We’ve all heard that if you want to lose weight, you need to eat less and move more. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
The reality is much more difficult though. Changing our behaviours can be really challenging, and sustaining those new behaviours for the long term is even more so.
Dieting culture doesn’t help us in this either, and years of yoyo dieting can leave us stuck in the diet cycle feeling deflated, unmotivated and worthless.
Far too often, the diet cycle starts with restrictions, limitations, making ourselves go hungry and missing out on things we love. This might aid weight loss in the short term, but it leads to feeling deprived, which means we start focussing on all the things we’re missing out on, and all the things we can’t eat, which just makes us want them more and more. That’s when cravings kick in, building stronger and more frequent until we just can’t stand it anymore.
A blow out inevitably follows. We eat the foods we’ve been craving, and then we eat a whole lot more. This blow out might last an afternoon, a week, a month or longer, and then at some point, shame, guilt and feelings of failure kick in. We feel awful that we’ve let all of our hard work go to waste. We berate ourselves and give ourselves a hard time, and finally, we make the decision to go back on a diet in an effort to lose the weight we’ve just regained. And so the cycle starts again.
Not only is this cycle really unhelpful in terms of weight loss and our health, but it can damage our self-esteem. It leads us to believe that we don’t have what it takes to lose weight and keep it off, and that when it comes to weight, we are complete failures. Often, diets, eating healthy food and exercise all take on negative meanings, and the very thought of trying to lose weight causes our hearts to sink.
As Tom Kerridge says, “It’s not surprising the first 3 letters of diet are ‘die’ – they’re painful!”
So, what can we do to change this cycle? How can we not only lose the weight, but actually keep it off for good?
The answer? We need a completely different approach. That’s why here at Gloji, we recommend throwing diets out the window. No restrictions, no forbidden foods, no crazy exercise regimes, no quick fixes.
Instead, we recommend using small but targeted behavioural changes and locking in those changes until they become part of your normal routine. This means shifting your focus away from rapid weight loss, and shifting it instead to balance, enjoyment, fulfilment and long term sustainable change.
To achieve this, a shift in behaviours and mindset is required. And to change these, we need to know two key things – what actions do we need to take, and how can we approach making the changes we want to make.
Let’s think about the actions first. As a practitioner, I constantly have clients tell me that they know what they need to do, but they’re just not doing it. They feel confident that after years of dieting, they understand nutrition, and they’re clear on exactly what needs to happen in order to lose weight.
At the end of the 12 week programme, they tell me something different. They tell me that a lot of what they thought was accurate information, wasn’t correct after all – in the words of one of my clients just a few days ago – “The course helped me lose my preconceptions and gain actual knowledge”.
As a hint of what he’s talking about, he now knows that carbs are not the enemy, that low fat options are not always the best choice, that sugar is not always bad, and that it’s not all about calories in vs calories out. He can also pick up any item in the supermarket, look at the nutritional information on the back and quickly know if it’s a good choice or not.
The knowledge he has gained on the course has helped him to identify where changes in his routine would be beneficial, which leads us to our approach.
How we approach making changes that support weight loss is key. When most people decide to lose weight, they take the all or nothing approach. They halve their food consumption, walk around with their bellies rumbling, eat food that they describe as ‘tasting like cardboard’, skip meals, avoid snacks and avoid social situations. They also embark on challenging and unrealistic exercise routines, forcing themselves to go the gym, get on the exercise bike, or walk for an hour each day.
This behaviour pattern is really difficult to sustain. Making drastic changes and a whole lot of them at once is a recipe for disaster. Willpower might see them through a week or two, but fairly soon the cracks will begin to show. First the walk doesn’t happen, then they get so hungry they eat a chocolate biscuit. Then because they’ve eaten one, they finish off the packet. They then realise they’ve blown it, and drop the whole lot, believing they’re just not disciplined enough to do what needs to be done.
