How many times have you lost a few pounds and felt fantastic, only to fall back off the wagon, regain all your wobbly bits and suffer self-loathing when your skinny jeans will, once again, not get over your thighs?
Many of us have been there, over and over again.
The diet industry really isn’t built to be sustainable otherwise we’d all be walking around like super-fit supermodels 24/7 – and they’d go out of business.
Most of them encourage you to keep signing up each time you fail. Many are unsustainable fads that won’t really teach you anything except the idea that you should be skinny to be worthy of your own acceptance. You’ll lose some weight in an unhealthy, unsustainable, unrealistic way, you’ll have no idea how you did it, and so you’ll put it all back on. And you’ll hate yourself for it. The cycle begins again.
I’m not about ‘diets’. I don’t believe in them. Weight loss or weight gain is all – and ONLY – down to calories in versus calories out. There are many health and unhealthy ways to lose and gain weight.
In order to become and stay healthy for life, we need to educate ourselves about the principles of lifelong healthy eating and exercise habits.
STRIPPD brand ambassador, health and fitness expert Karen Cummings Palmer has some recommendations for yo-yo dieters.
She says: ‘It is important to stabilise your metabolism. You can do this by ensuring you’re consistently eating a good quality diet full of vitamins and minerals and plenty of protein.
‘Try to eliminate simple carbohydrate sources that will spike your blood sugar. Aim for a mix of protein, healthy fats and low GI carbs. This is fuel that will sustain and satisfy you long-term.
‘I believe in eating regularly but not all day long – not grazing throughout the day.
‘Performing exercises regularly, including lifting weights, will help to build and preserve muscle mass, which is important for optimal health: it helps regulate metabolism and burn fat.’
What we must also do is master the mind, including self-control and long-term vision, as well as the practice unconditional self-compassion and self-acceptance.
For the most part, many of us need to start seeing food as nourishment rather than a ‘taste-hit’, most of the time.
This may be easier said than done, and clinical hypnotherapist Rory James MacLaren-Jackson has some pearls of wisdom from his Harley Street career helping people adopt lifelong healthy habits.
Rory says: ‘From my professional experience, the key to being consistent or “sticking to” an exercise regime is mastering the subconscious mind and understanding how habits are formed.
‘For example, our morning routines of washing and teeth brushing are performed almost automatically because they’re established programmes in the subconscious mind. No-one is born knowing to do these things: rather we learn through conscious daily repetition.
‘After two to three weeks, most people can find they are performing similar tasks without any real conscious effort. Certainly, there is no longer any need to “make time” for them. It follows that people are (hopefully) rarely too busy to make time to brush their teeth in morning.
‘I therefore recommend that exercise and all the tasks leading up to it are consciously repeated for a period of two to three weeks. For example, get into the routine of packing your gym bag the night before, or setting an alarm to have a snack a suitable period of time prior to training. It is often amazing how quickly all these tasks form as habits in the subconscious mind.’
Rory knows that the conscious effort to drag yourself to go to the gym for the first two to three weeks may be a struggle. He says:
‘If the first couple of weeks “back at the gym” feel tough, just motivate yourself with the thought that every time you fill that water bottle, pack that gym kit or catch the train to arrive at the gym on time, your subconscious mind is learning that these are the importance tasks to make habitual.’
But there’s more. Rory has seen, time and time again, than often when someone struggles to eat healthily, they suffer issues of emotional eating and ‘mindless’ or autopilot eating.
Rory says: ‘Food may be being consumed to attempt to deal with a certain emotion, or it is simply being eaten without consideration. Unwanted snacking often falls into both categories, but especially the latter: for example, a person distracted by a film may eat a whole family-size tub of popcorn.
‘A great way to deal with both types of issue is to keep a “Reverse Food Diary”. I say reverse since the information about what you are eating each day should be written down BEFORE you eat it, not later on or retrospectively.
‘In addition to recording what is about to be eaten, I also recommend that clients record the emotion that is prompting the behaviour. Of course, it could be genuine hunger, but often it can be something else - an emotion such as sadness, boredom or feeling lonely.’
Rory says the benefits of keeping a reverse food diary can be incredible. Firstly, the act of stopping and thinking about what you are about to eat automatically makes the act ‘mindful’: i.e. a conscious activity. Instead of just grabbing the crisps and eating them, you think about it.
He says: ‘With the mind’s autopilot disabled, maybe you could choose something healthier, NOW that you are thinking about it.’
Likewise, recording the emotional state at the time makes the activity mindful too and allows you to question whether that tub of ice cream will REALLY make you feel less lonely.
Rory has some alternative recommendations: ‘Perhaps you could call a friend for a chat instead? Plus, by keeping such a diary over a period of time, you’ll notice emotional eating trends emerge: do you eat more chocolate on a Monday when you have the post-weekend blues? So what else could you schedule that day to cheer you up which is healthy and positive?’
With temptation all around such as food advertising and friends and colleagues who eat unhealthily, it is of prime importance that we firstly bring eating into the conscious - we must stop eating mindlessly.
At the same time, we must educate ourselves about how to eat healthily and exercise properly without ever relying on fad diets.
The next step is to then make healthy eating and regular exercise unconscious, lifelong habits, perhaps implementing some of the strategies outlined in this article.
This will not only mentally empower you but make you look fantastic and help you to live a longer and healthier life.