Learn more about common struggles in the pursuit of weight loss and how to handle them.

I bet you’ve been on a diet. Or two, or more…

What have you learned from the process? That you lose weight when on a diet? And gain weight when off a diet? I’m afraid to say, that’s pretty much all you’ll learn. And along the way, your “relationship” with food will become warped and twisted. You will not trust yourself around food. You will become pre-occupied with either restricting food, or deliberately over-eating. And you’ll blame yourself for all of this is.

My fault, not yours

I’ll start with an apology. To anyone who I imposed a calorie-counted, portion controlled diet on in my early career as an eager but naïve NHS dietitian. Predictably, the plans got followed for a while and a bit of weight was lost. But almost inevitably, my carefully crafted meal plans got abandoned. My fault. Not yours. Please accept my apology.

So diets don’t work

This is not just my personal experience. It is well known in weight science circles that the majority of people (95%) who lose weight by dieting will put all that weight back on, with many ending up heavier than before they started the diet. I rest my case. It is not in the dieting industry’s interest to let you know this. You can’t un-know it now. But you’re panicking. If you’re not on a diet, you’re off a diet. When you’re off a diet, you eat foods you “shouldn’t”, far too much of them. You feel liked you failed, again. You eventually feel so bad about yourself that you think you have no choice but to diet again. You are trapped in a cycle of DIETING, which leads to NOT DIETING, which leads to DIETING…you get the picture. Overall, you’re getting nowhere.

Enter NON-DIETING

Imagine a world where food is neither good or bad, right or wrong. Imagine that you are no more out of control around a plateful of biscuits than you are around a plateful of carrot sticks. Imagine that your favourite food gives you pleasure, not guilt. Imagine if you could taste food and decide if you actually like it instead of wondering whether it’s “allowed”. Imagine if you understood WHY you eat the way you do, and were able to improve HOW you eat. Imagine if you could learn to trust your body to guide you on hunger, fullness and satisfaction.

Stop imagining. Start making it happen. (Go back to previous page)

The countdown is on…both to Christmas and the ever popular New Year obsession with weight loss.  Through a series of quotes and proverbs, we’ll take a look at the wisdom of dieting, and build a case for a non-diet approach. 

December 1: There was only one occasion in my life when I put myself on a strict diet…and it was the most miserable afternoon I’ve ever spent (Denis Norden) 

What Denis lacks in perseverance, he makes up for in insight!

December 2: We learn from history that men never learn anything from history (Hegel)

How many times have you dieted, lost weight, regained it, but returned to that same diet even though it didn’t lead to lasting weight loss last time? Start learning from history!

December 3: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure (Benjamin Franklin)

Do you give up on food control in December and surrender to weight gain, telling yourself you’ll deal with it in January?  Well you could do that, or you could eat the foods you want to eat and use the principles of fullness and satisfaction to guide quantity.  Yes, this is initially difficult for those with an ‘on diet/off diet’ mentality, but try it.  What have you got to lose?!

December 4: Enough is as good as a feast (Joshua Sylvester)

Have you ever had an enormous plate of food in front of you and thought “I’m not going to let this beat me!”  The Christmas turkey is already dead.  You’ve already beaten it.  Leave the competitive eating to the Americans – no prizes for heartburn and indigestion.  

December 5: Only dead fish go with the flow (Andy Hunt) 

Do you sometimes eat mainly because that’s what others are doing? Thinking about the office biscuits, boxes of sweets, trays of crisps, buffet lunches…you’ll likely to be exposed to all of this and more in the coming weeks.  You could use the “They’re eating it, so I’ll have some too” justification.  Or you could make your own decisions to eat and stop eating.  Don’t let the actions and decisions of others influence yours. 

December 6: If you don’t control your mind, someone else will (John Allston)

Have you ever had a meal in the company of others and found yourself going against what you really wanted? For example, chose salad when you really wanted chips?  Deliberately ate a small portion? Said “No thanks” to dessert even though you would have loved one? If you change your eating habits or food choices in company, this suggests that you think there is something wrong with the way you eat.  There probably isn’t….but thinking this way might just create a problem.  

December 7: Nothing is so simple that it cannot be screwed up (Anon)

“Eat less, move more”.  Simple right?  So why is it so difficult?  Because life is complicated.  People are complex.  There are no simple solutions to complex problems.

December 8: Minds are like parachutes.  They only work when open (Thomas Dewer)

Blindly following diet rules (“eat this, don’t eat that”) can seem safe and secure…initially.  But sooner or later, you’ll want to eat what YOU want to eat, not what you’re told to eat.  So you rebel, and overeat all the foods you weren’t previously allowed.  The irony is that if you paid more attention to what you wanted in the first place, you would have avoided this scenario. Open your food mind. You might be (pleasantly) surprised by what happens.

