Miracles don’t happen

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I spotted an article on social media a couple of days ago.

It told me how I could lose 10lb in a week, and reduce my body fat by 10% at the same time.  It was entirely exercised based advice.  Apparently enough sit ups, push ups, squats and lunges, all from the comfort of my own living room, will have me dropping numbers all over the place in double quick time.

Yeah, right.

The only way you could really lose that much weight in such a short space of time is to go on a very, very low calorie diet (say around 500 calories a day) – and that assumes you were already eating a heck of a lot of calories on a daily basis.

Weight dropped fast also often tends to be made up of water and glycogen. The numbers on the scales might show lighter, but you haven’t made any real difference to your body.

Even assuming it is technically possible, any method for dropping this much weight or body fat this fast is not a sustainable long term way of eating or living.

It is a tempting idea though, and that’s why there is a market for this sort of material.  These articles are ill-informed and irresponsible.  The consequence?  Just more unnecessary pressure, more unrealistic expectations.  More stuff for us to feel bad about.

There are no quick fixes.  Just hard work and consistency.

Sorry about that.

Fat Shaming

It’s no secret that I love a trashy magazine. But the level of fat shaming in some of them is off the scale.

There is one in particular, which I’m choosing not to name here (I’m not giving them the publicity).  The last few weeks their front page has included a photograph of some poor (female, obviously) celebrity, highlighting their recent weight gain.  I mean how dare they?  Eat food and over indulge a little and find this stuff hard just like the rest of us?  Inside the pages of course, even more references to famous faces who are ‘piling on the pounds’.

Consider how that person feels. Struggling with your weight is bloody hard.  Sometimes, it is soul destroying.  The constant guilt, the on-going battle between what you want and know you can’t have.  Watching everything you eat and trying not to give into temptation.  There are often complex reasons why people over eat.  For many of us, it is a cycle of up and down, good times and bad.  Consider again, this private battle being played out for cheap entertainment for the masses.  Seeing yourself on the front page of a magazine, your body being held up to ridicule just to sell a few more copies.

What does it say about us that we like to read this stuff? That we think it is okay?  Or that we don’t even notice it for what it is?  Fat shaming.

This stuff is so regular, so ubiquitous, that it barely registered.

Of course, also within the pages of these magazines, are the diet plans. Get beach body ready.  Lose seven pounds in seven days.  I did it all with [insert the name of well-known slimming brand that wants to take your money here].

When you are overweight, lots of people have an opinion. When you lose weight, ditto.  When I was going through my major weight loss phase, I lost count of the number of people that commented, that felt it was okay to tell me how I ought to look and ought to live.

Life is hard.  Weight management is hard. Having a positive body image with images all around telling us that fat is bad, gaining weight is bad, thin is everything.

We don’t need to shame people along the way, make it worse for them and for us.

Enough of the fat shaming.  Please.

Acceptance of small things

I am a big fan of a weight loss TV programmes. One of my all time favourites is My 600lb Life.  If you haven’t seen it, the series follows individuals who weigh over 600lbs – 42 stone for us Brits – who are trying to lose their excess weight through bariatric surgery.  The programme focuses on extreme individuals.  People who cannot work, cannot walk, cannot even take a shower without help. They have often reached the very end of the road and their life is at stake.

It is easy to sit on the sofa and judge. It is easy to believe that nothing like that would ever happen to you – to marvel at how anyone would ever allow themselves to get to that place.

I don’t judge. Because I know how they got there; they got there through the acceptance of small things.  Minor inconveniences.  Barely noticeable changes.  But small things that added up to a terrible, cumulative  total.

When I became obese I did so by tolerating small things. You stop wearing high heels because your ankles are sore (because of your weight of course).  You stop wearing certain types of clothes (because they are for much thinner people).  You never take the stairs, always the lift (because you get a bit too out of breath for comfort).  You stop looking in mirrors.  You give up certain hobbies and pastimes.  And so on.

For some of us, there is the light-bulb moment that makes us stop. Stop eating, stop damaging our body, stop accepting those small things.  But for some, this moment never comes.  And a few years down the line the next small thing that you are tolerating might be an inability to stand, walk, move without help.

Weight gain is a boiling frog.

Lately, as my weight has edged over what I think is acceptable for me, I noticed that I had tolerated some small things. Nothing much.  But as I said in my last post, this is the time to make change, not in another few months or years when the small things are really Very Big Things  (or indeed I am a Very Big Thing).

It is zero tolerance time.  I’ve done it before and I can do it again.

It’s all good fun until your trousers don’t fit

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Easter chocolate. I’d say it is my downfall….. but it is just one of many.

Because despite all my protestations and promises to the contrary, I’m still carrying the Christmas cake weight too.

My name is Gemma and I have a problem with food.

The problem is, I like it. All of it.  A bloody lot.

But. My trousers don’t fit.  Again.

