The diet industry and government guidelines have led us to believe that in order to lose weight you just need to eat less and exercise more. The NHS guideline is to cut 600kcal in order to lose weight with a combination of strict calorie control and exercise to burn off excess calories. It’s a simple equation of calories in vs calories out. It’s so straightforward, so obvious, isn’t it?
Unfortunately, it’s far from being that simple. Whilst it’s technically correct, using this method of losing or keeping off excess weight is generally unhelpful.
For a start, counting calories is not much fun and just adds to the stress of everyday life, as well as creating an unhealthy relationship with food over time. Also, the ‘calories in’ part is extremely hard to control. It’s difficult to know how many calories any given meal actually contains, as calorie information and counts on labels are often inaccurate because they are based on a system of averages that ignores the complexity of digestion. How many calories we extract from food depends on how we prepare our food, which bacteria are in our gut and how much energy we use to digest different foods.
It also doesn’t account for the fact that the type and combination of foods you eat can have a significant impact on how much you eat and how quickly you want to eat again. The fact that a handful of wine gums only has 140 kcal doesn’t deflect from the sad truth that it’s almost impossible to only have a handful and that the subsequent blood sugar crash will make you want to eat more sugary or starchy foods soon after.
In contrast to that, if you eat an apple, it not only has fewer calories, but it’s packed with nutrients your body will recognise and use to fuel and nourish your cells. It has lots of fibre to slow down the absorption of the natural sugars, preventing cravings. It’s also very unlikely that you will reach for another apple straight after eating one.
In addition to that, restricting calories (the amount of food you eat), whilst not changing your diet (increasing the nutritional value of the food you consume) not only leads to cravings, but also has a detrimental impact on your metabolism. More than 80% of people with obesity who lose weight gain it back. That’s because when you lose weight this way, your resting metabolism (how much energy your body uses when at rest) slows down due to an evolutionary mechanism from the days when food scarcity was common.
Also, eating a lot of highly processed foods, as opposed to minimally processed and whole foods, causes inflammation, wonky hunger signals (inability to recognise when you are full) and more fat storage. Basically, you start burning fewer calories, store more of the calories you consume as fat and eat more because you don’t feel full when your body is actually full. Or in other words, at the same amount of calories, apple slices with almond butter will have a very different impact on your health and waist than the wine gums.
So if you now think ‘calories in’ is difficult to control, you might be surprised to learn that ‘calories out’ is even harder to manage. In fact, it’s pretty much impossible. This is because it doesn’t matter how much you exercise, ultimately, it’s your body that decides how much energy you are going to burn. It’s completely dependent on the ‘weight point’ your body is currently set. Chronic stress and restrictive dieting can raise the ‘weight point’, whilst when we eat healthily most of the time and lead a generally healthy lifestyle, our body develops an accurate idea of how much fat it should be carrying and so it effortlessly remains at the right weight.
This is why ‘you can’t outrun a bad diet’. In fact, too much exercise can even lead to inflammation and slow down your metabolism, especially when you go from not exercising at all to suddenly adopting a rigorous exercise regime in an attempt to lose weight. Your brain interprets this type of stress as an attack and sends out signals to the body to hold on to as much fat as possible as a survival mechanism.
As you can see it’s biology, not a lack of willpower, that makes it so hard to lose weight. Following a strict diet means the body itself will sabotage any effort to keep weight off in the long term.
Instead of strict diet rules, I propose 5 guiding principles that not only lead to sustainable and effortless weight loss but also lead to more energy, mental clarity and longevity.
1. Forget the word diet
Focus on creating a healthy relationship with food and building habits such as meal planning, meal prepping, not bringing unhealthy foods into the house, eating balanced meals and reserving treats to be enjoyed occasionally rather than every day will make a huge difference.
2. Forget the word exercise
Focus on movement that you enjoy and makes you feel good about yourself. Self-esteem is one of the most important yet undervalued factors in achieving sustainable weight loss. Creating habits that make movement part of everyday life is key. For example, walking several times each day sends your body a daily signal that you are a thriving human being engaging in active life, so there is no need to hold on to any excess fat.
3. Change your self-talk
Another crucial factor determining our self-esteem and weight loss success is how we talk to ourselves. It can literally make all the difference. The key is to catch yourself when you’re being self-critical. For example, notice when you say things to yourself that you wouldn’t say to a good friend or a child and then reframe the critical thought into something more neutral and empowering. For example, ‘I can’t eat this type of food’ becomes ‘I don’t or I choose not to eat this type of food’. ‘I hate exercise’ becomes ‘I don’t like the idea of exercise, but I do enjoy [insert what type of movement you enjoy – walking, gardening, dancing, etc.]. How can I do more of that?’ or ‘I don’t like the idea of moving my body right now, but I know I will feel much better afterwards’.
4. Prioritise sleep
A healthy diet, regular movement and positive self-talk go a long way in reducing your stress levels and enabling you to lose excess weight, but arguably even more important is the quality of your sleep, because without restorative sleep you’ll find it harder to resist tempting foods and when you eat it will take you longer to feel full. You will feel sluggish and not want to move your body and you will be more emotionally reactive making positive thinking nigh on impossible.
5. Build resilience to stress
Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving. We get stronger and more resilient. A healthy diet and lifestyle help enormously, but your mindset is equally important. Resilient people tend to view life’s difficulties as challenges and respond accordingly with action, rather than with fear, self-pity, blame or a “victim mentality.” Positive self-talk, avoiding ‘all or nothing thinking’, reminding yourself of previous challenges you have overcome and thinking of solutions rather than focusing on the problem is key.
As you can see, reaching a healthy size and staying there is not a matter of starving yourself and hitting the gym hard. The fact is, rapid weight loss isn’t really weight loss at all. It’s an illusion. It doesn’t last and, worse it raises your weight point, meaning you’ll probably end up with a bigger problem than you started with.
My advice is to throw away the scales, work on your mindset and start focusing on creating daily healthy habits that will add up to huge changes over time.
Want some support with losing weight for good by creating a truly sustainable healthy lifestyle this year? Then go ahead and book a FREE personalised weight-loss strategy call with me now! Let’s do this together!