December 9: Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers (Lord Alfred Tennyson)

Experienced dieters know a thing or two about calories and portion sizes. But food wisdom is about how food makes you feel, and how your food choices affect your food actions. For example, you want a chocolate bar (200 cals), but that’s too many calories.  So you eat an apple (80cals), then a diet yoghurt (80 cals), then a rice cake (20 cals)…  No, not satisfied.  So you end up eating the chocolate bar anyway. Your knowledge led to you eating 380 cals, whereas if you had used your wisdom, you would only have eaten 200cals.  Who’s smarter now?

December 10: Ability is what you are able to do.  Motivation determines what you do.  Attitude decides how well you do it (Anon)

You have the ABILITY to lose weight. You use your unhappiness about your weight to MOTIVATE you to diet. But it is your ATTITUDE that will dictate how successful you are.  Weight loss is less about food, and more about your attitude to food. Get the attitude right, and you may find you no longer need the diet.

December 11:  Liberty means responsibility.  That is why most men dread it (George Bernard Shaw)

While there can be a safety and certainty in following diet rules, they don’t last for most people.  Food compliance is often followed by food rebellion, or eating without boundaries. Non-diet approaches to weight loss emphasise freedom to choose with no foods banned, putting you firmly in charge of your food decisions, but guided by principles of hunger, fullness and satisfaction.  You will feel liberated from diet rules, but you will also become responsible for your food decisions.  Is it for you? If you have previously lost weight and regained it following multiple diets….then yes!

December 12: You can always tell luck from ability by its duration (E.C. McKenzie)

Anyone can lose weight.  Diets exist for no other reason.  Diets help you avoid food.  But losing weight, and more importantly keeping it off, requires the ability to live with food, not avoid it.

December 13: If way to the better there be, it exacts a full look at the worst (Thomas Hardy)

Think about the way you eat when you are on a diet. Think about the way you eat when you are NOT on a diet. A non-diet approach to weight loss may not make sense to you IF you wrongly assume it resembles NOT being on a diet. This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Your problems with food and the reasons you eat as you do are most evident when you are not on a diet – so this is where we start looking for solutions. The non-diet approach does not ignore your food problems. It deals with them.

December 14: When all think alike, no-one is thinking (Walter Lippman)

You like being part of a group.  The moral support, the incentive to attend, the craic..

Surrounding yourself with like-minded people means our thoughts and behaviours will be considered normal.  But what if these thoughts and behaviours are not helpful to you in achieving your goals?  Weight loss groups probably ‘work’ for some (although the evidence is mounting for their ineffectiveness for the majority).  Obsessing over weekly weights, weighing food, counting calories/points/syns, starving yourself in the days before your weigh-in, over-eating immediately after your weigh in – just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it right. Choose your herd wisely.

December 15: “Arrival fallacy” –the false belief that reaching a valued destination can sustain happiness (Tal Ben-Sahar)

You tell yourself you will be really happy and life will be so much better when you are lighter, thinner, smaller…While a diet can change your body weight,  it won’t address the eating complexities that contributed to your weight in the first place. You lose weight, but you don’t lose the problems, so your control over your weight is fragile and liable to break at any given time. This is not going to make you happy. Focus on sorting out your food problems, and the weight loss will come.

December 16: Labels are for bottles (Smirnoff)

You eat.  Is it a snack?  Is it a meal?  Does it matter? Apparently yes.  A study gave two groups of people the same food (a pasta dish).  One group was told it was a meal.  The other group was told it was a snack.  Both groups ate exactly the same amount.  Both groups were then given bowls of sweets and savoury foods, and the amount they ate was measured.  The group who were told the pasta dish was a snack ate more sweets and savoury foods afterwards. Other common food labels are “good”, “bad”, “healthy”, “unhealthy” – the problem is that, as the study above demonstrates, labelling food affects our eating decisions, and most often in a negative way. Food is food.  Ditch the labels.

December 17: A lot of our problems are created by our solutions (Paul Watzlawick)

You start off a little overweight.  You go on a diet.  You lose weight, but regain more.  This cycle repeats a few times – and you end up heavier than you were before you started. Your solution (dieting) contributed to a bigger problem. If you look back now and wish you were the weight you were when you first thought you were overweight, the weight you were before your first diet, then the need for a better solution is clear.

December 18: You’ll know when a relationship is right for you.  It will enhance your life, not complicate your life (Brigitte Nicole)

When on a diet, do you become preoccupied with, maybe even obsessive about, food or constantly have food on your mind? When the diet stops, do you deliberately overeat while mentally beating yourself up? Does this sound like a good food relationship to you? Make food work for you, not against you. Food can, and should, be a pleasure, not a problem.

December 19: Insanity…doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result (Albert Einstein)

Or doing the same DIET over and over again and expecting a different result.