In the old days, I made excuses to myself (it’s the fit don’t you know, they just come up small) and got the next size up. Only experience tells me that this is the road to ruin (or at the very least, the road to a size 22).  Because the next size becomes the next size becomes the next size.

So. I need to get back on it.  Time for some cardio and time for some better food.  I will get back into those trousers.

When I have finished all the Easter eggs though.

I mean I might be a little overweight, but I’m not crazy.

The Celebrity Weight Loss DVD Phenomenon

A wellbeing expert I know has several definitions for what amounts to a fad diet. One of them is ‘a celebrity has done it’.

He’s got a point. Every year, we see the same thing happen.  Someone in the public eye will lose a lot of weight and then produce a weight loss DVD (plus additional magazine articles and the like) sharing how they did it, their secret, how you can get the same results.  Etc.  The cynic in me says the weight loss and the DVD deal are not separate events.

The magazines queue up for the relevant article. The celebrity concerned is praised for their amazing new figure and all their hard work.  Fast forward a month or two.  The poor individual has put some of the weight back on. So the narrative turns to their ‘weight hell’ and their fall from skinny grace.  It’s only the beginning of February and a particular example from this year (DVD still available) is already been picked apart in this week’s magazine rack.

I am deliberately not naming anyone. There is enough fat shaming and female shaming (because they usually are) taking place without me joining in.  I don’t blame any of the individuals involved.  If someone offered me a DVD deal along with support to lose some weight, I’d sign on the line in a heartbeat.  And you could call me what you like once I had spent all the cash (on chocolate probably).

Instead, it is the system I don’t like. Building someone up and then knocking them down.  Rinsing the general public for their cash with another story, another gimmick.  The tantalising potential of easy weight loss.  After all, an ordinary girl off the television can do it – so why can’t you?

Here’s the thing. Weight loss is hard. Maintaining it is harder still – and I should know.  I did the former and I am struggling with the latter – and I know that I always will.  There are no quick fixes.  But that’s not a popular story.  So instead, we will just keep buying the DVDs and perpetuating the cycle.

The diet class trap

I was recently chatting to someone about diets. They told me that they were a regular at a well-known slimming club.  They’ve been attending for eleven years.

Eleven years.

I’ll just leave that there for a minute.

And here is the problem with much of the diet industry.

It’s not about helping you be really successful. A bit successful perhaps.  Successful enough that you will be happy with some changes, successful enough that you attribute those changes to a brand, successful enough that you will keep buying their products and paying the weekly meeting charge.  But not so successful that you reach all your targets, change all of your unhelpful behaviours…..  and then stop going.

I know clubs and groups can work for some people. The weekly weigh-in can provide some focus, and the group support can be helpful. But never forget they are not in it for you. They are in it for your cash.  They need to lock you in to the cycle of seeing this way is the only way and purchasing their products is better than finding your own type of healthy eating.

And if you have been going for eleven years and you are still not where you want to be, just maybe it is time to try something else instead.

Why diets suck

As a word, ‘diet’ simply means what we eat. But it has come to mean something else.  It has come to mean following an eating plan with a view to losing weight.

We announce that we are ‘on a diet’ to ourselves or to others.

Well of course we are.  We are all on a diet, even if it is made up of Pot Noodles and Big Mac Meals and Prosecco.

But with the more regularly understood definition of the word in mind, I am going to say….. diets suck.

Diets suck for lots of reasons.

First up, as soon as we think we are on a diet we feel deprived and want to eat ALL OF THE THINGS.

Second. Many of them aren’t long term sustainable in terms of having an actual life.

Thirdly, however they are dressed up, they are only telling us what we already know.

Whether you follow Weight Watches, Slimming World or the Body Coach, it all amounts to the same thing, right at the very core of it. Eat less crap, move about more.

We need to reclaim the word ‘diet’. A diet is what we eat.  Some are healthy and some are less so.  My diet recently has not been good enough.  I have not been eating according to my goals.  I don’t need to follow a plan to know this.  I know that if, like last week, we ate out several times and consumed a fair amount of wine along the way, the scales will tell their own story come Monday morning.

If you want to lose weight, create a calorie deficit. That is what every diet plan is fundamentally all about.  Whether you are actually counting calories or not, it’s about energy in versus energy out.  When you check out a class or a programme or a magazine article, there is no magic formula contained within.  At the core of it will be more fruit and veg and protein and water.  Less (unhealthy) fat and sugar in whichever guise it appears.  More exercise and movement.

So my suggestion is don’t ‘go on a diet’ if you want to lose weight. Just improve the one that you already have.

Delayed gratification v immediate cake

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I am fascinated by the way our minds work. Especially when it comes to weight loss and fitness.  A few years ago, I made such a change to my approach and mindset that I lost six stone and got really quite fit, fit for someone who couldn’t walk up a few flights of stairs previously at least.

I thought I would never go back. That it was hard wired in me.  But that turned out not to be the case.

One of my lessons along the way has been this one.

Successful weight loss is about the ability to delay gratification.

