If you've ever been on a weight loss journey, you'll know it has a habit of being quite the challenge at times. But, that said, how big a challenge it is, is somewhat up to you. Too often I see people falling into the trap of extremes when embarking on a weight loss journey, which just makes the whole process hard.
I'm here to tell you it doesn't have to be hard, in fact it could be, dare I say it, easy! Small changes over time build up, and they also stick. Avoid the harsh punishments and instead, take these six approaches to make your weight loss journey that bit more enjoyable, and successful.
I completely get the temptation to aim for fast weight loss, pledging to drastically cut your intake in a bid to reach your goal faster. But I implore you to stop right there! Extreme approaches very rarely work in the long run, and they're almost always unenjoyable. What we find is that weight loss approaches that promotes extremes such as very low calorie intakes or cutting out whole food groups are not sustainable, meaning people eventually give up, having not really learned how to maintain a healthy lifestyle in the long run.
Instead, aiming for a healthy intake of calories, plus a balanced approach to your food choices is a much better long-term plan, which also means weight loss can happen without it feeling painful or hugely depriving.
Here are my top three tips!
One of the great things about keeping an accurate food diary, is that you start to see how many calories certain foods add to your day. In many cases, some big contributors are things we don't really notice, and therefore wouldn't miss. I'm talking things like oil used when cooking or the spread we add to our sandwich. Just a teaspoon of oil contains around 40 calories, so if you find yourself free pouring this into your pan Jamie Oliver-style you could be adding a huge number of calories and fat to your meals. Switching to a spray oil or using an air fryer to cook your food instead could save you a significant number of calories, and it's likely you wouldn't really notice when it comes to the taste of the meal.
Likewise, have you ever weighed how much spread you add to your sandwich and totted up the calories? We typically add around 40-50 calories to our sandwiches in spread alone, but is it necessary, and would you miss it if you didn't include it? If you're someone who adds spread and mayo, maybe ditch one for an easy win.
Another quick win is avoiding the double carb when having a curry. Rice or naan, not both is my recommendation. Let's be honest, the curry is the main event, so choose your carb and save on calories by ditching the extra option.
On the flip-side to this, if you have a real sweet tooth or are used to having a couple of takeaways a week – I'd recommend you don't pledge to cut out all sources of sugar and ditch all takeaways at once. Trust me, if you say you can't have any of something, that one thing will sneak its way into your thoughts every day! Having just a bit of what you fancy is a great way to satisfy your food preferences without the need to go all-out.
Instead, turn your focus to your portion sizes of these foods. Love chocolate? Then plan a small bar or a few squares into your evening when you fancy – just avoid cracking open a sharing bag and picking straight from the packet when going solo on a Saturday night. Portion out a small amount instead and put the rest away for another day.
Tip! I also find the 10 minute wait approach can help with not overindulging in these instances. If I'm eating some chocolate, I'll have a few squares and then when the desire to reach for more strikes, I'll tell myself to just wait 10 minutes to see how I feel. If in 10 minutes time, I still have a really strong desire for more, I can have another square. But if, my desire has lessened, I'll wait another 10 minutes or put it away altogether. The trick here is trying to avoid those impulses to mindlessly eat or give in to the initial desire to keep rewarding our sugar sensors! You'll often find that the initial craving to keep eating significantly lessens after the first 10 minutes, so you'll have the strength to say no to more when you've given yourself that extra time.
For some people, one particular habit could be adding a significant number of calories to their overall intake. If for example, you're someone who drinks six milky coffees with two sugars each day, resulting in a daily coffee total of approximately 400 calories. If all you did was cut these out of your daily intake, or switched to a black coffee with sweetener instead, you could lose between 0.5-1lb per week. Now that's what I call an easy win!
Or perhaps your habit is a glass or two of wine most nights. You could be looking at a calorie intake of more than 1,300 each week from this alone. Switching to spritzers with soda to halve the calories or opting for a G&T with low-cal tonic instead could save a significant number of calories.
Sometimes an easy win is looking for that one thing that adds a significant number of calories to your weekly intake and thinking about how you could sub it out or ditch it altogether. You could help yourself lose weight by making one simple change.
Making activity a part of your routine does wonders for us both physically and mentally. While exercise undoubtedly burns additional calories and helps to keep us physically healthy, its biggest bonus is in the impact it has on our mindset. When we make activity a part of our routine and an everyday norm, we tend to feel a stronger sense of control over our food choices, increasing our motivation to fuel our body in a healthy way.
I've seen it happen many times, when people find a love of exercise, they naturally shift to making healthier food choices. After all, getting a good sweat on, then going home to dive into a greasy takeaway doesn't really feel like the best choice in most cases, does it?
As well as this boost to motivation, regular exercise is an essential part of long term weight loss success. Someone recently phrased it to me as exercise is your 'metabolism investor' – which I love! This is because exercise is essential for maintaining muscle mass which is what helps to keep our metabolic rate fired up as we age. Part of the reason for the decline in the number of calories we need as we get older is due to muscle loss, so regular exercise is your ticket out of this predicament. Make movement a part of your lifestyle, and your weight loss goals will be that bit more achievable – trust me!
Rather than thinking a weight loss diet is all about depriving yourself of the things you enjoy, why not view it as an opportunity to give yourself more of what you need? When we fuel our body with nutritious foods it can thrive and function at its best, which in turn leads to a happier, healthier, more motivated you – making weight loss easier to achieve.
Research also shows that those who eat more processed foods tend to naturally eat more than those who eat a diet rich in whole, minimally processed foods . This can mean that focusing on eating a well balanced diet, rich in important nutrients can mean we naturally eat fewer calories without even trying. The result? Weight loss without the deprivation. You'll feel less hungry and much more energised too, so it's a real winner!
Your ticket to easier weight loss is eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, opting for wholegrains, lean protein, good fats and drinking lots of water. Limit highly processed foods and those high in salt, sugar and saturated fat, and instead opt to cook homemade meals. You'll find you can eat seemingly more and still lose weight, because these foods are filling and low energy density, meaning they add bulk for fewer calories.
Losing weight requires changes and of course effort, but there's really no need to make it a painful experience. Making smaller changes gradually over time will eventually build up to make significant changes in the long run. It's like an intricate and impressive Lego statue – built from tiny little building blocks that fit together over time to make something truly remarkable. Start small and build up from there, and that's how you'll achieve lifelong change.
Nutritionist Emma White (ANutr), MSc Human Nutrition is passionate about how food science applies to the human body, and how the nutrients in what we eat affect us and ultimately have an impact on our health.