December 20: If at first you don’t succeed, try again.  Then quit.  No use being a damn fool about it (W.C. Fields)

How many times have you done the same thing to lose weight, but ultimately regained it?  Hard to say it worked.  Half a solution that doesn’t last is no better than no solution.  Quit what doesn’t work.  Try something else.

December 21: Strategy is better than strength (Nigeria)

You may frequently have summoned the strength to start a diet.  You have probably displayed enormous willpower in avoiding foods you would have loved to eat.  Your strength is not in question.  But add in life’s pressures and strains and even the strongest can fall.  You need strategies to manage food, not just strength to avoid food

December 22: The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it (George Orwell)

I shouldn’t eat it.  But I want to.  I’m not allowed it.  But it’s my favourite thing.  It’s so unhealthy.  But it’s delicious.  It’s so high calorie.  I DON’T CARE…gobble gobble.  Game over.  Diet over. Enter a war with food, and eventually you lose. Anyone for a peace treaty?

December 23: He who breaks a resolution is a weakling.  He who makes one is a fool (FM Knowles)

Start your diet on 1st January….how long does it usually last?
Play it smarter this year.  Ditch the diet resolution.  Sort out your food problems once and for all.

December 24: Many your troubles in the coming year be as short-lived as your resolutions (E. C. McKenzie)

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year.



You know what happens when you look for love in all the wrong places – but what else are you looking for in all the wrong places?

The dieting industry continues to expand (pun intended).

There is only one reason you would choose to drink Slimfast, join Slimming World or Weight Watchers, start Lighter Life etc etc etc.

To lose weight.

And you will.

Just probably not for very long.

WHY??

Because you’re looking for a solution to your weight problem in the wrong place.

Settle in for a story…

One dark night, Nasrudin is looking for something next to a lamp post in the street. A friend is going by and asks what he’s doing.

Nasrudin replies, “I’m looking for my key”

The friend decides to help and searches the ground under the lamp post.

Half an hour later the friend asks, “Are you sure you dropped your key here?”

Nasrudin replies, “Oh no, I lost it inside my house, in my bedroom.”

The friend screams, “Why in hell’s name, are we searching here?”

Nasrudin smiles and says, “There’s much more light here.”

Since Nasrudin allegedly lived in the 13th century, he probably wasn’t too troubled by our modern day “obesity crisis” (and I’m not sure he would have had a street light either, but let’s not get distracted from the point).

Nevertheless, his ‘wise fool’ story beautifully highlights the futility of using diets to deal with your weight problems.

Advertising and marketing keep the spotlight shining brightly on multiple ‘solutions’ to your weight problem.  But your struggles with food don’t happen under the spotlight.  They happen in private.

You won’t find what you’re looking for if you’re looking in all the wrong places.

Start looking in the right places – see Diet Dilemmas eBook

The day we’ve all been waiting for…Friday 11th May 2018 is National Eat What You Want Day!!

 

WARNING – If you enjoy food like avocado, nuts, olive oil, salmon or greek yoghurt for example, but often avoid them in favour of low fat or diet products, then eating what you want could seriously improve your health. Read on.

If you only like food served or delivered in a box and washed down with coloured, sweet liquids, then eating what you want could seriously damage your health. Read on at your peril.

 

Open Letter to the Founder of National Eat What You Want Day 2018,

Thank you…for giving me permission to eat what I want today. Thank you…for allowing me to make my own food decisions today. Thank you…for allowing me to have an independent thought.

For 364 days of the year, I am burdened with eating food I don’t want to eat. For one day only, I will eat what I want and I will enjoy it.

But I am worried. If people get the ‘taste’ for eating what they want today, isn’t there a possibility they might want to do that for the remaining 364 days?

I don’t think we can take that chance. I appeal to you to abolish National Eat What You Want Day – the risks simply outweigh the benefits.

Yours faithfully, Kate McCulla Nutrition

OK, I’m being flippant, and this National Day was likely conceived in good humour, but it does point a finger at an important problem – the reason we choose food has become distorted. We decide to eat (or not eat) food for a multitude of reasons, often at the expense of what we actually want.

How often do you choose food because:

  • I’m ‘allowed’ it
  • I’m on a diet
  • I’m not on a diet
  • It’s only got x calories / x ‘points’ / x ‘syns’
  • It’s low fat
  • It’s sugar free
  • It’s Friday evening
  • I’ve had a bad day
  • It’s there
  • Someone else is eating it
  • The label says ‘guilt free’
  • And so on..

How often do we ask ourselves what we actually want to eat?

This should be the main reason for choosing food.

But this scares you.

Food rules have become so dominant, you’re scared that if you eat what you want, all you will want to eat is ‘rubbish’.

