To be successful at weight loss then you need a few relapses. This may sound odd but we know from research that any behaviour change attempt will include relapse. What is more the relapse is an integral part of how we change. If you look at the research around smoking cessation you will find that the average person has at least five or six attempts before they successfully stop smoking. So there really is no reason that weight loss should be any different, after all it’s a behaviour change.
Now on face value this might depress you because now you are thinking ‘the next time I try to lose weight I have to fail a number of times’. If you are reading this I guess it’s because you are either interested in losing weight or you work with clients who want to lose weight. If it is the former then there is a good chance you have tried a number of diets in the past. If this is the case that is good news because you must have a number of relapses under your belt already (excuse the pun). You need to sit down and put yourself back into the situation where you failed before. This is important because you need to analyse the relapse (or failure) and find out why it all went wrong; if you are able to do this then the relapse serves as a valuable experience. For most people I can tell you straight away that the relapse more than likely occurred because your lifestyle got in the way. This is important because most dietary regimes or FAD diets take no account of your everyday life. So before you start a new regime – DON’T. Your next attempt has to be a conscious effort to make lifestyle changes both in terms of diet and activity levels. Start with some small changes that are almost imperceptible. If you are able to sustain these for a few weeks then add in a couple more. You are not going to get instant weight loss but it will be a lot more sustainable.
Relapse in weight loss is a learning curve
Now even if you are willing to adopt this lifestyle based approach you will still relapse. As I said at the start we all relapse from time to time. If you can accept this as inevitable then you are ahead of the curve. Rather than view this as a catastrophe and thinking it’s all over, I might as well give up, take the opposite stance. Accept that this was bound to happen and most importantly sit down and go through exactly why it happened. If you can learn from this not only can you avoid it happening again but it will help you strengthen your resolve to succeed. So embrace the odd relapse, learn from the experience, and move forward to a more healthy and active lifestyle. FAD diets should be a thing of the past and success is the way forward.
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Blaming the fact that you are overweight and find weight loss difficult cannot be blamed on your genes. The one thing we do know about genetic inheritance is that there are certain genes that may predispose you to putting on weight more easily. You will note (I Hope) that these specific genes only pre-dispose you to weight gain; that is very different to saying they will get you fat. So although your genetics might mean that you put on weight easily it is by no means inevitable.
Because you have a genetic predisposition to gaining weight this more than likely means that you will have to be careful and plan properly when it comes to losing weight. But again, that is not to say that weight loss isn't possible. By designing your diet correctly and becoming more active you will be able to lose weight. This is demonstrated time and again when people who claim they can’t lose weight are put into a controlled study. In these studies food intake is accurately measured and activity is designed into daily life and the subjects always lose weight. It is actually a similar story when people are claiming that they are putting on weight but are hardly eating anything. Under close scrutiny these people are nearly always found to be over-consuming kcal for their energy requirements. So the science demonstrates that you may have a greater chance of gaining weight than others but this is not inevitable.
If it is not the fault of your genes then whose fault is it? Well one answer that is often found to be accurate is that it is a combination of your parents and YOU. You inherit quite a number of eating and lifestyle habits from your parents. These can range from the foods you like or dislike your typical portion size, how often and when you eat and the speed at which you eat. Also your association with food in terms of do you use it for comfort/solace, celebrating or when you are depressed. All of these will likely be contributory factors in your weight gain. So what is the answer?
You need to take a long look at your lifestyle and assess which factors are contributing to the problem. This is often better undertaken with the help of a weight loss professional. They will be able to take an unbiased look at all the relevant factors and help you to make the necessary changes. The skill is in selecting the correct factors and making small changes. It is very tempting to change everything in one go but this generally leads to failure. So if you want to successfully lose weight and perhaps more importantly keep the weight off then it is time to take inventory of your current lifestyle. Now is as good as any time to start the process. This will be a long term transition and it is important that you accept this. Anything offering a quick fix will be a gimmick and in the long-term will fail.
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Weight management isn’t rocket science, but it is science; at least it should be the appliance of science (excuse the punt/advert). We understand a great deal about the way the body stores fat, although far from everything. We have a pretty good idea about how we metabolise (use) fat in the body and how these pathways are controlled. So why with all this understanding and massive research data base do we have an obesity epidemic that is spiralling out of control?
