Need to Lose Weight?
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By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD
Speak to many slimmers and you’ll hear them say, ‘I think about food from the moment I wake up until to the moment I go to sleep’ or ‘I start planning what I’m going to have for dinner before I’ve even eaten my lunch’.
For many of us, dieting becomes linked with an overwhelming desire to eat and an obsession with food.
But, it’s not usually fruit and veg that we obsess over – instead it’s those foods we try and ban or restrict such as chocolate, booze, takeaways, biscuits and crisps.
Sadly though, denying our favourite foods simply makes us desire them even more. Eventually, our willpower crumbles, so we give into our desires and end up eating more than we normally would.
We feel guilty for ‘blowing our diet’ and so try to compensate by being even stricter with ourselves. After a short while, our cravings return, we give into them, and the whole cycle begins again.
But it’s not just missing our favourite food that fuels our desire to eat. Hunger itself is nature’s way of telling us that we need to eat. The problem is, when we’re dieting, we often allow ourselves to get so hungry that we end up overeating.
‘Going on a diet’ infers you start on one day, finish on another day and only change what you eat and drink in between these days, usually quite dramatically.
Banning all your favourite foods and trying to stick to an extremely restricted diet is completely counterproductive – ultimately you won’t be able to stop thinking about food.
Instead, you’ll find you spend less time obsessing over meals if you ditch the ‘D’ word and start thinking about eating more healthily for good.
Better still, eating healthily – rather than ‘dieting’ – means you can still occasionally enjoy your favourite foods, with the result you’ll be less likely to crave them.
If cravings still kick in, distracting yourself for as little as 10-15 minutes – for example, by phoning a friend, going for a walk, having a bath or surfing the Net – often works to curb the desire to eat.
Eating regularly and avoiding skipping meals will help to prevent hunger. Plus, opting for foods with a high fibre content such as wholewheat pasta, granary bread, brown rice, wholegrain cereals, pulses and most veg and fruit will keep you fuller for longer.
Finally, if you still can’t stop thinking about food, turn your desire into a positive experience. For example, brush up on your cooking skills, start experimenting with new low-calorie recipes or try some of the more exotic fruit and veggies that are now readily available in supermarkets.
Eating with our eyes is one of the biggest pitfalls when it comes to losing weight.
For many of us, passing a bakery displaying delicious buns and cakes is impossible, even if we’ve just eaten. Before we know it, we’re at the till ordering an iced bun.
It’s the same when we’re eating out – even though we’re full after the main course, we still can’t resist ordering a dessert, simply because they look amazing.
Barbecues, buffets and picnics also pose problems because when we’re faced with an overwhelming number of delicious dishes, we want to sample them all – and usually do.
Overeating isn’t just a problem away from home. Overloading our plate with food at mealtimes, going back for seconds or finishing off other people’s leftovers means we frequently end up eating until we feel stuffed rather than satisfied.
Overeating is guaranteed to stop you from shifting those pounds so it’s important to get in under control.
Chances are, you might need to re-educate yourself to recognise the signs of true hunger.
To help you do this, get into the habit of ranking how hungry you feel on a scale of one to 10, where one is absolutely starving and 10 is absolutely stuffed. As a guideline, you should eat when you score around 3 or 4 – the point at which you are hungry but not absolutely ravenous. Similarly, it’s important to stop eating when you reach 7 or 8, the point at which you feel satisfied but not overfull.
Once you have learnt to recognise true hunger – and act appropriately in response to it – you’ll find it easier to move away from situations when you’re faced with food, but don’t feel truly hungry.
It’s also important to find strategies to cope with occasions when you know you’ll have the opportunity to eat large amounts of food. For example, if you know you always want a dessert when you’re eating out, skip the starter or order a starter-sized main course; or if you can’t resist popping into the bakery when you pass it, take a different route so you avoid it.
You could also try this technique used by hypnotherapist Paul McKenna. When you fancy eating something even though you’re not hungry, simply close your eyes and imagine it’s mixed with something you hate, whether that’s another food or something even more unpleasant such as maggots, ants or mouse droppings.
