Your lizard brain and you

Supernormal Stimuli

This is a fantastic comic that hits home – it explains the history of the ‘argument’ you (big-brained you) are having with your subconscious every time you pass the biscuit tin.

Our instincts have served our bodies well for millennia. But they aren’t adapted to this world of plenty and abundance we’ve created. It’s only through reflection- using our conscious, determined mind- that we can rewrite our aims.

I found this comic referenced in an article by Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness, a fantastic resource for the more geekly-minded. His philosophy is great; he has adapted the terminology and approach of video games (levelling up, for example) to fitness as a whole. Worth a look.

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What’s a portion, anyway?

portionsizes

Does that pizza seem to be fairly good, calorie-wise? Make sure you check the ‘serving size’. One sneaky trick sometimes used by manufactures is to label their box with a size different from what we may consider a ‘normal’ portion – only half of a ‘personal pizza’, for example.

Yet another reason to check the back of the box!

The men who made us thin

As a follow-up to The Men Who Made Us Fat, the fairly-predictably-titled The Men Who Made Us Thin was, on the basis of its first episode, a disappointment.

Now, you may feel that as someone who writes about diet approaches and offers weight coaching, I’m biased. And I am. Totally. I’m biased because I believe the central proposition of the programme was faulty. The host, Jacques Peretti, stated that only around 5% of people who try to lose weight keep it off. But he misspeaks. Firstly, the study he cites is limited to WeightWatchers- a weight loss approach I feel is outdated. Secondly, only 5% of people keep all of their weight off. Of course dieters are likely to put a few pounds, a kilo or three, back on once they adjust to a weight maintenance lifestyle. But in Peretti’s argument, they’ve failed.

It’s not to say that the episode made no good points. One aspect that was hammered home repeatedly was that someone on a diet is starving their body and the body responds appropriately – attempting to conserve as much of that energy as possible, slowing down metabolism and increasing food cravings. This is well known; it’s the source of the ‘starvation mode’ urban myth.

It’s telling that many of the facts shared in the original programme were omitted from this. For example, the first study that was referenced was explained to be from Ancel Keysdemonised as the ‘fat maker’ in the last series as he unscientifically identified fat, rather than sugar, as the main cause of obesity. This wasn’t mentioned here. Equally, the mention of Atkins was carefully phrased; something like “his detractors said that his diet caused his heart attack” without clearing up that misconception.

The whole thing was made to sound calculated and distrustful- when in fact, you could sum it up in two sentences.

  1. Every diet works, if you stick to it.
  2. Stop using the diet’s rules and you’ll regain your weight.

How to restart your weight loss

Sometimes, losing weight becomes harder than normal. Plateau, stall – there are lots of names for this, but sometimes it feels like the weight just won’t come off.
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Of course, that’s not true – there’s a way to get rid of the weight, but it will probably need a little change to your approach.

So, before you despair and think about giving up, run through this list.

Has this been a consistent problem for more than 6 weeks?

Weight loss isn’t a straight line; we all go up and down. This is especially true for women, where hormonal differences can cause weight gain. Weigh yourself on the same day at the same time each week. If your weight hasn’t changed for 6 weeks, you should start to look for other reasons.

Are you drinking enough water?

Amazingly, many of us confuse thirst for hunger. If you’re not getting enough water, you’re making it harder for your body to run and harder for you to avoid the snacks!

Are you getting enough sleep?

It’s not just that if you’re asleep, you’re not eating (although that’s a help). A recent study has shown that just one night of bad sleep leads people to be hungrier and to choose larger portion sizes. Here’s Why You Should Get More ZZZ.

Are you eating enough veg?

Green, leafy vegetables are low in calories and help you feel full after a meal.

Are you measuring your portions?

It’s too easy for portions to creep up as you get comfortable with your new style of eating. It’s usually gradual; a slightly-larger portion of Shreddies in the morning, or the swap of the soda water back to a swift half on Friday evening. Why not go back to weighing your food, just to make sure you’re eating what you think you are.

Are you eating something which only seems good for you?

Salad dressings, Greek yoghurt – there are many foods out there that are healthy in principle, but are easy to eat too frequently or too much. Always check the nutritional label!

Are you overeating for emotional reasons?

It’s something we all do from time to time, but it’s not really helpful. If you’re eating just to change your mood, see if there’s something you can do instead. I’ve taken to making and enjoying a big cup of tea.

Have you reduced your physical activity level?

Maybe you’ve gone back to taking the lift at work, rather than walking up the 4 flights of stairs. Amazingly, little things like this add up. Have you tried to walk 10,000 steps every day?

Are you weighing yourself consistently?

Remember the old rhyme, ‘a pint of water weighs a pound and a quarter’? Well, if you drink a pint of water, that’s how much your weight will immediately increase! It’ll go down again as you go through the day, but that’s why we always recommend weighing in the same clothes at roughly the same time of day.

Have you already been losing for a while?

If none of the above apply, it’s possible that you’ve done so well that you’ve shrunk below your current calorie-count. When you started to lose weight, you were larger, and so needed more calories just to fuel yourself. Well guess what? You’re smaller than you were before, so now (cruelly) you need fewer calories to ‘run’. That unfortunately means you may need to reduce your intake to continue the good work. Try working out a reasonable calorie target here.

Set a target and make it SMART.

Yesterday I spoke about the importance of a weight loss target. Today I wanted to expand on how to set one.

Setting a target is one thing – but how do you make sure it’s one that will fit and inspire you?

There’s lots to mock in business-speak, jargon and buzzphrases. However, clichés can still hold some truth. One of these is SMART. This is an acronym for how to make a meaningful target.

