If your aim is controlled weight, part of your future has got to be healthy eating and healthy physical activity. The truth is, to control your weight, you have to make the right choices about your eating and activity. Next, we need to take a detailed look at what that really means, to help you set realistic goals that will make a difference.
Set your aims. How would you like your eating and your weight to be in the long term? You can change and revise your aims, but it is important to focus on where you are going.
Here are some aims set by other people:
- I want to eat regular meals
- I want to be able to eat with my family, and have the same food
- I want to feel in control of my eating
- I want to stop feeling guilty about eating
- I want my eating to be healthy
- I want to provide healthy food for my children
- I want to stop gaining weight
- I want to reduce my weight by at least 10 kg
- I want to sleep better
- I want to be able to walk without getting breathless
- I want to be well enough to give my mother the help she needs
These are quite broad aims, but they give you an idea of where you are going, and why. They will help to keep you going when you feel a bit stuck. They will help you to see the progress you make.
Getting the eating right - The modern environment can make it difficult to eat in a healthy way. Much of the food that’s easily available is not ideal for protecting and promoting health. Foods that are cheap and convenient are often high in fat, sugar and salt. Food is heavily advertised, and you can buy it at any time of the day or night. All this makes it very easy to eat in a way that is generally harmful to health and makes weight gain happen all too easily.
Natural appetite control - The body has a very complicated system to get the amount of food it needs. Signals are carried by the nervous system, and many different hormones. The signals will give the brain information about:
- how much fat is stored in your body
- how much carbohydrate is stored in your body
- how much fat, carbohydrate and protein are in your blood
- how much food is in your stomach, and other parts of your gut
- your memory of what you have eaten recently
- if you can see or smell any food
Your brain also remembers what it has learned about food. For instance, you learn that if you miss breakfast, you may feel hungry by mid-morning, when it may not be convenient to eat, so you make sure you have breakfast to stay comfortable during the morning.
As you can see, these signals add up to quite a complicated picture for your brain to interpret. It tends to work well if everything fits together, but if the signals get mixed, you may find it hard to know when or how much to eat. For instance, if you eat a lot of salad, your brain will know that your stomach feels full, but your blood sugar level may be low. This mixed message is confusing, and you can feel hungry and full at the same time!
Starving and bingeing make the signals very confused, so it becomes difficult for your brain to learn what you need to eat. Most people are aware that food tastes better when we feel hungry. If you have restricted your eating and then binged, you will have experienced eating as much more pleasurable than normal, and this can reinforce the drive to binge.
You may have been trying to ignore all these signals for a long time. You may have been confusing them by skipping meals or constant snacking or binge-eating or eating unbalanced mixtures of foods. This can all mean it will take some time and effort to get them working again.
If you have been either dieting, or eating chaotically for most of your life, you may never really have had the chance to learn how to eat in a normal and healthy way. It would hardly be surprising to find it a bit difficult. You may need to think quite hard about the way you eat, until you learn what is right for you, and it begins to feel more familiar. Remember, working towards healthy, stable eating is a learning process, so it may not always be easy, and you are bound to make a few mistakes so take the chance to learn from them!
You know now that it’s really hard to stabilise your eating whilst you’re hungry. This means you have to give up dieting if you are going to leave behind the way of eating that is making you unhappy. It does not mean that you have to give up the possibility of ever losing weight. What it does mean is giving up the idea of a temporary period of drastic food restriction, to achieve rapid weight loss - and equally rapid regain!
If you have the sort of body which does not control its weight easily, you will need a permanent healthy lifestyle which will allow you to manage your weight successfully without being uncomfortable or miserable. This means losing weight slowly and being pleased with modest loss. Many people are able to achieve a loss of 10% (one tenth) of the weight when they start. You may well feel you’d like to lose much more and you may be able to achieve that, but start gently. The rate of loss that people seem able to sustain over long periods is 1-2 kg (2-4 lb) per month.