Reconfigure for a better figure?

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Liz Cassidy offers her advice on how to embrace weight loss while maintaining a positive mindset. 

In the first months of the year, it’s common to tighten the belt, financially but physically too, as we strive to burn off the Christmas pud and booze. Still struggling after weeks of trying? Are these your permanent refrains? “I lost weight many times, then piled it on afterwards!” Or, “I’ve been overweight forever – it’s genetic!” Here are some back-to-basics to reframe your weight optimisation efforts. 

Self-sabotage? 

What’s sabotaging your efforts? It might not be just you. Let’s start with some key principles for weight optimization. Calories in, calories out. Simple right? In principle yes, but the body is a highly complex organism, adapting to shifts in the environment. That includes food intake. Weight management success depends on things like your genetics, yes, but also hormones, and your brain. The last is not just about willpower but also unconscious, central control mechanisms, maintaining the safe and comfortable balance of the body’s systems. A dieting habit often reduces our basal metabolic rate. Yes, that relates to physiological house-keeping and the energy it takes. Calorie conservation kicks in, not good news either for our immune system, balanced digestion or hormones.

“Weight management success depends on things like your genetics, yes, but also hormones, and your brain”

Soothe the subconscious 

The mindset “I’m on a diet” is often a red rag to our subconscious – it means restraint, which we resist. Instead, the notion of change, adding to rather than subtracting from your life, motivates us more. On your weight optimization journey, even if dishes are leaner in energy density, you might add new, interesting flavours, or combine herbs or spices differently and expand the colours of fruit and veg.  Enhance veg portions too – 5-7 plus a day. Your sense of challenge and achievement should support you to gradually displace unhealthier options.

“The mindset of “I’m on a diet” is often a red rag to our subconscious – it means restraint, which we resist” 

Positive baby-steps 

Cumulative small changes, underpinning habit formation, can create sustainable weight control. Sugar in your tea?  Large Chardonnay with dinner? Cake mid-morning? Fried breakfast? How can you substitute more healthily to satisfy thirst or peckishness?  Tomato juice, fruit, crudités, nuts, poached egg with spinach – go wild with the imagination. 

Of course, depriving yourself of past habits can be challenging. So it’s key to ditch the negative, open-ended goals, like “I want to lose lots of weight”. Set a positive objective with an achievable endpoint or first stage. “I want to be three kilos lighter so it’s easier to finish my marathon in spring.”  “I want to fit into that great outfit by my 40th.”  Ask yourself, what will motivate me? Be clear about the gains and obstacles, and realistic about the timeline and weight target. For your body to adjust, a standard recommendation tends to be around a half to one kilo per week. Disappointing? But when you’ve aimed higher, has it been sustainable or were those kilos fast regained? Don’t panic, weight regain appears in step with dieting research. It does seem though to depend partly on the degree to which a person is overweight.

“Set a positive objective with an achievable endpoint”

Hungry hormones 

Creating a calorie deficit is a challenge if hunger has you reaching for a cream cake. Hormones tell you that you’re hungry (ghrelin), or else full (leptin). Hunger doesn’t boost that crucial neurotransmitter serotonin, underpinning a sense of well-being. Poor mood can’t support stress resilience, dependent on cortisol and adrenaline balance. And that may put your blood glucose out of kilter. Don’t be surprised then if you notice a vicious circle of sugar cravings. So have small healthy options on hand, like combinations of fruits, seeds, wholegrain crackers or other high fibre options, for fullness and satiety, a reason too to skip the ultra-processed choices. Maintaining consistent hydration and a 3-moderate-meals-a-day pattern will provide metered, predictable nutrition, supportive to metabolism, hunger and that primordial hormonal balance. 

All in the genes? 

And fad diets? Rarely optimally balanced, evidence for the promised quick-fix is poor. Your genetics may impede it in any case. Weight-targeted genetic tests aim to flag how your genes potentially interact with what you expose them to. This includes how your metabolism or satiety may adjust to saturated or unsaturated fats. Or you might get an insight into your possible weight loss response to exercise, or your predisposition to a sweet tooth, or your obesity risk. Yes, it’s fascinating, though to fully implement this information, you’ll likely need the careful interpretation of a nutritionist to effectively balance your food choices and exercise efforts.  

Move your muscles 

Here’s a motivating fact if you’re a reluctant exerciser. Maintaining muscle mass uses more calories than maintaining fat mass. That’s why it’s weight supportive to keep your muscles in trim. Find a sustainable (enjoyable), activity level. Work out or just become more house- or garden-proud. The benefit of even, regular walks cannot be underestimated. Boosting mood and focus, moving increases your chances of meeting your target. 

Keep it off 

Finally, at the end of your journey, be aware of weight maintenance issues, tricky for many people. Studies tend to shows successfully losing weight and keeping it off require positive and motivating change for the long-run, adapting your diet, lifestyle and activity to your individuality. So delve deep and ask yourself? Am I committed to maintaining new, healthy habits? 

You have the power

To move forward with your weight optimization aspirations, it’s key to feel empowered. Pack in the positive goals, variety, colour and flavour to your diet, keep the meals regular, home-made and moderate, pump up the veg, and make movement your mantra. It’s not just your waistband that will benefit! 

Do you need support to help you on your weight-loss journey? Would you like a plan that reflects your needs? If you would like further personalized advice contact Liz Cassidy (MSc, PGDip, DipCNELM). Liz is offering a free “Tune-Up Your Weight” session to two readers of Together. For more info contact Liz:  emeraldaspire@outlook.com