Top Ten Tips

I believe whole heartedly that there are ten fundamental principles to my weight loss.  It’s a personal story that has led me to being able to pin this down, most of it is common sense if you think about it enough. If you want to explore it further, feel free to contact me, I can offer support, further resources and my experience as you set off on your journey.

So here are my ten steps to realising a sustainable ‘shrinkage’ as I like to call it.

1.       Not a Diet

This was the most important thing for me – I love food, love cooking and love eating, this process wasn’t going to work unless I found a way to be able to continue my love affair. So this sparks off a whole discussion about how you can do this?

I’m not a fan of diets, for me they just say ‘hey, you can’t have me, I’m bad for you!’ no matter how you look at it, it’s about what you can’t have (normally the things you like) and you feel deprived.  Even if there is a nice long list of the things you can have there will be more that you can’t, that you will miss.  A diet always starts with something negative.

Food retains in control, I wanted to find a way of being in control of food, that way I could always have the food I wanted and not deprive myself of anything.

There is also an end date to a ‘diet’, the holiday or your target weight.  Taking away the ‘end element’ means you can focus on making long-term changes and achieving goals that can be sustained.

Sustaining weight loss means changing your life totally, if you always yo-yo then you already have your answer as to whether diets work for you.  If they did you would have kept the weight off, your issue isn’t losing weight, it’s about sustaining the loss therefore you need to change the focus.

So my first affirmation was that I wouldn’t be on a diet; I would purely change how, what I eat and when.

2.       Less of it!

 We all eat too much, we load up our plates and bowls, we eat the same as our male partners, and I for one was brought up to eat everything off my plate! The difference was that when I was being told that at the age of eight, my plate was smaller and the portions considerably less than they are today.

I was talking to my mum about this, we didn’t have that much money and there were six of us at home, we looked at what she cooked and how it was divided up.  We didn’t all need the same amount of food at a meal, the kids got less than the parents; mum got less than dad. We also didn’t snack between meals; we had set mealtimes and we even got the chance to trade our weekly sweets allowance for a book.

If you think about this, the problem we have with obesity now is pretty simple, we eat too much, and it’s not necessarily about what we eat. When I watch programmes about weight problems, the first thing you see is the sheer amount of food that people are eating.  If you give your kids as much as yourself or you eat as much as your man then it’s far too much.

If you eat too much of all of the bad stuff then the problem is amplified, a diet with no fruit and veg or consisting of just takeaways and junk food will accelerate the problem. I didn’t have a bad diet before the shrinkage, I just eat far too much of it (even the good stuff) and once I had admitted that, the rest came relatively easily.  So look at your portions and ask yourself some simple questions:

  • Do you snack between meals?  And is it even consciously?  I would often eat something while I was cooking my dinner or pick up sweets when I paid for my petrol, importantly I would never count this towards what I had eaten that day?
  • Do you eat the same as your partner?  Or if like me you’re single, cook for two instead of one?   Women don’t need the same calories as men remember?
  • What do you eat too much off – is it the bad stuff or the good stuff? Even if you think you have a healthy diet, it could just be too much of everything?  If you need to wean yourself off the really bad stuff, reduce gradually.  My way doesn’t mean you can never have a takeaway again.
  • Do you always eat everything, even if you’re full?  Often that feeling is self satisfying itself and feels as if you’ve achieved something.
  • Do you drink?   What do you drink?  3 pints of cider or beer can equate to the same number of calories as a main meal.  Sugary drinks present the same problem as do large volumes of things like milk, tea and coffee, I bet you don’t include these when you think about what you’ve ‘eaten’ during the day.

When my appetite finally returned my stomach was smaller, I couldn’t actually eat as much, it’s the equivalent feeling of having a gastric band and I had proved though it was possible without surgery.   I’d found out what being empty and hungry really felt like, even if you think you do, it’s unlikely you’ve ever been really hungry, if you can, try it, it’s an important step forwards.

If I now stretch my stomach it protests, annoying but reassuring, it’s always important to listen to your own body.

