The secret of weight loss revealed

One of the most important skills to develop in order to lose weight is to trust yourself. This is not as easy as it sounds. You need to view yourself as a trustable person, particularly around food.

You'll have to work hard at expelling all those negative thoughts about yourself, particularly the little devil that sits on your shoulder and says that you have no will power.

Don't worry, this way of losing weight doesn't require you to say no to your favourite foods. It doesn't even require will power.

Why and when do we eat?

Let's start with a simple exercise. The purpose of the exercise is to work out what makes you eat, because, if you're overweight, you're probably not eating because you're hungry. Perhaps you eat because you're lonely, or because you've been invited out to a business lunch or dinner, or because you're depressed, or perhaps even because the food is simply there?

It's also possible that you're eating because some strange diet programme says that you have to have 32g of high-fibre herbage at 10h23.

For a few days, kick all diets, eat normally and naturally for you and jot down everything you eat, why you're eating, and your feelings prior to and during the eating. This note must include everything eaten or drunk except water.

You'll see patterns of eating emerging. Analyse these and understand them.

Now, the next big step: you need to learn to recognise when you actually are hungry. So, just for a day, don't eat anything at all. Just drink water and concentrate on what it feels like to be hungry. Hunger is not a rumbling stomach, so get past the rumbling and focus on what it really feels like to be hungry. Remember that feeling, internalise it and move on to the next step.

This is going to sound so simple that you may think it's ridiculous: only eat when you're hungry.

Stop when you've had enough

Next time, look at the thin people at dinner parties or business lunches. You'll see that some are not actually eating. Sure, they may be playing with food on their plates, or they may have a few mouthfuls of food to taste something, but they're not bowing to the social pressure that suggests that we should eat because the occasion demands it. Sure, taste something if it looks good and you're not hungry, but don't scoff the lot.

When you're actually hungry, you must eat exactly what you feel like. Don't deny yourself anything. 

Finally, stop when you've had enough, and not when you're full, bloated or uncomfortable. Don't be tempted to think "there's just a little left on my plate, I'll just finish it rather than waste it". Leave it, even if it's just a little. Think about this: where is food more wasted - in the dustbin, or in your stomach when your body doesn't need it?

If you see something that you really want to eat but you're not hungry, you're going to have to bring your new-found trust in yourself into play. Make a pact with yourself: promise that you'll eat whatever it is that you want the very next time that you're hungry, if you still feel like eating it.

Then, very importantly, keep your pact with yourself. This may result in seemingly odd eating patterns like having peri-peri chicken first thing in the morning, but who cares if it is helping you get and stay thin? Also, you will find over time that your body starts craving different things at different times, many of which are quite healthy and "normal".

Social skills

To implement this approach to eating, you're going to have to buff up on your social skills.

Imagine you arrive home and your partner has spent hours preparing a fantastic meal and you do a quick mental inventory to discover that you're not hungry. You're going to have to learn to acknowledge and appreciate the effort, to have a little taste, and put off the eating until you're really hungry. Those close to you will learn to understand - even to share in your triumph as you lose weight. Those who are not close to you may be a bit miffed; you'll just have to learn to be super charming.

Get moving

You'll need to exercise. There are two important points in this regard: firstly, pick an exercise routine that you enjoy - don't go jogging if you hate jogging; secondly, exercise within your capabilities - don't kill yourself exercising.

Most likely, you will occasionally binge. You will sometimes start eating when you're not hungry and just go on until you're ready to pop. Don't panic - thin people binge from time to time as well. It isn't a reason to give up on the whole approach. Just put it behind you and go forward. It's a bit like going on a long journey in a car: if you had a flat tyre halfway, would you return to the start to fix it?

Be realistic

Lastly, don't expect the weight to miraculously melt away. It took a long time to get into this shape; it's going to take a long time to get out of it. Just be patient.

- (Dr I.V. van Heerden, DietDoc, updated April 2011)

Any questions? Ask DietDoc

Read more:
Obesity: Simple solutions
Tips on low-fat choices
What is a food portion?

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