There’s More To Weight Loss Than Dieting
As anyone who has ever tried achieving weight loss knows, losing weight isn’t easy. Whats more, keeping the lost weight off is even harder. Many of the people that I see for weight loss advice have been spending most of their adult lives either being “on a diet” or “off a diet” with their weight cycling between extremes in clothes sizes, depending on how “good” or “bad” they perceive themselves as being.
Alarmingly, all too often their good days, weeks or months are spent being over-restrictive and when they are no longer able to tolerate the feelings of hunger or deprivation, they swing to the other extreme and over-indulge. Many people at this stage put the blame on their own lack of self control or willpower and will repeat the pattern over again. Instead of self blame – which I feel does nothing to build self esteem or self efficacy to change future habits – I would argue that it is the over restriction and unrealistic aims that are the causes of such failures to maintain weight loss long term.
It has been suggested that the biggest predictor of weight gain is weight loss. Some weight gain after a period of weight loss is often inevitable. The stress of maintaining new habits – including planning ahead, being aware of portion sizes etc along with the inevitable loss of motivation as time goes on – means that some weight gain is inevitable. By accepting this and planning to consciously maintain weight once an initial target has been achieved or time has lapsed can be a helpful exercise.
1. Choose a target weight loss of around 5-10% weight loss or a time frame of around 6 months (5-10% weight loss has been shown to improve health and, even if you still have weight to lose, you do not have to achieve it all in one go), then reassess:
- How am I feeling now in terms of hunger, energy and satisfaction?
- Is there still motivation for improving (and possible restricting) further or have I made as much changes as I am able to for the moment?
- Are there are feelings of hunger, restriction or struggling to control lapses? (If so, there is a risk of a re-lapse and a period of weight maintenance may be helpful before re-attempting weight loss from where you left off, at a later date)
2. Learn to maintain weight by getting an idea of what we need to consume and use up in calories for our weight to stay stable (within around 3 pounds / 1.5kg either side of a goal weight). Whereas most people who struggle with their weight know what a weight loss diet looks and feels like (and the opposite when their weight is increasing), most do not know what they can get away with for their weight to stay stable. By knowing for example that, by adding in an extra meal and a few treats a week, your weight stays stable, you can feel more in control and less restricted, rather than thinking of every lapse (which I prefer to call normal eating) symbolising the end of the diet and the beginning of weight gain.
3. Consider other aspects that have improved since making changes. As weight loss slows and fluctuates, stepping on the scales becomes less rewarding and less of a motivator. While keeping a check on your weight has been linked with improved weight maintenance, I sometimes suggest that people use other indicators such as levels of fitness, breathlessness, the fit of clothes and energy levels to guide them too. For those who were advised to lose weight for health reasons, a check up to assess progress with blood pressure, sugar levels or cholesterol for example can be helpful after 5-10% weight loss is achieved.
4. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that weight loss is hard. All too often, I hear the self-blame talk of “I just could not stick to it” or “I am just not motivated” as reasons why someone could not keep lost weight off. A lapse does not have to be a re-lapse and I sometimes ask people to think of that person they know “who never gains weight and eats everything” (we all know one of them!) A big difference between people who struggle with their weight and those who don’t is their response to eating something that they consider unhealthy. Some will consider that eating a chocolate bar is the sign of it all going wrong; others will give it no meaning or value. Think about how those thoughts can affect subsequent eating behaviour.
5. Think of where you will be this time next year. Even losing a pound a month (which you wouldn’t even see on the scales on a weekly basis) is nearly a stone in a year. It is at this rate that many of us gain weight and is often unnoticeable until you put on last year’s summer or Christmas clothes.