Contributed by Angela Bates, Registered NHS Dietician
Losing weight can be hard work. If it was easy, no one would be overweight. In theory it seems so simple: eat less, move more = weight loss. However, we are human beings with thoughts and feelings. We are often trying to juggle family, friends, work commitments and our social lives alongside our attempts to lose weight.
If you are someone who has tried various diets over the years you will know that sticking to a diet will result in weight loss. The problem is that people are often not able to stick to the diet and weight inevitably goes back on in time.
The reasons for weight gain are multi-factorial and way too detailed to go into in this article. Instead I have decided to take a different look at weight loss and come up with some simple strategies to help keep you on track. Today, I’m going to discuss why it’s so important to identify your reasons for losing weight, why you need to set realistic goals, why planning and logging intakes are crucial, how to resist temptation from others and how to identify when you are feeling full up.
Find your why
When people come to clinic to discuss losing weight, early on in the consultation I ask them what their reasons are for doing this. I have heard many reasons for wanting to lose weight, some of the reasons include “because I want to see my grand children grow up”, “because I need to lose weight before the doctor will operate”, “because I hate the way I look”, “because I have a family wedding coming up”, “because I want to look good for my holiday”…the list goes on.
Often people will select one main reason for wanting to lose the weight. Something that I encourage people to do is to think about EVERY possible reason they have for wanting to lose the weight. If you sit down and think really about it, you will find there are LOTS of positive reasons that you have for wanting to change. Some may be health related, some may be psychological and some may be social. The point here is that ALL of these reasons are valid. The other point is that it is extremely useful to take time to ‘find your why’.
When the going gets tough (and at some point it invariably does), you will need to remind yourself why you are doing this. Having a clear set of reasons/goals will help to keep you motivated and focused. It is often useful to write down your list of reasons and keep them somewhere safe. Whenever you feel that you need that reminder or shot of motivation, take a look at your list and remind yourself of all of the positive benefits that weight loss brings.
One other thing that I would recommend is to try and include some reasons for losing weight which do not have a clear end point. For instance, although your reason for wanting to look good on the beach next year is a valid reason, what will happen once the holiday is over? Will old eating habits resume? Will this cause you to throw in the towel, put on more weight and then try and lose it again for the next holiday? This type of weight cycling is not helpful to you and will only make the job of losing weight harder the next time you try. The key thing here is to look at this as a lifestyle change which can be followed for the long term.
Set realistic goals
So now you have decided that you want to lose weight and you have listed the reasons why you want to do this, the next step is to set a goal which is do-able.
If the goal seems too daunting it may cause you to become overwhelmed and disheartened. Be realistic about what you want to achieve and how long it might take to get there. When you are starting out it may feel like you are standing at the bottom of Mount Everest (metaphorically speaking), looking up at the summit. You stand there at the bottom of the mountain and wonder how you will ever reach the top. STOP RIGHT THERE!! My tip here is simply to get started and take one or two steps forward. Keep your eyes on the few steps which lie ahead of you. This strategy will help you moving forward and at some point you will be able to look back and see just how far you have come.
In weight loss terms this may mean setting small goals which are realistic and within your grasp. In other words, if your overall goal is to lose 3 stones in weight, firstly focus on losing your first half stone. The rate at which you lose weight will be individual to you and your own circumstances but as a rule of thumb, a realistic amount of weight loss to aim for on a week by week basis is anywhere from half a pound to two pounds. Anything more than this could mean that the changes you are making are too much and may not be sustainable in the longer term.
Don’t forget also that within the first week of making changes, you may see more weight reduction which tails off during the following weeks. Once again, if you have made quite drastic changes to your diet, this weight loss is likely to be attributed to changes in glycogen storage and therefore is not true fat loss. Do not get disheartened, continue with your changes and keep looking ahead as weight loss will follow.
The other thing I should mention here is to remember that the weight on the scales is not the only indicator of how things are going. You may find that clothing starts fitting you differently or that people comment positively on how you are looking. If you are incorporating exercise into your weight loss plans (and I hope that you are), you will also find that you start to feel better and have more energy. Try not to pin all of your hopes on the bathroom scales to only get disheartened when they do not give you the reading that you want.
Sometimes people want me to tell them exactly how many calories they should be consuming in order to lose weight. I answer them with a question; “how many calories do you currently consume?”. No one so far has been able to tell me how many calories they consume, the reason for this is because they do not know.
In order to identify what your daily energy (calorie) intakes need to be to promote weight loss, we firstly need to know what your current energy intakes are. Once we know this, we have a number to work to and we can then start to set a realistic daily goal for energy consumption which is achievable and safe.
