Following a bit of a health scare I was told in no uncertain terms that I had to lose weight. Since then I lost around seven stone over fourteen months and I am frequently asked how I do it. So here are my personal recommendations and observations.
Please be aware that I have no formal medical training and I don’t promise that any of the following will help you lose weight. It’s just what has worked for me.
There’s no great secret to losing weight and can be summed up as
Eat Less + Do More = Lose Weight
This is easier said than done so lets begin with the Eat Less part of the equation.
I still eat pretty much all the things I used to eat. Just a lot less of it. I still still like fish and chips, however when I have a portion of chips at home you can count them on your fingers, but that’s still enough to make a chip butty. I’ll try an explain how I’ve managed to reduce my portions and still stay happy and enjoy my food.
Don’t go on a diet
This may be a strange way to start, but diets are temporary. If you want to keep weight off you have to make life changes. Dieting means giving up things you enjoy. Every time you deny yourself something you’ll sap your willpower, which is finite, and when it runs out you will just return to your default state and feel miserable about it.
The changes I’ve made to my eating habits are permanent. I may break the rules now and again too, but the rules below are the default state I will always return to, thus it isn’t a diet, it’s a life change.
Don’t weigh yourself
This is all about not having targets and keeping motivated. Your weight will go up and down over time. Every time you notice your weight go up and away from your target it will demoralise you even if it’s just a pound or two. It you were to graph a typical weight loss you’d see something like this…
At the beginning the weight falls off fairly easily and quickly but soon slows down and tends to rise and fall over time. The more often you weigh yourself the more likely you are to notice the weight rising. However we’re all human and therefore curious, so you will want to weigh yourself but don’t overdo it. I weigh myself every six to eight weeks at the most.
The best indications you are losing weight are when you start using the next hole in the your belt (or even adding more holes). Shirt collars getting looser, or bringing the clothes from the back of the wardrobe to the front again. This is all positive reinforcement and comes as a pleasant surprise. The occasions when you put a little back on will probably pass unnoticed and you never get demoralised.
I’m sometimes asked, how will I know if I’ve achieved my goal if you don’t have a target weight?
My goal is to be healthier and live longer. Losing weight is almost a side effect of achieving that goal and it doesn’t matter what I weigh, as my health improves my weight will be what it is, but stuffing my face with more food than I need isn’t going to achieve my goal of being healthier and living longer.
Try not to give up anything
There’s no point in trying to live longer if you don’t enjoy life, so it’s important that you don’t give up anything you enjoy. There are however some things you can change for the better while still doing the things you enjoy.
For example, I like many people enjoy a drink. I used to love discovering new Real Ales but I haven’t had a beer since leaving hospital. I have however found a new pleasure in discovering new Whiskies and fine wines. A tot of good Whiskey can last me as long as a pint of ale but is significantly less to imbibe. I haven’t given up drinking but I have reduced my intake.
As I write this I’m having lunch. Not unusually I’m having a sausage butty. The difference is at one time I would have had two butties (four slices of bread). Now I have just the one and a low fat yogurt. But I still get to enjoy a good sausage butty.
I also like my snacks, (especially after a couple of tots). I snack on fresh vegetables instead of chocolate at work but I still like a ‘proper’ snack when watching a movie for example. So we buy healthier snacks. Popcorn for example is a better alternative to any potato based snack and there’s a huge variety of healthy options available these days. If you were on a diet you’d probably avoid buying snacks to remove the temptation. What I’m saying is admit that you snack and plan ahead for it. Don’t try and give up anything you currently enjoy.
Use a smaller plate
This has been a huge help for me and probably had the biggest impact on my eating. If like me you were brought up to clear your plate this can have to deep and long lasting effect on your eating habits. My mother always felt obliged to fill our plate and we were expected the clear them. The solution is to use a smaller plate.
I began by using a small dinner plate so I could eat less but still clear my plate. When I stopped clearing the plate (see “Stop eating when you’re not hungry” below) I got a smaller plate. My dinner plate at home is now just a little bigger than a saucer and it’s still big enough for me to be able to leave a little. I in fact, I challenge myself to never clear my plate. But I don’t always succeed.
Stop eating when you’re not hungry
With any meal you should be hungry when you start and not hungry when you’ve finished. But when does the hunger stop. How many times do you finish eating something just because it’s there and finish a meal feeling stuffed. Learn to stop eating when you’ve had enough. Despite what your mother may have told you, it’s okay to leave food on your plate, in China it’s even considered rude to your host to clear your plate.
This is harder to do than it sounds and you have to make a conscious effort to stop eating during a meal and ask yourself if you’re still eating because you need to, or just eating for fun. A good way to start doing this is to put down your knife and fork while you chew. You’ll automatically think twice before picking them up again and you’ll spend more time chewing your food and probably appreciate if more.
When you find yourself regularly leaving more than a quarter of your meal, it time to get a smaller plate.
We like to eat out and this is were the ‘Stop eating when your not hungry’ rule is most important as portion sizes are outside your control. You also have the added incentive of getting your monies worth. Take this into consideration when you go out to eat and be prepared to accept less for your money.
However if your tastes are simple enough it may be worth looking at the children’s menu. Our favorite Chip Shop does child sized portions which are still plenty big enough and I still leave as much as I eat.
It’s okay to cheat. I like to nibble between meals and I used to be a regular at the office tuck shop. Acknowledge that you’re going to nibble between meals and plan for it. Instead of reaching for the tuck shop’s Choccy bars or Crisps I take a few sticks of celery or carrots to munch on when I get the urge. It really doesn’t matter how much you eat eat between meals if you follow the “stop eating” rule above.
If you eat after your evening meal it’s a bit harder to compensate. My biggest weakness is a nibble before bed or nibbles with a movie and a glass of wine. I know I’m going to cheat so I plan for it and try to eat less during dinner and buy in low fat snacks in advance.
The other side of the equation is the do more bit. It’s not just abot what you eat, it’s about what you burn. If eat more than you burn you put on wieght. It really is that simple.
Many people will just advise you to join a gym. But if you enjoyed going to a gym you’d already be a member and if it’s not something you enjoy you’re not going to keep it up. Just as with the don’t go on a diet tip above. Any extra exercise you undertake needs to be sustainable, something that becomes part of your daily life and not just a fad.
Take up new hobbies
As a result of my health I’m only allowed to do gentle exercise but even so, I needed to do more than I was. Having a sedentary job and sedentary hobbies I needed to find something to get me out of the house. I took up Geocaching and Birdwatching. Both of which get me out walking.
If you’re not encumbered by health issues you could consider making a commitment to a sports team, walking club or similar, which will encourage to be a bit more active with like minded people for support. It doesn’t have to be much more active but it does have to be something you enjoy.