To cover the whole topic of weight loss in just one article is like trying to tie together wet spaghetti – impossible. Being overweight usually has its roots deeply entrenched, which is why losing weight can be such a struggle. I’m talking here losing weight for good, not ‘dieting’. Dieting is unnatural, damaging and most of all – superficial. You change your eating habits temporarily because you have a goal in mind – trim up for a holiday or squeeze into a size 14 dress for your sister’s wedding. You lose some excess weight, usually only to put it back on once you stop dieting. Worse still, the more you diet, the more weight you gain in the end. Crash diets, fad diets, diets of the month and personality-endorsed diets simply don’t work long term – so what does? If you want to lose weight and keep it off for good, but don’t know how, read on for some new inspiration.
Eat to Be Healthy
The foundation to losing weight is to eat foods because of their health value rather than calorific value. You’ll find that most foods which are good for you are, by nature, also low calorie. On the other hand, fat-inducing foods (think cakes, pastries, processed food, take-aways, fries) may provide palate pleasure but little nutrition. Learn to count nutrients, not calories.
Eat to Enjoy
Most diets focus on what you can’t eat, not on enjoyment of what you can eat. If you want to change your food habits long term, you need to make sensible food choices that you can live with happily in the long run. If you’re used to the strong, addictive flavours of processed food, you may find it hard at first to adjust to the more balanced taste of less processed food, so stick to good foods that you do like. Upping your vegetable intake, for instance, is the starting point for any healthy, long-term eating plan, so start by eating more of the vegetables you like rather than force yourself to eat a plate of limp, unidentifiable plants. If you eat good-for-you foods and enjoy them, you’ll be less likely to crave damaging foods.
If you are to lose weight and stay slim, you need to change your relationship with food forever. This is not something that can be done in two cabbage soup weeks. Make small, slow adjustments, then stop to feel the effect. For instance, if you’re used to drinking fizzy soda, replace it gradually with water. You’ll feel a big difference within a short time, and will be able to make a conscious decision about whether or not you want to carry on drinking sodas. Decision made? Embark on the next step. You’re learning the language of good eating for life and unlearning years of bad eating habits. Expect it will take time and enjoy the learning.
“No Fat” Phobia
There must be a reason why fat-phobic Americans obsessed by low- and no-fat foods are also the world’s biggest people. The reason is, we need fat in our diet – but only the right kind of fat. People tend to assume that fat food makes you fat and conversely, that no fat food makes you thin. In truth, the kind of fat to avoid in order to lose weight (and be healthy) is saturated and hydrogenated (damaged) fat. To avoid it, eat less full-fat dairy products, fatty meats, fried foods (especially deep-fried), margarine and any food containing hydrogenated (trans) fats. Instead, use extra-virgin olive oil as your main cooking oil, and welcome raw nuts, nut butters, linseeds and avocados into your diet as good sources of helpful fats. Eat salmon, sardines, herring and mackerel for some essential fatty acids, and consider taking fish oil or linseed oil as a supplement. Fats are the one nutritional area causing people who want to lose weight the most confusion, so it’s well worth your while finding out more on the subject and being careful with what goes into your mouth. When you eat the right fats you’ll notice the effect on your hips, and you’ll have also contributed greatly to your health overall.
However good your diet is, support your efforts with some physical exercise – about 5 hours per week to rev up your metabolism efficiently enough to help with weight loss. If you follow the advice regarding your diet and make some brisk exercise a daily feature, you’ll see not just yourself moving, but your excess pounds, too. Interestingly, vigorous exercise doesn’t seem to bring about more weight loss. You will lose more weight working out for one hour where you are slightly breathless than in 30 minutes of really strenuous exercise. Moderate and regular exercise does the job. As with food, find the type of exercise you enjoy, start gradually and build it up, or else you’re likely to drop out quickly.
It’s an oft neglected fact, but getting a good night’s sleep helps you lose weight. The hours before midnight are the most important and effective. Lack of sleep throws your body out of sync, makes your liver work much harder, is likely to make you more stressed and irritable and robs you of the energy needed for your daily exercise. If you find it difficult getting to bed early, do it at the very least when you start on the road to permanent weight loss. Going to bed early means you’ll be less likely to prowl the kitchen at midnight!
Keep Temptation Out
It’s funny how people forget that it’s easier to control what you eat when temptation isn’t lying in front of you. Clearing the house of fattening, unhealthy foods means you’ll have to go out and buy them every time you want them. This means getting up from the sofa, putting coat and shoes on, walking to the nearest shop and actually buying the stuff – a lot more challenging than grabbing it from the kitchen cupboard. If you’re worried other family members will object, get them used to the idea that they can still have the stuff outside, but home is off-limits in a team effort to help you lose weight.
Experience has taught me that for a lot of overweight people the excess weight has deep emotional roots, the extra pounds serving as a protective cushion against past or present ghosts. For many, these issues started way back in childhood, and can be painful to acknowledge. Yet they must be acknowledged and addressed, preferably with the help of a professional, if losing weight and keeping it off is your goal. The fact is, these issues have turned your relationship with food into something altogether distorted; you use food not for nourishment but for protection, compensation or substitution (for love). If this is the case for you, then low-calorie menus, magic pills or commercial concoctions will simply not help, but an honest acceptance of the issue at stake and a close cooperation with an understanding soul will.
Be Kind to Yourself
Lastly, do accept that changing life-long unhealthy habits involves an element of self-control. We’re no saints, so expect to stray from your new chosen path from time to time. ‘Punishment measures’ so popular with dieting clubs, which make you feel guilty for having had a bad day (or two or five) are not helpful. The key thing to remember is to balance your eating, exercise and sleep over time. ‘Bad’ days can be corrected by a few more careful ones without you feeling guilty or that ‘you’ve lost it – again’ (and are therefore a useless failure). We cannot be perfect all the time, so aim for ‘good enough’ most of the time, and don’t forget to congratulate yourself on your achievements. Treat yourself to a new set of sexy underwear instead of a box of chocolates, hold your head up high and take the next step forward. Welcome to your new life!
© Vardit Kohn, May 2006. No part of this article may be copied or reproduced without prior written consent.