A few small adjustments to your diet are all you need to cut back your calorie intake and lose weight, says The Fitness Chef Graeme Tomlinson

After the decadence of the festive period – and, well, lockdown – many people will have started January with the intention to get fitter, healthier and perhaps even slim down a few dress sizes.

From Atkins and Keto to juicing and intermittent fasting, there’s an endless list of diets and meal plans to follow, each promising better results than the last. But what if you could eat all the dishes you love and still drop pounds? According to Aberdeen-based nutrition coach, Graeme Tomlinson, burgers, pasta, noodles and takeaways don’t need to be taken off the menu.

Known as The Fitness Chef to his more than 800,000 Instagram followers, Graeme has made it his mission to debunk the many myths surrounding nutrition and diet culture, showing fans how to enjoy food while maintaining a healthy weight.

The aim, he says, is simple – find clever ways to reduce the calorie content of meals, without cutting out entire food groups such as bread, potatoes and pasta, which are often off limits on stricter eating regimes.

“If your goal is weight loss, no matter what diet you choose – and there are so many out there – it all comes down to a calorie deficit,” explained Graeme, 33, who started his online community in 2018.

“The evidence suggests that no matter what you’re doing, you must be in a calorie deficit to lose weight. So, with diets like Keto, Atkins, Paleo, intermittent fasting, or even going to Slimming World every week, people can potentially succeed on them but only with a calorie deficit.

“But a lot of these diets cut out food groups, demonise certain foods and instruct people to eat a certain way, which might not be conducive to an enjoyable lifestyle. A better approach is to allow people the kind of freedom to keep eating what they want but just be a little more educated about the food that they’re eating, really.”

© PA
Graeme Tomlinson

Graeme say his no-nonsense approach, which focuses on swaps rather than omissions, is more sustainable than following a traditional diet as it’s not a quick fix – it’s a new way of cooking, eating and enjoying food.

He continued: “In the last 20 or 30 years there’s just been one diet after another. Some people may enjoy the Keto diet, for example, and carry on with it. But for those that struggle with fad diets, my method provides an opportunity for people to realise they don’t need them. You can keep eating pizzas and burgers and lasagne by being a little bit smarter about what’s in the dish.”

So, how do we keeping eating macaroni cheese and pizza while losing weight?

In his book, Still Tasty – Reduced-calorie Versions Of 100 Absolute Favourite Meals, Graeme shares tips, easy swaps and simple recipes that turn low-cal meals from bland and boring to full of flavour.

Graeme said: “For people who don’t really know why they can’t lose weight or why they keep putting weight on, understanding the calorie values of foods is a really good education. Over time, all the little tiny tweaks I share, which still allow you to eat the food you enjoy, will help you achieve your goals and eat a little bit better.

“The concept is to tell people they can still eat all their favourite foods but here are 100 examples of how you can do that and reduce the calories. You can still have pasta, rice, sugar and cream. You don’t have to turn your diet upside down, you just need to make a few little tweaks here and there and, over time you’re, you can see some results.”

He added with a laugh: “My plan is essentially quite boring compared to a ‘brand new diet’, which feels a little like getting a brand new car doesn’t it? My method is like getting a little service on your car.”

From reducing oil content to using lower-fat alternative ingredients, Graeme’s recipes rely on simple yet effective swaps, which still taste fantastic.

“A lot of the swaps are really easy to understand,” explained Graeme, who also penned the best-selling manual, Eat What You Like And Lose Weight For Life, released in 2019. “It’s about doing things like using less olive oil, opting for reduced fat cuts of meat or swapping in reduced fat cheese.

“In the new book, a few of my favourite dishes are the fish tacos, pancakes with maple syrup and bacon, gnocchi, lasagne and tortilla pizzas because they’re all so easy to make. Oh and the four or five burgers in there, too!

“You wouldn’t think you would be able to eat those dishes and lose weight – but you can.”

Small changes, big results

Here are a couple of examples of very small adjustments to ingredients which have no impact on the enjoyment of your food, but have a big impact on your calorie deficit.

Measure the oil you use to cook, let’s say, a steak. For example, 20ml of olive oil is 180 calories – 180 calories of your meal will be made up from oil alone. By reducing this to 5ml, you immediately cut 135 calories from your meal. You may want to reduce calories even further by using spray oil instead. You still enjoy the delicious steak and the taste and texture of cooking with the oil, but with fewer calories.

Another example – a cheese sandwich, filled with 100g Cheddar cheese (416 calories). Swapping for a 50% reduced-fat Cheddar (244 calories) allows you to eat the same amount of cheese but save 172 calories.

These opportunities are everywhere – you just need to appreciate they exist. Losing weight is as about your ability to sustain behaviour change so making these changes is a no-brainer.

Still Tasty – Reduced-calorie Versions Of 100 Absolute Favourite Meals, Ebury, £16.99, is out now