How to start dieting

This blog isn’t about the mechanisms of weight loss. If you want to know more about how energy balance works I suggest you read these two blogs here (Why calories do count, and The 3,500 kcals myth). The reason I am writing a ‘diet’ blog and not addressing the concept of calories in versus calories out or macronutrient manipulation is because, as important as it is to understand these mechanisms, it’s not the most important aspect of getting started on a diet. The chances are that you already know that to lose weight you effectively need to eat less and move more, it ain’t rocket science. I’m willing to bet the reason you find it hard to start a diet is more complex than that and more to do with your own levels of resistance, fear or anxiety.

With that in mind here are a few things to consider before setting off on the journey of better health and fitness and, of course, fat loss.

Are you ready to change?

You have to seriously contemplate this question and don’t take another step forward until you can honestly answer it in the affirmative. You see, in order to become the version of yourself that you want to be it’s necessary to change the version of yourself that you are right now. You are considering going on a diet to lose weight, this means that you are currently overweight... God I’m good at this! This means that you need to consider how you got overweight in the first place. I can pretty much guarantee you that it’s because you have gone some time, possibly years, eating a bit too much and moving too infrequently, but why? You see, this is the bit that most people miss. Yeah, eat less move more, lose weight simples, right? If it was really that simple how come you’re not doing it?

Habits are hard to change, they are things that you do instinctively. Brush your teeth before bed otherwise your teeth rot and fall out. Why do you do this every night without fail? Because your mum made you do it every night as a kid, no matter how much you complained about it you HAD to do it. But now it’s a habit, at least I hope it is otherwise you’re going to end up looking like Shane McGowan from the Pogues. Not old enough to remember him? Take a visit to uncle Google.

So, if it took years of haranguing from mother to make you develop the habit of brushing your teeth how long is it going to take you to break the habit of eating ice cream in front of X-Factor on a Saturday night? Or to develop the habit of planning your mealtimes and applying portion control?

Losing weight requires changing your food intake; this means changing your food purchases, your cooking habits, your kitchen cupboard contents, your approach to social situations, what you do in the evening and what you do when you ‘just fancy’ something amongst a slew of other little details. It’s not a straight A to B change, there are a lot of different facets to alter and that means that the whole thing gets daunting. If you change every aspect of your approach to life, you change your life meaning you change where you stand – and then where are you?

This is why every time you start a diet, you do well for a few weeks or a month but pretty soon all the old bad habits start creeping back in, because your subconscious mind is bringing you back to safety, the safety of familiarity. In many cases, it’s the anxiety you experience when looking at the size of the task ahead of you. Like learning to play the guitar, the idea of being able to play a Jimi Hendrix solo seems so impossible right now because you can’t even play a single chord without staring at the fretboard, so why even bother? It’s the same with weight loss, being a size 12 when you are a size 22 seems so out of reach that you quit before you have even started…but if you started a year ago you’d already be well on your way to achieving that goal.

With this in mind, before you start a diet you need to be prepared to be strict with yourself while you set about changing all the bad habits that have got you overweight in the first place, it won’t be easy but if you want it bad enough you’ll see it through. This brings me on to my next point.

Stop making excuses

Yep, because of this resistance to change you’ll find yourself making excuses; “I can’t do that it’s too hard, I don’t have time for that, I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve it, my husband doesn’t understand, my kids won’t eat vegetables, I can’t give up cupcake Tuesdays, it’s an office tradition!”

The excuses are part of that initial resistance to change I mentioned earlier. But there’s something else at play here. You don’t value yourself enough. Thi, is a big problem for a lot of people who want to lose weight. I used to think it was especially prevalent among women, especially mothers, but I have found that men are just as bad. It’s just that women are more likely to ‘diet’ than men are.

You see, you don’t appreciate the value in investing time and effort into yourself because your sense of self-worthiness is non-existent. This often comes from years of social programming. In the case of parents, it’s guilt. If you do anything for yourself you are a terrible and neglectful parent. But ask yourself this, if you become sick who will take care of the kids? Furthermore, if you want your kids to be fit and healthy, then surely it makes sense to install those behaviours early, just like when you make them brush their teeth or have a bath. You don’t have to force them into sports and healthy eating but if they see you doing it, they are far more likely to follow-suit.