If you ask many overweight people whether they want to lose weight, they will say yes. I certainly did, for all of those years that I was obese.  Why then, is it so hard?  Because really all you have to do is eat fewer calories.  An over simplification?  Maybe, but only a little.

But there is a disconnect. If you want to lose weight, they why is it so hard to do the simple thing that would enable it: resist poor food choices?

In my opinion, it’s all about timing. Weight loss takes a long time, especially when you have a lot of weight to go.  Cake is immediate.  So is chocolate.  And wine.  And crisps, and take-aways and all of the nice things.

If we stopped to think before we made the choice, we probably want the weight loss more than that individual piece of cake. But you can have the cake right now. The weight loss….. it’s abstract. It’s in the possible future.  It is too hard to equate one with the other.

You may be familiar with the leading experiment in delayed gratification at Stanford University. Researchers gave children a treat*.  They were told if they could resist eating it for a little while, they could have two treats.  Left alone, some children managed to resist and hold out for the greater long term reward.  Others just scoffed the first one.  Long term analysis of the group showed that those that were able to wait had better life outcomes in many ways….. including BMI.

No surprise to me.

I’d have been in the first group. Because one little treat can’t hurt.  Especially if it is right in front of me.

Until there are many of them, of course.

There are a few ‘secrets’ to weight loss. None of them come from a celebrity or a revolutionary new diet.  One of them is about shifting our thinking.  If we can focus ourselves sufficiently on the long term, on the bigger goal, on what we want most of all, then maybe we can resist the cake in front of us, right now.

 

*It was a marshmallow.  Now I want a marshmallow.

The Women’s Magazine Weight Loss Story Formula

I love a women’s magazine. Not the glossy ones full of adverts and expensive handbags.  Not the ones with worthy articles.  I love the real life versions.

These magazines have a formula. Problem pages and horoscopes.  Reader tips, letters and photos.  Ordinary people doing something different or over coming adversity.  And nothing says over coming adversity than a former Big Girl who has lost a whole load of weight.

The story goes a bit like this (all of them).

  • Before photos. The more unflattering, the better.
  • How they put the weight on. This is usually all about business of life, too many take-away meals and being slightly oblivious to the ever increasing waistline. There will be no attempt to really understand what makes people put on weight.
  • Their experiences of being big. People laughing and commenting, the acceptability of fat shaming.
  • The moment that made them change. Needing a seatbelt extension on a plane. Failing to fit in the seat in the rollercoaster. Breaking a chair. A terrible photo on Facebook.
  • A sidebar with before and after typical daily diets. TBH, I often prefer the first one.
  • A reference to their new love of (add to the list as you see fit: running, Zumba, weight training etc.).
  • After photos. The more glamorous the better.

I am not attempting to be critical in this post. Truly.  I wrote my own one of these stories after all.  I have also found it inspirational to read the stories of others.

But these magazines are hugely influential. Check out this piece here about how a leading women’s magazine has influenced our views on slimming for decades.  Flick through the pages in any of the magazines I’m talking about and you will most likely find a diet plan or some slimming recipes just a little further along.  Some of the approaches that the magazines tacitly promote aren’t necessarily health ways to lose weight – or sustain it long term.

We are fed a continuous diet (if you will excuse the term) of messaging about how terrible it is to be fat and how much more wonderful your life will be when you are thin.

For every person these stories inspire, there will be another who will be made miserable by it, should they find themselves unable to achieve the desirable ‘after’ photograph.

We need role models. But of health and wellness and not just thinness.  We really don’t need any more diet plans.  There is no ‘secret’ of weight loss or miracle plan, no matter what the articles try to tell you.

We also need to acknowledge that weight loss is not a panacea for a happiness. My life is better for losing all my weight in that I am healthier, more confident, and more capable of doing little things like walking up a flight of stairs.

But let’s stop pretending that it is the answer to everything. Let’s try and stop the quick fix, follow a magazine diet to lose weight instantly mentality.

Let’s stop doing this stuff to each other.

Small Steps

The one thing that l learned when I was losing weight was the importance of small steps.

Diets fail for lots of reasons. One of them being that the change is just too big.  Swapping to a whole new way of eating in one go.  New rules to learn. We go for the big bang.  Wanting immediate, big, noticeable differences.

Small, incremental change is always better.

Tackling one or two things at a time.  Cognitively more doable.

Old habits die hard. So creep up on them a bit at a time when they are not looking.

Lately, a long commute has meant my breakfast game has slipped. I’ve given in to unhealthy cereal as it is quick and easy. Busy days are leading to grabbing a sandwich on the go.  Not the worst food in the world… but not the best either.  There’s almost certainly far too much coffee too.

This week. Three things.

  • Better breakfasts. A few minutes earlier out of bed means I can make yogurt and fruit and take it to work with me.
  • Better lunch. Dialling down the carbs and upping the fresh stuff.
  • More water. Which also means saying out of Costa.

Just three things.

And next week…. A couple more.