LAST week the group learnt a lot from dietician Dr Amelia Lake about healthy eating, analysing food labels and how to manage when you’re eating out. They were also given several meal suggestions.
"I was really impressed by how motivated and willing to change they all were," says Dr Lake.
"They’d all brought in labels and were keen to discuss them.
"Research shows that support and encouragement is really useful in weight loss so this competition has created a really positive environment for them."
Although a good rule of thumb is to minimise the amount of processed food you eat, Dr Lake is a realist and knows that even the healthiest eaters will eat processed food from time to time. Being able to understand food labels is therefore essential.
"The first time you go shopping it might take hours, but you need to invest the time initially and then it becomes force of habit," she says.
Dr Lake says the group were surprised by certain products, such as a 98-calorie bag of Quavers crisps, which everyone thought seemed healthier than the norm but was actually worse than many brands when the fat and salt content were taken into account.
"It was really shocking," says Fit Factor contestant Jaqcui Fahey. "I though Quavers were OK. I was also shocked about the sugar in Special K too."
Dr Lake says: "The packaging and advertising make you think certain products are healthier, but when you look at the label it’s not what it seems.
Project manager Nick Cotterill, 40, from North Shields, brought in a bag of dried mango to assess.
"I thought there’s fruit in there so it’s OK, but actually the concentration of fruit means there’s too much sugar," he says. "It’s the same for fruit juice, which is also concentrated and high in sugar."
Dr Lake adds: "These things are OK to eat occasionally in a small amount.
"Nuts and seeds are a healthy substitute for crisps, but they’re high in calories so you can’t eat a lot."
Several of our Fit Factor contestants, including police officer Daniel Henderson, NHS admin worker Dawn correctRoe and Port of Tyne director Ian Gibson, have previously tried extreme liquid diets where they existed on just 500 to 600 calories a day.
Although Daniel lost two-and-a-half stone in two-and-a-half weeks, he felt awful and was so run down he ended up with swine flu.
In 2008, Dawn lost eight stone after drinking only shakes for six months, but put all the weight back on ... plus more.
"It’s not sustainable and I had to stop it because I was ill and nearly blacking out," she recalls.
Dr Lake says these sorts of diets simply aren’t sustainable: "They are normally done under supervision as you can end up deficient in certain vitamins or minerals.
"They work, but you put the weight back on in the long-term. As human beings we’re not designed to live like that. And all those people live within families where nobody else is doing that kind of diet. It’s quite an overwhelming urge to eat normally.
"I wanted to give the group the tools to manage once the 12-week challenge is over and change the habits of the whole family so they keep the weight off long-term."
Dr Lake says anyone can lose weight if they put their mind to it.
She says: "Genetic factors affect a minority of the population. It’s more likely to be the environment.
"Our society is obesogenic. It promotes us to eat more and sit around more. If you want to counteract that you’re swimming against the tide, but it is possible."
Dietician Dr Amelia Lake has some ideas for healthier eating
Muesli – check labels of regular muesli, or make your own with oats, dried fruit, nuts and other cereals (check labels)
Fruit salad (add plenty of fruit to your cereals of choice)
SNACKS - FOOD ON THE RUN
Nuts – avoid salted variety
Rye crisp bread/ something else wholegrain with banana/ cottage cheese
Wholemeal English muffin/ bagel and topping (e.g. thinly spread honey and banana)
Beans on toast
Houmous (low-fat/ make own), salad & wholemeal pitta bread
Feta (low-fat), salad & wholemeal pitta bread
Cous cous/ bulgar wheat – tabbouleh
Omelette – filled with lots of vegetables!
Sweet potato and filling (choose a healthy filling!)
Fillings: baked beans, cottage cheese, bean mixes, tinned fish in tomato sauce
Soups: plenty of vegetables, add pearl barley, lentils, brown rice, chestnuts or beans. Try making own stock
Salads: mix pulses like chick-peas or kidney beans with vegetables and even fruit for something different. Try colourful veg like beetroot – and add chicken, lean meat, fish or add some lower fat cheese (like mozerella, feta, edam).
Experiment with different leaves for variety – from spicy rocket to delicious lambs lettuce. Have salad with lentils or even rice.
Try noodle salads
Fish: lots of tinned varieties in tomato sauces
Reduce overall amount of red meat and increase legumes and oily fish.
Reduce fat – look at your cooking methods
Think about what you order when you eat out