Willpower – Making and breaking a diet

In my opinion and experience the diet industry is fuelled and funded by a lack of willpower in us “dieters”. The fad diets, that involve shakes, cutting out carbs, fasting two days a week, are great for the diet industry, but not so great for your body. The likelihood is you spend a lot of money and either a) lose a lot of weight but pile it all back on (and some more) when you stop or b) find it so restrictive and limiting that you don’t have the willpower to keep with the programme, give up and gain weight again. The other alternative is the array of weight-loss plans that involve a balanced nutritional diet and these work if you stick to them. The key point here is sticking to whatever plan you choose. Willpower makes or breaks a “diet”.

So, after one evening or day where you caved in and ate that donut, or drank too much and came home via the kebab shop, how do you stop that from spiralling out of control and becoming a week off plan instead of just one meal/day? Every day I see the same stories, people pleading with other “dieters” for advice on how to get back on plan, how to recover and refocus. (Writing it down suddenly makes me realise how much it sounds like a drug addict or alcoholic struggling with giving up.)

You can lose weight if you set your mind to it!

The biggest barrier you face is actually your self-discipline and willpower. You may have fallen into a cruel cycle, which starts with eating a poor diet full of sugars, carbs and processed foods. These foods make us feel tired and lethargic all the time. They have a high Glycaemic Index and whilst the initial burst of energy makes us feel good, the energy doesn’t last and it leaves us feeling more tired and lethargic all the time. Then, because your body lacks proper energy, you don’t feel much like exercising. The result? A loss of willpower, feeling useless and you don’t lose any weight.

Only you can make the change! If you truly want to lose weight, you first have to build the willpower to make it happen. So how do you do that?

1) Find your motivation: What is it that is driving your desire to change and lose weight? Write down all the reasons you have for wanting to shift the pounds. No matter how big or small, write them down. If you want to take it further, why not rank them in order of importance to you. Then on days when you feel like giving up, when your willpower is fading, read the list. Remind yourself of why you started your weight loss journey and re-build your resolve.
2) Take a photograph: Most of us have a photograph of ourselves that set off that light-bulb moment, the moment of realisation, that we have ballooned. We look at the photo and a large, chubby stranger is looking back at us. We gawk in horror. Is that really me? When did that chin appear? Use that photograph. Make copies of it. Put it in your purse so that when you are in the shops about to buy that packet of chocolate chip cookies (and meanwhile convincing yourself you are only going to have one and share the rest with the family at home, or the colleagues at work) you have a reminder of why you are trying to lose weight.

Put one on the fridge/cupboard doors so that you question yourself every time you go to get something to eat. Do you really need it? Do you want to look like that photo again? The power of image can be very compelling.

Once you are on your weight loss journey take another photograph every 4 weeks and print that too. Put it alongside your original photo. Once you start building up a collection you will see the physical differences. Because we look in the mirror multiple times a day we sometimes miss the gradual changes. If you update your printed photos and you can see the weight losses working you are more likely to hold on to your willpower and keep on the journey.

3) Work out what works for you: Too many people give up on their weight-loss because they try to go “cold-turkey”. Giving up everything they enjoy leads to resentment and if results aren’t quick then it is really easy to just give up completely. “It’s not worth the torment!” or “I turned down everything I love and I didn’t lose a pound.” For some that’s when the willpower waivers. The donuts start calling out to you across the office on someone’s birthday, the delicious scent of Fish and Chips wafts into your nose as you drive past making it impossible to think of anything else. For some people this leads to binging; not stopping at one donut once they start. Instead of ordering a small cod and chips they order a large, with a battered sausage too (and don’t forget the curry sauce, mushy peas and pineapple fritter for dessert). Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying going cold turkey doesn’t work; it just doesn’t work for everyone.

For those of us who can’t cut everything out my advice is “a little bit of what you fancy does you good.” Measure out a smaller portion of chocolate M&Ms if you really want some. Just remind yourself of how good you will feel when you stop after that small portion. Remind yourself of how bad you will feel if you eat the whole share bag on your own (like you used to).

