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.

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Delayed gratification v immediate cake

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.

Thinking about exercise

The way you think about exercise is important. The framing of it in your own mind can be the key to doing it, or not doing it.

Take yesterday. I was working from home.  For me, this means I don’t have to spend two and a half hours commuting, time I usually spend on doing life stuff.  Yesterday, this meant washing, ironing, cleaning, cooking and the like.  By 8.30am yesterday I had a sparkling bathroom, washing on the line, and my OH had some crisp shirts for the rest of the week.  After then doing my contractual duties to my employer, I sorted the Tesco shop, did a nursery run, emptied the bins, cooked the tea and washed up.

So when it got to 7pm last night, frankly, the last thing that I wanted to do was exercise.

Two things made me go. First of all, I had set myself a target for the week. If I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t be letting down anyone but me.

Second, I decided it was my me time. All of the other stuff in the day was for someone else.  Bosses, trade unions reps, colleagues, family.  Exercise is when I get to be selfish.  Exercise is when I get a few moments to think about nothing but the sounds of the road, the next rotation of my bike wheel, my breath.

10K later, I was, as always, glad I had gone.

If you make exercise a chore in your mind, you will never appreciate it. You will never want to do it for its own sake. If you find your very own reason for doing it, reframe it from a must do to a want to do, it is ever easier to walk out the door

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.

Feel the rhythm

On Monday, my OH and I had planned to go running. But he was late home from work, and we were tired, and you know… excuses.  So we promised to go on Wednesday instead.  Only when Wednesday came it was raining.  Heavily.  I looked at him and he looked at me and it was a close thing, but we had promised.  And so we went.

It was cold and windy and very, very wet.

I really would rather have done anything but run outside.  Only once you actually start to run, you don’t mind all that much. As a quote somewhere on Pinterest says, the hardest thing is getting out of the door.  But once you have, and your legs find their rhythm and you tune into the sound of your feet on the floor, it’s all good.

In all the exercise that I have done, events too, one thing is true. You never regret a workout.  You never come home and wish you hadn’t bothered.  Even those workouts that don’t work out.  There are times when I run or cycle that my legs just don’t feel it.  There are times when I am tired and I don’t perhaps push as hard as I could.  There are gym trips and classes that feel great and some that feel less so.

But you never regret going.

So to every runner that has gone out in the rain or the wind or the snow. To every gym goer that gets up early to go before work when you really want to stay in bed. To the person that does when their brain is telling them to do not.

You did it. You moved your body.  You did a good thing for yourself.

Don’t stop.

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.

The wrong (size) trousers

I said I was back on it.

And I am.

Sort of.

Well, I am being better, at least.

This morning however…….

Work trousers.

You know when you do that thing of keep wearing the same thing? And then you find something in the back of the wardrobe you’d kind of forgotten about and decide to wear it.  I did that. With some work trousers.

Only to find that they didn’t fit.

Neither did the next pair.

When I lost all my weight, I felt so amazing. I couldn’t understand why people ever put weight back on again. Why people did the yo-yo thing.

Because when you had worked so hard, why would you undo it all?  Give it up?

Oh, but the bad habits are so easy to slip back in to.

I lost six stone. I celebrated the milestone last summer.  I have recently put 11lb back on.

This is where it stops. Right now. This is my promise to myself. No more.

There are only two options. Lose it again, or buy bigger clothes.

In the past, I did the latter. Only that’s the start of a slippery slope, as I know well. Because a size 16 turns into a size 18 turns into a 20 and so on.

This time, I chose the former. Again.

So a little bit better isn’t good enough.

I know what to do. I have the qualifications and experience after all.

More water. More protein.  More exercise.

Less sugar. Less sitting on the sofa.

Fewer carbs. Fewer calories.

Fewer excuses.

Trousers, I am coming to get you.

Eventing Again.

2017-05-14 06.47.21I haven’t done a fitness event of any kind since last July. Plans for several runs last year went out of the window when I relocated, and other life stuff got in the way.

Part truth… part excuse, if I’m harsh on myself.

Last year, I signed up to the Moonwalk with some good friends. If you haven’t heard of it, the Moonwalk raises money to fight breast cancer.  It’s a walk through the night, either 15 miles or a full marathon.