When it comes to preparing food at home, take away the opportunity for large portions or second helpings by weighing or measuring out all your ingredients before you cook them, especially for things like pasta, rice and potatoes. If you’re cooking for others and there’s food leftover in the pan, either throw it away immediately, or transfer it to another container for storing in the fridge – that way you’ll look at it as another meal, rather than today’s leftovers that need eating up now. If you start to look at leftovers as waste for your waistline, you’ll find it easier to give them a miss.
Greed isn’t too dissimilar to gluttony.
If you eat because you fancy a food, that’s greed; if you eat because your tummy is rumbling, that’s hunger.
The problem with greed is that it rarely leaves us reaching for extra veggies or a piece of fruit. Instead, it motivates us to eat foods that are high in fat and calories such as biscuits or chocolate.
More often than not, we also eat purely out of habit rather than because we are hungry. For example, many of us find ourselves munching crisps while waiting for the bus home, eating sweets in the car, or going straight to the fridge when we get in.
Many foods that we typically love are high in fat and sugar – and it’s this combination that makes them so tasty, with the result that we keep coming back for more.
One easy way to tell if you are truly hungry or simply being greedy is to think whether you’ll feel satisfied with a banana. If you’re hungry, you’ll eat anything including healthy foods. If you’re being greedy, chances are that banana won’t seem so appealing.
To help you identify those times when you eat for the sake of it, keep a food diary for a week and record all the food and drink you consume, together with the reasons why you ate it.
Once you have identified the times you eat out of greed or habit, you’ll be able to find strategies to deal with them. For example, if you always nibble while you’re cooking dinner, make sure you have cherry tomatoes to hand rather than slices of cheese; swap packets of boiled sweets in the car glove compartment for sugar-free gum; go straight to the fruit bowl when you get in rather than the fridge; or swap your morning latte for a herbal tea.
The idea of popping a pill to make us slim is a nice one. But in reality, most of us will never shift those pounds unless we are prepared to make an effort and work hard to change our eating and exercise habits.
Take a look at most celebrities for example. Although they effortlessly seem to stay slim, in reality, most of them are extremely strict about what they eat and do daily workouts to stay that way.
Trying to diet without exercising will make it so much harder to shift those pounds – and keep them off.
You’ll be far more successful at losing weight if you plan your weight loss strategy properly rather than taking the lazy approach and simply thinking you’ll be able to do it off the cuff.
This means making sure your cupboards and fridge are packed with healthy foods, going shopping regularly, totting up your daily calorie intake and planning strategies for dealing with occasions when you might be tempted to overeat.
It’s also important to make exercise an integral part of your weight loss campaign. Find activities that you enjoy and then fit them into your current lifestyle, rather than trying to change your lifestyle to accommodate them – the easier it is for you to exercise, the more likely you will be to stick at it.
Don’t just do the same activities either. Have some fun by trying new things such as dance classes, learning to play tennis or joining a rambling club.
Finally, whenever you see an opportunity to be more active in your daily routine, take it. This might mean walking up the stairs instead of taking the lift, carrying items up to the bedroom rather than leaving them to pile up in the stairs or parking further away from the supermarket entrance.
Believe it or not, being angry can make it harder to shift those excess pounds and may even result in weight gain.
Like stress, feeling angry increases levels of a hormone called cortisol, which prepares our body to fight or take flight. Even after the anger or stress has passed, cortisol levels remain high for several days because our body thinks it needs to refuel after all the fighting or fleeing it’s done. Ultimately, this boosts appetite encouraging us to eat more.
The problem is, modern day stresses and angers such as traffic jams, delayed public transport, family arguments and work conflict don’t require us to fight or flee from the situation. Therefore, we don’t need to refuel. However, our bodies still respond in the same way they did in pre-historic times by making us feel hungry, so we’re tempted to eat more.
Many of us also turn to food or drink to help deal with our feelings – and most of the time it’s high-calorie fatty and sugary foods and booze that we opt for. Plus when we feel fed up, it’s far easier to phone in a takeaway than cook a healthy dinner, further adding extra calories to our day.
If you want to control your weight more easily, it’s crucial to identify those situations that make you stressed or angry – and then look at ways in which you can deal with them.
In severe cases, counselling may be a good idea.