  • Specific – If you just say “I want to lose weight” then you could just accept 2 kilos when really you wanted to lose 8. Decide what you really want and are willing to work towards.
  • Measurable – Track your progress. This doesn’t have to be the scale (even if it is, it shouldn’t be too often, you know the drill) but do track – kilos on the scale, inches off your waist or physical abilities you’ve gained/improved. It’s important to know how you’re getting on.
  • Achievable – Don’t start by saying you want to lose 50 lbs in 4 months. You’ll decide its too much of a mountain. Pick something possible; NICE‘s recommendation of 1kg/2lb a week is helpful.
  • Relevant – Make sure your target fits you. Don’t try for 3lbs a week just because a friend managed this. If you’ve a reason to lose weight, try to build that in to the target. If you’re losing weight for a party, make your target weight a specific (attainable) dress size – then go and buy that dress.
  • Timely – Pick a deadline, either an important date (for me it was my 30th birthday) or work backwards from how much you want to lose and therefore how long this will take. A deadline strengthens your resolve as you can’t slack.

Commit to a goal.

I’ve signed up to a 5k run.

I’m not a runner. I don’t particularly like it and I find it very hard to get my trainers on and get out there. Which is exactly why I’ve signed up.

Sometimes, it’s important to have a goal – something to stretch you and make you work towards a result. When you’re losing weight, the first few kilos/pounds are easy to lose, because you’re running away from something – from ‘fat me’.

When you’re getting closer to your target, suddenly it’s much harder as you need to change your motivation to run towards something. And that what I’m doing – literally. I’m running towards my first 5k.

Using the NHS’ 5K podcast, I’ve started the 9-week programme, which will culminate with the Color Run, an untimed run which has its first races in the UK this year. I’m running in London. The sense of fun (you’re blasted with paint at kilometre markers, leaving you looking like those fools above) and the lack of competition (my aim is just to run the whole way, rather than to achieve a certain time) gives me enough flexibility to believe that this is an achievable, realistic target.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be running. Perhaps it’s not going up for seconds at a buffet, or being able to skip up the stairs at the shopping centre without running out of puff. But work on something small and build from there.

Out of sight, out of mind

The Sweetie Cupboard, by UK_Greg

It’s better not to have your ‘trigger foods’ in the house. But what if that’s not possible?

My first piece of advice to anyone who’s starting a new, slimmer lifestyle is to get rid of all the little temptations from the house. Chuck the crisps, banish the baguettes and remove the Rolos. If it’s not in the house, you’re less likely to pull on your shoes to go to the corner shop and pick up a Kit-Kat.

Some people can’t do that, though. Not for themselves, but for other family members. Perhaps the (perfectly-formed) girlfriend isn’t willing to give up her morning cereal. Maybe dear husband would rather move out than not have a cake as part of his Sunday tea.

Now, if it’s the kids who will kick up a fuss, I’d be tempted to put my foot down; a slim lifestyle is good for them too and it would be a great to work together to improve your diet.

But if it’s a full-grown adult who’s too set in their ways, what can you do?

Have a Naughty Cupboard.

All the baddies – the Walkers, the Cadbury’s, the Kellogg’s and whatever your personal nemesis is – go in one cupboard in the kitchen. And you never, never open that cupboard.

You know what’s in there. You know what could happen if you open the door. But by separating this space from your normal routine or your normal life, it gives you a tiny little safeguard against your weaker impulses.

So you make it clear to the rest of the family – they’re more than welcome to put their treats in the Naughty Cupboard, but don’t expect you to fetch something from that cupboard if you’re going into the kitchen, or to join in for that late-night snack.

Foodswap: replace cake with sugar-free jelly

cake jelly

Sometimes it’s good to end on a sweet note. Sometimes a coffee won’t cut it.

A sugar-free jelly (Jello) can be a fantastic way to finish a special meal without the calories and carbs of a more traditional pudding.

To go one better, if you’re a low-carb dieter, try replacing a little of the cold water with double-cream instead, to get a rich blancmange instead.

Foodswap: diet drinks replace full calorie ones. Really.

Coke and Coke Zero

It sounds obvious, but if you’re a big soft drink fan, trade over to the no-cal version.

Why am I posting this? Because sugary drinks are linked to 180,000 deaths every year. That means 1% of all obesity-related deaths are down to the soda fountain and the sugarwaters they dispense.

It’s hardly surprising; Just one can of sugary soft drink raises the relative risk of type II diabetes by around a fifth. Wow.

“But LazyFit!” Some of you are asking. “Aren’t diet drinks just as bad for you? They cause cancer and stuff!”

Well, probably not. Diet coke isn’t a saint. There is some evidence that some of the ingredients aren’t great for you – although the quantities involved would be equivalent to drinking 8 to 2,083 cans of diet soda every day.

So should you take up a soft drink habit? Not if you already only drink water. But it’s all a matter of small improvements (almost as if that’s the theme of this blog…). If ‘fat’ soft drinks are your sin, switch to diet versions. If you’re down to diet, consider the occasional fizzy water instead. Your liver, pancreas and waistline will thank you for it.

What the world eats – what does your food look like?

What the world eats -- a week's worth of groceries - Imgur

The Bainton family’s week, Cllingbourne Ducis, UK

 

Sometimes, it helps to lay it all out in front of you.

Food’s a funny thing. We all eat, but there are some significant differences from person to person and from culture to culture.

In 2008 husband-and-wife photojournalists published a book with a week’s worth of food from 25 families in 21 countries. TIME published 45 of these photos in three sets, linked below.

There’s an interesting insight into individual culture’s demons; the US’s prepared food, the UK’s reliance on snacks and Mexico’s love affair with Coca-Cola are all visible.

Does your weekly shop look more like this or like this?