So who's in control of your eating?
Been on a diet recently? According to recent research, the average woman goes on 2.7 diets every year, with one in ten mounting no less than five annual assaults on their wobbly bits. That’s a lot of lettuce. But why the repeated efforts to lose weight? The problem may be not the quantity but the quality of our dieting.
The same survey reveals that most of us succumb to cravings after five weeks, two days and, um, 43 minutes which hardly qualifies as a commitment to a long term lifestyle change, does it? Still, before you start berating yourself for your weak will, it might be more useful to consider what other factors could be knocking you off our dieting stride.
We are all constantly surrounded by messages telling us to eat and not necessarily steamed broccoli. This isn’t about evil advertising. It’s about the people and places we encounter on a day-to-day basis that make sticking to a healthy eat plan more difficult; the partner who buys us a ‘treat’ of some chocolate, the friend who suggests going out for a drink, or three.
Some of these diet saboteurs do it deliberately, for a range of reasons. Other situations just act to distract or tempt us. But none of them could blow the diet for us if we didn’t give them the power. So who are you putting in charge of your eating? Here are the top five diet destroyers and how to outwit them.
1. The family feeder.
Every family has one. They could be already overweight, so to disguise their own ‘issues, they encourage you to be their partner in crime. You know you are dealing with one of these when they peer over the restaurant dessert menu and say "I’ll have a pudding if you do". Or, they arrive for a family get together carrying a box of chocolates and announce conspiratorially "The diet can start tomorrow."
The other sort of family feeder is the one who never eats herself, but practically spoon-feeds you tiramisu. Again, they will probably have their own complicated relationship with food and have therefore appointed you their ‘binger by proxy’. You know you are dealing with one of these when they cook you high calorie meals and then have a major pout of you don’t want a second helping. "But I made it specially for you!"
What to do:
Resist the emotional blackmail. Politely, but firmly say "no thanks" to any food you know you shouldn’t be eating. When the family feeder turns up the pressure, repeat a mantra in your mind "their stuff, not my stuff", keep smiling and don’t be persuaded. They will give up… eventually.
2. The office.
Work can present dieting challenges that are largely situational. The meeting with a plate of biscuits in the centre of the table, the vending machine right next to the lift or the grim train journey with only a buffet to break the boredom. Add in birthdays, religious holidays and leaving parties and a trip to make a cup of tea in the workplace kitchen can feel like having to negotiate an obstacle course dotted with cupcakes.
The problem is not just one of opportunity, but also that office diet challenges are compounded by stress. If you are feeling under pressure, the desire to comfort eat may make resisting the free hobnobs more difficult. A dressing down from your boss and suddenly that left over cake looks very appealing indeed. Serotonin, the happy brain hormone, is stimulated by sugar so a high pressure working environment may lead you to ‘self-medicate’ with sweets, biscuits and cakes.
What to do:
Be prepared. Acknowledge that you are going to be surrounded by temptations and fire proof yourself with pre-packed meals and snacks. Brown bag a salad for your lunch rather than running the high calorie gauntlet in the canteen. Pack a morning and afternoon snack of a piece of fruit and some nuts so you can boost your blood sugar before you go into a tricky meeting, embarking on your tiring evening commute.
3. The frenemy.
Research suggests that fat is catching between friends. Peer pressure results in everyone in a group getting larger. This is because groups ‘normalise’ their eating behaviour as a bonding mechanism. So if everyone has a second helping, it seems fine. Shared ‘naughtiness’ can also be fun.
The problem is if you are in a group with others who can eat a family sized pizza and not put on a pound, and you only have to look at a slice of cheesecake for your thighs to expand. So they stay looking fine and you inflate. Alternatively, you may all be on the heavy side but you want to do something about it, but you don’t want to threaten the friendship.
What to do:
Choose better role models. Psychologists talk about the power of ‘modelling’. This is watching what other people do and copying it. If you surround yourself with unhealthy mates, you learn unhealthy behaviour. Find some good role models and you will learn their tricks. You don’t have to dump your diet destroying mates completely, just find some new ones and when your old gang see the new you, you can become their role model.
4. The other half
What boyfriend or husband would want his partner to be unhappy with her body? Surely, none. Yet, it is amazing how many men quietly undermine their other half’s dieting efforts by bringing home ‘treats’ or offering to cook dinner and then serving up a fat fest.
This can be due to insecurity "if she starts looking great, she might go off with someone else" or jealousy "you have hired a trainer and he is pretty fit" or just plain laziness. Your significant other might also need to lose a few pounds and thinks if you go on a diet he has to, which he can’t be bothered to do.
What to do:
Get him on board. It will be much, much easier to maintain healthy habits if you do it together. Many men are also highly competitive, so if you can make it a competition, he may really get into it. Yes, you could create a calorie counting monster in the process, but at least he won’t sabotage you.
Your biggest problem may not be other people or places, but you. We all make decisions about what kind of person we think we are and then look for confirmation. For example, if you have a long history of yo-yo dieting, you may have unconsciously branded yourself a ‘failure’, so be waiting to sabotage yourself so that you can be ‘right’. You may have decided you don’t ‘deserve’ to be slim or that you’re not the ‘sort of person’ who goes to the gym.
These self-beliefs often originate externally. If you listen to that little voice in your head you may find that it is actually the voice of a critical parent or a school bully. The problem is you have internalised it and come to believe it to be true.
What to do?
Switch off your critical inner voice. One common technique is to ‘tune in’ to the voice, play it back and then change it. Up the pitch so that it has a silly Daffy Duck tone. Who can be intimidated by a cartoon voice? Alternatively, turn down the volume in your head and sing ‘la, la’ la, I’m not listening’. It sounds mad, but it works.
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About Lowri Turner
Lowri Turner is a nutritionist and clinical hypnotherapist who specialises in weight-loss and hormone balance. She sees clients at five London locations - Angel Islington, Holborn, Liverpool Street, Hammersmith, East Finchley and Southgate. To make an appointment, please email me through my profile.