This is a common reaction if you often diet, and cut out all ‘rubbish’ at these times. Of course you’re going to be drawn to this food. Diet studies often show that when not allowed something we want it more. This is not a permanent preference. It is a temporary rebellion.

Foods are less appealing the more you are exposed to them and provided you are freely allowed to eat them if you choose to. This effect is called the Habituation Response.

However, the habituation response is diminished for dieters because they often do not feel like they are fully free to make their own food decisions, so the ‘forbidden foods’ never get a chance to lose their appeal.

In other words, making food decisions based on diet rules, at the expense of considering what food you want, keeps ‘problem’ foods as just that – problems.

In addition to that, I bet most of you will have had the following experience:

You want chocolate but you’re ‘trying to be good’ or lose weight.

So you eat an apple. Didn’t hit the spot.
Then a rice cake. Didn’t hit the spot.
Next a diet yoghurt. Didn’t hit the spot.
Then maybe a plain biscuit….No, still not satisfied.
Ah heck…where’s the chocolate? Having eaten your way around the kitchen, you end up eating what you wanted in the first place.

So on National Eat What You Want Day 2018, you have 2 choices:

  1. Eat anything and everything today in unlimited quantities – you are most likely to choose stereotypical ‘bad’ foods – and go back to your food battle for the next 364 days, or
  2. Consider what it is you really want to eat, what you are going to savour and enjoy, what is going to satisfy. You may surprise yourself with the realisation that you don’t always want what you might consider ‘bad’ foods and that given the choice, your choices may be quite balanced. You have 365 days a year to practice this. And by the end of that year, you might even be closer to your weight goals.

Happy National Eat What You Want…

….today, and every other day ending in Y.

With Easter around the corner, and chocolate flying off the shelves, how many of you are packing your bags for your next guilt trip?

Picture the scene: 1 cake, 2 people.

Person 1 sees cake. Considers if they want some. Eats cake. The end.

Person 2 sees calories, fat, temptation, a test, a challenge, a risk. They feel in dangerous territory but they eat some cake. They’re not paying attention to whether the cake is delicious or not because the main thought in their head is:

I SHOULDN’T BE EATING THIS

But they have started now so they may as well carry on. They decide they will not eat cake again for a long time so it’s OK if they overeat it now. They can diet harder tomorrow.

So they continue to eat, still not really paying attention to the cake enjoyment because the niggling thought of doing something ‘bad’ lingers, and this grows into:

GUILT

The damage is done now, they have lost the battle with the cake, and surrender to eating it with abandon.

If only that was the end of the story. Feeling guilty about their actions (eating cake) is bad enough. But then this happens:

SHAME

They feel bad about themselves and decide they must be greedy, weak, lacking in willpower, a failure….and the scene is set for unhelpful eating for the rest of the day, maybe even the rest of the week or longer.

Brought down by a piece of cake

How can the same situation result in such a different outcome?

A study published in the journal Appetite in 2013 took a stereotypical ‘forbidden’ food item (chocolate cake) and compared ‘guilt’ eaters with ‘celebration’ eaters.

Those who attached guilt to eating had:

  • lower levels of perceived food control, and
  • were less successful at losing weight

than those who associated the food with celebration.

It all boils down to your ‘relationship’ with food, how you view food, and how you make decisions about what to eat and when to stop eating.

These are all changeable / modifiable factors, and working to improve how you feel about, and manage, food will have a major impact on how you feel about your food choices, which will go on to affect how much of it you eat.

The irony…

Many people can suffer from food guilt for many different reasons, but chronic dieters appear to be particularly susceptible because dieting mentalities are one reason for experiencing food guilt.

The point of dieting is to lose weight, but if people who diet suffer from food guilt, this can make keeping weight off very difficult.

If you feel guilty while eating, this is a warning signal, your head sending you a mental distress call, alerting you to a problem that needs to be fixed. Something has broken down in terms of your relationship with that food, a problem with how you view that food.

Add to that the fact that feeling this way often leads to ongoing eating and it becomes crystal clear that food guilt is a useless, pointless and destructive emotion.

What this DOESN’T mean

So what we eat and how much we eat is irrelevant as long as we don’t feel guilty about it? NO, NO and NO. You can’t eat your body weight in chocolate as long as you do it in the name of celebration. If only it was that simple.

Saying ‘Don’t feel guilty’ is not enough.

Food guilt is not healthy but telling yourself “I’m going to eat this and not feel guilty” is likely to be as effective as telling a baby to stop crying.

Thoughts, feelings and emotions cannot be switched on and off. Some are warning signs – food guilt is one of these. You need to take food guilt back to its roots, find its source, question the accuracy of your view, and see the problem for what it is – the problem is NOT food, the problem is NOT you, the problem is whatever has distorted your view of food.

How can I fight food guilt?

