For this blog, I decided to note down steps towards losing weight and then keeping it off for good. These steps are based on stuff that I do with clients. It’s also based on my own journey through weight loss and through where I am now. My continued journey through maintaining weight loss and living a balanced life through nutrition, which I’m sure all of you reading can relate to.
Step 1: Be aware of your overall food and calorie intake.
You don’t need to track calories, but tracking at first can definitely help, that’s how I started. Even just writing down a food journal can be extremely eye-opening. As long as you’re very honest with what you eat and when. I find that when most people start to use a food diary or a food journal and write down the foods that they eat, they find that their eating massively improves in terms of quality and it also provides a bit of mindfulness around the food choices that they’re making. Whether you need certain foods, really want certain foods, and why you’re eating those foods in the first place.
Even just writing down a food journal can be extremely eye-opening.
Make sure that you’re honest with your portion sizes and the weights of the foods. You may need to weigh foods at first, or at least use a way to make sure that you’re being accurate with portion sizes like using cup measurements or using palm sizes for certain foods. There’s always going to be a little bit of inaccuracy within those methods. Tracking has inaccuracy built-in as well, but at least it kind of everything will have the same amount of inaccuracy when you track, so at least there you’ve got a fair test.
Make sure that you track every bite, lick and taste as well. Every little nibble and every little morsel, and even think about the drinks that you have, and whether they have calories associated with them. Because a lot of the times, this is where people are falling down. It’s the little mindless snacks throughout the day that creep up and it’s the calories within drinks that people just aren’t aware of. So whether that’s the posh coffee from your local coffee place, whether it’s having a certain amount of alcoholic drinks per week or per evening even. There are usually some hidden calories a lot of the time that people just aren’t really being aware of.
So the first step has always got to be being aware of your food, your calorie intake and your current habits around food. Because as soon as you’re aware of them. You can then start to make a change. And if you want to be really aware of your current habits, this is something that James clear talks about in atomic habits, you can have a habit tracker, that you write down your actions on a day. And then you can rate your current habits with whether they’re helping you towards your goals, or whether they’re taking you away from your goals. Then you’re going to be aware of your current actions on a day to day basis, you’re going to be better empowered to change them going forward.
Step 2: Identify your low hanging fruit.
What does this mean? I hear you ask. Low hanging fruits are the changes that you can make that are the easiest, but that are going to bring the biggest reward. So for example, it could be the fact that every morning on the way to work you have a double shot, extra cream + syrup latte, from Starbucks or wherever. And that currently is adding up to 450 calories or potentially more, I’m not really sure. The calories of every Starbucks drink are available now on the menu and they’re available next to every food item as well. So it’s never been easier for you to be aware of these kind of things.
Potentially, it’s having snacks in the evening, as you’re cooking or after dinner that you don’t really need, but that you’ve gotten into a habit of having because you’re chilling out and watching the TV. There will be some habits within your life that you could easily change, and not miss, that are going to have a big return in investment when it comes to your overall calorie intake.
So at first, identifying this low hanging fruit is really useful. Then you can pick one or two of them to change, first up, that’s going to get you a head start on doing all of the other things. So, pick the easiest changes that you can make to bring the biggest reward and run with that for a few weeks until that becomes the norm. And then you can focus on…
Step 3: Establish new habits
What can you change and how can you change it? You’ve got to start small. You’ve got to start slow and easy because otherwise, you’re not going to do it. If there is a big leap between the knowledge that you have in order to follow something through or the ability that you think you have in the following of something through, then you’re not going to do it.
When I work with clients in consultations, I ask them a question on how ready they think they are to make this change, or how likely from a scale of 1 to 10 are they to do this or this. If they give me anything lower than a 9, then it’s too difficult, and we choose something else. This is what you need to do for yourself. Have a think about a habit that you can adopt, which relates to food and exercise and think then, on a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you going to do that, day in and day out? If it’s anything less than a 9, you need to start smaller, you need to start easier.
This may seem arduous, it may seem unnecessarily slow, it may seem a little bit frustrating if you’ve decided at this point you want to make a change, but trust me, that unless you start small, you’re going to find yourself not doing it, and then being even more frustrated.
So, with these new habits. Set yourself intentions to complete them by saying: “I will do this, at this time, for this length of time on these days.” Be that specific with it and write it down, because otherwise, you will not follow through with it. Have a think about how you can stack your new habits onto existing ones. For example, when you brush your teeth, do you then go and make your lunch for the day. When you pack your gym shoes, can you do that as you get your pyjamas on to go to bed? When you cook your dinner for the evening, can you cook your lunch for the next day? You see how you can stack new habits onto existing ones, which is going to make it easier to follow through, in the long run.
Step 4: Establish a better relationship with food
Remember from my blog post the other day, that there is no such thing as good or bad food. There are higher calorie, lower nutritious foods, and there are lower-calorie, higher nutritious foods. We want to eat more of the higher nutritious foods and fewer of the lower nutritious foods. But that doesn’t make them good or bad in isolation, and it doesn’t make you a bad person for eating a lower nutritious food at any one-time.
Use convenience foods to help you in terms of time for preparation, whether that’s frozen foods, whether that’s sauces, spice mixes, sandwiches on the go, ready meals. All of these things you can have and live a long, healthy and nutritious lifestyle. You can eat out. You can eat bread, you can have food on the go.