So what are the simple things you can do to make life easier for yourself and make a start:

  • Think about what you eat, it’s not difficult to reduce everything by 25% and not notice at all, try it with your partner and kids too!
  • If your dinner plates and bowls are quite large, buy yourself special smaller versions, I use a bowl a lot, if you fill up a bowl with pasta, it will look like you’re having far more than if you put it onto a plate?
  • Once you’re full, don’t feel guilty about stopping eating, throw it away and move on, note what you’ve not eaten and reduce your portions for the next meal, you’ll then eat it all.
  • Don’t insist your kids clear their plates, it’s important for them to understand when they have eaten enough.  Note what they leave and then reduce their next meal by this amount.

3.       Take Control

 I love bread but what I noticed is that if I eat it at lunchtime, within an hour or so I was hungry again. So now I don’t eat it at all in the week, I do though eat ‘good’ bread at weekends and special occasions, you know the stuff that is fresh out of the oven or comes from the olive stall!  Bread now sits on the ‘treat’ list, especially if I end up spending £3+ on a loaf!

If you aim to cut out those things completely that you really love, it won’t work, you have to take control of them, not the other way around. So look at what foods really don’t work for you, what makes you hungrier, what can’t you stop eating?  If it’s chocolate then don’t aim to cut it out completely, just buy less, and keep it in the fridge, it’s harder to eat a lot if it takes more effort, my trick is the smaller bars of Green and Blacks.

If its cheese buy smaller amounts just don’t have lots at home, my view is still if it’s here I will eat it.  I used to justify the amount I eat by ‘if I eat it, it wouldn’t be there for me to eat’, of course I would then just replace it and the cycle would continue.

Some people will swear by having to eliminate their key ‘bad’ things entirely which is fine but consider whether you want to never have them again which is what you are really saying, if you don’t want to say goodbye completely then take control of them.

4.       Routine

Look at when you get hungry and want to eat?  For me it was in the evening at about 9pm, so that’s when I do my jobs at home or go to the pool for a swim.  Distraction is a great thing!

If you have a family, aim to eat with them, if you eat separately, it is probable that you will eat more.  Mealtimes should be set for everyone, if you are teaching your children about healthy eating and table manners, set the example by doing it yourself!

Always have breakfast – I swear by it now, to the extent that often I’m not that hungry by lunchtime.  Bananas are great, if you can’t get anything else, have a couple early in the morning, the slow release energy really does work, ask sportspeople, they know, and they are very portable.

5.       Small and Achievable Goals

If I had told myself in August 2009 that my goal was to lose six stones, it would never have happened.  How many times have you told yourself you’re dieting to get into the bikini for your holiday when actually the last time you wore one was in 1996!  If the goals are too big and unrealistic you won’t succeed as you can’t visualise the end result, appreciate what you are actually achieving or even worse setting yourself up to never achieve it. This is especially important if you have been a yo-yo dieter in the past.

Set yourself something that looks possible, dropping a dress size in a month for example – see my advice on jeans, it works!

What I found is if I was achieving the smaller goals it gave me the motivation to keep going to the next one, that way I could see the virtues of walking straight past the ‘birthday food pile’ in the office or why the smaller bar of Green and Blacks was better than the 2 for 1 offer on the full size bars!

Celebrate achieving the goals, don’t wait to buy that new outfit, get it and when it doesn’t fit (hopefully after not too long) you can always sell it on Ebay.

Finally take the compliments when they come, I’d kept on wearing my old black, baggy work clothes until I’d lost almost three stones, when I finally went to work wearing a dress four sizes smaller it caused quite a stir and that felt very good!  Nothing like knowing others have noticed your efforts to motivate you further.

6.       Throw out your scales!

 I have never owned any and never intend to. All my shrinkage was measured through if my clothes fitted or not?  Again it comes down to those small goals, if you weigh yourself every day or even every week and you see that you’re only dropping small amounts or not at all (this can happen even if you are shrinking) then your motivation can be really damaged.  I used jeans as my real measurement, I would buy the next size down and try them on every fortnight, and when these fitted, the larger ones went out of the door and the next pair was purchased.  I weighed myself for the first time six months into the shrinkage, it was a very nice surprise!

