Lyndel Costain on Weight Management
Interview with Lyndel Costain BSc RD Guest Dietitian for WLR
Lyndel Costain is one of the best known dietitians in the UK. She has over 20 years experience in helping people to manage their weight, advises other health professionals and regularly writes and broadcasts on the subject. Lyndel is a guest dietitian for WLR and we asked her for her views on weight management and her opinion of WLR's weight management programme.
“A lot has happened in 20 years. Our environment has changed greatly – tasty, high calorie food is always in easy reach and labour-saving devices mean less active lifestyles.
“Food is an easy way to cope with stress or get a boost when we are time-pressured by busy lives. At the same time there is constant pressure to get gorgeous - with the help of endless celebrity or miracle diets - to fit into our ‘slim is beautiful’ culture.
“Meanwhile the number of people whose weight is at a level where it’s affecting their health has tripled. Is it really any wonder we find weight issues such a struggle?!
“When I very first started out as a dietitian in Oz I was lucky to work with colleagues who focussed on the different relationships people have with food. I was a huge fan of Susie Orbach’s ‘Fat is a Feminist Issue’ and read widely on the psychology of eating. This interest led me into working with people with eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, as well as people with chronic or yo-yo dieting patterns.
“As dietitians are trained to be scientists too, I married my interest in how we think and feel about food and weight with research relating to the science of weight loss. This included the evolving understanding of which approaches really can help people to manage their weight.
“It could have been simple to fall in with the popular view that ‘dieting makes you fat’ – as it ‘lowers your metabolism’ or ‘makes you feel deprived and depressed’. But the research was saying otherwise.
“Sure if you go on unrealistic crash diets then they can knock your confidence and set you on a diet-binge cycle. But as our environment changed, what wasn’t helping people was to simply say ‘eat a healthy diet’ or ‘avoid calorie counting’ or ‘only ever eat when you are hungry’.
“With convenience food everywhere, more eating out, bigger portion sizes, a decline in family meals, stress at work and home, desk-based jobs and less walking – people were finding their weight was slowly creeping up without even realising it or obviously eating more.
“They weren’t sure about how much to eat, what was in the food they ate or when they did or didn’t feel hungry! This made them feel like a failure when it came to controlling their weight.
“In the past I too have been cautious about calorie-counting or very structured eating plans due to concern they would increase diet obsession. But these environment changes meant that planning, structure and other weight management skills were the very things that helped people cope better with them, and feel in control again.
“Of course, different weight loss approaches suit different people, but whatever approach is used, keeping a diary or record of some type, having structure to your meal and activity pattern, planning ahead, learning what’s in food and getting support are key elements for success. Taking responsibility and personally developing eating plans also helps. But all these skills are not much use unless they are done with consideration for the whole person, their beliefs, their day to day lives, and the barriers or problem areas they face.”
WLR's Weight Management Programme
“Research shows that the more structure and support you have when you try to lose weight, the more likely you are to succeed. Also, those who self-monitor (keep a diary or record of some sort of what they are eating and how active they are), are the ones that do best.
“This is one of the many great things about WLR. It is set up to address these findings. Food and exercise diaries, practical articles, recipes, advice from experts, and those vital message boards can all help. WLR is also realistic. It doesn’t advocate losing lots of weight quickly, but to aim for gradual weight loss with achievable targets and goals.
“The WLR approach can also be very empowering for people who feel they are doing everything right but still aren’t losing weight. Discovering for yourself, what you really are eating (and studies have shown that dietitians also underestimate the calories they eat), can give confidence-boosting information to act on, putting you in control.
“WLR is friendly too. I find the tone, information and message boards make it feel like there’s someone who cares, always on call.
“Keeping a diary for your own reflection and having plenty of supportive people to chat to can help people get back on track quickly if they have a bad day or a bad week. Overcoming old unhelpful lifestyle habits and establishing new helpful ones instead is a difficult process for most people with inevitable ups and downs along the way. These ups and downs are all a normal part of change, and can be used to learn from rather than used to beat yourself up with.
“Support systems, like those found at WLR, can really help people to get their head straight about food and weight. What we think affects how we feel and in turn the actions we take.
“People who have lost weight and kept it off for a long time say that belief in the importance of losing weight and in your abilities to do it is vital. As is staying on top of old unhelpful thoughts or triggers such as ‘all or nothing’ thinking or stress/mood eating, or feeling you have to be ‘good’ all the time.
“These days we do need to stay aware of what we eat and how active we are to stay healthy in this environment. But if we use support, really choose what we want to eat, find ways other than food to comfort ourselves and stay realistic and proud of what we achieve - no matter how big or small it is - we can enjoy food, feel good and really take care of ourselves.”