What I didn’t know when I signed up for it was how much of an issue I would have fitting in any training – and how much my fitness levels would have slipped back.  I also didn’t know my own mother was going to be diagnosed with the disease in a matter of weeks.  The fundraising suddenly got a little more personal.

I moved house a few days before the walk. An old knee injury was giving me some hassle, mainly as a result of carrying too many boxes up and down too many stairs.  On the night I set out to walk a marathon. My knee, coupled with a hip problem I have had since my teens, scuppered my plans.  After four and a half hours of continuous walking through the streets of London, as the sun started to come up, I realised I didn’t have another 13 or so miles in my leg.  So I reluctantly dropped onto the shorter route, completing it in six hours.

It meant that I didn’t get to walk across the finish line with my friends. It did mean a couple of other things though.

It reminded me how much I love a big event. Getting the pack with your number in through the post. Walking to the venue with all of the other competitors. The build-up on the day.  Waiting for your turn to do the thing.  Crossing a finish line.  Competing only with yourself.

It also meant that I was back in the game. Kind of.  I have much fitness to regain.  Once again, I have weight to lose. But it has begun. Again.

It reminded me too, that diet and exercise is, and always will be, a constant challenge to be faced.  And it is very, very easy to slip back into bad habits.

I was disappointed not to have done the full walk. But did not finish is better than did not start, which is better than didn’t even register because I didn’t believe that I could.  When you stand on a  start line at an event, you are doing more than most people ever do.

Onwards and upwards.

 

Back in the game (again)

Towards the end of last year, I blogged about how hard I was finding the fitness stuff.  How life stuff was getting in the way and I couldn’t find my energy.  I wondered if it has left me for good.  The desire, the ability, the need.

I made promises to myself.  I broke them all.

But.

I have been running.

Not far.  Not far at all. I didn’t measure it.  That was just too big and scary.

But.

I have had my running shoes on my feet.

I moved my body.  I felt the familiar rhythm of the run.

It was hard.

I ached, after just a short distance.  A mixture of feelings.  Elation that I did.  Sadness about how far I am from the girl that was, this time last year, training for a half marathon.

I’m not the person that I was.  But it is still there.  Somewhere.  Underneath.  I could feel it.

Ready to be reborn.

No. More. Lists.

At the weekend I clicked onto an article that appeared in my Twitter timeline.  I knew I shouldn’t have.  I knew it was clickbait of the worst kind.

But I was curious.

What were the eight habits very successful woman do on a Sunday?

It was Sunday.  I had’t had a very productive day to be honest.  There had been a lie in, quite a lot of toast, and some horizontal style lying down on the sofa in front of the tv. Perhaps I would be more successful, evening winning at life, if I adopted some of these habits as yet unknown to me.

This was one of them:

blog-one

Another suggested setting some formal goals for the week.

blog-two

All the eight tips were all a bit like this.

My mood after reading it?

FFS.

The same day, there was an article on Twitter about the new trend for smaller nipples, and how there is now cosmetic surgery available to help you attain such a thing, should it be required.

This is what I have learned in the last few years.

There is always a list.

Someone with helpful advice.

Some so-called ideal to live up to.

How thin we have to be.  How fit.  The size of our thigh gap.  How many yoga classes we can fit in every week. Whether we have been mindful or meditated. Have we food prepped for the week?

Not in my house.  Not unless you count the weekly Tesco Big Shop.

My click free advice is this.

Give yourself a break.

There is no list.

There are no eight things to make you successful. Or 5, or 10 or 20.

There are only your things.

Things that make you successful.  Or happy.

If you want to spend Sunday in the gym, then go.  Good on ya. I’d come with you but there are three back to back episodes of Columbo on 5USA.

If you want to food prep, organise your sock draw, have a digital detox or plan your schedule for the week to avoid any nasty suprises, then fill your boots.

Alternatively, if you want to spend your Sunday chilling out and pretending that the ironing pile isn’t like the north face of the Eiger then you do just that.

There is plenty to feel bad about already.  If you read any women’s magazine lately you’d be forgiven for thinking that unless you are thinner / have shinier hair / tiny nipples/ wear expensive designer yoga pants / only eat nutritionally balanced cardboard then you are a failure in life.  Ditto any internet articles that start with a number.

Whether we are talking weight loss, fitness or just how to spend your Sunday, no one can or should tell you how to do it.

Other than yourself.