Weight Loss for Good
Christmas is, perhaps, the one time of the year when we can really let go and enjoy ourselves without feeling (too) guilty about what we’re eating or drinking. That’s why so many New Year’s resolution revolve around diet; we go all out during the festivities, and start the new year with all the good intentions of losing weight. It’s a plan that many of us make, and a plan that fails for most.
Statistics tell us that for every diet that doesn’t work (around two thirds of them), the dieter themselves will gain 11 pounds by the time they give it up for good. And to make matters worse, that’s 11 pounds of pure fat. If anything has been lost, it will be muscle first, and then fat, so you won’t have done yourself any favours. To top everything off, a crash diet actually slows your metabolism, so it’s even harder to lose weight again afterwards, and you’ll need fewer calories each day to maintain a steady weight. Gaining weight will be something that happens even when you don’t eat much at all. So what’s the point in trying?
There’s a lot of point in losing weight. A ‘diet’ may just not be the way to do it. There are, however, ways to lose weight and keep the weight off for good.
Diets fail because they are tantamount to shocking your body into survival mode. It will think you are starving, and will begin storing fat like there’s no tomorrow. It’s an excellent self-preservation method, and it is automatic when little or no food – or even reduced amounts of food and calories – are consumed. Your hunger levels will spike, making you feel unwell and will drive you to search out food. You might even find yourself binging. Your cravings for certain foods will kick in. It’s all to do with our clever brains and bodies trying to keep us alive, but for those trying to lose weight it’s a built-in self-destruct button.
Obviously if we want to lose weight we need to eat better food (not necessarily less food) and exercise more, but our appetites tend to get in the way. So the key here is to eat until you are no longer hungry – don’t just eat a small amount and hope that those hunger pangs will go away because they won’t. However, there is a big difference between eating good food and eating bad food. Eating fresh, healthy food in large amounts will give you more energy, make you feel better, and stop your body from thinking it’s dying.
If you want to lose weight and keep it off there are some simple ways to get started. Some of it will include willpower, but that’s okay – it’s the New Year and you’re full of willpower, energy, and the need to succeed.
Breakfast is, they say, the most important meal of the day. Why do they say that? Because breakfast is how your body’s metabolism gets started. It gets switched on. It begins working. Skipping breakfast is how mid-morning snacks happen, and those snacks are rarely healthy ones. Missing breakfast in an effort to lose weight is a great way to put it on, and a recent study* showed that people who lost weight and kept it off for at least five years all had one thing in common: they all ate breakfast. But the catch with breakfast is it needs to be healthy. No sugary cereals or Pop Tarts here. No big fry ups. Breakfast needs to consist of whole grain cereals and breads, oatmeal, muesli, eggs, even tofu. It needs to be tasty, of course, but it needs to be good for you too – and there is plenty of choice in that department. Breakfast can become the most exciting meal of the day.
Calories… those little blighters that turn up in the night and sew our clothes tighter are actually not the enemies we have been made to think they are. And counting them when on a diet is a surefire way to get frustrated and begin denying your body what it needs. Calorie-free or low-calorie foods sometimes don’t include all the nutrients our bodies need to keep healthy, which is why we begin to feel sluggish and generally out of sorts when we haven’t been listening to what they’ve been telling us. It’s better to eat nutrient-dense food such as vegetables, lean meat, healthy fats, and whole grains rather than specifically low-calorie meals. Doing this more often (and for every meal if you possibly can) and getting more exercise will see you losing weight safely, sensibly, and for good.
Snacking is a terrible affliction, and we all suffer from it. In the New Year it’s particularly hard to keep away from the sweets and treats because there is often so much left over from Christmas. Having a clear out on 1st January is a great way to get your mind into weight loss mode; any opened packets should be binned, but anything that is still good could possibly be taken to a food bank or nursing home. Ask around, someone will definitely take it all off your hands. Once it’s gone, you’ll have to make a conscious (and expensive) decision to go out and buy more snacks that won’t do you much good. The occasional hunger pang or craving will happen, that’s only natural, so to combat those times it’s a good idea to have pre-cut, pre-washed fruit and veg in the fridge ready to go. Go for a few slices of apple instead of a slice of cake and you’ll feel better immediately.
