9 Things I have learned from 14 years of dieting

In true January spirit, I’ve been thinking about my weight and my diet a lot. I felt a sort of societal obligation to try to lose a few pounds and eat really restrictively at first, but then I remembered; I’ve been at this for 14 years now, maybe it’s time to try something different. So after reviewing the successes and failures I have had over those years, here are my lessons learned and hopefully helpful advice:

  1. Crash diets don’t work. Really they don’t. The idea that committing to a restrictive/ severely restrictive diet for a short period of time, will forever (or even in the short term) change your body is wrong. Wrong! Crash diets might help you lose a few pounds, and then you go off the diet, and you put them back on again, in almost every case. Maybe some people are lucky and they diet and they keep the weight off, but if your “usual” diet causes you to be overweight, then going back to it after a diet will, surprise, get you back to your original weight. There are all sorts of scientific reasons for this, like having a set weight and so on – but all you need to know is – if you want your body to be different, then you need to change your diet, and maybe your lifestyle FOREVER. Because then you will keep the weight off forever.
  2. You can’t outrun a poor diet. Unless maybe you’re the athletic type and you’re in high school, but even then, not for long. I can say from experience now, after completing the London marathon last year, and running huge distances for 5/6 months, and eating quite a lot of crap, that even if you’re running 20 miles a week, you can still get fat if you eat poorly. I told myself it was fine to stuff in the cake and biscuits because ‘I would burn it off at the weekend’ but it simply doesn’t work like that. I actually gained a lot of weight in the run up to the run, and it took me a long time to lose it (admittedly a lot of the weight gain was muscle mass in my legs, but I definitely still had some chub!). Your body will naturally increase your appetite if you exercise a lot – especially if you do a lot of cardio. So working out regularly is great, but it won’t have nearly as much impact as a really healthy diet.
  3. Alcohol makes you (me) fat. I am of course speaking from personal experience here; if I do drink alcohol, it’s usually beers at the weekend, followed by lots of ‘hangover excuse’ takeaway food (by which I mean, I’m very hungry and can’t be bothered to cook, so give myself permission to binge on pizza and chips). Everyone is different; maybe you are a sophisticated wine drinker, enjoying a glass or two with dinner once a week, and it’s not a problem. But for most of us, alcohol is closely linked to weight gain.  Alcoholic drinks are not only full of “empty calories” (lots of calories with little to no nutritional benefit) but they can also increase your appetite, and stop you from feeling motivated and energetic enough to fulfil your health and fitness goals. The best way I have found to cut down on booze is to limit it to the weekend; Friday and Saturday nights only. I also try to cut it out entirely for a few months each year, and I have noticed having a lot more energy and bothering to make a lot more salads.
  4. Don’t buy any junk food – make a list of healthy food to buy, and stick to it. Honestly, if there is chocolate/cake/biscuits/sweets/pizza in the house, I will eat it. I can’t help myself. The best/only way to stop myself from eating badly in the evenings, in the ‘I’m bored so I’ll nibble’ twilight zone, is to not have any junk available. Go and chuck it in the bin – the only other place it’s going is in your body, and if it goes in the bin, it’s not going in your body.
  5. Distract yourself from junk food. I use a different tactic at work – because there are always treats around – I find a type of fruit i really like and take some with me everyday. So if I’m ever tempted by some cake or biscuits, I can have an orange instead. I’m obsessed with oranges, I have them everyday! Before that it was bananas. If you can’t really think of a fruit you want to start with, start with strawberries or raspberries, and then if you get bored of them, switch to something else. If they are too expensive, opt for a banana – they are only 10 – 15p from the shops, so no excuse (unless your allergic, please don’t eat any of these things if your allergic to them).
  6. Exercise little and often. I am lucky that right now, I have a 30 minute walk to and from work, so I get an hour of light exercise each day without even trying. But wherever you can, take the stairs, go for a walk, dance at home, do the hoovering, play with the kids, just get up and do 50 squats (watch your posture) while you’re watching TV – whatever it is, it will make a difference. I can’t recommend strength training enough; short bursts of high intensity body weight exercises or lifting weights has probably had the most impact for me. If you’re not sure what to try, have a look on YouTube, there are loads of free workout videos on there, one that comes to mind is Blogilates – I would recommend the workouts but I personally would not recommend the recipes from that channel (see below).
  7. Eat all the vegetables. I don’t care what all those fad diets say about carbs, they don’t work, remember? Your diet is made up of three macronutrients; protein, carbohydrates and fats. You can change the ratio of these that you eat, you can cut out carbs or fats, but realistically you need a mixture of all three to be healthy. It’s not about whether you are eating low carb or low fat, it’s about the quality. Vegetables contain mostly carbs – but they also contain a megaton of fibre, which helps you to feel full for a long time, and they contain essential vitamins and minerals which also help you feel full and not crave extra food. Staples for me week in week out are:
    • Tomatoes (two packs a week, big ones, and cherry ones to snack on)
    • Bell peppers
    • Lettuce or Spinach
    • Potatoes and sweet potatoes (yes! all the carbs!)
    • Red onions
    • Mushrooms
    • Fresh cut herbs (bursting with nutrition!)
    • Celery
    • Carrots
    • Frozen peas
    • Chillies (the bigger, milder variety for me)
    • Avocados (super healthy fats, great for your joints)

    You can combine these in a million ways, in salads, ragu, curry, with pasta, with anything. I suppose I like these ones specifically because they are so versatile; I don’t have to plan meals so much, I can just throw them together. I also mix in new things each week, so for example this week I also got a swede, kale and spring onions.

  8. Wholegrain everything, no white flour. It’s hard for me to imagine what it would be like to switch from all white flour to all wholegrain – I’ve almost always eaten this way. But it seems like an easy switch; when you’re in the supermarket, you pick up the wholegrain bread and pasta instead of the white stuff, likewise brown rice instead of white. More fibre, more nutrients, better for your body – it’s a no brainer. I suppose this has more to do with health than weight loss, but if you’re healthier, you might get to enjoy your slim body for a little bit longer.
  9. Whatever you look like, whatever your fitness level or height or weight or BMI or whatever,  accept yourself now. You will never get today back, and you will never get a new body – so you might as well learn to love it. Love the way your hair looks and the way your arms move. Look at yourself in the mirror and smile – you look good, don’t you? Learn to love yourself no matter what you look like. Everything else becomes easier when you start thinking positively about yourself.

 

Sorry if I have ranted and rambled a bit today, just a few things I have had on my mind for a while. No more diets! Just healthy eating, easy exercise and self love <B xx

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