Since guilt stems from doing something you think you shouldn’t have done, eating without guilt requires you to:

  • Question where that thought came from
  • Stop making food decisions based on what you think you should eat, and start thinking more about what you actually feel like and want. Reclaim your right to make your own decisions about food.
  • Stop labelling food as ‘good’ or ‘bad’
  • Abandon hard and fast food rules, and replace with boundaries (for example, move away from “I’m on a diet so I’m not allowed cake” or “I’m not on a diet so I can eat as much cake as I can”, and move towards “I will eat some cake if I decide I want some, and I will only continue to eat it if it is delicious and stop when I am satisfied” – yes, you can learn how to do this!)
  • Use more helpful cues to guide your eating – hunger, fullness, food pleasure and satisfaction are the major players here.

Celebrate

If you have a history of food guilt it’s not going to just disappear. But you can get help to understand and manage it, and in time learn how to celebrate food.

There’s only one reason to eat chocolate – pure food pleasure. If you’re eating with guilt, you’re missing:

  • the pleasure, and,
  • the opportunity to make your own decision about when to stop

Appropriate enjoyment of any food should never be followed by inappropriate overeating as a punishment for enjoying it. Food guilt is a weapon that has no place at the table.

Preparation or deprivation?

Lent has been hijacked. By dieters. It’s not surprising – forgoing food for 40 days is a guaranteed way to lose weight (although I’m not sure that was Jesus’s motivation).

Deprivation is at the heart of both Lent and dieting. Despite it also being about preparation and reflection, for those with a weight loss agenda, the focus is mainly on the deprivation aspect of Lent. You commit to ‘give up’ your usual vices like sugar in tea, biscuits and sweets (while secretly hoping you’ll be lighter by the end of it) and disregard preparation for the aftermath. Another job half done. But a least you’ll get to feel virtuous for a few weeks.

If you do observe Lent, with even a slight weight loss agenda, how about doing it differently this year by focusing more on the preparation and reflection side. Ditch the deprivation. Give up on giving up.

Instead of stopping doing something, try to start doing something that will complement your weight loss agenda. And you never know, it might stick…..

So here goes, 40 days, 40 suggestions. Choose only one, choose a different one every day….or give up sweets again! Your call.

What are you going to do for Lent?

