There was a conversation amongst friends on Twitter earlier that went something like this (I’m J btw, I won’t name the others though I’m sure they know who they are):
M: I want to lose weight
S: So do it
M: it’s hard, I like food
S&J: Yes, but being overweight/unhappy is also hard
M: but, chocolate…
M: I have no willpower
J: Willpower’s just a fancy term for determination, it’s not a magic thing
and so on…
I’m obviously massively paraphrasing here, mainly because I attempted to Storify it, but it felt too personal for M to be put out there like that (if I can be bothered to redact it I’ll post it as an edit), but that’s the general gist.
Over the past 12 months I’ve lost 4 stone. It’s a fraction of what I eventually need to lose, but I do accept that it’s no small amount. Quite a lot of it has been due to finally being on medication that corrects my body’s fat-hoarding instincts, but it’s also due to some pretty major, and yet minor, changes I’ve made. This is an attempt to quantify some of those changes.
1. Be honest with yourself
Today I’ve had a reasonably ‘good’ day. I’ve had a measured breakfast, a measured lunch, a vaguely measured dinner (healthy by anyone elses standards, but too carb heavy for my own body’s quirks). And then a cake and a scone. It’d be easy to not log this into my food diary, I could look back on it and go “but why haven’t I lost weight this week, I’ve been soooo gooooood!”, and then gorge on Milky Bars cause it’s not working anyway….
Log everything. EVERYTHING. If you can’t work out (magically) why you’re not losing weight, log it. In short, LOG IT! I use a site called MyFitnessPal, it’s also got a nice app (certainly for Android, so I’d assume iOS). did I mention, LOG IT!
The food that is (although a better way of appreciating your efforts is to measure loss in terms of body measurements, rather than weight). Those lovely “calories per serving” things, yeah they’re helpful, but they’re also misleading… I weigh my cereal each morning, the first time I did this I thought there must be some sort of error on the box… 30g? A single serving is 30g???? Yeah, I have 2 servings for breakfast. Buy measuring equipment and weigh/scoop everything.
3. It’s not just the calories
I’m pretty sure you know this, but it’s worth pointing it out anyway. Calories are important, yes, but so is fat content, and the balance of what you eat. You can just eat lettuce all day of course, but you’ll collapse. Your body does need a certain amount of calories, fat, protein etc in order to function. The British Heart foundation have some sound, and not preachy, advice on balanced eating
4. You can’t fail if you’re still trying
Now, I’ll happily admit that I saw a dietician when I got started, but the main thing I took from her was that you can’t fail. If you ‘slip’ and eat all the cakes Greggs sell then just restart anyway. She gave me permission to (sometimes) slip up. If you’re currently eating crap 7 days a week then surely eating well for 5 and crap for 2 is better, no? Obviously you won’t see any results as quickly as if you were doing well for 7 days, but you’ll also see more than if you give up and start on the crap-for-7-days routine again… You’re human, you WILL crave, lots, particularly whilst your body adjusts, which leads me onto…
5. It’s normal to crave fat and sugar
In ye olden dayes we humans survived the cold harsh winters by copying the bears. We’d stock up on rich fatty/sugary foods as much as possible so we’d have a nice layer of fat on us for our body to feed from over the winter. It’s why ‘bad’ foods taste so nice, to entice us!
Except you don’t need that layer of fat anymore… You have central heating, a car/public transport to take you to a nice desk job… (ok, not ALL of you have that, but you’ll have a variation). You don’t need 5000 calories and 200g of fat a day just to survive. If you’ve started being honest with yourself and logging what you eat then you’ll probably be shocked at just how much ‘stuff’ is in food. Which leads me on to…
6. Find substitutes
Now, I don’t have low fat mayo, it’s evil, wrong, and foul. So I restrict how much full-fat mayo I’m allowed. I do, however, quite like the taste of diet coke (though strictly I don’t, I like coke zero… but you get the idea), and so I’ll happily sub that in. I don’t care if I’ve got butter, marg, or wallpaper paste on my bread, so long as it’s not plain/dry bread, and so I use ultra-low-fat cheese spread. In fact I don’t particularly care for standard shop bought bread, so I’ll have a pita instead (thinner, the wholemeal version doesn’t taste bad). I don’t do sugar, certainly not in drinks, that’s all sweetener, and I’ll sub sweetener into my baking too (unless it’s chemically needed… be careful just assuming sweetener will work with baking!).
