The road to changing your lifestyle in order to improve health or induce weight loss/weight gain is very challenging indeed. Even if you are fully committed to your clean diet and positive lifestyle change, there will be obstacles, both obvious and discrete, that you will face along the way. Most of them will be identifiable as they will be the reasons which have kept you from eating a clean diet so far. Often it is not the physical aspect, but the mental and social aspect of dieting which causes the most problems and disruption to your master plan!
Below are some tips to help you take control, avoid the pitfalls and ultimately reach your goals. It should also help you turn a 2-week diet blitz into a long lasting and successful lifestyle change.
Control Your Appetite, Don’t Let It Control You
It is easy to lose sight of who is the boss, our appetite or us! Many people who find themselves overeating, are in fact eating when they are not hungry. From a young age we are taught that it is rude to leave food on our plates and this becomes part of our behaviour. If you load up your plate with a massive portion, you will try to eat it. You may even see it as a challenge for you to overcome! This type of behaviour isn’t healthy for digestion or overall health. There are many ways you can avoid overeating:
Smaller plates: Small plates create the illusion of a large portion of food when the portion is in fact smaller that you are used to. If you are trying to gain weight, you can do the same here. It is more healthy to increase weight by eating often as opposed to piling up your plate with a large portion of food which will leave you feeling de-energised, tired and bloated.
Blindfold: This may look odd sitting at your dining table and people may make fun of you, but relying purely on your senses of smell and taste can help you to enjoy and savour your food. It also helps you to eat less food because you cannot see what is left on your plate and so you can stop eating when you begin to feel full, instead of ignoring the signals that you are full and finishing the meal anyway.
Colours: It has been cited in many psychology based research journals that the colour blue helps to decrease appetite so investing in blue crockery may be a good idea! Try to stay away from the colours red and yellow, they are said to increase appetite which is why you will find those colours on a lot of food packaging and as the brand colours of fast food chains.
Avoid Emotional Eating
There are various theories behind why some of us tend to deal with times of high stress and emotion by eating ‘comfort food’. One of the main reasons that people turn to foods with a high sugar content when they feel stressed is because the sugar causes the body to release neurotransmitter serotonin which helps us to feel calm and happy. However, the insulin spike caused by the high sugar levels leads to a sugar crash which sends us right back to the awful feeling we had to begin with.
Another theory behind why we turn to comfort food stems from childhood. As a child if you were sad or fell over and hurt yourself, the likelihood is your parents/carer gave you a cookie or the like to help you feel better and take your mind off the negative situation. As adults, this leads us to seek out this same comfort and safety we felt as a child when we were given sugary treats to help cope with stress and emotion.
If you decide on a diet which is very low in calories and not sustainable in the long-run can leave people less able to deal with stress and so they turn to food in times of stress to satisfy their hunger if nothing else can be resolved. Stress hormone cortisol also affects appetite, however, it tends to affect people differently. Some people lose their appetite when stressed and others comfort eat.
No matter which of these explanations sounds most like you, there are ways in which you can create a new habit to break your reliance on junk food when stressed. Talking your stresses over with a friend, listening to music, going for a walk in the fresh air or having a warm, relaxing bath are all viable and more productive alternatives to emotional eating. If you turn to food as a distraction, you can try taking up a hobby which will help take your mind of things, anything from reading a book to attending a yoga class can prove helpful. If you really feel the need to eat, try chewing gum. You may find it to be the oral equivalent of a stress ball!
Don’t Get Caught Off Guard
One of the most popular reasons that people fail to successfully change their lifestyle is that they get caught out by convenient junk food when they are at their most vulnerable and hungry. In order to avoid this you need to plan ahead. And when I say plan ahead, I mean do more than think on a Sunday evening, tomorrow I will start my healthy eating plan! You need to have an established and realistic plan to put into action and you need to have the food to help you succeed.
Bad habit 1: Throwing junk impulse buys into your shopping trolley.
The supermarkets can be evil. They purposely line the tills with sweets and crisps so that while you queue to pay for your nutritious food, you have to stare at the colourful packets of sweets which are screaming ‘BUY ME!’ at you. The best way to avoid this is to write your shopping list, budget for only those foods, take out the cash and leave your card at home. That way, you will be less at risk of impulse buys and will leave the store with exactly the foods you set out to purchase.
Bad habit 2: Caving into junk food at lunch time.
