Oh, the frustration of weight loss! Why am I not losing weight?
In a world where we are judged so harshly on how we look – yup, the world is increasingly “lookist”– you possibly need the skin of a rhinoceros to not ever have worried about your weight or tried dieting. French women do get fat and the UK statistics show that a whopping 2/3 of adults are pretty much on a permanent diet. The majority (more than 80%) are unsuccessful at keeping the weight off, causing the oh so familiar yo-yo cycle of weight loss-weight gain-weight loss.
And, who hasn’t experienced this frustration of weight loss first hand? After a “good day”, you skip the following morning to the scales and carefully tiptoe onto them, butt naked and after your morning wee, bien sur! To your dismay, your scary scales show that the weight a) has not moved b) or horror of all horrors, it has gone up. Oh, the injustice. You angrily stomp downstairs, snap at the family and even the dog. Your day is absolutely ruined. You spend the rest of your day “hangry”’ aka “anger eating” while cursing your treacherous body/crappy genes/lack of self-control/general uselessness.
Once the family is in bed, you indulge in a lonely bit of late night munching of crisps or chocolate washed down with a glass or four of wine. After all, this has now become a “bad” day so you may as well finish what you started and binge in style. You go to bed, loathing yourself and vowing to be “good” tomorrow. And so, it continues…
Does this sound familiar? So, what can you do to break this cycle?
If you had a friend sobbing on your shoulder, telling you that they felt fat, useless and ugly, wouldn’t the first thing you would do is reassure them and tell them how amazing they are? How they’re perfect exactly the way they are? So, why is it so hard to do this for ourselves?
Carrying an extra few kilos does not make us any less attractive or talented, and losing a few kilos is unlikely to dramatically change our lives. So, be kind to yourself, take the pressure of weight loss off your shoulders and start to think of food as a friend as opposed to an enemy. This leads me nicely to my next points.
Put the focus on eating for your health
Food is not “good” or “bad” and we do not need to fanatically “detox, cleanse or eliminate”. I’m going to underline the fact that there are many studies which prove that eating a healthy diet, even in the absence of weight loss, can improve metabolic and other health markers such as blood pressure, blood glucose and cholesterol.
We possibly need to stop focusing on weight as the only marker of health and put the focus on a balanced diet instead, removing the guilt and the frustration.
As for what constitutes a balanced diet? Repeat after me: Lashings of vegetables, fruit, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, fish… It’s not about having a perfect diet (perfection is so 2017 dar-ling!) but a diet that is “good enough”. The odd dessert, plate of charcuterie and glass or two of wine is fine. Make your diet colorful and fun as opposed to steamed and soggy – roasted vegetables with baked salmon, stir-fried prawns and vegetables with noodles, meat or bean burgers with a winter coleslaw of red cabbage, beetroot, carrots and pomegranate seeds. It’s about nourishing yourself, as opposed to punishing yourself.
Become a creature of habit
Believe me, if there was a magic solution to weight gain, I’d happily give it to you. Unfortunately, mes amies, it does not currently exist! Weight control is all about finding non-tedious ways of eating a relatively balanced diet while moving as much as possible. And, it’s important to be consistent otherwise you get into the “good day, bad day cycle” I highlighted earlier, with the good/bad days not only canceling each other out in terms of weight loss but also putting you at risk of developing disordered eating behaviors.
So, here are some habits you could think about establishing:
“No booze” habit during the week — which doesn’t mean that you can drown in a sea of wine Friday to Sunday. It’s a six-glasses-max-a-week habit you need to aim to cultivate!
Desserts at weekend habit — which means sticking to fruit, yogurt or a square of dark chocolate if you need something sweet to finish your meal during the weekdays.
It’s sometimes more helpful to think about strategies to help you replace unhealthier choices. This can be a kinder and more effective long-term approach than “elimination or avoid” strategies.
Replacement strategies give you a plan B and more flexibility to help keep on track.
For example, replace 50% of your carbohydrates with a second vegetable or a bowl of soup, replace sweetened yogurts with natural yogurts, replace sodas with sparkling water.
When it comes to exercise, the evidence highlights that while it is great for health and plays a role in weight control, you’d have to exercise for at least 90 minutes a day for exercise alone to make a difference to your weight. You can’t outdodge a dodgy diet! I’m a nutritionist, not a fitness professional, so all I will say is find something you love to do and do it regularly. Find what feels good and go for it!
Thyroid, stress and menopause
A few final words on other factors which impact on weight. If the weight gain is sudden and inexplicable, do get your thyroid and blood glucose levels checked as low thyroid and high blood sugar/insulin can cause weight gain. Be aware too that stress can also impact on your weight, not only because some of us tend to “eat” our stress but also because cortisol, one of the stress hormones, can cause abdominal weight gain.
As for the menopause? Weight control becomes slightly more “interesting” as lower levels of estrogen make it harder to control our appetites. New research also indicates that menopausal women move less, possibly because estrogen helps to influence a “movement gene” and without this gene operating at its full strength, we become more static. Mince alors! Therefore, post-menopause we risk turning turn into ravenous couch potatoes. But, my lovely readers, I firmly believe that menopausal weight gain is not inevitable. It’s a question of making smarter choices, choosing foods that help keep you feeling full (cue vegetables, protein and moderate amounts of whole grains) and plotting strategies to keep our shapely derrieres moving!