However, not everyone wishes to count calories so what do we do in this case? I would still recommend that a person logs their intakes. There is often a certain amount of eating and drinking which is carried out subconsciously. People often fail to acknowledge the extent of their consumption and this makes change hard for them as they refuse to believe that their diet is at the heart of their problems. If you have ever watched the TV programme ‘Secret Eaters’, you will know the type of scenario that I am describing.
Planning is an essential part of the process and is vital to helping you succeed! Plan in advance your meal choices for the week ahead and take a list with you when you do your food shop to ensure you have everything you need.
Think about what you are going to eat and when you are going to eat it. The idea of doing this may seem boring or regimented but if you don’t plan ahead and eat what you want as and when you feel like it, the chances are that you will fall at the first hurdle.
Planning helps you to do the following:
- Make healthier choices.
- Avoid long gaps without food and the potential poor choices that may occur when you get hungry.
- Eliminates spontaneous eating (e.g. the inclusion of nibbles, snacks, leftovers etc).
- Puts you in control of your intakes.
Have a think about what you can do today in order to help tomorrow’s eating plan run smoothly. For instance, you may want to get your breakfast things out the night before so that it is all ready for you in the morning. You may choose to prepare your lunches in advance (this is especially helpful if you work and sometimes have to rely on buying food from shops or food vans). You might even want to do some batch cooking so that you can have some meals prepped weeks in advance.
It may also be a good idea to plan snacks into your daily plan. Aim to choose healthy snacks which will take the edge off your hunger without sabotaging your hard work.
The aim here is to prevent unplanned eating. When you are faced with temptation you have probably gone through an internal struggle where you decide whether or not you should or should not eat something. In this situation, you need to remind yourself that you have made a plan and that you are going to stick to it. Do not give yourself the choice as this will lead you to give in to your temptation and then cause you to spend the rest of the day feeling guilty about what just happened.
Resisting temptation from others
Planning can also include thinking about what you will say to people when they offer you something which is not part of your meal plan. This can be difficult when people try to persuade you to have a treat. They may say things like “go on, a little bit wont hurt you”, or “come on, the diet can start tomorrow”.
You might feel as though you are disappointing them by saying ‘no’. However, by declining the offer you are not trying to make them feel bad, you are simply trying to stick to your plan and work towards your weight loss goal. How you respond to them is entirely up to you. You may feel that you have worked hard and deserve a treat, however, if you are feeling pressurised into having something that you don’t really want you will need to find a way of saying “no”.
Don’t forget that you do not need to explain yourself. A simple “no thank you” should suffice. If you are dealing with someone more persistent however you may need to think about a response in advance.
Self-monitoring your intakes is known to improve weight loss success. Understanding where your calories are coming from is crucial in knowing where to cut down. We discussed this earlier in the section entitled ‘Log it’. The process of logging and monitoring is an on-going process. I am not suggesting that you need to log everything for ever and a day, but certainly in the early stages you will need to be sure that you are sticking to your plan. However, if you are managing your weight effectively, logging is likely to become unnecessary at some point.
If you purely wish to log calories consumed, then there are plenty of mobile phone apps that can help you to do this. However, for some people it may be more helpful to keep a hand written log of their intakes. This allows you to include extra detail which you may find helpful.
Some people struggle with emotional eating or boredom eating and have difficulties in differentiating between hunger, desires and cravings. In this instance, it can be useful to keep a hand written log where you can include an extra column for details on how you were feeling at a particular time. This can be useful for some people in order to identify the reasons why you are eating. If the reason for eating is something other than feeling physical hunger, then this can be useful to identify and you may need to take a different approach.
Knowing when you are full up
Ideally we want to eat when we are hungry and stop eating when we are comfortably full. However, have you ever got to a point where you feel so uncomfortable that you almost cannot move? If so, you have over eaten.
The problem here is that you may be used to this feeling of being uncomfortably full up and it may feel entirely normal to you, therefore your definition of fullness may need to be changed.
As a rule of thumb, if you would be unable to go for a brisk walk after eating a meal then this would be a good indication that you have eaten too much. For the next few weeks, ask yourself after each meal if you would be capable of going for a brisk walk. If the answer is yes, then that suggests that you have eaten to a comfortable level. If the answer is no however, you may want to think about what you can change so that you do not over-load your plate.
I hope you found the tips in this article helpful. If you are thinking of making changes and losing weight in the new year, then I wish you the best of luck. As I have already mentioned, losing weight is seldom easy but with careful planning and preparation there is a lot that you can do to pave the way and help things run a little smoother. If you have any comments or questions about the article, please do respond. Or, if there are any particular aspects about diet/nutrition that you would like to know more about, let me know so that I can think about future articles.
Wishing you all a successful 2019 (no matter on what your goals are)!