  1. Every time you use an escalator, excuse yourself past people whose legs have temporarily stopped working and keep moving!
  2. If you feel bad or guilty after eating something, your head is trying to alert you to something important (for example, a ‘broken diet rule’). These thoughts and feelings are warning signs of an unhelpful relationship with food. Monitor your thoughts and feelings around food.
  3. Stop labelling food as ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ if you know from experience that this can negatively affect your food decisions. Food is food is food.
  4. Referring to some foods as ‘treats’ elevates their importance. Crisps are crisps, chocolate is chocolate, and ideally should have no more significance than an apple. Try to be neutral with all food.
  5. Have a cup of tea or coffee…on it’s own. This is not about giving up biscuits, but about challenging habits.
  6. Pay attention to your hunger and fullness levels. If you recognise you are full before your plate is empty, practise leaving the rest.
  7. Observe how often you eat that has nothing to do with hunger. Start to think about what drives this eating (eg boredom, comfort, tiredness). This will give you clues about the areas to work on to help manage your weight.
  8. Eat with minimal distractions – move away from the computer, stop checking social media and turn off the TV over dinner. Pay attention to your food and you might find yourself enjoying it.
  9. If you know you have a habit of eating due to boredom, choose a non-food activity to pass the time.
  10. Choose food based on what you know you want and will enjoy, instead of eating what you feel you should eat (diet products….looking at you).
  11. Find a fun activity to do – trampolining, aerial yoga, table tennis. It doesn’t matter what, just do it and enjoy.
  12. Try a fruit, vegetable or other food you’ve never tasted before.
  13. Cook a vegetarian meal – plant based eating is all the rage these days.
  14. Think about the purpose scales serve in your life. Decide not to weigh yourself if they often make you feel bad about yourself. Make your food choices based on what you want to eat, guided by hunger and fullness, not based on a number on the scales.
  15. Question things that don’t make sense such as “You’re not losing weight because you’re not eating enough”. If it doesn’t make sense, don’t accept it as fact.
  16. For all the foods you eat today, but especially ‘diet’ foods or snack foods…slow down and TASTE…..do you really like them that much? Be fussy!
  17. Aim to eat food that satisfies. Satisfaction is more important than simply not being hungry. Being satisfied will help you to eat less.
  18. Tackle ‘comfort eating’. If you ‘comfort eat’, you’re definitely eating, but are you getting comfort? At best, you’re getting a temporary distraction from the real problem. Think of options that will deal with the problem.
  19. Sleep, sleep, sleep – lack of sleep is known to affect hormones involved in appetite regulation. If you notice that you eat more, or make different choices, when you are tired – get more sleep.
  20. Stop comparing yourself to others. You may see people around you eat more than you, but this observation does not help you in any way, and more likely makes you feel worse. DON’T. DO. IT.
  21. Start noticing how your food choices make you feel physically – neutral, energised, lethargic, sluggish, bloated. Choose to eat food that make you feel good.
  22. When you see food, do you see calories, ‘points’, ‘syns’, fat content, sugar content…..? This is the science end. But eating well is an art. Knowledge is only helpful if you are skilful at managing it. Practise art.
  23. Stop self blame. If you have dieted repeatedly…and ‘failed’…you most likely blame yourself but has the diet got something to answer for? Think about the foods you struggle with, get help to deal with those, and don’t repeat old dieting mistakes.
  24. Make a decision to eat for health not dieting. So avocados, nuts, cheese…back on the menu (if you like them), and enough of the diet yoghurts, rice cakes and low fat everything (unless you happen to really love them. Really?)
  25. Use your taste buds…if something looks good, but doesn’t taste great, don’t eat it.
  26. Exercise – choose something you enjoy and makes you feel good, and do it for those reasons. Keep weight loss out of it.
  27. Drink……enough to keep your pee pale.
  28. Sit less….or do some chair based exercises while you sit.
  29. Eat like you respect yourself.
  30. Tell people your boundaries. If you don’t want them to comment on your food choices or weight, tell them.
  31. Batch cook when you get the chance – cook once, eat more than once.
  32. Look at the ingredients lists of foods. If it reads like a science experiment or has multiple ingredients not immediately recognisable as food, do you want to eat it?
  33. Stop allowing packet size to dictate how much you eat. If you often eat until packets are empty, then you are not making independent food decisions – the food manufacturers are pulling the strings.
  34. Don’t get caught out having nothing to eat. Fill the freezer – frozen vegetables, fruit, fish, meats, oven chips – so you always have a back-up plan.
  35. Ditch the euphemisms. For example “I’m trying to be good”. If eating well is so hard you have to ‘try to be good’ then you are either eating foods you’re not really enjoying or denying yourself foods you really enjoy (or both). Does this sound like a helpful long term plan?
  36. Eat publicly. If you eat less when in company compared to when you are alone, then you are concerned about how others might judge your eating. But by eating privately, you are judging yourself.
  37. Stop choosing arbitrary days to start dieting (Monday seems to be popular!). You can respect your hunger, fullness and satisfaction NOW!
  38. Don’t let technology take over either your decision making or your common sense. For example, if you’re using an app to count calories, it might advise you to eat less or eat more. Your app does not know when you are hungry, satisfied or full. You do.
  39. Don’t let other people affect your food decision making. Be independent. Focus on what you want.
  40. Read self help material. Might as well start with Diet Dilemmas book!

40 days, 40 suggestions. Pitching preparation. Ditching deprivation.

You’ve survived Christmas. The pies are all eaten, and you’re not eating chocolate again (well, until Easter anyway). January…..a fresh start.  So here we are, over midway through the month – who’s still riding the New Year Motivation Wave?

I dislike the word ‘motivation’. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s not. Not very dependable really.  A lot of ‘inspirational’ quotes about motivation (in relation to food and exercise) are set on a back-drop photo of a very slender, toned and beautiful woman or in-your-dreams only ripped man. Now I don’t know if this fires you up. For me, these images will, at best, have no effect – I don’t relate to them – or, at worst, they will make me want to eat chocolate. Off to a very bad start.

It also bothers me that the word is loaded. All is good if you have it. But if you lack motivation, this can appear like a moral judgement or character weakness. Like something noble is missing. A motivation deficiency.

Having worked to help people manage their weight for many years, I have often been told “I just need motivation”. They want me to treat their motivation deficiency. They want me to do this by checking their weight regularly and hold them to account regarding their food choices. I don’t like holding sticks to people’s back. But more to the point, is this motivation?

Motivation has been defined as the drive to achieve or do ‘something’. That ‘something’ has to be both important to you, and you need to believe you can do it.

Lack of motivation becomes the great abyss between what we think we should do (eg diet), and what we actually do (eg. overeat). You think you should diet, but the very thought makes you want to overeat, and you berate yourself for having no motivation.

But what is the real problem here?  Your lack of motivation, or what you think you should be doing? (eg. dieting).

If your weight history tells a story of weight loss followed by weight regain, then it’s hardly surprising that you have little overall confidence that the outcome will be any different this time around. You will of course forget this in the early stages of your next diet. You will start off supremely motivated and confident. But as time passes, motivation can diminish, and eventually collapse. Back to square one. Your motivation deficiency causing problems again.
But if motivation is so key to achieving our health goals, we’re going to have to start making it work for us, not against us.