Now I am in sustain mode I don’t go near the scales, if my clothes feel a bit tight I look at what I’m doing, I can’t think of anything worse than having a pair of scales telling me what I need to do – the actual amount isn’t important anymore, it’s about how I feel and look. It’s important to remember too that women’s bodies do respond differently throughout your monthly cycle which can affect your weight.  Exercise too can result in shrinkage without weight loss, I lost 2+ centimetres off all everything once I started working out in the gym, yet my actual weight loss was small, it was all about toning and changing shape.

This brings me onto BMI.  I have had various discussions with health and fitness professionals about the virtue of using this as a tool to motivate. I am still classed as overweight according to my BMI, yet I am fitter and healthier than at any other point in my life. When I was classed as ‘normal’ I was smoking, eating a stupid ‘student’ diet and did no exercise whatsoever and looking at photographs I think I look too thin.

Let’s be realistic too, I’m 43, I have spent almost half my life very overweight, biology has declared that my skin will not contract back to the place it was in when I was 25. In fact the more I have lost and toned, the more loose skin there is, so for me to lose the recommended weight to be totally ‘normal’ would result in me looking ridiculous, it has though been something I have had to come to terms with, me and my naked body have had to develop a new love for each other! And I have no intention of losing any more weight on a significant level as to get to a stage where I am more self-conscious about my body than when I was bigger would be a sorry state of affairs, so be realistic about what you want to look like and what is the reality of that.

BMI should therefore be taken as a guide, especially when you are starting out. If you feel you need an official ‘you’re too big’ label then it may help but please don’t make it the objective, it’s only one possible motivator you can use and for me it hasn’t been that helpful.

While we’re discussing the loose skin, remember too that this will weigh something, it is a consequence of losing significant amounts of weight, of being older and it may not go anywhere so may need a degree of acceptance.  I have friends who have ‘tummies’ after having babies, unfortunately it is unlikely that in their 40s that this will go away no matter how much exercise they do but hey it’s amazing what support underwear can do!   They will need to accept though that this is also probably those extra few pounds they are striving to lose.

If you are over 40, it’s worth thinking about what you think you will look like when you’re smaller, if you think you will look like you did when you were 20, think again, it’s not going to happen, Mother Nature has other ideas I’m afraid.

I think about it this way, even if I had not put on all the weight and remained a smaller person for the last 20 years, I might still have a tummy and bingo wings – that’s just aging?   Men in particular seem a little obsessed with regaining their youth, it’s just not going to happen and they are starting out with an impossible goal!  So my affirmation here is look to become a fit and healthy ‘whatever you are’, don’t hanker after what has gone before!  You will still probably look better than the majority of today’s 20 year olds anyway!

Always worth doing a bit of people watching in a shopping centre to get your head around what the majority of the populations actually look like.  Focusing only on the fit bunnies in the gym isn’t going to help you here. I promise you once you’ve done this you’ll feel much better about yourself and as you shrink it just gets better.

7.       The Head Stuff

We all over eat for a reason. I’m not saying there is necessarily a deep-seated emotional reason for this, but from my experience there is normally something there, either making us overeat or preventing us from being able to stop and make any changes?  You do need to be a bit honest with yourself at this stage.

For me it was about remaining invisible, as I got bigger, I became more invisible to others – ask anyone who is bigger and they will tell you that in most cases, you’re not seen?  This was down to a deep-rooted issue I have with relationships – after all who would want me while I was big?

This was amplified by a date I had with a guy who had seen a head and shoulders shot of me however when he saw me walk into the pub, I could visibly see the disappointment on his face; I didn’t go on another date after that and my head went firmly into the sand.

I was therefore lonely, I couldn’t join in with the ‘active’ stuff my friends were doing, and as a person who doesn’t make friends that easily my life became quite solitary and I will admit then to having my closet relationship with food, buying it, cooking it and eating it.  Saturday nights were me, a pack of garlic bread, a complete pizza and a tub of Ben and Jerry’s – we were quite happy together us lot!  And before you say ‘oh here’s the junk food’, it may also have been something homemade but probably more than enough for a couple!

