"I'm going to be a fat blob on my wedding day!" The voice on the other end of the phone was desperate. "Can you help me?"
So Karen came to see me. "It’s always the same," she told me. "I'm motivated for a few days and lose weight, then something happens. I gain everything – and more – back again! My wedding's in three months! That should be motivation enough, but lately my weight’s been even more all over the place!"
Karen was right. Weight loss motivation is easy…at first. Rapid progress, compliments, wearing outfits you really want to, feeling more attractive, having more energy. All this positive feedback is motivating, captivating. Yet this weight loss ‘honeymoon period’ inevitably wanes. And then it can get tough.
Slim people do it! How?
Living as a slim person is a way of life. A healthy weight won’t be sustainable long-term if it requires constant positive feedback and the excitement of feeling newly slimmer.
"What do you mean: 'Something happens'?" I asked Karen.
"Well, I might have a problem at work, or my kids wind me up, or I start worrying about being fat at my wedding!"
Ah, so Karen, like millions of people who struggle with their weight, was using food for emotional support as well as simply nutrition.
We had a simple goal, then. Karen needed to start thinking and behaving like a slim person long-term, up to and beyond her wedding. What follows are some of the approaches we used; you can ‘make them your own’ so they really work for you.
Tip 1: Think slim
This tip is about that all-important moment: What do you experience just before you eat something? Do you tussle with yourself? "I really shouldn’t… but I want to!" Do you imagine how the food will taste, even feel in the mouth? Or do you focus on the real consequences, rather than the temporary satisfactions of eating?
People who are overweight tend to imagine how food is going to taste and feel as they eat. In contrast, people who naturally ‘eat slim’ tend to imagine how that pie or cake will feel heavy in their stomachs for so long after they’ve eaten it. Jumping from a great height might feel fun whilst it lasts, but the consequences that come after we hit the ground are what we consider when deciding not to do it.
So when you’re tempted to eat something you don’t need, practice imagining how your stomach is going to feel ten minutes or an hour after you’ve consumed that weight-increasing food. Keep it up until this becomes a natural habit for you.
Tip 2: Surround yourself with slim people
No, I’m not suggesting you dump all your less-than-slender friends. But research has shown that the average body type of the people with whom you hang out affects your weight and size (1). Start hanging around with slimmer, fitter types (perhaps at the gym) and your subconscious mind will pick up a new template for what is ‘normal’. Karen started hanging out and socializing with slim types at a jogging club.
Tip 3: Be fair to yourself
Imagine someone walks up a hundred steps but feels a bit tired, so they stop and step back down one step. They tell you bitterly: "Now I may as well forget this whole idea of reaching the top! I’ve totally blown it!"
What?! You’d think that was crazy, right? Acting as if all that progress, the 99 steps they did climb, never happened – because they had one slip! But people do this all the time when it comes to weight loss.
You lose weight, maybe four or five pounds, maybe much more. But you slip, have a bad day or a ‘weak moment’, and eat something you shouldn’t have. And what do you tell yourself? "I’ve completely blown it! Now I might as well really binge!"
Beware the perfectionism trap. Aim to eat sensibly and healthily most of the time, not all the time. We all consume more than we should of the wrong kind of food or drink now and then.
Everyone’s weight fluctuates a bit and you should prepare for this (once you’ve reached a healthy weight). Have a 'sliding scale' in your mind of a couple of pounds on either side of your target weight. No one can live for long under a self-imposed, too harsh dictatorship.
Tip 4: Weight loss is not a cure-all
Sure, being healthier, fitter, and so on will have positive and maybe unexpected ripple effects. However, even as a slimmer person you’ll still have a bad day in the office, moments of self-doubt, or times when you feel undervalued.
Many people feel let down when they become slimmer and then find that being slim doesn’t solve all their problems in one go. They then revert to eating poorly again. Don’t fall into this trap.
You have lots of different needs which need to be fulfilled in life. Being slimmer, healthier, and fitter is just one of them.
Tip 5: Eat when you’re hungry
I know this sounds obvious, but eating sugary foods causes a subsequent crash in energy, leaving you wanting more sweetness. On the other hand, eating for slow energy release is a sustainable way to keep your weight loss motivation firing on all cylinders without you having to consciously think about it. For slow-release energy, eat protein with every meal alongside ‘good carbs’ such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans. This avoids the ‘crash and burn’ of sugar overdosing.
Karen walked down the aisle over six years ago. I still see her at my gym sometimes. She tells me that the happiest day of her life was so happy because she felt so healthy. The fact that she was slim was (and is) just a happy outer reflection of the changes she’s experienced in the ways she feels and thinks about food.
(1) Having an obese friend dramatically increases the risk of becoming similarly fat, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Obesity is 'socially contagious', spreading from person to person in a social network, researchers said. The study found that if one person becomes obese, those closely connected to them have a greater chance of becoming obese themselves. Surprisingly, the greatest effect was seen not among people sharing the same genes or household, but among friends.
Article by Mark Tyrrell. Originally published on PickTheBrain