Two things happened over the past week which have resulted in this post. Someone in the Philofaxy weight loss group asked for 10 weight loss tips, and then two days later someone said to me ‘what do you know about weight loss – you’re naturally thin!’. Which got me thinking…
No, actually I am not naturally thin. It just seems that way because I have been thin for so long that people don’t remember me as fat. But yes, I was fat, and inside I still am. I used to share a room with my little cousin and all her friends used to come and laugh as I wriggled into my clothes every morning. My best friend’s cousin used to shout at her as we walked by ‘skinny skinny run for your life – here comes fatty with a carving knife’. I could never get over the horse in gym because I was too heavy. Whenever I had disagreements with any of my friends when I was in my early teens, one of the insults that would be on the notes we used to pass around class (yep, the days before texting) was my weight. I still have one from one of my school friends which says ‘I am thinner than you, I am prettier than you. Everyone laughs at you because you are fat’. When I had my last big birthday a year or so ago my family wanted to have a ‘photo-cake’ with a photo of me when I was young. But I was so fat in ALL of the photos in existence back then that they had to choose a more recent photograph because they didn’t want to embarrass me.
One sad thing that springs to mind is that I used to suffer from terrible nosebleeds as a child. My nose would bleed copiously for hours and sometimes days at a time. To calm me my mother told me (at the age of about 7) that nosebleeds would help me lose weight and make me healthier. After that I accepted them and even looked forward to them. How twisted is that? She also started feeding me her diet pills as soon as I hit my teens, though I just got fatter and fatter. She put me on my first diet when I was just in my teens.
I know what it is like to binge and starve. To eat food that doesn’t even taste good because it is a way of punishing yourself. Of hating every mouthful but stuffing it in anyway. I have tried every fad diet going. I have yo-yo dieted, started every Monday only to fail by Wednesday and then binge until the next Monday, worn holes in the thighs of my tracksuit pants (which were the only thing that fitted me) and hated myself. I have watched myself get fatter and fatter and hated going out in public and going to parties because I imagined how everyone must be noticing my weight. I have resorted to laxatives after a binge. I have eaten so many carrots I turned yellow, so many pineapples (damn Beverley Hills Diet) that my tongue was twice its size. I have fasted and considered my greatest achievement that I didn’t eat at all (how sad is it when that is the best thing you did all day was not eat a single thing?) – only to just get fatter and fatter.
At my heaviest I was about 106kg/233lbs for my 1.7m/5ft 7in frame. I lost it all within about a year in 1987 and apart from a few kgs up and down, I have remained more or less the same weight for 26 years. I vary between 53kg/116lbs and 58kg/127lbs nowadays. On 1 May 1987 I decided quite simply that I had to make a choice – accept that I was fat and stay fat, or lose weight for good. I decided on the latter. I got on the scales that day at 106kg. A year later I got on the scale at about 60kg and it took me another six months (and more effort) to lose the remaining 6kg.
What worked for me may not work for everyone. And what works for other people may not be my thing either. But for what it’s worth, here are my tips.
1. Fad diets don’t work
Any eating plan that restricts calorie intake will cause weight loss. That is pure physics. It may even cause significant weight loss. But unless you can maintain that weight loss, that diet didn’t work. So yes – fasting, detoxing, juicing, baby food, Atkins, milkshakes, LCHF, GI, 5:2 – they all work. Short term. But the kicker is if you can keep that weight loss off. And that is why changing eating habits is the easiest thing to do and the easiest way to lose weight long term. Eat less, more more. Nothing fancy but it works. Usually what happens when you are on a restrictive regime is that your body goes into starvation mode, and then when you go back to eating normally it grabs onto every calorie and weight loss becomes even harder. Remember also that weight can fluctuate by quite a bit each day, depending on time of the month, time of day, how much salty food you have eaten, whether you are constipated or not (constipation is quite common if you severely restrict food intake). The thing with food is, we have to have it. It is not something that you can give up forever like an alcoholic can with alcohol. So the best thing to have is a good attitude towards it – it’s fuel. And a car runs best on good fuel. It tastes nice but don’t eat too much – just savour what you do eat. Don’t cut out anything – just cut down a little from your present intake. And you can cut down a little more as time goes by.
2. It’s in the mind
What matters most when you lose weight is in your mind, not your body. You have to want to lose weight more than you want all the foods and habits that have made you gain weight. You have to be able to accept wobbles, failures, weight gain, bad days along the way and move on. What is your enemy is NOT the biscuits – it’s the guilt and shame that your mind assigns those biscuits (and yourself) when you eat too many that causes you to hate yourself and inhale the whole packet. That hatred and sense of failure is what is going to derail you so, as hard as it may seem at the time, just move on. It’s over, so get over it. Many people who binge and gain weight have a complex love-hate relationship with food. It is a way of both rewarding and punishing themselves. It is often used as a weapon. Don’t let it have power over you. If you are really craving something – eat it and enjoy every mouthful. If you savour every molecule you don’t have to eat a huge amount to satisfy you. If you are an emotional or stress eater – recognise the signals and find a way to rewire your response to them.
3. It will take time
You did not gain the weight overnight so you will not lose it overnight. Take it slow and easy and the weight will stay off. You cannot think ‘I just need to fast/restrict/starve for x amount of time and then I will be able to go back to eating normally again’ because you can’t. Remember the mantras if you keep doing what you have always done you will keep getting what you have always got and those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Just eat less and move more. If you already eat well, just watch portion sizes. If you have a tendency to eat junk or fast food – start by eating less of everything but not cutting anything out. Add vegetables and fruit. It takes at least 21 days to break a habit so be patient. Banning foods is the easiest way to make you crave them and then binge when you slip – so don’t ban anything. Just reduce the amount you eat and enjoy it when you do.
