Some people absolutely swear by slimming clubs and, until 2017, The Biggest Loser was one of the US’s most popular TV shows but are these types of organisations really the best idea for people who want to lose weight? More importantly, are ‘diets’ really the way to keep the weight off or even to lose weight in the first place?
The fundamental thing that needs to be considered before any kind of weight loss programme is why you want to lose weight. You might say ‘well it’s obvious isn’t it’ but if you really take the time to think about it, it might not be. Being slim for some people is like the holy grail, they think that, if they shed, 50llbs their world will suddenly be filled with rainbows and unicorns but, unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that. Whatever you look like on the outside, you will still be you on the inside so you need to have a think about whether it’s your body that needs fixing or your mind.
Most weight loss programmes are based on systems of punishment and reward: foods will be given points according to their calories and will then be labelled good or bad for you. Some slimming clubs even label certain foods as ‘sins’ (it didn’t stop Adam and Eve with the apple did it!?) The thinking behind this is that if you commit too many ‘sins’ you will continue to gain weight whereas, if you stick to the foods that have been deemed good for you, you will lose weight. However, built into most of these regimes will be the concept of a ‘treat’ which, continuing with the Garden of Eden analogy is a bit like telling you the apple is forbidden and then handing it to you on a plate with a nice bit of cheese and some crackers! If you think about human psychology, what will it do to most people if you tell them that something’s ‘forbidden’ or ‘naughty’? They’ll want it even more – think teenagers with alcohol! If you then tell them, yes it’s naughty but you can have it twice a week on Monday and Thursday afternoons at 3 o’clock, what will that do? For most of us by the time Monday and Thursday lunch times swing round we’ll be salivating and trying to stop ourselves diving head first into the fridge (or wherever you’ve stashed your tasty treat). At 2.59 we’ll be breaking out in a cold sweat and, at 3.01,heaving a huge sigh of relief as our taste buds finally come into contact with whatever it is we’ve been craving.
The other way that weight loss programmes work is to cut your food intake drastically and exercise you into the ground which is exactly what they did on the hit show The Biggest Loser. The contestants were alternately bullied and cajoled but they were also given ‘motivation’ in the form of a dirty great cheque at the end of it all; $250,000 to be precise. For some of the contestants it worked, they lost huge amounts of weight and they kept it off but many of them reverted to their previous eating habits and piled the pounds back on. Some were back or close to their previous weight within a couple of years and some even exceeded it. For those who were truly motivated the regime of healthy, low calorie food and 4 to 6 hours of exercise a day was enough for them to transform their bodies and the transformation itself was enough motivation for them to continue with a healthy lifestyle.
However, the contestants on that show were in a bubble; their meals were tailored to their requirements, their exercise plans were designed specifically for them and they had top level personal trainers at their disposal all day and every day. Once many of them went back to the real world and didn’t have access to all those things, the weight piled back on again. What they also lost when they returned to normal life was the time to train and the emotional support that they received from their trainers and the other contestants.
So what’s the answer if you don’t have a huge team of people who are willing to help you undertake your physical transformation and you don’t like counting calories and having to wait until Monday afternoon for your sinful pleasures?
The first thing is to stop thinking that your weight loss journey will be a battle and that you’ll have to give things up in order to succeed. In that way you start from a positive place rather than a negative place which is an awful lot easier mentally and emotionally. Think about all the things that YOU will gain if you lose weight. Don’t think about what other people may say or feel, think about how it will benefit you personally and write those things down, just 2 or 3 if that’s all you can think of, in a little notebook everyday. Secondly, realise that weight loss is not, when all is said and done, complicated – if you take in less calories than you expend you WILL lose weight, no question about it. However, counting calories requires you to microscopically examine everything that you eat and that is a pain in the ass. What is much easier is to take the plate that you normally put your dinner on, measure it and then go out and buy one which is 2/3rd’s the size. You will not be able to dish up the same portion size that you would normally as some of the food would just fall off the edge but your plate will still be full which means that, psychologically, you won’t feel that you’re being deprived of anything.
Next use smaller forks and spoons. I know this sounds a little strange but what it will do is to slow down your eating; you will be taking smaller mouthfuls because you’ll have no choice. This will then give your stomach a chance to register that food is on the way and have time to tell you that you’ve eaten enough. As our meals have a little way to travel before they turn up on our tummy radars it’s very easy to over-eat; you know that feeling when it seems that, all of a sudden, you are absolutely stuffed? Taking smaller mouthfuls should mean that you will stop eating long before you get that ‘I think i’m going to explode’ feeling.
The third thing is to cut, by half, the processed foods that you consume – ready meals, burgers, pizzas, cakes,pastries, sausages, bacon etc. You don’t need to cut it out completely and you don’t need to have days without – just replace the processed stuff with something natural and home cooked. Most people think healthy is salad, salad and more salad but it doesn’t need to be like that at all. Try experimenting with stir fried chicken and vegetables, add more fish to your diet, look for colourful foods to brighten up your plate, look for alternatives to your favourite junk meal; try using portobello mushrooms on top and underneath a home-made burger instead of a bun. There are so many great recipes on line that you can try, it just takes a little imagination and effort but once you get started, it’s great fun discovering new ideas.
If you can make those changes to your diet, you will lose weight but, if you want to make the journey easier, you will also need to think about exercise. You don’t need to rush out and sign up for life-time membership of your local gym, you just need to look for opportunities to move more than you’re doing now. Park the car further from the office or, if it’s less than a mile away, walk to work. Instead of taking the kids to school in the car, get up earlier and walk with them. Go for a walk after you’ve eaten lunch rather than playing on your phone at your desk, walk up the stairs rather than taking the lift.
As you begin to lose weight and do a little more exercise you will find, quite naturally, that you have more energy, as you will have more energy you will have more motivation to exercise, the more muscle you build, the faster you will lose the fat etc. etc. etc. Once you get into the habit of exercise you may well find yourself wanting to join a gym or the local five a side football team but you can do that when you’re ready, there’s no pressure. The only thing you need to do is to do a little more tomorrow than you did yesterday.
In this way you can lose weight slowly and easily without feeling that nice is naughty and without the pressure of weekly weigh-ins (or humiliations as they should more accurately called when people haven’t reached their prescribed target for that week.) It’s much more fun to think about what you will gain from your new healthier lifestyle than what you will be ‘giving up’. If your mind is happy about losing weight, your body will be too.
I’d really love to hear about your weight loss journeys if you have a few minutes to spare to drop me a line.
Have a great day everyone x