Finding new ways to relax that don’t involve eating or drinking, makes sense. This may be as simple as having a weekly massage or joining a meditation class. Mind and body exercises such as yoga, pilates and tai chi are also great choices and have the added benefit of potentially helping to tone and lengthen muscles.
Aerobic exercise is also a good stress buster as it helps to release happy chemicals in the brain called endorphins – plus as those pounds drop off you should start to feel happier anyway.
Eating a healthy balanced diet will in itself, help you to feel calmer – being irritable often goes hand in hand with low blood sugar levels so keep them topped up by eating regularly and opting for fibre-rich carbs. Better still, these foods help to boost levels of serotonin in the brain – nature’s very own valium.
You only need to flick on the TV or pick up a magazine and you’d be forgiven for thinking the world is full of gorgeous women, all showing off their flat tummies, toned arms and cellulite-free thighs.
It’s no surprise then, that at some point, most of us have felt jealous of slim women, especially those who seem to stay that way despite appearing to eat what they like and doing no exercise.
The problem is, we sometimes get so bogged down with feeling envious, that it stops us from tackling our own weight problem. Instead of using our mental energy to think positively, we use it to fuel negative feelings, for example, by saying things to ourselves such as, ‘It’s not fair, I hardly eat a thing and will never look like that so what’s the point in bothering to diet.’
It might seem as though the world is full of slim, beautiful women, but in reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
More than half of all 25-44 year old women in the UK are overweight or obese, rising to more than 60 percent of 45 to 54 year olds.
When you’re battling a weight problem, it’s easy to suffer with selective vision and so only notice the skinny minnies. But look more closely and you’ll see there are just as many people revealing flabby arms, muffin bellies and dimply thighs.
The key to losing weight is to invest your mental energy in yourself, rather than other people. Add up all the hours you’ve wasted in the last month envying other people’s bodies. Then compare them with the number of hours you’ve spent envying your own. Chances are you’ve spent a lot longer thinking about other people’s bodies than your own!
Rather than constantly envying slim people, spend some time visualising your own life as a slimmer, fitter and healthier person.
Find somewhere quiet where you won’t be disturbed, sit in a comfortable chair and close your eyes. In your mind’s eye see yourself as the slimmer you. How does it feel? How much more confident are you? How do you look? What are you wearing? What are you doing in your new life? What ambitions do you have? What changes have you made? Hold onto this image of the new you and as you begin your weight loss journey, take time to revisit it at regular intervals.
Holding onto this image will help you to stay focussed and boost your determination if things get tough.
If you can’t help but compare yourself to slim people, take a closer look at the way they eat and exercise. They might appear to eat what they like and be couch potatoes, but chances are they are probably more controlled than you think. For example, you may discover slim women say they are starving and buy a huge sandwich, but then only eat half of it. Or perhaps they opt for gin and slimline tonic rather than higher-calorie wine or alcopops. And even though they don’t go to the gym, they never sit still and can never be bothered to wait for the lift so are always running up and down the stairs.
When it comes to losing weight, pride can get in the way for many of us.
Rather than seeking help to shift those pounds, we decide to go it alone because we don’t want anyone else to know what we’re doing or believe it’s only our business.
Whilst this might work in the short term, over time we potentially miss out on the support and help that others can offer. It can also make a weight loss journey really lonely.
There’s no reason to feel embarrassed about needing to lose weight – or asking for help to achieve this. Remember, more people than ever are overweight or obese, so you’re far from alone.
Most GP’s can help – if you have a Body Mass Index of more than 30, you may even be suitable for a prescribed anti-obesity drug to help you lose weight.
Slimming clubs offer support for like-minded people who all have the same goal in mind – if you prefer to remain anonymous or find it difficult to attend weekly meetings, an online club such as weightlossresources.co.uk might work better for you.
The advantage of group support is that there’s always someone to talk to when things are tough or you’re struggling to stick to a healthier way of eating. This can help to boost your motivation so that you stick with it. It’s also a great opportunity for sharing tips and recipes to keep meals interesting.
You might find it helpful to enlist the help of family or friends. For example, getting an ‘exercise buddy’ may mean you’re more likely to stick to your activity plan. And encouraging the whole family to be more active will not only make exercising more fun for you, but will also benefit everyone else’s health.
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