Updated: Jan 23
Looking to shift some weight? Our advice is to ditch the scales (along with the crash diet, if you were planning one) and to think about where you want to be this time next year, not this time next month...
None of us can avoid the hard truth; to achieve long term results, the changes you make to your diet and lifestyle have to be permanent. Taking extreme measures can produce much quicker results, but the most likely outcome for most of us is that we fall off the wagon and yoyo back to wherever we started (or worse). Whatever got you to the place you are now, will take you there again if the changes you make aren't sustainable over the longer term.
The science suggests it takes 21 days to form new habits. But for those of us that have an emotional connection to food, it can take longer and relying on willpower alone isn't enough; willpower isn't an infinite resource available to us. If it was, we'd all be perfectly fit and healthy.
So how can you approach it differently this time?
The first thing we recommend is to set your goal; look forward 12 months and picture yourself. Not just how you look, but how you feel. Write it all down somewhere and remind yourself of it regularly (visualisation is a powerful mindset tool). What do you need to achieve to make this a reality? Maybe it's to get to particular clothes size, a fitness target or something less tangible like increasing your energy levels, improving your mood or getting better sleep. Maybe it's as simple as wanting feel better (in yourself and about yourself). Maybe it's all of them.
If you need short term milestones to hit to keep you motivated, then set them along the way. We'd suggest quarterly but if you need shorter bursts to get you going then set them monthly to start with. Perhaps give yourself a feel good score out of 10 each month and write down something about how you're feeling.
Focus on your mindset; every healthy choice you make is a win. Never start again on a Monday. One bad food choice doesn't write off a day, let alone a week.
Now it's time to think about the simple changes you can make for slower, but more sustainable change. Start small and build up; what are the quick wins and what needs to build up over time?
Maybe your Friday night blow out needs to stay, but Monday to Thursday you can stop eating by 7pm. Perhaps you can commit commit to healthier snacks - replacing chocolate with fruit, seed and nut alternatives? Perhaps you can stop putting sugar in your tea and make sure you hit your 2 litres of water a day. Any small steps you can take along the right path are worth taking. Remember it's small steps that lead to big changes.
Here's some hints and tips, to help you formulate a longer term plan:
Plan your food and exercise classes in advance (we'd suggest a week but do what works for you). Only buy the food you need, be realistic and don't ever starve yourself; you shouldn't be hungry. Shopping on an empty stomach, especially without a list, is one to avoid.
Figure out when you're most vulnerable to over-eating or eating badly and think about strategies to help you through. For example, if your weakness is chocolate at 3pm, make sure you've always got a healthier alternative handy (we love nut, seeds and fruit).
Get hydrated. We can't emphasise the importance of this one enough. Your body can't function properly without water and hunger and thirst signals are easily confused. The general rule of thumb is 2 litres of water a day (don't include tea and coffee in your count, unless it's herbal). If you don't like plain water, then flavour it. Sliced lemons, limes, oranges, strawberries, apples, fresh mind, muddled raspberries... the list is endless so get creative. You could also try fizzy water to mix it up.
Cook extra when you make your dinner and take it to work the next day, particularly if you work in a location where a healthy lunch is hard to buy. Take fruit, nuts and seeds to work to snack on.
Don't skip breakfast, but if you can leave a gap of 12 hours between your last meal of the day and your first, it's a great for your gut health. That means no sugary drinks, milk or alcohol between those times too.
Aim to have some protein with every meal (including snacks), it helps keep you full and balance blood sugar levels (which is key to managing junk food cravings). If you like smoothies, that's great, just add in a decent protein powder.
Avoid artificial sweeteners and don't be afraid of healthy fats. All too often the low sugar/low calorie options have less nutritional value that the full fat version so read the ingredients. If you can't understand them, think about whether you should eat it. We'd take smashed avocado on sourdough bread over 'sugar free' yoghurt any day despite the calorie difference.
Focus on eating a rainbow; the more colour in your diet, the better its balance. Our nutritionist will tell you to aim for 40 different types a week (including herbs and spices). It's a tall order with a busy life but gives you something to aim for.
Only eat until you're 80% full and do your best to ALWAYS apply that rule; whether it's a Friday pizza treat or a saintly salad, it's one of the keys to maintaining a healthy weight and gut.
Avoid sugar and processed foods. This is a huge ask for many of us, so think about how to make this work practically. Sugar is highly addictive and cutting it out even for a week is beneficial to get cravings under control if it's your vice; it's hard to believe, but your body will eventually stop wanting it. You could just jump in and try to cut these foods out completely for a month as a detox (think of it like you would a Dry January) to help your body reset. And then reintroduce with some ground rules about how often/when you can eat them. If that still seems like a mountain to climb just start off slowly and have one sugar/processed free food day a week and build from there. You want to get to the point where your default setting is that you're eating food that has some nutritional value.
If you like a sweet treat, then consider getting your hit from natural sugars such as raw honey or pure maple syrup (be careful to avoid the processed ones if you're going down this route). Raw cacao powder and dark chocolate (really dark, at least 70% cocoa if not more) are also your friend.
Consider the 80/20 rule as a long term goal. Eat healthily for 80% of the time and whatever you want, guilt free for 20% (without ever forgetting rule 9!). You'll find even in your 20% time, you naturally make better choices because you feel great and enjoy the foods that help you keep feeling that way.
Take some time to think about your life and what sustainable changes you can make. It's not a diet, it's a way of life and it needs to work with yours. If you want professional help, then why not consider investing in some private sessions with our nutritionist Tanya Clarke? You can visit her page and check out her services here.