protein should you consume? The studies suggest that getting between 25% and 35% of your calories from good quality protein each day will do the trick.

Get motivated

Science has proven that taking this step can increase our motivation and our chances of succeeding in our fat loss efforts.

The step is to take photographs of ourselves from the front back and sides at the start of our fat loss plan and then take further photographs each week until we have achieved our aim.

I’ll be honest, you will probably not like the “before” photographs and they may look worse than you expect (they usually do) but doing this has been shown to be a powerful tool to help us stick with our fat loss.

You’re chewing your food wrong

You don’t control portions, they control you

A lack of portion control is one of the major reasons why people become overweight.

Eating even a little too much at each meal over weeks, months and years gradually builds up and piles on the pounds. 

When you consider that the size of restaurant portions has increased over the years, the size of food packages has grown and average plate size has increased in many countries it is easy to see how we can overeat.

Mediterranean diet and plate size

Given the significance of the issue to our body fat levels it is important to look at measures to address the situation.

Fortunately, there are a number of simple things we can do.

What follows may be one of the easiest things we can do to lose body fat. It is so simple and so well researched that it is surprising that we don’t hear more about it.

Chew your food, dissolve your fat

Simply chewing food properly leads to us eating fewer calories which in turn helps us lose fat.

If you are like most people you do not chew your food properly, especially when you are in a hurry.

Chewing is the first stage of the digestion process and the way we chew and how long we chew can have a significant impact on our overall health and our body fat levels.

An example of the impact of chewing food properly is a 2014 study which took a group of 70 men and women and had them eat at a slower speed, chewing their food properly.

The researchers found that the participants consumed between 57 and 88 fewer calories per meal than participants that ate at their normal speed. 57-88 calories may not sound a lot but over time it amounts to a substantial difference which, again, will result in significant fat loss.

Another study took a group of participants, measured the number of times they typically chewed their food and then looked at the effects of increasing the number of chews by 50% and 100%.

By increasing the number of chews by 50% participants consumed 9.5% less food and by doubling the number of chews their food intake decreased by 14.8%.

It is not just a reduction in the amount of food we eat that chewing properly causes, it has also been shown to:

Slow down and relax

In addition to chewing food properly, speed of eating is important.

The culture in Mediterranean countries includes taking time over meals. This is not the case in other counties where we eat at our desks and rush meals.

A study of 30 women looked at the effect of eating quickly until comfortably full and eating slowly (by putting down cutlery in between mouthfuls) until comfortably full.

When eating quickly the group ate on average 646 calories but when eating slowly the group ate 579 calories, 67 calories less.

The group also reported being more hungry one hour after the quick eating session.

Family enjoying Mediterranean diet

Chewing food quickly and eating until full has been shown to triple the risk of becoming overweight.

Why does chewing more slowly work? One reason relates to our bodies’ signalling mechanism which tells us when we are full.

It takes some time for this signalling mechanism to work and when we eat quickly we may have already overeaten by the time the signalling process has kicked in.

Result: we have already consumed more calories than we need by the time our body tells us we are full!

Do I need to count how many times I chew?!

So, how many times should we chew each mouthful to get these benefits?

There are a number of studies that have looked at this but trying to specify a precise number is difficult and would make mealtimes a chore.

Add in the fact that different foods have different consistencies, some taking longer to chew than others, and there has to be a better way.

Chew food properly

There is. Simply chew each mouthful until it is liquefied before swallowing.

This will take some conscious thought to start with but will soon become a habit. You can make the transition easier by following a few simple guidelines:

  • set aside time to eat, don’t eat in a hurry
  • eat in a calm environment
  • be mindful when eating. Put away your phone, tablet, laptop, etc and turn off the TV!
  • take smaller bites
  • put your cutlery down between each mouthful
  • chew until the food is a puree and finish one mouthful completely before moving on to the next

Drink water for fat loss

Another simple and apparently little-known (at least according to a poll of my friends and colleagues) portion control tip is to drink water.

This has been shown to be beneficial to fat loss efforts in two ways: by burning more calories and reducing appetite. And, of course, it is an easy thing to do to increase the effectiveness of your efforts.

It may surprise you to learn that just drinking water leads to an increase in the number of calories we burn.

Drink water for weight loss

Plain water, of course, is calorie-free but our bodies still have to work to digest and use it. In one study drinking 500ml of water increased calories burnt by 30% following consumption. 

This equates to around 24 calories. In itself it is not much but it is easy to see how this can add up over time.

Another study showed that the increased calorie burning continued for 60 minutes following consumption.

When it comes to appetite reduction the effects of drinking water appear to be more pronounced.

For example, a study gave participants 500ml of water 30 minutes prior to a meal then examined the amount of calories they ate. On average those who drank the water consumed 13% fewer calories.

This equated to an average reduction of 74 calories for a single meal.

Another study looked specifically at the fat loss effects of increased water consumption. All participants were put on the same fat loss diet. Half drank 500ml of water 30 minutes prior to eating and the other half did not consume anything.

Over the course of the 12 week study period the group drinking water lost 4.4lbs more weight than the non-water group. For such a simple step that is a big difference.

A study of 50 overweight women had the participants consume 500ml of water before each meal for a period of 8 weeks whilst continuing to follow their normal eating patterns. 