And to the outside world, they only saw what I eat in public, which was regarded as normal; they have been quite surprised to hear the truth. Even those closest to me had no idea what was really going on, that way I could convince myself there wasn’t an issue.

So what I have learnt is that you do need to be honest with yourself and others about your behaviour and relationship with food. I hope now those close to me know what I used to do, they may then see the warning signs in the future and alert me.

And me, well I’m dealing with the issues that are still there, albeit in a lesser form, but after 16 years of being overweight a quick fix isn’t on the cards.  So I’m having help in looking at the relationship things, self-esteem, confidence and the way I live my life.  There is nothing wrong with asking for some help.

8.       The Support Network

Very, very important, do not underestimate how important this will become. As I went through the process I learnt that some people didn’t understand at all, there was envy, resentment and a lack of understanding of how important it was to me.  They were the ones who could have undermined the process and when looking back now may have contributed to the problems in the first place.

However there was another group of people (some new, some existing) who did get it, they provided the encouragement I really needed, from shopping buddies to just being able to say I’d done well.   My advice is to make sure you have the right people around you, you don’t have to get rid of the others, just accept if you can that they won’t have a valuable role at the moment and try to put the negativity to one side, if this isn’t possible then some may not make the cut at all which can be tricky.  Make sure the people close to you know that you need encouragement and how they should do this to help you too.

9.       Get Active

I didn’t add exercise into my new life until I’d lost over 3 stones, I’d also never done any exercise at all in my then 42 years!  Physically and emotionally it wasn’t possible until that point,  I wouldn’t have been able to cope with the sportswear thing and the thought of wearing a swimsuit when I was bigger wasn’t something I ever wanted to even think about.

The more I think about it now, the more I am sure that given my weight and lack of fitness it would probably have been a very bad idea anyway and because I would have been capable of so little, it would have been counterproductive. I see larger people in the gym and they struggle so much, think about it, before you even do anything you are lugging around a huge amount of weight and it takes time to make any impact through exercise?

My view is that if you are very over weight; lose a bit first until it gets to a more manageable level.  If you are in this position, you will not be able to do to lose weight through exercise alone; you will need to reduce your food intake too.  Once you have lost the weight, you can use exercise in a different way to sustain the shrinkage but it won’t work in this way at the start.

Always check with your doctor if you’re concerned about starting any exercise, a good gym will always refer you if they have any issues, but don’t let that stop you, GPs are a bit more clued up now and if you’re serious about losing weight will be supportive.  If there are any health problems its best they are picked up, it’s tough but being overweight and over 40 does put you at risk for a whole host of things so it’s good to get checked out.

Finally on this topic, don’t think exercise means ‘the gym’, it doesn’t have to.  I’m up for exercise meaning anything you want it to. I now swim, walk, climb, do pilates as well as going to the gym. Remember too that the smaller you get, the more energy you will have and this breeds activity, you will just find yourself doing more, this could be playing with the kids in the park, bounding up the stairs, everything burns energy and will help!

So try anything, there will be something you enjoy but you won’t know until you give it a go!   If I can, anyone can believe me!

10.   Don’t beat yourself up!

Beware of putting too much pressure on yourself, you’re going to do a big thing and it won’t be easy at times, so start out knowing that there will be days when you will fall off the wagon but don’t worry about them, put it behind you and move forwards.

Unless you learn how to deal with these moments, sustaining the shrinkage will be that bit harder. Think seriously about those simple, achievable goals and what will work as a focus for you.  Losing weight and sustaining it for me has been a positive process, I’m not saying it’s easy all the time but at no point do I ever think ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’.

I also constantly remember what life was like before the shrinkage, that’s the biggest motivator – going back is not an attractive option.  I climbed a mountain this summer, when I reached the summit, I almost cried when I realised that if I hadn’t lost the weight I would never have seen the amazing views that presented themselves.


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