Well the simple fact of the matter is that the one thing we don’t fully understand is what drives some types of human behaviour. My mantra to all my clients is “it’s your lifestyle that got you fat and only changing your lifestyle will get you thin again”. I psychometrically test all prospective clients to see if they are ready to change. This baffles some people because they naturally assume that if someone has come to me (or perhaps a personal trainer) and they have stated “I want to lose weight” then they must be ready to change. My research clearly showed that people will try to join weight management programmes even if they are not psychologically ready to change. Why this happens is too complex to go into here but it does mean that you have to have taken a long hard look at your lifestyle before you start to attempt to lose weight.
There are plenty of quacks involved in weight loss. Just go on the web and search weight loss you will get millions of hits. There is every conceivable variation on a theme when it comes to which nutrients should be included in a weight loss regime. These modern day medicine men will push various supplements or nutrient combination claiming that research shows this or that. Most of these people don’t have the first understanding about basic nutrition let alone the complex physiology involved in appetite control, digestion and metabolic processes. It’s not just nutrition either the same is true of the fitness industry. Every month there is a new exercise regime or piece of equipment claiming to be the most effective fat burner discovered in recent times. Again a lot of the proponents of these regimes have a limited understanding of physiology, perhaps a six week course if you’re lucky. So we are back to “why with all these schemes do we still have a problem with obesity”?
Science and weight management
Science is now coming round to a new way of thinking and perhaps even a turning point in terms of research. We know sufficient about weight management in general that we could be successful with a large majority of the population. So it is perhaps time to start investing in research into lifestyle change. Examine all your previous attempts at weight loss and most importantly take a long hard look at why each attempt failed. Write everything down; remember if it’s not written down it didn’t happen. Because there is a fairly good chance that each failure was due to the fact that your lifestyle intervened and scuppered the programme. If you can identify which lifestyle factors were responsible you may be further down the road to being able to make a lifestyle change than you realised. It’s not easy and you are trying to unravel years, perhaps decades, of conditioning, but it is possible. Good support is crucial to long-term success and using sound scientific evidence is equally as important. The next time you see a quick fix being offered I will guarantee that it is the modern medicine man/woman that is selling it. You may as well burn your money and use it for warmth to offset your heating bills for all the good these schemes are. Let’s face it if one worked we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic and there is no denying the fact that we have, and it is getting worse.
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If you are exercising regularly to achieve a weight loss goal this is admirable but is it a strong enough reason? You need to make sure that the long-term goal has a strong enough pull. What I mean is that it has to fill you with a real good feeling every time you think about it. In order for this to happen you have to get a real sense of how you will feel when you achieve this goal. For this reason weight loss alone is sometimes not a strong enough pull. You may be able to picture yourself at your goal weight and if you have pictures of yourself at this weight that will help.
In order for the pull to be strong the goal must be really achievable so don’t set some unrealistic goal weight. It is always better to set a difficult and achievable goal than having a goal that is unrealistic and gives you doubts as to whether it is really possible. It is also a good idea to use targets other than weight. A fitness goal is always a good idea because this is easy to measure. So perhaps set yourself a challenge of completing something like a 10k run or half-marathon. These are good targets as they will happen on a specific date so that can go on the calendar. You can now work backwards from this point in terms of calculating small mileage targets for each month. It may be worth getting a qualified personal trainer (PT) to help you with this. Ideally you want a trainer who specialises in running or who has at least trained others for a similar type of goal. Ask for testimonials to prove that the PT is able to assist you.
Visualisation is important for weight loss
Once you have decided on your target goal think of a really happy moment or event in your life. Sit somewhere quiet and get a real sense of how you felt at the time. Once you have got that feeling imagine the same feeling when you complete your target fitness event. At the same time as feeling this get a real visual image of yourself crossing the finish line. You need to complete this exercise regularly as this will increase its pull. This is an important exercise from another perspective. Once you have this strong happy sense of completion whenever you feel like giving up or having an off day, just think to yourself ‘how does this help me achieve my goal’. If you have got the event clear enough in your mind and it is associated with real positive feelings this may be enough to push you through the odd difficult period.
You may also want to think about using the event to raise money for a good cause. By getting sponsorship and telling people you are going to do this you will also find it harder to turn your back on this goal. In the previous blog I talked about writing things down and these goals should be written down and shared with someone to make them real. Practice the visualisation daily to keep your sense of achievement strong.