This measure alone led to weight loss of 3lbs and a 0.6 point reduction in BMI.

Finally, a study of over 18,000 people concluded that increased water consumption generally is associated with eating fewer calories (together with sugar, cholesterol and salt).

The researchers found that an increase in water consumption of between 1 and 3 cups per day was linked to a decrease in daily calorie intake of 69-206 calories.

Drinking water is, of course, an easy thing to add in to a fat loss plan so based on these studies it makes sense to start drinking 500ml of water 30 minutes prior to each meal.

Bigger plates = bigger bellies

Delbouef what?!

The size of the plates and bowls we eat from affects the amount of food we eat.

Plate sizes in countries such as the US and the UK have been increasing over time but this does not seem to have been the case in many Mediterranean countries.

This is vital because science has proven that if we choose smaller plates we serve ourselves less food and so consume fewer calories. 

The opposite is also true: if we use larger plates we serve ourselves more food and consume more calories. 

The cause of this is not simply that we can fit less food on a smaller plate and more food on a larger plate, it seems to be caused by an optical illusion with the fancy name “Delboeuf illusion”. 

Have a look at this image:

Mediterranean diet: weight loss and the Delboeuf Illusion

Which of the two grey circles is larger? 

You may have guessed from the introduction that this is a trick question. The answer is neither. They are actually both the same size but the first circle seems much smaller than the second. 

Now imagine how this would translate to when we are serving food. The same amount of food served on a smaller plate would seem to be more than when served on a larger plate. 

It is also interesting to note that being aware of this optical illusion is not in itself enough to stop our brains being affected by it

For example, in a study involving a group of HR managers attending a seminar on creating healthy organisations participants were given an hour-long session on how plate size can affect portions. Afterwards they were given a buffet lunch. 

Those who received larger plates served themselves twice as much as those with smaller plates!

A review of over 50 studies on the effect of smaller plate sizes on portion control concluded that eating from smaller plate sizes leads to a 30% reduction in the amount of food consumed.

Supersize you?

It is not just when we eat from plates that overeating issues arise. 

For example, in a study of cinema-goers researchers gave free stale(!) popcorn to people who had eaten lunch before going into the theatre. 

Lose weight with smaller package sizes

Eating lunch first was important as it eliminated hunger as a variable. Some of the participants were given popcorn in a medium size bucket and some were given popcorn in a large bucket.

Even though the participants were not hungry and the popcorn was stale those given the large bucket ate 51% more than those given the medium bucket!

The conclusion then is fairly straightforward: choose small plates and bowls and opt for smaller container sizes when out and about.

Eat more food to lose more fat

Research has shown that we tend to eat a similar weight of food per day, irrespective of the calorie content (also known as “energy density”) of that food. 

So, by consuming foods that are less energy dense we will consume fewer calories and avoid overeating. 

One of the issues with traditional “dieting” is that calories are cut in such a way that people feel hungry.

This hunger then makes it very difficult for people to stick to the diet. One of the benefits of consuming foods that have lower energy densities is that you can eat more food so you do not feel hungry

In fact, with the Mediterranean diet weight loss happens partly because your vegetable intake increases so you can eat more food and still consume fewer calories

Why does eating food with lower energy densities result in fat loss? Clearly by eating fewer calories we can expect a positive benefit. 

Studies have also shown that normal weight individuals tend to naturally eat more low energy density foods than obese individuals. 

The opposite is also true: individuals that eat higher energy density foods tend to have higher BMIs.

Finally, a study in which participants were given a low energy density soup as part of their meals demonstrates how powerful this approach can be to fat loss. 

In this study participants were given either a broth-based soup to eat before two meals each day or a dry snack to eat before the meals. The soup and the dry snack contained the same number of calories but the soup weighed more. 

At the end of the study the group consuming the soup lost 15.8lbs compared to only 10.6lbs in the dry snack group.

The best (and healthiest) way to lower the energy density of the foods we eat is to add more fresh fruit (rather than dried fruit which has less water and so is more energy dense) and vegetables to our meals and to swap high calorie snacks with fresh fruit. 

There are a number of ways to do this. 

At meal times we can have a salad prior to our meal or as a side dish, we can add servings of vegetables on the side of the meal or, if vegetables aren’t your thing, you can incorporate them in the meal itself to disguise the taste but still enjoy the benefits.

Track your progress, burn more fat

Research has shown that regularly tracking progress towards any goal, but particularly fat loss goals, significantly improves our chances of achieving the goal. 

On top of this, a large study that reviewed the results of 138 smaller studies involving a total of 19,951 participants found not only that monitoring progress increases the likelihood of goal attainment but that recording progress and sharing it with others improved things further

 

Weighing scales

You don’t need to go overboard but a weekly weigh-in, measurement of waist, hips and a thigh or using a body fat monitor can be very helpful. Write the results down each week and share them with others and you should see improved results.

Wrap-up

As you can see, by following a Mediterranean diet weight loss is easy.

There’s no starving yourself, no weird concoctions to drink, no calories count and no extreme exercise regimes.

This isn’t hype. Science has proven how easy it is.

Follow the tips in this post and see for yourself. Not only will you lose fat, you will feel happier and healthier too!

Don’t have time to read the whole guide right now?

That’s ok. Let me send you a free copy so you can read it when it’s convenient for you. 

Just let me know where to send it.

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