Wednesday, 27 April 2011

My tips for starting a diet

Back in January, I wrote a post passing on tips for starting a New Year fitness regime, which was well received. Nearly 4 months on, I hope you're all exercising madly and have progressed well. (Of course you have!)

Photo credit: elvinstar
At this time of year, thoughts turn to summer and baring parts of your body that have been covered up for a long time and so the summer diets begin. I've seen a few tweets about it sailing past in recent weeks and it struck me that I had never done a follow-up diet tips post. Then I got into a discussion with someone who wants to lose weight following the birth of her baby earlier this year, who said she had no clue where to start. Again, these are my tips and I'm not qualified in any way so please remember that.

1. Try not to get hung up on the scale. It is very easy to get obsessed by it but it is a number that can be affected by so many things. Drink a pint of water and you'll put a pound on; but you know it's not real weight gain. Knowing your weight is handy for working out calorie requirements but you don't need to weigh yourself that regularly. Try to focus on your measurements - record them at the start and do them about every 2-3 weeks. After all, would you care if you were 10 stone or 12 if you were still a size 10? It's size, not weight, that really matters. If you really must weigh yourself, do it no more than once a week, do it at the same time of day and preferably first thing.

2. Be realistic. Aim for an average loss of 1lb per week, although you may lose more than this in the first couple of weeks. Crash dieting will make you feel rubbish and the chances are you will fall off the wagon more spectacularly. It also messes with your metabolism for reasons I won't go into here. Aim to eat only about 500 calories per day less than you need. In some cases, some people find that their weight loss stalls if they eat too little.

3. Keep your fluids up. It's particularly important in the early days when you're hungry. Apparently, lots of people think they are hungry when they are actually thirsty. Drinking water in particular will help you over the early hunger when you get started and you're adjusting to having less food in your stomach.

4. Plan. Having a plan of what to eat will mean you have something to turn to when you're tired or don't want to think too hard. Consider forthcoming events that might involve challenges to your diet - like parties or social occasions - so you can plan ahead. Consider when you're going to start to get off to the best start - Mondays seem a good idea but it can be a hard day to get started so if it doesn't work for you, choose another day when you're in a more positive mood.

5. View this as a permanent change to your lifestyle, not a temporary stopgap to achieve your goal.

6. Try to build in as many unprocessed foods into your diet as you can. Processed foods have fewer nutrients in it, so when you eat, you get hungry and crave more food. Eating more healthy foods will make you feel bett

7. Write down everything you eat. Seeing it written down in black and white makes your food intake more real and you can see where you're going wrong. There are various websites - some with associated smartphone apps - that allow you to do this electronically.

8. Watch your portion sizes. Start by weighing everything. I remember seeing a programme a couple of years ago when a woman complained she ate heathily but couldn't lose weight. Then they showed the fruit salad she ate for breakfast. It was enormous and contained tons of calories. It also took her hours to eat! If you eat too much of anything, even "healthy food", you won't lose weight.

9. Banning foods makes you crave them. If you have a food nemesis, try to eat less of it or less often rather than cutting it out altogether - unless you have an allergy or intolerance to something of course.

10. Eat regularly, but make it work for you. Some diets say not to eat late - but if that's when you can eat, plan your food around it. You don't put on weight or fail to lose weight by eating late. It's just that you are less likely to make good food choices because of tiredness and more likely to eat something quick that is not so good for your diet. And whatever you do, do not skip meals - when you are really hungry, you're more likely to wreck your diet too.

11. Give yourself treats along the way regularly. It can be a day off, a treat meal, or more regular small treats that fit into your diet - whatever is best for you and keeps you going. This is where planning ahead will help you.

12. If you have a bad day, don't just give up. Be kind to yourself, accept that they happen and start again. One day will not undo everything, so don't let it drag you down. If you're looking at several months of dieting, then one day doesn't make a huge amount of difference.

13. Finally, be in the right frame of mind to start a diet. It's almost better not to start if you don't have the motivation to change and keep going. When I was talking about this on Twitter, Wendy from The MuTu System said this - the first step is to believe you deserve it. I couldn't agree more.

That's it. For more information, try looking at my friend Jo's site, in particular this post about diet and fitness myths and this one about very low calorie diets. Feel free to add your tips in the comments below.
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