That’s why it’s important to change one thing at a time, and be completely realistic with our changes, ensuring they’re a fit for our lifestyle and appropriate to our capabilities. It’s far better to set ourselves a small goal and exceed our expectation than set a larger goal and not being able to achieve it. One of my clients set herself a goal of doing some kind of physical activity for 10 minutes each day. She was excited to report back that she had nailed it! Not only had she achieved her 10 minutes per day goal, she’d exceeded it on 5 days out of 7, and on a couple of days she’d done 45 minutes. She felt proud of herself and was really keen to keep going. The result could have been quite different if she had set the goal at 30 minutes each day – something she’d done for 3 of those days but not the other four. That could have left her feeling she wasn’t up for the task and killed her motivation instead of fuelling it.
Focus on what you can ADD rather than remove.
Another mistake people make when deciding on changes with weight loss is focussing on taking things away instead of adding them in, exclusion rather than inclusion. No chocolate. No sweets. No takeaways. No fun in life! Focussing on what we can’t have makes us think about them more, which kicks off those cravings. It also makes us feel deprived and frustrated, leaving a void that we have no idea how to fill.
Instead, focus on adding things in rather than taking them away. Interesting things happen when you do this. Firstly, it feels much more positive than thinking about what you can’t have. Secondly, this mindset promotes choice and a sense of control. It helps us choose foods and actions appropriately because we’re focussing on what we can have instead of what we can’t. And most importantly, when we add things in, other things tend to naturally disappear as a result of this change, without us feeling like we’re removing anything at all.
Take my client as an example. She was finishing work really hungry, going into the kitchen to start making dinner, and getting out the cheese and crackers to snack on while she cooked. She’d eat quite a number of them because she was so famished, and by the time dinner way ready, wouldn’t want to eat it all because she’d eaten so many crackers.
To change this pattern she added in an afternoon snack. This meant that when she finished work she was only starting to become hungry, so didn’t need to snack while she was cooking. She was then able to enjoy her meal fully as a result.
She was a little confused when I suggested this strategy, as she felt like she would just be moving the snack to a different time and still eating the same amount, but there were some key differences. Because she wasn’t as hungry in the afternoon, she consumed far less, and she was much more mindful of what she ate because she was in a better space to make informed choices around what she was eating. Instead of a large plate full of cheese and crackers, she’d only have a couple, or she’d choose something completely different. And eating a good serving of dinner meant she was eating more vegetables instead of eating only half of them because she was full of cheese and crackers. In short, adding in a well chosen snack at the right time meant she consumed less overall, and the quality of what she was eating drastically improved. Plus, she felt a whole lot better by avoiding feeling really hungry at the end of her work day, not to mention avoiding the negative feelings that came from the pattern she’d been stuck in.
Make sure your goals are fully planned and supported.
Our other top tip for making effective changes to support weight loss is making sure your goals are fully planned and supported. If you want to go for a 10 minute walk each day, what will you need to support that? Good shoes? A windproof jacket? An entry in your calendar each day reminding you get out while it’s still light outside? Thinking through your goal and what’s needed to support that will dramatically increase your chances of making it a reality.
At One You Lincolnshire, we also encourage you to look at the whole picture – another thing that’s essential in weight loss. It’s not just about food and exercise, though those are two important factors. What about sleep? Alcohol consumption? And the psychological influences on weight loss? Motivation strategies, overcoming psychological barriers to exercise, changing comfort eating patterns, expanding your options where treats are concerned, and planning for challenging situations are all things we think are essential to successful weight loss. That’s why they’re all built into our programmes, along with all that fabulous nutritional knowledge.
So when it comes to weight loss, we recommend the following. Step away from the diet cycle. Identify small, targeted changes you can make and sustain. Think through exactly what needs to happen in order to achieve each change. Focus on the change you want to make and lock it in, then choose the next change to be made. Focus on adding things in rather than taking them away. And look at the whole picture – food, drinks, physical activity, sleep and psychology. This is the recipe for long term, gradual but sustainable weight loss, without driving yourself crazy in the process.