So, if you want to be successful in achieving long term success and positive lifestyle change you HAVE to start learning to see yourself as an important priority in your life. On par with your kids, spouse or work. In other words, you ARE enough and you DO deserve it.

"Mechanisms of weight loss and dieting are pretty straight forward".

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Set realistic goals

You’ve done a little soul searching, you’ve prepared yourself mentally and you have decided that you do love yourself enough to put the effort in what’s the next step? Cut out carbs, eat dust and do twice daily HIIT routines until you feel sick and then drink a ‘detox’ tea that makes you shit your pants, right? Nah!

Fat loss is a lifestyle choice, we’ve already established that change must happen and that only you can make that change but how do you make this happen practically? You have to get realistic with your expectations and stop focussing on the scales. Too many people place so much attachment to what the scales say that any increase or plateau in their weight massively reduces their self-worth and any decrease isn’t a big enough decrease and even that makes them berate themselves for being a failure. This is obviously not a good mindset to develop.

My advice, instead of focusing solely on the scales and your goal of weight loss is to set goals that are based around lifestyle changes. These are known as process goals. Sure, you are trying to lose weight so you have to set yourself a weight loss goal and then smaller goals that you can tick off on your way to that weight loss target. However, because fat loss isn’t a linear trajectory and your weight will fluctuate constantly (although you should still see a downward trend) it’s necessary to place more attachment on other processes. These are the lifestyle and habit changes that all contribute to your ultimate goal of weight loss. Doing this gives you something to congratulate yourself for even if the scales haven’t moved that week. Things like prepping all your lunches for the week to save time and keep you on target. Hitting your exercise goals for the week, getting to bed on time instead of staying up late for the sake of it. Creating a daily practice of self-compassion, gratitude or mindfulness. These are the things that really matter. Once you start to focus on these things you start to get more out of life and feel much better about yourself. You may even find that after a while, the weight loss target becomes less important to you. It’s not unusual for people to wake up one day and realise that they are satisfied with who they are and that, in fact, what they really want is a new deadlift PR. Happy days, now you’re an athlete and I bet you never imaged that you could think about yourself like that? Next stop the Olympics!

Get help

Because all these factors are actually quite hard to implement and in the first few months there will be a lot of doubt and a lot of f*** it moments. It’s usually a good practice to get help. I mean, Luke Skywalker would never have become a Jedi master if he hadn’t have employed the services of Obi Wan and Yoda, would he? So, if you want to succeed in achieving your health and fat loss goals but need someone to help you resist the draw of the darkside then you might need to hire a coach. But this isn’t sales pitch for services (no, hire me) because there are many ways you can get help.

One of the reasons that traditional diet clubs bring success is that they give you someone to be accountable to and a community of people in the same boat as you all willing to provide support. This isn’t not to be frowned at. Sometimes, all you need is someone to put an arm around you, we all have off days. It might just be that you need a ‘diet’ buddy, a friend who is on the same journey as you. There are many online diet groups, there’s the Joe Wicks one, he’s not everyone’s cup of bulletproof coffee and I really don’t know what his methods are but he seems to get results. There’s other companies like GymCube or, of course, BTN’s Fat Loss for Life group.

The important thing is to educate yourself through this journey of fat loss, so it’s not a simple case of following a restrictive menu plan for 6 weeks and then going back to your old ways. I’ve already talked about the importance of habit change and process goals so this shouldn’t really be a surprise, but if you don’t unlearn all the things that have got you overweight in the first place how do you possibly expect to achieve lasting results?

I think this pretty much covers the main points, if you want to achieve successful and sustainable weight loss and healthy lifestyle change you HAVE to be in it for the long haul and without these key points you’ll be less likely to succeed.

As I said, the mechanisms of weight loss and dieting are pretty straight forward but it’s all the barriers, many of which are built by yourself, that prevent most people from losing weight successfully. Or, you could just use the force but I don’t think that’s a very evidence based approach to dieting.