It’s the season of ‘regimes’ and the two month count down before hitting the beach and enjoying the sun but in the rush to lose weight, it’s easy to ignore the uncomfortable fact that long term weight maintenance naturally requires a strategy, a game plan and a long careful look at existing dietary habits as well as our relationship with food.
The statistics are depressing; only 20% of people manage to maintain their weight loss with the majority going up and down like a yo yo, increasingly desperate to try the latest diet and the latest magic cure. Unfortunately, there is no magic involved, it’s all about finding an approach which works for you and, I’m going to add that it needs to tick the box for long term health too, as the two things don’t necessarily go hand in hand. It then involves sticking to it – pretty much for life!
It involves focus, effort, determination and resilience (the new ‘in word’) and before you groan that this all sounds like too much effort, I’m going to underline that it is an investment which truly does pay off. A healthy diet and lifestyle can reduce our risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes by 30%, it’s an almost ‘miracle pill’, an incredible high yielding form of investment that can greatly improve our health, so why do so many of us refuse to take it?
With a drum roll, these are the 7 habits which I think are necessary to ensure long term successful weight loss:
Eat for the right reasons, not because you are stressed, angry, tired, fed up or bored……
One of the biggest issues I see with patients struggling with their weight is that they eat emotionally. Bad day a work? Let’s have a treat. Busy day at work? I need a treat. Good day at work? I’ll celebrate with a treat…..you get the idea!
If hunger is not the issue, then food is not the solution!
The golden rule is that you should be eating because you are hungry and not for any other reason. As for how to distinguish between emotional hunger and genuine hunger? Emotional hunger tends to come on quickly and demands a particular type of food (usually full of refined sugars!) real hunger comes on slowly and can be satisfied with any food (fruit, vegetables, nuts…)
As for some practical tips? If you find yourself feeling ‘hungry’ within 2 hours of finishing a meal, it’s unlikely to be hunger, so simply grab a drink and try distracting yourself with work or physical activity. If you find yourself heading on auto pilot towards the biscuit tin, give yourself a mental shake and reach instead for a piece of fruit. If you don’t actually ‘feel’ like a piece of fruit than again, it is not hunger. Develop non-food related strategies for stress, tiredness and boredom – physical activity, reading, unwinding with a film, calling a friend……anything other than eating!
Moderate your portions
We live in an age of portion distortion, particularly for carbohydrates. An ‘real’ serving of carbohydrates is about 120 g cooked weight, most of us will serve ourselves double this. Our stomachs (bless ‘em) like volume, so in order to reduce your carbohydrate serving you need to add in more volume and this is where vegetables come in useful for bulking out our meals without adding excessive calories.
They are also bursting with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants which we need for our longer term health. Don’t like vegetables? Not a good enough excuse I’m afraid. There’s a whole planet of vegetables out there for you to try, so find some vegetables you like! But they take too long to prepare? One word – salad! Ahh, but salad is boring? The secret my friends is a good vinaigrette:
4 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. soy sauce
The latest studies show that exercise on its own it not particularly effective for weight loss for most people. Why? Because some of us compensate after exercise by eating more and we also tend to overestimate the calories we might have burnt. The bulk of energy expenditure comes from day to day activities such as breathing and keeping a constant body temperature (known as the basal metabolic rate), we burn a further 10% or so in digesting food and exercise only really accounts for 20-30% of our energy requirements. But, there’s no doubt that exercise is good for our general health which is why we need to do it. The research also indicates that we should be limiting the time spent sitting down and resting immobile for long periods, so stand, fidget, dance, hop, stride, as much as possible as often as possible!
Weigh yourself regularly
You certainly do not have to weigh yourself every day or get obsessive about it, but weighing yourself weekly, bi weekly or even monthly helps you to keep track of your weight. Weight, particularly for woman can fluctuate by up to 3 kgs (6 pounds) during our cycles however you need to be on your guard for a constant weight creep – for example a kg or a couple of pounds every month.
It’s much easier to address a 3 kg weight gain than to ignore it and steadily let the weight creep up. I give myself a window of 2 kg, and once my weight creeps above this, I start to pay attention and remove the unnecessary calories for a while (wine!) until I return to my normal weight.
Other tips: Don’t ever buy the next size up (unless you are pregnant!) as a waist band which starts to feel uncomfortably tight is a huge motivator to watch what you are eating. As a general rule a dress size up or down is about a 5 kg difference in weight.
Don’t be scared of the scales either – it’s an inanimate object, not a monster (!) but it’s the most effective way to measure if your weight is remaining relatively stable.
Play with your eating patterns
Yup, that’s right. You don’t have to stick to a rigid eating plan. Healthy eating can and should be fun. Experiment with new foods and recipes and vary your meals as much as possible. In terms of healthy eating patterns, being ‘careful’ during the week and slightly more relaxed at the weekends works for a lot of people. It’s the 80/20 business rule applied to food! What does this mean in practical terms? Monday – Friday lunchtime I pretty much stick to yogurt with fruit and nuts for breakfast, a large salad for lunch and a balanced meal with my family. The wine bottle is opened on Friday nights and I’ll have a couple of glasses of wine every night over the weekend together a dessert or two and slightly larger portions. It’s a balanced approach which really helps me to keep my weight reasonably (!) stable without feeling deprived or hungry.
Skip some meals if it feels right
Intermittent fasting, having longer periods of time either without eating or not eating very much, not only helps with weight control, but more and more studies are now showing this it is good for our health. It basically allows our cells a bit of breathing space, rather than having to constantly ‘process’ various molecules, it allows them a bit of down time to reorganise and dust themselves down so they then work more efficiently. This is the non-scientific explanation! If it feels right, you can skip breakfast, lunch or your supper, the but is that you don’t want to find yourself over compensating at the next meal – the meal size needs to stay the same! Another approach is the 5/2, where 2 days a week you eat approximately 25% of your usual calorie intake. Many people have found this approach invaluable for weight loss. Again, the trick is finding an approach which works for you.
Drink water most of the time
Much as I dislike the ‘super food’ title I think water (and possibly broccoli!) deserve this nomination. Drink water as opposed to fruit juices and smoothies which can be very high in natural sugar. You can jazz it up by adding slices of lemon, lime, ginger and mint leaves. You can have it fizzy or still, hot or cold! Be aware that the brain can confuse thirst with hunger, so always try drinking a glass of water first if you think you might be hungry.
As for alcohol – the key word is moderation. The new limit set in the UK is 14 units a week for both men and women which is about a bottle and a half of wine (6 good sized glasses!). Why? Not to ruin your pleasure but because there are health risks even with moderate drinking. As for calories, 1 bottle of wine contains about 700 calories, so drinking in excessive quantities is not only going to increase your risk of certain cancers, but also add excessive calories to your diet.