Finding books to help you lose weight is easy – what’s missing are books that show you how to stop it creeping back on. Which is why Keeping it off by Michelle Bridges is a breath of fresh air. It’s a wise, no-fads guide for long-term weight management that goes beyond eating and exercise advice – it also shows how to establish solid routines that make healthier habits stick.
Routine, after all, is the fuel that keeps us on automatic pilot – and helps override any overthinking about whether you should or shouldn’t go for a run. You don’t think about it, you just do it.
Not that Bridges pretends this is easy – avoiding weight regain requires the same commitment that offloaded the extra kilos in the first place, she says.
“I think this is the part that people can baulk at. But the reality is – and this is the thing no one talks about – is that this same conscious effort is what’s needed to keep excess weight off long-term,” says Bridges who lists seven habits to help achieve this.
Reframe your thinking. Attitudes to exercise and healthy eating aren’t always positive – especially for anyone who sees movement as inconvenience and healthy food as deprivation. Bridges’ advice: “Instead of seeing your efforts to maintain a healthy weight as a lifelong struggle, switch it around and see it as empowerment – a lifelong commitment to yourself.”
This same “switching” strategy can also challenge any excuses you might come up with for eating junk or not exercising – “I can’t exercise today because it’s raining” can become “I can wear a spray jacket and tie it around my waist if I get too hot”. Or “I can’t say no to my colleague’s birthday cake – it will look rude” can become “I can cover my plate with a serviette and leave it somewhere inconspicuous”.
Recognising the thoughts and feelings that make you reach for chocolate, wine or cigarettes is important too – you can then find healthier ways to manage them like calling a friend, going for a jog, or picking up pen and paper and writing down three things you did well today.
“Every time you choose a healthier option, you’ll be strengthening a new neural pathway, and the old one will slowly fade away,” Bridges says.
Exercise every single day
Not just because it burns kilojoules but because its effects on mental wellbeing are equally important for weight management.
“If we exercise daily, we’re getting a daily dose of feel good hormones and we feel more positive and ready to tackle our lives whole heartedly. Exercise also reduces anxiety, meaning we’re less likely to crave alcohol or carbs to deal with stress,” she points out. “You don’t have to run marathons or spend hours in the gym – a walk in the park or a workout in your lounge room is enough to get the endorphins going, and keep the weight loss, lost.”
Try to have people around you who also care about their health.
“Sometimes when we make a change in our lives, it challenges the stories people have about how we fit into their world,” says Bridges. “If you were the ‘fat friend’ or the ‘booze buddy’ and now you’re not, who’s going to fulfil that role so they can keep playing theirs?”
The best approach she says is to have a conversation with them about your goals and give them a chance to support you – and if they don’t want to, there’s nothing wrong with letting go of relationships that don’t work for you.
Lack of family support can be another challenge and a common reason people give for not being able to keep a healthy weight. Bridges suggests tackling this with a screen-free family meeting where you explain why the changes you want to make to the food you share is important for the health of everyone.
Choose fresh wholefoods
When people reach their goal weight, they often make the mistake of treating themselves to unhealthy foods – but a burger here and a slice of cheesecake there and you’re soon back to the eating patterns that put the weight on, she says.
“Research shows that people who do keep the weight off stick to a diet high in fibre and nutrients from vegetables, fruits, legumes and wholegrains and with a good amount of healthy fats from olive oil, nuts and seeds,” she says. “And, remember, vegies are the rock stars; meat is the back-up singer.”
It’s the opposite of mindless eating – the shovelling-in kind of eating that happens while we’re doing something else. Mindful eating means slowing down and enjoying food in a quiet, screen and desk-free environment and paying attention to hunger signals.
It also means being mindful of portion sizes – including not going back for seconds, avoiding eating food from a box or bag (put some food on a plate and put the rest away).
People who monitor their food intake and regularly weigh themselves are more likely to maintain a healthy weight long term, says Bridges who’s an advocate of being kilojoule-aware. This doesn’t mean obsessively counting every kilojoule – but having an idea of the kilojoule values of different foods makes it easier to get portion sizes right.
For emotional eaters, it’s good to keep track of moods and how they relate to the food you eat and/or the physical activity you’re doing. Keeping a journal is one way to track your progress, or keep a digital record on your phone.
Make sleep a priority
“Lack of sleep increases your appetite for sweet foods because your brain thinks it needs more fuel to cope with the extra hours you’re awake,” Bridges says. “To give yourself the best chance of staying on track with healthy eating (and not falling in a heap when it comes time to exercise), it’s important to get seven or eight hours sleep a night. You will find your mind is clearer, your willpower stronger and that you can stay on task.”
Keeping It Off by Michelle Bridges is published by Pan Macmillan, RRP $39.99, available in bookstores from September 26.