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If it’s not written down it never happened; having served as a sergeant in the Armed Forces this is something you learn very early on. Officers have a very good habit of telling you to do something and then when it all goes pear shaped they claim that this was not what they asked for in the first place. However in this same scenario if you ask for a memo to confirm what is required it is surprising how quickly they will back-pedal on an initial idea or order.
The same applies for your weight loss programme. If you just say to yourself “I’m going to eat healthily from tomorrow onwards when you have the odd relapse (and you will) then it is very easy to justify the slip. You can convince yourself that you were going to have the odd cheat day or a couple of off days a week was a part of the plan. Whatever the excuse there really is no way to confirm or deny the details. However if you had written this down as a detailed SMART goal you would have to face up to reality. This would be even better if you had then shared this with a friend who had signed it off. Hence “if it’s not written down it never happened”.
Weight Loss and Self-monitoring
There is good research evidence to suggest that successful weight loss programmes include some degree of self-monitoring; so this forms the next step in the “not written down” mantra. By recording what you eat and drink and keeping an activity diary you have a written record. These can then be analysed even if it’s just a very basic analysis using an app like ‘My Fitness Pal’. This is now a permanent record and so you can’t kid yourself that:
- Your diet has been really good over the past week
- You have engaged in regular activity through the week.
Now if you have completed both you have a written record and you can be proud of your efforts. However if you have had the odd slip during the week, providing you have been accurate and honest with your recording this is also a matter of record. Because you have this record you can now do some self-analysis and work out either what stopped you eating healthily or why you didn’t get active on some days. Relapse is a natural part of any lifestyle change and the key to continuing the changes in a positive manner is to learn from your relapses. If it’s written down this is so much easier. As I mentioned earlier if you are also sharing your records with a friend or colleague this will also help with your relapse analysis. The friend or colleague can ask you the awkward questions that perhaps you may avoid if doing your own analysis. So remember - if it’s not written down it didn’t happen, if you want your weight loss to happen get it written down.
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Eating to the beat is a curious title but research has shown that the tempo of music will have an impact on your speed of eating. Have you ever noticed the speed at which some people eat? Well this need to eat quickly can have an indirect effect on weight gain.
When we first smell food this kicks off our appetite signals. These hormones are the ones that control how hungry you are and how full you feel. They form part of the appetite pathway and this complex neurological and physiological pathway has many inputs. The next cue may well be the sight of food and this will strengthen your desire to eat; more so if the food looks really appetising. You can mimic this effect to some degree by getting a strong picture in your head of your favourite food. Now strengthen that picture by imaging how it smells and then ultimately what the taste is like. If you have a good imagination there is a good chance that you are now salivating (producing saliva in your mouth). This is happening because with this strong mental picture the body is almost expecting the next stage which would normally be the food going into your mouth.
Appetite and weight loss
This is why controlling appetite is so difficult. You can easily start to think about your favourite foods and so you now start to feel really hungry. These hunger cues are strong and are not easily switched off. When you are sitting down to a meal if you have music playing in the background research has found that you will synchronise your consumption to the beat of the music. The problem with this is that it takes the body a little while to switch off your hunger cues (sometimes as long as twenty minutes). This means that if the music is of a quick tempo there is a real chance you will consume more food than you actually require. The quicker the tempo the bigger the amount of food is likely to be. This is sometimes referred to as appetite overshoot. If this is a regular daily occurrence then these extra calories will slowly be increasing your fat levels. So make sure if you have got music playing it is a slow tempo relaxing piece. The same applies with other distractions, which is why watching television and eating is not a good idea. You get distracted by the audio and visual cues from the TV programme and these get in the way of your satiety cues. It is your satiety cues that switch off your hunger drive and so theoretically control your weight.
So if you want to enhance your weight loss efforts you need to switch off the television. Sit down at the table for your meals and make sure you have some relaxing, slow tempo music playing in the background. Listen to your body, especially your hunger and satiety cues. After all evolution has designed these to keep you in energy balance, ignore them at your peril.
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People often say “oh I really should lose weight” but do they really mean it? You can consider this from one of two perspectives. First do they really want to lose weight? After all if this is the way they are phrasing the question then there is a clear hint that they perhaps aren’t quite ready. For this reason clients accepted on to the LEAN System are psychometrically tested to ensure they are psychologically ready to lose weight. It is the second aspect of this question that I am interested in here though.
