It doesn’t matter which weight loss diet you’re following. If you’re describing your current situation as being ‘on a diet’ then please believe me when I say that it’s probably not the best way.
I don’t know whether reading this post will help you break the diet cycle, but, in common with every blog I write, if I can help just one person, then that makes me very happy.
I’ve been there. My entire adult life I battled with my weight and I’ve tried everything; Weight Watchers, Slimming World, Cambridge Weight Plan, Atkins, Slimfast, 5:2… the list goes on.
From a nutrition point of view, I could spend all day pulling these various diets apart and discussing the merits and pitfalls of each, but I don’t think it’s necessary to go into that level of detail.
Irrespective of which diet you’ve chosen. Let’s say you’ve psyched yourself up to endure this period of time, mentally prepared yourself for the challenge and you’re aiming to lose a stone in 6 weeks.
My first huge problem with this situation is the mindset; that a diet is something to be endured, almost like your punishment for gaining weight. The thought of starting is so abhorrent that you put it off till Monday, till the start of a new month or till 6 weeks before your summer holiday.
From the outset, the diet’s got you on the back foot. You’re not giving yourself even a fighting chance of success with that negative approach. Combine this initial negativity with the notion that once a week you’ll need to have a ‘cheat day’ as respite from the diet you’ve signed up to and it’s really got you on the ropes.
My second bugbear is the fact that most diets measure progress using scale weight alone. I believe that scales have a place and a use, but when they’re used as one of a number of tools. From my own experience I know that my scale weight can fluctuate by anything up to 6lb within the space of a week – a week in which I haven’t actually lost any body fat. I will get a different result from the scale if I weigh myself at different times of day, before or after eating a big meal or if I’m a bit dehydrated – there are so many influencing factors. I hate the fact that stepping on the scale is the single factor used to determine whether or not someone has had a good week.
The third problem is arguably the biggest one. None of these diets plan for the future. None of them educate people or equip them with the knowledge they need to be able to maintain their reduced weight long term. Using terms like ‘points’ and ‘syns’ instead of raising an awareness of calories and energy balance means that members aren’t able to transfer anything they’ve learnt from their ‘diet’ period to their ‘no longer on a diet’ period.
Fundamentally the diet industry NEEDS you to fail and to regain the weight you lost. When you stop and think about it, it doesn’t make good business sense to help people make a true, lasting change to their lifestyles – because then they’d stop paying money to try the latest diet craze or to rejoin their preferred slimming club.
Because I’m a determined person (never stubborn!) I would always have initial success on whichever diet I tried, and I would regularly lose 2 or 3 stone in weight in a relatively short space of time. But I’d always regain it all, plus a bit more for good measure.
It took me years to see the light and to realise that my relationship with food and with my body, was really damaged. I was in a cycle, either binge eating and telling myself and the world that I was happy as I was; that my husband and children loved me and that’s all that mattered. Or, I was on a diet, depriving myself of anything ‘naughty’ and regularly sitting down to eat something totally different to the rest of the family – something which I now realise was setting a really poor example to my girls.
So what changed for me? Quite simply, exercise and being active. Once I started to ask my body questions, I started to become much more aware of how I was fueling it. I know that I am fortunate to be healthy, to be able to run, to cycle, to lift weights and to swim with my children. I want to be able to continue to do all those things for a very long time, so I realise that I need to treat my body with a little bit of TLC.
I weighed food and counted calories for a time. It opened my eyes to portion sizes and made me appreciate just how easy it is to overeat. For example, a quick glance at the granola packet states 245 kcal per portion, you add some yogurt and mentally log your breakfast as about 350 kcal. In reality, your portion of granola was more than double the recommended serving and your breakfast actually contained 600 kcal. Combine this with the fact that you actually put 50 grams of peanut butter on your toast for your lunch, not the recommended portion of 30 grams… meaning you consumed 120 kcal more than you thought. Finally, add the fish finger and few chips you ate off your child’s plate at dinner time and your calorie consumption for the day is approximately 500 more than you thought.
For many people, counting calories for a while is a brilliant idea and I often ask my clients to do it so they can gain a better understanding of energy balance and calorie requirements; to learn what they need to consume and in what quantities. It is essential to recognise that food is fuel, and that if your output changes; for example if you move from a manual job to a desk job, you need to alter the input accordingly or you’ll find yourself in a calorie surplus and will inevitably gain weight.
Nowadays, I don’t count calories. I have learnt enough to know roughly what I need to consume to maintain my weight. I make sure most of the foods I consume are single ingredient, whole foods, I include plenty of protein, heaps of fruit and vegetables and I don’t omit any food groups or deny myself anything. I can recognise when I’m under-fueled because my performance suffers – my marathon training block is an excellent example of this, I soon realised that I needed to up my calories once my mileage increased because I felt flat and lacking in energy on my runs.
I track my progress using goals and currently, weight loss isn’t one of them. At the moment my goals relate to increased speed over shorter distances and to strength. I take a similar approach with my clients and always encourage them to have at least three goals, only one of which relates to weight or the scales. They can be anything, from improved sleep, a PB over a certain distance or in a certain lift or something really personal like having the confidence to run in shorts.
Please trust me when I say that you don’t need to go on a diet, you need to make a change to your lifestyle. It won’t be easy, and anybody that tells you they have an easy way or a quick fix is lying. I appreciate that there might well be a time and a place for rapid weight loss, but, if you want your brain to keep up, you need to embrace the process, appreciate that good things take time and focus on enjoying it. Enjoy the fact that you have more energy, that you’re sleeping better and your skin is clearer. Be proud of the improvements in your pace and strength and let any resulting weight loss be a happy bonus, not your only objective and your single measure of success.
Strive to be happy. To be healthy and physically fit. Please don’t strive solely to see a certain number on the scale or on the label of your jeans. You are not your weight.