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Weight loss: How to create a ‘no-fail’ environment

Nutritionist Bronwen King has advice on how to set yourself up to lose weight and keep it off.

You may be off for a holiday, the hint of blossom has you wondering how you will look in your swimsuit, or you suddenly realise your clothes have got a little tight. Whatever the reason, you want to lose some weight. You know this will mean making some changes to your lifestyle but you feel fired up and motivated.

Many of us can relate to this. We have been motivated, given it our best shot, yet found the process of achieving and maintaining a healthy weight difficult.

There are many reasons for this. Setting unrealistic goals, expecting a superhuman level of will power and the fact that short term ‘diets’ do not result in sustainable weight- loss are but a few.

Another factor we don’t consider so often is the fact that the environment and the people around us often let us down. Even the strongest willpower is tested when you’re hungry, there are no healthy options available, and a determined saboteur waves a piece of chocolate cake under your nose, or when you are bored at home and know there are potato chips tucked away in the pantry.

So how can you lose weight safely, sensibly, enjoyably and sustainably? It’s important, first of all, to think beyond ‘going on a diet’. Think about making simple lifestyle changes you can keep for life. Then think about getting prepared, creating a supportive environment and engaging help from family and friends so that you are in the best possible space to begin. Getting prepared both physically and mentally will give you the best chance of winning when it comes to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

The following tips will help.

Traditional diets are so destructive. They demand superhuman effort and willpower; as such they are destined to fail.

  • Think ‘health gain’ not ‘weight-loss’.
  • Do not overload yourself – focus on small achievable changes and practise until they become habit.
  • Think long-term rather than short-term. A piece of cake can seem a major slip-up when considering food intake in the context of a single meal or day. In the context of ‘rest of life’, however, it is not such a big deal.
  • Use whatever techniques work for you to stay relaxed and positive. Meditation, yoga or long soothing baths may help.
  • Listen to your self-talk and try to make it positive. Talk to yourself as if you were your best friend. You wouldn’t tell a friend they were a failure if they ate a piece of cake, yet it is easy to apply that term to yourself.
  • Think beyond food and drink as rewards. A mini facial, good magazine, manicure, trip to the beach or night away are a lot more rewarding long-term.

Friends and family can be your worst enemies when trying to lose weight. It can be unintentional, or because your efforts remind them of their own less than healthy habits, or because they feel that your actions will restrict their eating in some way. They can make life very difficult for you if you let them. Engage their support from the beginning by explaining your goals and motives and by telling them how much their encouragement and help would mean and they, too, may benefit from your new recipes and ideas. Talking about ‘gaining health’ and the benefits that will bring may be more positive and persuasive than ‘losing weight’. If you know someone who is a good role-model, engage their help. Chances are they will feel flattered to have been asked and will be very keen to assist.

Sort out your fridge and pantry

We all know the saying ‘see food and eat it’. The more available foods are, the more we are likely to eat them. Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell University, US, did experiments to find out why people eat. He found that when lolly jars were positioned on the desks of office workers, they ate far more than when they had to get up and walk to another room to get them. Applied to a home situation, if fattening foods are easily accessible, you are likely to eat them.

On this basis, get rid of all foods that do not look after your health and weight. Give them away, donate them to a charity/the City Mission or to someone you know will use them. Even throwing them away, while it may seem wasteful, is better than eating kilojoules you don’t need just to use them up!

Fill your pantry and fridge with healthy foods

Nobody likes empty fridges or food cupboards. Subconsciously, they are unhelpful for weight-loss as they reinforce an ‘all-or-nothing’ mentality which may promote a desire to rebel. Instead, create a healthy ‘land of plenty’ in your kitchen. Make a list of foods you will need for the week and stock up. Fill up the fruit bowl and vegetable basket. If you like occasional treats, or something sweet after dinner, think of healthy options that might fit that bill.

Make a list of healthy snacks you enjoy, stick it somewhere visible like on the fridge and make sure you always have the makings of some on hand. That way you will be prepared when snack attacks strike.

Identify potential hazards in your workplace. These may include the work canteen, vending machines/snack boxes, or regular routines such as staff morning teas or office shouts; once identified, plan coping strategies for each.

Be prepared with food you bring from home

Get into the habit of bringing your lunch each day. Include work food and snacks on your weekly shopping list and if you find it difficult packing a lunch each day, bring a bag of lunch ‘makings’ at the beginning of each week. This may include bread, canned fish, pottles of yoghurt, cottage cheese, fruit, salad vegetables, sachets or cans of soup, crackers and pickled vegetables. Even items like sugar free gum can stem a food craving while helping clean your teeth at the same time!

Avoid the vending machine/snack box

If this is in your field of vision, the chances are you will fall under its spell. See if it can be moved or got rid of (a healthy workplace policy might help here). Alternatively, shift yourself or some of your furniture so you cannot see the temptation. A well positioned pot plant can do wonders! If you have to walk past it regularly, find other routes if possible. If not, practise averting your eyes as you pass. Remember, out of sight is out of mind.

Plan coping strategies for office morning teas or workplace shouts

While in some workplaces these may be so occasional as not to pose a problem, in other places they are a regular event. Many workplaces have Friday morning tea or end of week ‘happy hour’ which, while traditional, can easily sabotage healthy eating efforts. To cope, you could again bring your own food or have a small portion of the most healthy option present. If you take turns providing the food, use your turn as an opportunity to educate. Wow your co-workers with healthier options such as mini fruit kebabs, mini fruit/bran muffins, bean-based dips with vegetable sticks or mini sushi. They will make a welcome change from savouries, cakes and biscuits.

  • If you get a party invitation, explain the situation to your host. Offer solutions such as “I’ll bring dessert” and use this as an opportunity to promote healthier choices. Caramelised pears with Greek yoghurt, frozen berry sorbet or a fresh fruit platter with mini chocolate brownies will all hold their own in the most gourmet of events.
  • Make sure you don’t arrive ravenous. A cup of soup or small bowl of fruit and yoghurt before you go will make nibbles platters less attractive. If you still feel tempted by these, position yourself as far away as possible from them and avert your eyes when they are passed around.
  • Make contracts with yourself before you go, for example, “If I have dessert, I will go for a longer walk tomorrow”. That way you will feel more in control of your choices.

Team up with a friend and set regular times for activity. While it is easy to find an excuse not to exercise, you are less likely to do so if you will let someone down in the process. An exercise buddy can help extend your horizons, too; with a team of three you can each do one leg of a fun triathalon. Feel the fear and do it anyway… you will be amazed at how good it makes you feel!

Remember, life is not perfect – for every two steps forward there is likely to be one step back. Celebrate each success and focus on the journey rather than an unrealistic end point. Compare yourself only with yourself and aim to be the healthiest version of you. Remember, weight lost slowly is more likely to be sustained than weight lost fast. Above all, remember a planned approach is far more likely to succeed.

First published: Oct 2010



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