4. You can start again whenever you want
So you had a wobble. Or dived off your healthy eating plan face first into a chocolate gateau. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start again. Immediately. Don’t think ‘I will start again next Monday/tomorrow/next month – you can start again any moment you choose. Wash your hands, brush your teeth, have a shower or bath if you can. And there you are, clean and minty and ready for your new beginning. All success is, is getting up one more time than you fall. And in life what matters most is not how you handle success, but how you handle failure. You will be eating well and healthily for the rest of your life so in the larger scheme of things, will a packet of biscuits of half a cake really matter? As I said earlier – it’s not your body that is the enemy here, it’s your mind. If you are going to be on this eating plan forever, you are going to fail now and then. You will have bad days or bad weeks – how you respond to that will define you. You may lose a few battles but you will win the war and that is all that matters.
5. Keep busy
If you are an emotional/boredom/stress/unhappiness eater – keep busy, have some treats to occupy you if necessary (magazine, face mask, nice nail polish) and keep yourself distracted. If that doesn’t work take a walk, go to town, do some shopping. Chew nice minty gum, brush your teeth, have a bath, drink some water, call a friend, look at your favourite websites.
6. Don’t swap one crutch for another
If you are a compulsive or emotional eater, it is very easy to transfer those crutches to something else so watch that you do not start to overspend to compensate for no longer overeating. And watch that you are not becoming compulsive about dieting. If you find yourself obsessing over it, as hard as it sounds, try to take a step back.
7. There is never a perfect time to start a diet
There will always be an excuse for not starting your diet. A holiday coming up or some kind of celebration or travelling a lot for work. Time of the month, bad time of year, rocky relationship, new love…Okay, conditions may not be ideal but you can always make better choices. Eat less, say no to seconds and maybe walk a little more. Over the course of your life these things will come up all the time and you have to learn to negotiate them. Sooner rather than later. If you are on an eating plan that means you have to cancel a dinner or two at the beginning – that’s cool. But if you are on an eating plan that means you have to cancel every dinner for the rest of your life – you need a new eating plan which fits into your life rather than you having to fit your life around it.
8. Maintaining your weight is harder than losing it
Unfortunate but true. Once you have lost weight and are at goal, now comes the tricky part – weight maintenance. The compliments are not coming anymore, the rush of success is replaced by…nothing. Your problem are still there, you are still the same person (yep, losing weight does NOT give you a perfect life or turn you into a totally different person). You need to be eternally vigilant and catch those pesky pounds before they stick to your hips and refuse to move. That is why it is important to NOT get caught up in fad diets – because they help you lose weight, not keep it off. If you have lost weight by gradually modifying your eating habits it is much easier to keep it off because no changes are required – just vigilance. Most people regain the weight they have lost – and more. So this part is important – for your health, if nothing else. Just weigh regularly and tackle gains as soon as they appear. Five kilograms becomes ten before you know it if you ignore it.
9. Yo-yo dieting ruins your health
Short term crash dieting can ruin your nails and cause your hair to start falling out much more than normal (usually a month or two after a diet shocks the system). Repeatedly losing and regaining weight can cause you to end up with osteoporosis, PCOS (polycystic ovaries), stretch marks, sagging skin, wrinkles, excess facial hair (and in extreme cases, lanugo). It may affect your fertility. It may not seem like it now, when your weight is what is so important, but take it from me and bitter personal experience, you will be sorry later.
10. Know yourself
Know where your strengths and weaknesses are. I have a problem with portion sizes and things like muesli and nuts – when I start I can’t stop. So I avoid them. Ignore rules like ‘you have to have breakfast’ or ‘don’t eat after 7pm’ if you can’t get on with them. Just do what suits you and your lifestyle. If you can’t eat breakfast don’t force yourself – eat your breakfast during your morning tea break if you get hungry mid-morning, or save your cereal for an evening snack. If you eat anything in sight when you are ravenous then don’t let yourself get ravenous – have small between-meal snacks to stop yourself from eating the house when you get home. Learn to recognise tummy hunger as opposed to heart hunger, throat hunger (thirst), head hunger (stress or boredom). All these rules – drink water before you eat, don’t drink water before you eat, snack, don’t snack, you must eat breakfast, no eating after 6pm, hot water when you wake up, 8 glasses of water a day, fat, no fat, carbs, no carbs etc etc – they were not made for you. They were made by someone else who does not have your body or your lifestyle. Dare to find out what rules do work for you. If you lose weight and are healthy and happy then it works, no matter what ‘the rules’ say.
11. Don’t forget to live
If your diet is making you isolated and unhappy – you need a new one. One that allows you to live a normal life that does not revolve around food. Every single moment you live is a moment you are never going to get back so you need to have fun and enjoy it – even if you are on a healthy eating plan. Diets are like boyfriends – if they make you miserable you really need to find a new one. If they control you or abuse you or your body – dump them! Your life is happening while you are dieting and you will never get that time back so why be miserable – enjoy life AND lose weight. It CAN be done.
12. The next xxx will go by anyway
While you are waiting for that perfect opportunity to start your diet, time is going by anyway. So why not start now and by the time the perfect opportunity comes along you are already slimmer, fitter and healthier? If you are waiting for your birthday/after the summer/New Year/next month – just start eating better in the meantime. And when that time comes you will be lighter and it won’t seem like such a huge step.
I hope that someone out there finds these tips helpful. And if you are reading this during or after a huge binge that has left you hating yourself and feeling like a big fat failure, I can say that there is hope and that hope does not involve torturing yourself to become slim. Love yourself and love your new healthy life. Your new life begins right now because you are worth it. Don’t give food power over you – you have power over food. You can conquer it one bite at a time.
I have written other weight loss articles here