A few years ago, I read a French book called Maigrir Sans Régime (lose weight without a diet). This book gave simple advice on how to eat consciously. I still think about it today and I’ve had a stable weight for almost 3 years. With 60 kilos for 1.68 metres (132 lb for 5’6), the French would say I look ‘curvy’; the Swiss would say I am ‘normal’; the British would call me ‘slim’ and a few Americans would call me ‘skinny’. But it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I know that I am at my ‘set-point‘ or ideal weight. Of course, I wish I weighed 55 kilos instead of 60. But thanks to the book, I know that it is just not in my nature to weigh 55 kilos and I’m fine with it. This hasn’t always been the case. I had lots of weight variations; I went from 51 kilos to 70. Never did I look as good and healthy as I do now, at my ideal weight. Since the book has never been translated in English, here is a summary of what I’ve learned from it (main advice is in bold):
Find out what your ‘set-point’ weight is and stick to it. Your ideal weight is genetically determined and there is nothing you can do to change it. It is the one you had for long periods of time with little or no variations, without starving yourself, and in which you feel fit. You might want to drop 10 kilos but it might be that you should only drop 5 for example. Even if your ‘set-point’ weight is a few kilos more than you wish, accept it and try to stick with it instead of constantly gaining and losing weight around it.
Once you know that, you can eat everything you want, anytime you want on only one condition: ask yourself if you are really hungry before eating anything. It sounds very logical yet it is not so easy to be aware of one’s hunger. We eat so much and so often that it may be hard to realise when we are hungry or not. We all have inside of us the capacity to determine how much food we need to eat but we often completely ignore it. The book’s technique to become aware of your hunger is to skip your first meal just for one day and to wait until you’re really feeling the hunger in your stomach to eat anything. Just observe what happens in your body then, what signals your body gives you when it really needs food. Another way is to focus on your eating while you’re eating: sit-down properly and turn off computers and television. Eat slowly and serve small portions knowing that you can always get more if you still feel hungry after finishing your first portion. Appreciate each bit and notice how it feels.
When you’re more familiar with the signals your body sends when you are hungry and when you are full, follow them. It means that you should stop eating when you are not hungry anymore, even if it means throwing food in the bin (your body is not a garbage bin anyway). Skip a meal if you’re not hungry, even if everyone else is eating. And most important of all, always ask yourself: “Am I really hungry?” before eating anything.
We eat for many, many reasons, but most of them have absolutely nothing to do with a physiological need:
- Social pressure: it’s time to eat, everyone else is eating…
- Feeling empty (eating fills in the void)
- I have to finish my plate, I hate to waste
- Compensation for affection
- This cake looks delicious, I’m not hungry but I want it
- Fatigue (using sugar to get energy)
If you can spot the reasons why you are eating when you don’t need to, you’re already better off. A good way to find out is to keep a food journal for a week where you write everything you eat, how much of it you eat, where, with whom, and how you feel before, during and after eating it. Example: Sunday, 16.00, I am alone at home, watching TV and I feel a bit down. I grab a chocolate bar, the first bites are delicious and cheer me up. I’m absolutely not hungry but I can’t stop eating it until feeling nauseated. Afterwards I feel guilty and nauseous.
Doing this, you’ll likely find out that a lot of times you were not hungry at all and did not need to eat.
Once you are aware of the emotions leading you to eat too much, you can work on yourself and find other strategies than eating as a response to them. For example, the above-mentioned Sunday afternoon chocolate binge could be replaced by something else like:
- Having a bath or a shower
- Calling a friend
- Taking a walk outside
- Taking a few deep breaths
- Having a cup of tea or coffee
- Doing sports
- Going out
- Creating something
Just find out what it is that works for you and use it to replace the food strategy that makes you fat.
If you want to lose weight, whatever you’re eating, you need to burn more calories than what you’re ingesting. It’s as simple as that. It doesn’t mean that doing more exercise is the secret. If you do more exercise and also eat more, you might even gain weight in the process! There is nothing that you should or shouldn’t eat. Often, when we want to lose weight, we end up demonizing certain type of food like chocolate. Eating chocolate won’t make you fat if you eat it when hungry. A 100 calories in low-fat yogurt or in 2 chocolate squares are the same 100 calories and they will weigh the same on your scale. Of course you should eat fruits and vegetables and avoid junk-food… to be healthy, not to lose weight.
The problem with demonizing food is that you it leads you to an endless spiral of frustration. Let’s imagine a situation: Chocolate is a no-go for Nicole. She has even banned it from her house. She was at Starbucks today and wanted a chocolate muffin so much that she couldn’t even ask herself whether or not she was hungry. She ate it and it was more delicious than it should have been because it was forbidden. Now she feels guilty and craven. A good technique to get out of this frustration spiral is to eat only chocolate (or whatever food it is you are convinced makes you fat) for one or two days. As much chocolate as you want for the whole day. Only chocolate, nothing else, and only when you are hungry. Weigh yourself before and after the experiment and you’ll see that you didn’t gain weight, maybe you even lost a few grams.
If you eat only when you’re hungry and do a reasonable amount of exercise, you should naturally reach your ‘set-point’ weight after a few weeks/months, depending on how much weight you need to lose to reach it. Of course, it will take you longer to get fit this way than if you followed a crash diet. But once you get to your ideal weight listening to your body needs, you’ll be fit for life.
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