Master habits for sustained weight loss
Today we welcome a new contributor: Ian Thomas BSc RD, PN1.
A Registered Dietitian and proprietor of Healix bespoke nutrition, he specialises in online weight loss coaching, instructs adults in gymnastics and offers online personal training. With a background in the NHS, Ian believes nutrition and fitness recommendations should be based on sound scientific evidence when available and uses mindfulness and behaviour science to help people achieve sustained improvements to their health.
January is peak diet season with Veganuary, detoxes and ‘12 weeks to summer bod’ plans rife; it’s hard to meet somebody who has not tried to intentionally lose weight or address their diet at this time of year. Unfortunately, we tend to go about this well intended process in the wrong way, either by jumping on the latest diet craze or by thinking that we can deprive and sweat our way to a different body shape. As many will know, this rarely, if ever works.
Sure, every diet that creates a calorie deficit will work for weight loss in the short term, but for long term success the results aren’t so good. A large percentage of those who do lose weight end up regaining (often more than) what they lost, but now they feel like a failure and ashamed of themselves.
We shouldn’t be surprised it is hard to maintain a lower weight. Our bodies are designed to conserve energy and when we lose a large amount of weight our very physiology rebels against us. Does this mean that you should sit back and do nothing? That it is not worth trying to make positive changes to your health? Not at all. A smarter approach is what’s needed.
Adopting a smarter approach
In recent years a movement which has grown in popularity is that of intuitive eating or the “non-diet diet”. Intuitive eating works on the precepts that if we can be in tune with our bodies then we will naturally eat what we need and as much as we need, without being reliant on external cues. In principle this is the perfect diet and research shows that it is the only way to eat which may have long term benefits. Not only can intuitive eating help with weight loss but compared to other diets it has very few side effects often associated with dieting, obsessing over food, compulsive eating, body shame and guilt.
However, just telling someone to be more intuitive or to listen to their body is not very helpful. Like everything else we do, intuitive eating is a skill, built from lots of smaller habits and behaviours. It takes practice and needs to be structured appropriately.
The most important skill for intuitive eating is awareness. Awareness of the world around you, how you feel and the impact food has on you. In our busy, hectic, lives, finding awareness is difficult. Mindfulness and meditation practice are good habits for building the skill of awareness but might seem a bit abstract to start with. So here are two simple habits you can start practicing immediately to help you eat intuitively. Anybody can do them, anywhere, at any time.
The first skill to master on the way to intuitive eating and body awareness is to slow down. Slow down eating and slow down your decision making around food. Why is this the first skill? It doesn’t require any changes to food choices or amounts it just requires a conscious effort, in the moment. There are a couple of ways you can try this.
- Put your cutlery down between each mouthful and don’t load your fork up until your mouth is empty.
- Count your chews! Aiming for at least 20 chews per mouthful
- Set a timer and aim to not finish eating before a certain time
These exercises are designed to bring awareness to the speed at which you are eating. This is great for creating the space and time you need to sense the physical impact of your food. You may start to notice you are getting full quicker than you thought, or that the food does not even taste that good in the first place. You can then decide whether you carry on eating or not, you are not adhering to some external rules, only your own physical sensations.
Its also a great tool to use when you find yourself unable to control what you are eating, whether you are in the middle of a binge or compulsively overeating, just slowing down can help you understand and recognise what is going on.
The second skill is to stop eating when you no longer feel hungry, not when you are full. That may sound like a small distinction, but it is again a powerful habit which anybody can implement.
The best way to do this is to use a hunger scale. Starting at 0 which is gut busting fullness going to 10 which is ravenous starvation, you rank yourself as to where you are on the scale. The aim is try and keep yourself between gently hungry and slightly full. Over time you will build the awareness of how certain foods make you feel and how much of each of then you can eat without feeling too full.
For many of us, we are comfortable feeling overly full, as this is something we have got used to over time and physiologically signals that we have plenty of energy and are safe. When food is readily available this safety mechanism back-fires and eating to overly full when food is all around us, inevitably leads to weight gain. Training the body to be comfortable at only 80% full will make keeping weight off in the long run much more attainable.
So there you have two, simple steps to form better habits you can easily implement to help with your weight loss and efforts to improve health. No diet rules, no deprivation, just body awareness and consistent routines.
Ian offers bespoke nutritional advice at HEALIX BESPOKE NUTRITION.
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