All my life I have hated the concept of dieting. I’ve never been really overweight, but at various times I have wished I could lose a pound or two, (or 9 or 10), and inwardly sighed at the thoughts of weeks of restricted eating. I could usually lose the weight, but within a few months, having returned to “normal” eating, it would pile back on again.
I have tried many diets, from Cambridge to Atkins, to diets based on your blood group, to those based on your birthday. Diets where I could eat chocolate and drink wine, (I quite enjoyed those), and diets in which I could only eat certain foods on certain days of the month. I can’t believe now that I really thought any of them would work. But I can believe how much money I paid out …and how much the diet industry is worth.
I always felt so miserable when ultimately diets didn’t work and would beat myself up over it … funny how we blame ourselves rather than the diet. The misery at the end of yet another failed diet, is depressingly predictable. Apparently, approximately half of the UK’s population are on a diet at any one time, so that’s a lot of miserable people wandering around.
I appreciate that we are very lucky to live in a country where food is is widely available, but I do take issue with supermarkets and food stores who bombard us with such levels of nutritionally vacant junk food. Every time we go into a shop, we have to run the gauntlet of cookies, doughnuts, cakes and biscuits, crisps and chips. Sugar is a hidden ingredient in so much of our food, and obesity has become a leading cause of death in both the USA and UK.
Food is a reward when we are happy, and a comfort when we are low, it’s inextricably linked with celebration and pleasure and entertainment and it threads through almost every aspect of our lives. We can’t avoid it, and I think it’s fair to say we have become preoccupied with it, to the detriment of our health and wellbeing.
After years of conflicting feelings about food, I slowly came to the realisation that short term diets don’t work, and what was required was not only a lifestyle change, but also a change in my perception of food. I decided that it was about time I loved and respected my body and my health, as much as I thought I love and respected chocolate fudge cake!
Food is not a crutch to lean on and is not a drug to be used when you are feeling down, unloved or have some other emotional hole to fill. It doesn’t work that way, you can stuff as many doughnuts down that emotional hole as possible and you still won’t feel any better. In fact, you will probably feel worse.
If you are fed up with up with yo-yo dieting, take a look at the following pointers. Since I changed my perception of food, I generally stick to the guidelines I have set out below, and because of that, food is no longer an issue for me.
Don’t forget, everyone’s nutritional needs vary, so it’s important you are aware what is best for you individually. Your GP can help with this and it’s always a good idea to have a chat with him/her before embarking on a lifestyle change.
1. Never eat foods that you don’t like. Munching on celery and cottage cheese (if you don’t like them), is absolutely pointless. You will make yourself miserable and are more likely to take refuge in a bowl of ice cream.
2. Remember that this is a lifestyle change not a diet. This is about learning new habits and unlearning old ones.
3. Get used to checking ingredients and reading food labels when shopping. Do not be swayed by products promising fat free and sugar free. Look at the nutritional value instead.
4. Take pleasure in eating and enjoy your food, but remember you are eating to live, not living to eat.
5. We tend to identify junk food with pleasure, and healthy food as boring or unappetising. Think about why you are making those associations. Is it because you were forced to eat sprouts as a young eater and now all vegetables have a negative connection for you? Try vegetables that you didn’t eat as a child, (butternut squash or sweet potato for example), and open your mind to new ‘healthy’ foods.
6. Try and be organised with availability of healthy food. If you are hungry and there is nothing in the cupboards other than sweets and crisps, that is what you are going to eat!
7. Try mindful eating and do not eat in front of the television. Put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls and do not eat in a rush.
8. Train yourself to stop eating when you are full.
9. Don’t get feeling thirsty confused with feeling hungry. If it’s not long since you last ate, but you think you feel hungry, try a long glass of water before having more food.
10. If you finish your meal and are still hungry, promise yourself another portion in 20 minutes time. It’s highly likely you will feel less hungry by then as it takes your stomach a while to send ‘full’ signals to your brain.
11. Reconsider your portion sizes, Buy smaller plates. This really does work. Eat dinner on tea plates and desserts on saucers.
12. Revise the portions on the plate. Instead of a whole pizza and a tiny salad, have a large salad and a smaller portion of pizza.
13. Try and keep party food for parties. Takeaways should be a very occasional treat. You will enjoy them them all the more because they are so occasional!
14. Stock up on fruit bars and non salty nuts rather than sweets and chocolate treats for snack times.
15. Remember that no food is forbidden. If you fancy ice cream have it, but resolve to eat as healthy as you can for the rest of the day.
16. Try and cut down on foods with no nutritional value, tell yourself you can have anything at all, as long as it does some good for your body.
17. Understand what your ‘trigger’ foods are (i.e foods that may set you off on an unhealthy binge) and avoid them.
18. Learn to love water.
19. Try and cut down on meat and have meat free meals two or three nights a week. Try vegan once a week. I always thought vegan was far too extreme for me, but we regularly eat vegan chilli and curry now! Studies show that cutting down on your meat intake can reduce your chances of getting some cancers.
20. Remember that comfort food is not very good at comforting. Instead treat yourself to a candle lit bath, a massage or a new pair of shoes.
21. Reconsider foods that you don’t think you like and give them a second chance. For example, I thought for years that I didn’t like fish, but I’ve found out recently I love it!
22. Exercise regularly and make it enjoyable by doing something you love. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it gets your heart going.
23. Throw away your scales. Getting fixated on numbers is pointless.
24. Drink a large glass of water before every meal.
25. Swap white rice for brown rice, white pasta for wholewheat and white bread for granary. All these alternatives will keep you feeling more full for longer.
Finally, I strongly advise having a go at fasting. Fasting doesn’t mean starving yourself for days on end. There are many types, including 16-hour fast with an 8-hour feeding window, or a 20-hour fast with a 4-hour feeding window. The outstanding benefits of fasting are slowly being realised through ongoing research. If you are interested, please read my post Why You Should Try Fasting ❤️