Have a look at the habits for long life weight loss on my previous blog, and consider those in each situation, how can these apply? How can I look for protein? How can I look for vegetables? How can I look to eat slowly in this situation, how can I look to eat when I’m hungry, am I even hungry right now? Or am I eating out of an old routine? Have a think about how these apply in each situation and stop thinking that food has to look absolutely perfect, that it always has to be homemade, it always has to be lean meats and vegetables, because it’s not the case.
As Andy Morgan from rippedbody.com said in a recent Instagram post, and he talks about this often as well, is that life isn’t a game of Mario. You don’t get extra credit for having extra nutrients. Once you’ve hit your body’s RNI’s. So once you’ve got your nutrients up for the day. You don’t need to worry about getting in more nutrition. As long as you’re hitting a baseline level of fruits and vegetables and eating plenty of nutritious food, having convenience food and junk food as well isn’t going to wreck your progress.
Step 5: Exercise for health, rather than for weight loss.
Find something that you can enjoy, and stick to stop looking for the perfect exercise to burn fat or the perfect workout programme to build muscle. These things don’t exist. What does exist is the time that you have available, and the things that you enjoy and combining those two together to find your perfect programme.
Your perfect programme sits in between what you enjoy, what you can actually do in terms of ability, and what you can stick to in terms of time within your day. Don’t think you need to do the high-intense activity just to burn fat, because you don’t.
Don’t kill yourself with workouts, in order to eat more food. Don’t eat food and then work out because you feel guilty and think you need to earn that food back because that is a really slippery slope to be on. You don’t want to get into the habit of thinking, “Oh, because I’ve eaten like a dick-head today I need to go and do a one hour run”. That’s a really bad relationship to have. Exercise for health, exercise for enjoyment and don’t try to out-train your food choices.
You don’t want to get into the habit of thinking, “Oh, because I’ve eaten like a dick-head today I need to go and do a one hour run”
Step 6: When you’ve established baseline habits, keep building on these habits.
Over time, the basics of nutrition and fitness will always be there, having an appropriate calorie intake, eating enough protein, getting enough sleep, moving around daily outside of exercise and exercising reasonably frequently with a combination of weights and cardiovascular activity. Those are the basics.
So don’t ever think that you’re too good for them, or that these are too simple because out of all the people I’ve worked with, from athletes to regular people and everyone in between, no one was ever too good for the basics. If you nail the basics as best as possible, you’ll actually reach your goals, and you won’t need extra supplements, you won’t need to worry about meal timing at certain specific times or getting a specific amount of food in a specific amount of time in relation to your workout.
You won’t need to worry about all of those things, because you’ll have reached your goals. So don’t ever think that you’re beyond those basics and always think when you’ve set your baseline habits: How can you get better each day by just 1%, and continue on that path.
No one was ever too good for the basics
Step 7: Use effort dials for nutrition and exercise.
Based on your situation, what’s 1 in terms of nutrition and exercise, and what’s 10? What does that look like for you? What does a 1 out of nutrition look like, what does a 10 out of nutrition look like? Same thing for fitness and exercise, and with life in general. You’re going to have to live on this spectrum. A perfect scenario never exists, but if you have a good idea of what 1 looks like, and what 10 looks like within your head, then you can adjust your effort dial based on the situation that you’re in.
If you’ve got a lot going on, let’s say you’re moving house, and you’re sleeping in your living room because you’ve just moved house and you’re having it renovated and there’s no upstairs. It’s just not a normal life. How can you adjust your effort dial based on the level of stress that you’re facing in order to still move forward and still meet make progress? It may be a step backwards from your previous position or your previous habits, but at least you’re still abiding by a spectrum, and a dial, rather than going right back to square one and undoing all of your hard-earned progress.
Step 8: When you’ve lost your weight, don’t change anything.
So there is a lot of back and forth between being in a deficit and losing weight, then returning to maintenance and what that looks like. And I’m still within that camp of saying that you administer a calorie deficit for a temporary period of time. Then when you reach your goal, you can be bringing food up to maintenance. That maintenance is going to be lower than your previous maintenance because you’ve lost body weight, and that will take a bit of time to adjust to.
But in terms of the habits that you’ve built up over time, these don’t need to and shouldn’t change. The reason why so many diets fail in the long term is that people lose the bodyweight that they lost within that diet, and then they go back to eating “normally”. In terms of the habits that you’ve built, this is now your normal eating pattern.
You eat protein at each meal, you eat 5 to 7 fruits and vegetables per day, you move around frequently throughout the day, you sleep 7 to 9 hours a night. You eat out and you’re aware of your overall calorie intake. You have an improved relationship with food. These habits should remain with you once you’ve lost the weight if you want to keep it off for good.
So once you’ve lost the weight, don’t think: “great, I can go back to eating normally now. I can go back to having chocolate and brownies and cakes and sweets and pizzas and things like that all the time”. I want you to be able to include those foods in as you’re losing weight because then they’ll lose their magic over you. Instead, once you’ve lost the weight, think about how you can return to maintenance food intake while keeping hold of all the habits and behaviours you used to lose the weight in the first place.
So there it is, that’s my 8-step conceptual framework for losing weight for good.