Take the batter off the cod and weigh out a small portion of chips. As your diet becomes healthier and your lifestyle changes the chances are that eventually you won’t even enjoy the small portion of fish and chips, you will feel awful afterwards and wonder “Was it worth it?”

My point is only YOU know what is going to work for you. If you know that once you have one chocolate from the box of celebrations in the office you won’t be able to stop, then make a cuppa and don’t even have one. But if you know that if you hold back for too long you will end up eating ten when no-one else is looking and then beat yourself up over it, then have one. (And then read your “Reasons Why” list from tip #1 and don’t eat any more!)

4) Portion size: Some people find that they give up on diets because they aren’t seeing the weight drop fast enough. They say they don’t understand why they aren’t losing anything because their dinners are so much healthier now. They describe a dinner of vegetables, low fat mayonnaise and grilled chicken breast, but then you see a picture. Two grilled chicken breasts, a dollop of light mayonnaise and a mountain of vegetables (which includes peas and sweetcorn). It might seem like a healthy dinner but they are still eating WAAAAY too much food.

So my advice is to shrink your plate size and you will probably surprise yourself. It can be depressing seeing a standard dinner plate which looks sparse and empty. You feel deprived and instantly want to fill the space with delicious sauce or extra chips. So, to keep your willpower strong and to avoid the temptation off adding those extra chips, or the extra scoop of baked beans onto your plate then use a smaller plate. Then you look like you have a hearty meal, your brain is tricked and you don’t overeat.

5) Set small SMART targets: Eventually the teacher in me will stop using these educational terms, but for the time being it makes sense. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timed targets. Don’t start with “I will lose 56lb in 6 months.” For a start that is probably not achievable or realistic. What happens when we set targets like that is we realise at some point we aren’t going to achieve it and we stop even trying. Instead think smaller and award yourself with some (non-edible) treats along the journey. For example, “I want to lose 7lb in 4 weeks.” It is SMART and the time frame is not so long that you will lose focus. Also, if you plot out your mini targets and match them up to rewards before you start you have even more motivation than you originally wrote down in step 1. For example, 7lb loss = new trainers, 1stone = manicure, 1.5stone = hair-cut etc.

6) Exercise your way to feeling good: Everything so far has been about our psychological journey and the relationship between our head, heart and stomach. Exercise is a great way to help build up your willpower. Adding exercise to your daily/weekly routine can also be a daunting task if you try to jump in too fast. Some dieters are genuinely afraid of even walking into a gym, and the body-shaming that I hear about weekly makes me mad. No-one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable about bettering your body, your health, your mind. I give myself a pep-talk before I walk in. I look myself in square in the eyes in the mirror and remind myself of why I am there. You can’t get smaller, healthier and fitter without exercise and working out. I have as much right to be here as every other person in that building. If the gym isn’t possible then you’d be surprised at how invigorating just going for a 30 minute walk at least three times a week is. It releases endorphins and adrenaline, burns calories and stops us sitting sedentary and bored thinking about what snack we can have next. So get out there!!

I hope that at least one person finds this helpful in sticking with their journey, or with getting back on track after getting a little side-tracked. That person was me. I have been refocused for nearly 5 weeks and I’m nearing my first stone award. This list is here to remind me how good being focused feels, how positive my eating and exercise habits are right now, while the plan is working. It is a reminder that if I stop going to my weekly meetings, or I stop weighing my portions properly that the plan won’t work and I won’t lose weight. The plan I am on clearly works, I just have to stick to it!

Good luck everyone – please comment on what advice here has helped the most or if you have anything else that you can suggest to everyone.
Please note I am not a nutrition expert or a diet guru. This is all based on my own personal experience of living through lots of weight-loss plans that work until I stop them and I gain the weight again. This is all information I have gleaned from books and journals all about weight-loss and dieting over the years.

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