The long game

You want to lose weight before a holiday. You panic about how you’re going to look in your swimwear…..so you diet, lose weight, and go on holiday. What’s your real motivation here? It’s looking good on the beach. Job done, diet over. Short term goal, short term outcome, short term motivation.

But health and lifestyle are a long game. We cannot expect the same short, sharp bursts of effort to be maintained. The challenge becomes less about motivation, and more about focusing your efforts in the right direction.

Do I need motivation for all things?

Do you need motivation to:

  • Watch the TV
  • Read a book on your favourite subject
  • Sit down and put your feet up
  • Eat food you enjoy
  • Have a lie-in?

These tasks are enjoyable on the whole, and your motivation, or drive to do these things is simply that – enjoyment. And the pleasure is almost immediate. Do it, get something nice. Positive motivation.

But what about more difficult things, like going to the gym, like weight loss, like dieting? For the most part, these are more difficult tasks, and the pleasure is…….often absent. Hardly a wonder your drive can nose-dive.

On top of that, for these more difficult tasks, motivation often stems from a negative place. This is especially true for weight loss.

For example:

  • I need to lose weight to reduce my risk of getting diabetes
  • I must ‘stick’ to my diet so I’m not embarrassed at the weekly weigh-in

Do it, avoid something bad. Negative motivation.

Weight loss is loaded with negative motivation. And this may ensure you ‘stick to your diet’ for a while, but….you know how this ends.

So worry less about how much or how little motivation you have right now. Spend more time considering what it is you really want and motivation will be easier to harness.

Keeping your eye on the prize

If you are unhappy with your weight, you may think that achieving your dream weight is a fabulous prize, all you could ever want. But the prize is often less important than the price – how low does your weight need to be to justify diet mentalities like food pre-occupation, feelings of deprivation or denial, or guilt if you eat something you think you shouldn’t have? For some, the price of dieting just gets too high.

First decide what it is you really want (the prize):

  • Weight loss, whatever the (short-term) sacrifice, or
  • Food liberation and peace with food (long-term)

These are two very different prizes, so your motivation to achieve them is likely to differ dependent on which path you choose.

Weight loss – whatever the sacrifice

If you are motivated by an outcome – such as, I will diet until I’m size X or Y stone – this is detached and removed from you as a person. You learn only that dieting makes you lose weight (for a while). You may remain motivated while you see the weight coming off, but inevitably, once your weight outcome has been achieved (or possibly before), motivation grinds to a halt. In this instance, motivation is like a coat – something you put on and take off as you feel you need it.

Food liberation and peace with food

True weight management focuses less on weight and more on food problems. This is a process. You will learn a lot about what influences your eating, and you will use this to your advantage.

If you can start to be motivated by the process and what you are learning about yourself as you progress, you’ll always have some degree of motivation. This is because you are attached to the process and that can’t be shaken off, disregarded or ignored. In this case, motivation is more like your skin – you’re always in it. It may not always be perfect, but it’s always there.

Treating a motivation deficiency

You may sometimes overeat because you don’t care about your weight in that moment. You can decide to care tomorrow, on Monday….or some other arbitrary time. If you rely only on weight focused motivation to achieve your weight loss goals, fluctuating motivation levels may drag your weight up and down.

Since you eat several times a day, it’s much harder to ignore how your food decisions make you feel (either physically or psychologically). So use food focused motivation as your guide.

You may have backed the wrong motivation horse in the past (that is, been motivated by weight versus motivated by improving your use of food) but you don’t have a motivation deficiency.

Harness what you’ve got by:

  • Paying more attention to your food than to your weight
  • Making decisions about what and how to eat for you and only you (no more bowing to pressure because someone is checking your weight)
  • Dump negative motivation (less of “I don’t want to be overweight”; more of “I want to feel better about how I eat”)
  • Remember the long game – and remind yourself how useful (useless) yoyo dieting has been in the past
  • Be realistic – some days you’ll feel more fired up than others. This is completely normal. All you can ever do is the best you can on a given day.

You’re not deficient. You have all the resources you need to start improving your health. Look at pictures of tightly honed abs if that’s your thing. I’ll pass – it makes me want to eat chocolate.

If you wish to further explore the topics covered in Diet Dilemmas blog, see Diet Dilemmas book.

The Last Supper….at Christmas?

Some reports estimate that the food consumed on Christmas Day contains an average of 7,000 calories. To put this into perspective, the ‘average’ adult needs 2,000 calories a day. These figures are not precise or accurate for an individual (we’re working with estimates and averages here), but aside from that, I have 2 further issues with this statistic.

  • Firstly, who’s counting?
  • Secondly, most people will eat more than their normal quantities over the Christmas holiday period.