It’s not just food that can undo our good intentions; drink carries the same problems. Fizzy, sugary drinks are obviously bad. Bad, bad, bad. But oh so good… And that’s the issue with them – they really do get their sugar-coated claws into us and it’s hard to make them let go. Don’t go straight for the diet option when weaning yourself off cans of pop though; diet soda might quench your thirst, but because it is still sweet (sweetened with sugar substitutes such as aspartame) it does nothing to tame that sweet tooth. Plus, because they are labelled as ‘diet’ many people who drink them think that’s enough, and actually increase their calorie intake in other ways after feeling that the diet drinks will do the job… They won’t. And weight will be gained. Instead, try drinking iced tea or water (carbonated if you prefer) with a slice of lemon or lime in it to give it a bit of flavour.
Speaking of drinks, alcohol is so crammed full of calories you wouldn’t believe it. Plus it’s bad for those looking to lose weight for other reasons too – it stimulates the appetite, and makes us crave things we shouldn’t be eating. At the same time it lowers our inhibitions, which means that we’re possibly not quite as on the ball when it comes to what we’re eating. That put together can often mean an unthought out meal or snack(s). And too much alcohol can damage the liver, kidneys, and stomach, all of which are essential when it comes to making sure our bodies lose weight in the way they were intended to. So make alcohol a treat just like the fizzy drinks and the sweets. You’ll feel better for it, and enjoy it more, but you’ll also find it easier to lose weight.
THE PLATE METHOD
If you’re not sure how to give yourself enough healthy food, you can use the ‘plate method’. This means filling half your plate with lovely vegetables. Anything without starch is great, so things like broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, and mushrooms. Leafy greens are another excellent choice. Next, use a quarter of your plate for your starches – potatoes, corn, beans, or perhaps rice or lentils. And the final quarter is for your protein. Ta da, one healthy, satisfying plate of food!
Another top tip is to get smaller plates. Seriously. Many dinner plates are huge, and people do tend to fill them up. Rather than putting less food on a larger plate, use a smaller plate and fill it to the brim (if plates have brims). It may be no different in terms of portion size, but psychologically it’s huge. Or small. Depending on which way you look at it.
TREATS & EATING OUT
Having a treat now and them won’t kill you, as long as ‘now and then’ doesn’t become every day; it’s good to allow yourself a reward for all your hard work. A day may even come when you just don’t want a cake or chocolate bar, when you couldn’t stomach the idea of a full fat fizzy fix. But even if that day never comes, even if your sweet tooth or sugar craving never entirely goes away, that’s not a bad thing either. The thing is, deliberately staying away from your ultimate favourite food, even if it’s terribly bad for you, will lead to frustration, irritation, and a feeling of deprivation, which in turn will lead to the dreaded binges.
And just because you’re trying (and succeeding!) to lose weight doesn’t mean you have to become a hermit and stay inside for months or years at a time just in case someone offers you something a bit naughty. Be proud of what you’re doing – you are, after all, taking your life and your health seriously, and really doing something about getting rid of those unwanted pounds – and let others know. They’ll understand that you won’t (necessarily, although as we’ve said before you can treat yourself on occasion) want to go over for a big old barbecue or pizza takeaway, and they will be able to make sure there is something for you to eat too. Plus, the more people who know what you’re doing, the more people you’ll have looking out for you, cheering you on, and helping out.
As for going out for meals, again, don’t worry about it – enjoy yourself. Why not share a starter (assuming you even want to have one) instead of having one to yourself? Why not ask for extra vegetables instead of fries or pasta? It’s your meal, make it good for you.
Lastly, don’t berate yourself too harshly when you make a mistake or give in to cravings, especially at the beginning of this long-term journey. You are changing the habits of a lifetime, habits that have been ingrained for decades, perhaps even since childhood (who hasn’t gone to their grandmother’s house and come away full of food and treats because she wanted to make sure you were looking after yourself, for example?), and that takes time, patience, willpower, and confidence that you are doing the right thing. Telling yourself off, punishing yourself (even if it’s only in your mind) will do psychological damage. You might not realise it, but you will subconsciously begin to equate your new healthy eating regime with feeling inadequate or wrong in some way. So don’t do it – congratulate yourself for every pound lost, pat yourself on the back every time you eat a fruity snack instead of a chocolate one. Tell yourself you’re doing a great job whenever you kick temptation to the curb. Because you are. It’s hard. But it’s worth it in the end.