The point here is if you don’t notice the difference between a normal and light product, use the light version. Feel wonderfully smug. But if you DO notice the difference then don’t use the light version, you’ll resent it, and it’ll probably end up in you binging later on on whatever’s-in-the-cupboard! There’s actual science behind this, one of the reasons dieters fails is because they feel cheated. So don’t cheat yourself. You need to be able to control those binges…
7. Know you weaknesses
Bread. Fresh bread. I can’t have it in the house unless I’m aware of myself, and feeling reasonably strong. Pastry’s the same. If it’s in it won’t be here for long. It seems so obvious, but it’s something people don’t follow through with, if you can’t control yourself around it then DON’T BE AROUND IT! Obviously this is easier some times than others, but with in your own home control what’s there. Have a partner/flatmate/kids? Get them on board. Hubs loves crisps, I’ll crave them if they’re in the house (I’m all about the savoury carbs), so he has them at work, or when he’s out elsewhere. Yeah it’s a pain for those that share your house, but if they give a crap they’ll help, at least short term (we do have crisps in the house right now, but I’ve gotten so used to ‘baked’ ones that ‘real’ crisps are way too fatty for me now).
I also found it helped to take my own food to places, or eat before hand. Now, I’m VERY lucky, my family/friends know that my initial changes were spured on by health issues, and they’ve been more than supportive. If I’m finding it difficult to be next to someone eating something I’ll remove myself and there’s no micky taking at all. I do appreciate this won’t be as easy for others, and so I add this bit of advice on with that caveat… But I do also make sure the food I take with me is nice! It’s not unusual for family/friends to attempt to steal what I’ve brought with me! I’ll also try and make sure I fill up on the ‘better’ things at an event before the desserts come out, that way I’ll probably have 1 slice of birthday cake, but not 4… This does get easier as you lose weight and people start noticing, cause then you can point out (if they take the mick) that they complimented you earlier, and it’s cause of not giving in at times like this that it’s working. This usually shuts them up enough and leaves you with some sense of smug…! I’ve also found that, with complete strangers, a simple “there’s lots of foods I can’t eat, so I bring my own” works amazingly! There’s lots of food allergies/intolerences about, and strangers don’t really want a run down of your health issues so rarely press any further.
I feel I should at least mention exercise, you’re meant to do the healthy eating thing along side after all. Except I haven’t, not really. I mean you can count dancing drunkenly like a loon 2-3 times a month, or walking around a gallery for 3-4 hours a few times a month, but I don’t really feel like they count so much. If you want to lose a serious amount of weight you will have to exercise, but I’m really not the person to advise on that, I’m only just having to think about it now.
9. But, I’ll have to eat like a rabbit!
Sorry, if you’ve ever eaten any meal with me you’ll understand that… I’m the pickiest person I know. Pretty much the only veg I’ll eat without having to mentally prep myself first is tinned carrots. I dislike most salad items, about a third of all fruits, I can’t stomach brown rice, wholemeal pasta, and I’ll happily accept celery off of you, so long as you know I’ll batter you with it instead. (mmm… batter..). So, what DO I eat..? Here’s today:
Breakfast: Oatiflakes + pouring yogurt (309 calories, 5.5g fat)
Lunch: Pitta, laughing cow triangle, 3 slices ham, baked crisps, activia yogurt (464 calories, 7.g fat)
Tea: Risotto, with fish stock, chicken breast, garlic/basil (473 calories, 5.4g fat)
Pudding/snacks: Scone & cake (273 calories, 8g fat)
This takes me to a total of 1519 calories for the day (which is about what I aim for, it’s worth noting that this is LOW and under medical supervision!) and 26g of fat (which is well below what I aim for, but in reality the cake totals don’t take into account of the icing, which was buttercream, so probably takes it up to about 36g! I aim for before 70g, but above 40 usually)
Now, had someone showed me that 6 years ago I know I would’ve thought it acheivable… But ‘example’ diets usually have “salmon with salad leaves” as a lunch, which is both ‘ergh’ and kind of expensive… Ham isn’t the best meat for me to have for lunch, but it IS cheap, and ok, I just have to make sure I don’t go overboard with it. Evening meal wise I’ve found that fish is a brilliant option. Most people I know don’t really do much fish (yes yes, insert jokes here), but a plain white fish (cod, haddock, tilapia, coley) can be put in a dish, a bit of lemon/garlic put on top and then covered with foil, whack it in the oven for about 20-30 mins and bingo! Tasty as anything, and REALLY good for you!
I’m not an expert by any means, and I still have a LONG way to go before I can even say I’m within ‘normal’ ranges with my weight, but I did mainly want to point out that it’s not physically hard. You don’t need fancy foods, you don’t need tricks, you just need some determination to change your habits. And even small things will help you get there eventualy
Oh, and also, if you regularly eat out of the house, look up what you’re consuming… I struggle to find food in coffee places that’s not loaded with fat, specially those that profess “low calorie!”. Yup, that’s cause you replaced them with lard, and vice cersa with “low fat!” claims.
Now, I’ll open the floor to questions… 😀