Should we even be concerned with weight when actually the real issue is body fat? Ask yourself “how do I know when I am putting on weight”? My guess is most of you answered my clothes feel a bit tight. So your initial indicator had nothing to do with scales but was in fact an expanding waist line. If the indicator is your waist line then why not monitor this? The problem with weight is that it fluctuates greatly based on numerous factors. A Females weight, in particular, will vary greatly dependant on where she is in her menstrual cycle. If you now add nutrition, hydration and training into the equation weight becomes a wholly unreliable indicator. Some people will weigh themselves daily and even this has issues as your weight can vary through the day by two or three pounds. So if weight is your indictor for dietary adjustment and success you might as well get a dice and put some random weight gains and losses on this and see how it falls each week. My point is that scales are not a reliable indicator as to what is happening with your fat. You are not “overweight” but you maybe “overfat”. Now if we change to this terminology straight away we are concerned with measuring fat. The scales available for measuring fat percentage are not accurate and within the context of this article it is not possible to discuss all the issues with them. Suffice to say that there are too many uncontrolled variables that will alter the readings these scales give you; so this leaves you with what? The answer is simple – use your initial indicator.
Weight loss - what to measure?
The initial indicator was that your waist was expanding so measure this. True waist should be measured half-way between the lowest rib and the top of your hip bone (iliac crest). Not through your belly button (umbilicus) as some people do. For men you want a waist measurement of less than 37 inches (about 94cm) and women less than 31.5 inches (about 80cm). Above these measurements your health risks start to increase. Generally I prefer to measure waist circumference in centimetres; this is because you are more likely to pick up changes measuring in centimetres than you will if you are measuring in inches. Also 2.5cms sounds so much more than 1 inch so psychologically it is more motivational. Only measure your waist every four weeks or so, if you measure more frequently you are less likely to see changes and this will demotivate you also.
So the next time your clothes feel a bit tight just remember that you are overfat and not overweight. If you are overfat then make sure this is what you are measuring. The best way to do this is measure your waist in centimetres and make sure you measure it in the correct place.
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How many adverts have you seen lately for diet shakes promising fast weight loss? Normally along the lines of you have two shakes during the day and a healthy meal in the evening. The very fact that there is more than one of these types of product is testimony to their effectiveness. Let’s face it if one worked everyone would be using them and obesity would be a long and distant memory. Unfortunately that isn’t the case and these products are not the answer.
The first point to make about a lot of these products is that they are being promoted (in some cases) by people with some dubious ethical standards. Any personal trainer selling these types of products is taking advantage of their position of trust as regards passing on a healthy lifestyle message. Most of these juices/meal-replacements are part of a multi-level-marketing scheme. They have to use this title now as pyramid selling is illegal. Often friends and contacts are roped in to sell the products because this way the person introducing them gets a percentage of everything that they subsequently sell. So the first thing to be aware of is that you cannot trust anything you are told about the products as the person selling them may not be that trustworthy. Also there is a good chance their knowledge of nutrition will be quite limited. Often they regurgitate the companies marketing material without fully understanding what they are pushing.
Nutrition for weight loss
Next you are told that these products will help you lose weight and are a perfectly good way to get all the nutrients you require. Let us look at the second part of that statement first. This is patently not true, the best way to get all the nutrients you require in your diet is from natural food sources such as fruits, vegetables, meats and dairy products. I’m not claiming this is easy in a modern world but it is undoubtedly the best way to get all your nutrients so that claim is false. What is more some of these shakes contain large amounts of sugars in various guises, soy products and other ingredients that are far from an ideal choice when it comes to health. Will these shakes help you lose weight – yes? Any product that creates an energy deficit will cause weight loss. By having a couple of shakes a day and then one small, healthy meal you are most likely creating a kcal deficit. In the long-term a daily kcal deficit will produce weight loss. So now you are thinking “well that’s what I want so that’s OK”, but is it? Perhaps I should have titled this article long-term sustainable weight loss. Because how realistic is it to now eat this way for the rest of your life? Like most diets that people try they work in the short-term but once you stop the regime the weight piles back on, normally plus a bit more. This is because none of these diets, and especially these meal replacement diets, are addressing the underlying issue. That is that it is your lifestyle that got you overweight and if you want permanent weight loss then this is what you have to change. These shakes and potions are not a lifestyle change despite what the junk pushers may tell you. So if you want a permanent weight loss solution start doing an audit of your current lifestyle because this is the culprit and this is what needs sorting out.
