The world is drowning in information on health, nutrition and exercise. From liver cleansing to lentils, leotards to lycra, low cal to lavage and portion size to paleo, new weight loss trends are popping up faster than you can sauté kale. Yet 95 per cent of people who try to lose weight put it all back on, plus more, within 12 months of starting any sort of weight loss regime. Why?
Because the key factor in successful weight management has been overlooked: the brain.
The brain is our control centre. Every part of the body follows the signals and instructions sent out by the brain. The brain determines why, how and where body fat is stored. The brain drives our metabolism, hunger, food choices, motivation to exercise (or not) and hormone production. So put aside your meal plan and start with the following Mind Plan.
1. Instead of focusing on what you should be eating, turn your attention to why you are eating. At least 30 per cent of our eating is non-hungry eating. We eat because we’re sad, angry, bored, lonely, stressed, depressed, procrastinating, celebrating, commiserating, deliberating, the list is endless. If you eat when you’re not hungry, your body doesn’t need the energy and will store it as excess body fat. Therefore before you reach for food, ask yourself ‘Am I really hungry or am I trying to change how I’m feeling?’ If you’re genuinely hungry, eat. If it’s an emotional reason, read step two.
2. One of the most empowering and healing things we can do in place of comfort eating, is to simply sit with our emotions without having to suppress them or distract ourselves from them. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. But discomfort doesn’t harm us. It’s just uncomfortable. We don’t like feeling uncomfortable, but the discomfort doesn’t last. If you can sit quietly and let yourself feel the unpleasant feeling for just a few minutes, you’ll be amazed at how it dissipates and you actually feel energised by the process. And you’ll no longer feel like the sugar hit or whatever it was you were about to eat.
3. Give yourself permission to do nothing. One of the most common triggers for non-hungry eating is needing to take a break from what you’re doing. We feel guilty for stopping because we live in a society that makes us feel we have to be productive all the time. So we look for excuses and food is an easy choice. You don’t need to eat to justify having a break.
4. When you eat, just eat. Don’t be doing anything else because the brain can only focus on one thing at a time and you’ll miss the signals from your body about whether or not the food actually agrees with you and how much of it you need. Pay attention to the smell, texture and subtleties of flavour. You’ll enjoy your food more but end up eating less because you’re satisfied sooner. The more we taste, the less we need. The blows people away. Most people think that the more they enjoy their food, the more they will eat. The opposite is true. The secret is to savour every mouthful.
5. Learn to eat until you’re 80 per cent full. The Japanese call this ‘hara hachi bu’. The reason is that it takes about 20 minutes for the many signals from your gut and fat cells to reach your brain and tell you that you’ve had enough. So if you eat until you’re 80 per cent full, in 20 minutes you’ll find you’re actually 100 per cent full and you’ll be glad you stopped when you did.
6. Get a regular good night’s sleep. Sleep deprivation drives up all the hormones that increase hunger and sugar cravings. Not to mention needing to prop yourself up with food because you’re tired.
7. Throw out the bathroom scales because when your weight goes down, you’re losing muscle and bone, not just fat. When you lose muscle, your metabolism slows down (which means you need fewer calories to maintain your weight) and you increase your risk of insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. If you need a number to motivate you, measure your waist circumference. A shrinking waist circumference correlates more closely with improved health than reduction in body weight. For a man, a healthy waist circumference is less than 94cm and for woman, less than 80cm.
Better still, retrain your brain to focus on the best measure of progress: feeling better, having more energy and enjoying life to the full.