Food has a long history of use in celebrations, and Christmas is no different. The real question is “Is it a problem?”

For some, no, some (over)indulgence will not be a problem – normal eating resumes quickly with no lasting repercussions.

Having said that though, it would take a concerted effort to consume around 7,000 calories and not feel some ill effects. So if this estimate holds any truth, I suspect people are eating to uncomfortable bursting point. But why?

There are a number of possibilities.

Enjoyment

You may have no concerns about your health or weight, no food issues, confidence in your ability to manage food on the whole and so enjoy occasional over-eating.

You might like the post meal dozy slump, the food coma, as you associate this with festivity, holidays, indulgence, comfort and a complete switch off from ‘normal’ life.

You go back to normal eating naturally once Christmas is over.

Entitlement

Christmas is one of the few times of the year when eating much too much has almost become expected.

If you struggle with food control, and maybe don’t usually allow yourself to overeat in company, Christmas presents an occasion to overeat with impunity. After all, it has become completely socially acceptable.

There may even be an element of competitive eating – a ‘sport’ in which competitors compete against each other to consume large quantities of food in a short period of time. You may even take pride in your ability to eat so much!

You are of course entitled to eat what you want – just don’t lose sight of the fact that eating isn’t supposed to hurt!

You may be engaging in Last Supper eating

Last Supper eating represents a possibly familiar pattern of purposely overeating before the self-imposed New Year diet.

It is a conscious decision to over eat, drink and be merry, because come the New Year, the diet starts.

You feel duty bound to eat all the ‘rubbish’ out of the house so it’s not there to tempt you when your diet starts. You are probably not thinking about whether you actually want or are enjoying the food you are eating. You are only focused on eating it now, before you no longer allow yourself to have it.

‘Last supper’ eating is common among people who diet frequently. It’s not unique to the Christmas period and can happen at any time of the year – think about how you might eat in the weekend before the start of the Monday diet!

Since losing weight is consistently on top of New Year resolutions lists, it is probable that ‘last supper’ Christmas feasting, before the pain of diet deprivation, is equally common.

It is completely appropriate to enjoy food and festivities. However, if you are bothered by your weight, the problem occurs when the boundary between appropriate food enjoyment, and damaging overeating, gets crossed.

Last Supper eating is supported by the notion that certain foods are ‘allowed’ while others are ‘not allowed’. So, for example, if chocolate is ‘not allowed’ when you start dieting, Last Supper thinking almost encourages chocolate intake before it’s off limits.

So, in effect, the decision to start a New Year diet can have a direct impact on your eating decisions over the Christmas period.

It is therefore plausible that if you were able to move away from the notion of foods being ‘allowed’ or ‘not allowed’ then you would have no particular incentive to overeat them in the first place.

This requires a major shift away from dieting mentalities (on a diet, off a diet, on a diet…..), a re-focus on the clichéd ‘relationship’ with food, and finding a way of eating that works for you long-term versus the often short-lived dieting restrictions.

Don’t wait until the New Year (or some random Monday) to start improving how you use food. This does not mean cutting out your favourite foods. But it does mean eating those foods in a managed way, not in a ‘last supper’ way.

Eating something because you tell yourself you’ll not be allowed it come January is wrong, wrong, wrong. Wrong.

So what can you do?

In no particular order:

  • Dump the dieting mentality – fluctuating between weight loss on a diet with weight gain when off your diet is a highway to nowhere, and a reflection of how ill-fitted your diet was to addressing your food problems. Don’t repeat old mistakes.
  • Ditch diet rules, but respect the boundaries – that is, eat what you know you want and will enjoy, but stop eating when satisfied or full.
  • Respect your food – you’re lucky to have it in abundance. Take time to enjoy it, instead of indulging to the point of discomfort.
  • Respect your body – it has more wisdom than a box of mince pies. Listen to it – if it tells you you’re full and unlikely to fully enjoy more food right now, stop eating. The food will still be there later.
  • Challenge the thoughts encouraging you to eat. Stop labelling food as ‘good’, ‘bad’, ‘allowed’ or ‘not allowed’. Labels like this influence your thoughts, which will affect your food decisions, but usually in a negative way.

For example:

Thought: I’ll not allow myself to eat (insert food) when I start my diet.
Behaviour: Overeat while you have the chance

Consider the following thought shift:

Thought: I can eat (insert food) at any time of the year. I’ll have some now, but I don’t need to sicken myself.
Behaviour: Include the foods you enjoy, on your terms, while respecting your fullness and satisfaction levels.

Change the thought, change the behaviour.

So eat, drink and be merry. Enjoy your food, but no need to overdo it today.

Because tomorrow, you’ll get a chance to eat all over again.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

If you wish to further explore the topics covered in Diet Dilemmas blog posts, see Diet Dilemmas book.