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Weight loss shouldn’t lead to bone loss and yet for a lot of females there bone health is most probably not optimal. We are seeing the age at which osteoporosis is diagnosed coming down. There are a lot of factors that are contributing to this but undoubtedly one of those factors is poor diet and the rise of faddy weight loss regimes.
You lay down your bone density from birth through to your early twenties. Once you reach this point whatever you have got you had better look after because that is it. The problem with this is that a lot of females are not achieving peak bone density by this age and so they are more susceptible to osteoporosis. One important factor that contributes to this is that young girls are not engaging in sport and exercise as much; what is more they are not participating in load bearing activities. It is these types of activity (skipping, running, weight training) that load up the bones. By applying load to the bones they grow stronger (denser), this is effectively money in the bank for the future.
FAD diets and weight loss
The next factor is the advent of FAD diets. Some of these FAD diets advocate avoiding fat and so good sources of calcium (dairy products) get excluded from the diet. High protein diets attempt to get the body into ketosis. The high acidity associated with ketosis is in part balanced by leaching calcium from the bones; long-term this will impact on total bone density. Finally there is a trend for girls to binge drink. This has an impact on the health of the GI and can interfere further with the uptake of calcium. So basically with all these factors in place you have the perfect recipe for osteoporosis. Unfortunately with this condition you get no prior warning that you are at risk. There are no obvious symptoms and possibly the first time it rears its head is when you break a bone. If you have a switched on physician they may be concerned about bone health. In this case they will send you for an MRI scan. MRI is the best way to assess bone health but it is not something people get regularly.
So the bottom line is you need to look at your lifestyle and assess two major factors. Do you do sufficient load bearing exercise? This will protect the bone density you currently have. Does your diet have plenty of calcium in it, how much alcohol are you drinking? Get the exercise and diet correct and your bones should stay healthy for longer. If you have daughters then make sure they are engaging in exercises that are load bearing and their diets include good sources of calcium.
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The food industry loves the fact that everyone thinks too much fat in the diet is what causes weight gain. This belief then allows them to sell the consumer a whole bunch of products labelled as ‘Low fat’. In fact you can almost trace the start of the obesity epidemic back to the first low fat products appearing on the shelf. The other thing that the food industry actively promotes (excuse the pun) is that it is lack of activity that is causing the obesity explosion. This again suits their agenda; if it is lack of activity then it can’t be the food industries fault. So clearly you have to be careful where you are getting information from.
Weight loss and lipids
I have deliberately put lipids in the subtitle here because believe it or not this is what we are discussing. Fats are one form of lipid and these are solid at room temperature. The other form is oil and these are liquid at room temperature. Generally with lipids in the human diet we are discussing triglycerides. These consist of a glycerol backbone with three fatty acids attached. It is the fatty acids that are of interest here as these can be saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. It is not within the scope of this article to explain what the difference is, but I am sure you have come across these. As a general rule of thumb monounsaturated fatty acids are the most beneficial. What I don’t want to do at this point is vilify saturated fats because there is growing evidence that these may not be quite as bad as we have always thought. That said a diet high in monounsatured fats is definitely the ideal scenario. So staying with a positive message the Mediterranean diet is most probably the healthiest type of diet in terms of longevity and avoidance of disease.
This really brings me to the main point of this article. The Mediterranean diet is very high in lipids compared to what you often see recommended. The diet can be as much as forty per cent lipid. The key thing about this is that it is predominately in the form of monounsaturated fatty acids. These fatty acids have many health benefits and are both anti-inflammatory as well as beneficial in reducing your risk of stroke and coronary heart disease. This is why we have all the advice about eating at least two portions of oily fish per week. These types of fish are high in monounsaturated fatty acids.
If you are following a more Mediterranean style diet then as long as you are creating a kcal deficit each day you will slowly reduce your overall body fat; and when we say we want weight loss, we really mean fat loss. The other bonus of this higher lipid intake is that your body becomes more efficient at burning body fat as a fuel. So you have the double bonus of getting plenty of health giving fatty acids in your diet coupled to a greater ability to burn fat.
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