Fad diets, weight loss and how to lead a healthier lifestyle

As night follows day fad diets appear in the press in January. First out of the blocks this year was the 5:2 fasting diet (eat for 5 days of the week, fast for 2) which appeared on BBC breakfast while the hogmanay hangovers were still clearing. I don’t really want to get into the pros and cons for each diet because the fact is it doesn’t matter how they stack up. You don’t need them and most of the time they don’t work over the long-term.

So what’s wrong with a diet? Well nothing for most of them. As long as the diet isn’t doing you any physical harm then anything that promotes healthier eating is OK but my big issue with diets is that they tend to be a short-term fix for long-term problems. You can go on a diet and target losing 2 stone in a few months, achieve that then return to your old eating habits and put the weight straight back on again. Not only that but you’ve probably spent more than you usually do on food for your special diet to do so, agonised over missing out on your favourite foods and put up with some horrendous meals. It’s madness!

Instead of spending a fortune on the latest diet books, plans and special food make changes that will work for you over years instead of months. Simple changes to how you approach what you eat and your lifestyle in general will be far more beneficial to your long-term health and happiness than crash dieting over a few short months. It’s not complicated, can save you money and you don’t have to miss out on tasty meals and treats.

Step 1 – Relax.

Chill. Don’t get too worked up about your weight or your diet. You have to get in the mindset that you’re in this for the long haul. That means you won’t see huge changes over short timeframes. It might take a couple of years to get down to your ideal weight instead of a couple of months but once you’re there it’ll be easier to maintain that weight. In the meantime if you happen to have a bad week or a few days where you treat yourself a bit too much and put on weight instead of losing it, don’t beat yourself up about it. Everything evens out over time and you’ll have some weeks where you’ll do better and some where you’ll be rubbish.

Step 2 – Learn to cook.

This is one of the easiest and most effective changes you can make which will help you in the long-term. Learning to cook fresh food from scratch puts you in complete control of the food you eat. I’m not saying cook everything from scratch but if you’re cooking 4 or 5 freshly prepared meals a week you’re in a good place and probably saving some money too.

Step 3 – Portion control.

There is a time and place for eating a mountain of food until you can barely move. It’s called Christmas. The rest of the time attempt to show some restraint. If you’ve made more than you need then chances are it’ll stay good until tomorrow. Eat it for lunch. This is one of the hardest lifestyle changes to adopt but can make a huge difference. It takes surprisingly little food to fill you up at a mealtime.

Step 4 – Treat yourself.

Don’t deprive yourself of the food and drink you love. Why would you do that to yourself? If you enjoy chocolate then eat chocolate, but instead of a couple of bars a day cut it back to a couple of bars a week. Love pizza? Save it for the weekend and choose a small instead of a medium (remember step 3). If you don’t eat the food you enjoy then eventually you’re going to break and break big. If you keep them as an occasional treat then you know you’re going to get it soon so it’s not going to become that massive itch you can never scratch.

Step 5 – Exercise.

This is the key. The step that ties everything together and makes the difference. To enjoy a balanced diet and enable you to relax about lapses and moments of weakness you need a way to burn off the good stuff. Make exercise part of your routine and something you look forward to. To do that you need to find a form of exercise that you enjoy. If you can do that then it’s no longer that thing you hate to do but feel like you should, it’s something you can’t wait to do. It doesn’t have to be going to the gym or running. There are thousands of sports and activities out there to try. Never, ever think you can’t do something. Every athlete has to start somewhere and everyone has been the slowest, the most uncoordinated or the weakest at some point. Try something new, enjoy it, revel in the small improvements you make. Try hill walking, indoor climbing walls, cycling, trail running, tennis, badminton, winter sports, all those mental minority sports you watched at olympics or take up an active hobby like gardening or DIY. Walk to work, join your employer’s cycle to work scheme. Do something and enjoy it.

Things to remember.

Don’t get hung up on weight. BMI is meaningless. The most important measurement is the one on the label of your trousers. Waist measurement is a better sign of health than how much you weigh or a calculation of your weight in relation to your height. Small changes to your lifestyle and balancing what you eat with exercise that you enjoy will have far greater benefits to your health than just losing weight. Reduced blood pressure, reduced risk of heart disease, increased strength and flexibility and greater overall fitness. You’ll probably live longer and feel less stressed too.

Relax, enjoy food and exercise, be sensible and make small changes that can last a lifetime

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