The next thing you need to do is prepare healthy meals for on-the-go. If you work full-time, lunch can be a big obstacle. Buy some plastic containers and make yourself delicious lunch time meals. You should also consider that you need healthy snacks to avoid feeling ridiculously hungry throughout the day. Protein shakes can also help greatly here. They taste sweet and delicious and help to keep you feeling satisfied and full between meals. Ideal snack ideas include nuts, fruit, dried fruit, self-made smoothies or wholegrain crackers.
Be Civilised And Sociable
Sitting down and enjoying a meal at the dining table is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it improves digestion. It also encourages you to consciously acknowledge what you are consuming and allows you time to properly chew your food before swallowing it which again, aids digestion.
You should avoid consuming meals at a rapid rate as this encourages overeating as your brain will not register that your stomach is full until it is too late and you feel lethargic and bloated and probably guilty! You should also avoid watching TV while you eat. You tend to eat more because your mind is not focussed on the food, portion or ingesting of the meal in your lap.
Another reason to eat your meal at the dinner table is that it helps you to feel less isolated and encourages your family to adopt healthy eating habits too. Try to avoid platter style dinners where you help yourself from the middle of the table. Three separate small portions of the same dinner can fool your brain into thinking you haven’t eaten much, when if you put the entire meal on one plate you would be shocked at the portion you have consumed.
Allow Yourself A Cheat Meal
Allowing yourself a ‘cheat day’ or day where you allow yourself a few treats is good for you physically and mentally. Cheat days boost metabolisms by increasing leptin levels. Leptin is a hormone which influences hunger and body fat storage and when you drastically cut calories for an extended period of time, leptin levels drop. This causes your body to store any fat that it can in ‘survival mode’. In other words, your body thinks it will be deprived of calories indefinitely and will therefore hold onto fat stores for the energy it needs.
When you have a cheat day, you have a chance to‘re-set’ your leptin levels. It sends the message that food it plentiful and therefore it is unnecessary to hold onto excess fat reserves. It is a good thing to keep your metabolism on its toes and be able to allow yourself a few treats which will help to keep you happy and motivated to continue with your lifestyle change.
Being able to allow yourself the odd treat will help you battle the temptation to desire the ‘forbidden’ foods. All week you can think about what you will have for your cheat meal and when you finally eat it, you will enjoy it far more. After a while though, you may even find that you don’t look forward to it at all because of the benefits you can see and feel as a result of your healthy eating.
In terms of how often you should have a cheat day, one meal every week is ideal. You should not allow yourself cheat foods more often than this. When you begin your diet it is a good idea to follow a strict clean diet for two weeks before allowing yourself a cheat meal. The best days to have a cheat meal are at the weekend so that you can fully enjoy social parties, meals or events.
Firstly, your body requires water in order to function optimally. Therefore, if you are dehydrated your metabolism will slow down. Secondly, drinking a glass of water before a main meal will help to reduce appetite and help you to eat smaller portions. This is great if your aim is weight loss as you are eating less and eating regular small meals will keep your metabolism ticking over at a more rapid rate as well.
Nutritionists will often recommend drinking ice cold water to help boost metabolism and aid weight loss. This is because the body will use energy (burn more calories) heating the water to body temperature from the ice cold temperature it was on ingestion.
If your aim is healthy weight gain or improved health, water is equally important. Try to keep a 2L bottle with you that you can re-fill so that you have access to drinking water no matter where you are. Carrying a heavy full bottle of water around will remind you to drink more often, with the bonus that while you are drinking water you will not have such a strong urge to consume fizzy drinks or caffeinated beverages.
Take The Lead When Eating Out
One of the common mistakes made when people embark on a healthy lifestyle is that they tend to avoid eating out as much as possible. The logic behind this is solid. The majority of restaurants serve ridiculously large portion sizes and it is difficult to keep track of calorie intake because you have not been shown the nutrient content of your meal. However, it can isolate you from friends and family and eventually it will push you over the edge and you will want to give up on your new lifestyle.
There are two ways to avoid this dilemma and still be social. The first way, is to use this time to allow yourself a cheat meal. Choosing a Friday or Saturday is perfect because they are most likely to be your social evenings. If you do not wish to include a cheat meal in your diet or you have other plans for your cheat meal, there is another way you can enjoy socialising without indulging too much! Order your food first. It seems ridiculously simple doesn’t it? There is likely to be healthy options on the menu and the best way to ensure that you don’t give in to temptation when your friends are ordering a double portion of chips and garlic bread is to place your healthy order before they get the chance to voice their order.