One of the main lessons I’ve learned in the last ten (yes ten!) years that I’ve been doing this food/health/weight lark is that most of it comes down to mindset.
If you are a midlifer (and I am assuming you are as this is The Midlife Method blog), then losing weight when we were younger meant punitive, restrictive diets. Whichever way weight loss was packaged in the 80s/90s/00s, it entailed serious restriction, certain foods were demonised and the phrase ‘a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips’ was the mantra.
It makes me angry to think how many women have been subjected to this tyrannical narrative over the years, and how it has created a generation who have a dysfunctional relationship with food. As I say in the book, for us Gen Xers food was the enemy, it stood between us and the body we dreamed of. Our imagined happiness rested on the dial of the bathroom scales and only virtual starvation could bring it about.
It has taken me a long time to unpick this mentality and the ingrained habits collected over twenty years of stints on SlimFast, bowls of Special K (two a day and a small evening meal!) and Ryvita as my go-to lunch! Honestly, I could weep. So, I want to share with you the ways I have found to rejig my mindset and make friends with food again.
1] Think about weight management not weight loss.
I frequently get messages from women who are ‘gearing up’ to get started on their ‘weight loss plan’. This tells me immediately that they are going to struggle because they are already viewing it as the dietary equivalent of scaling Mount Everest. They are putting it off because in their mind they are going to have to ‘be good’ and it’s going to be miserable. If this is you take a moment to reconsider. It’s much better to think about weight management rather than weight loss because what you need to make are permanent changes to your eating habits. By doing so you will slowly lose the weight as a side effect of eating well, rather than weight loss itself being the main focus. It doesn’t have to happen quickly but it does have to happen sustainably. What’s the point in losing it all only to put it all back on again? What I've tried to do in my book The Midlife Method is give you the tools to manage your weight rather than a prescriptive ‘diet’ in the traditional sense.
2] Don’t focus on what you 'can’t eat', focus on healthy foods you love.
Let me say this now, there is nothing that you ‘can’t eat’. Even if you are losing weight there is nothing that you have to completely stop eating, there are just foods you need to reduce and other foods you can eat in larger quantities. If you adore chocolate fine, have some now and then but don’t keep it in the house if you will then eat too much of it (ditto crisps, cakes, wine - whatever is your Achilles heel!). The flip side of the coin is that there are tons of foods you can eat without having to think too much about the quantities – most fruits and vegetables for example. I keep roasted vegetables in the fridge because I love them that way, and I make sure to always have my favourite fruits available – berries, bananas, mango and pineapple.
3] Don’t calorie count but be calorie-aware.
The trick here is to educate yourself on foods which are very calorific and just reduce your intake of them. Of course there are the obvious processed foods and sugary things that need to be minimised, but we can also take in quite a lot of calories through drinks (stick to water and tea/coffee with a splash of milk), snacks (here are some snack ideas that are under 100 cals), and also certain ingredients that you might be eating because they are healthy but they are quite high cal (see this previous post for a list)
4] Apply the 80/20 rule.
If you are eating lovely, healthy food 80% of the time then there is room for manoeuvre the other 20% of the time. These days I am probably more like 90/10 because I genuinely prefer healthy food and am no longer tempted by processed, sugary or greasy food. My weak spot is wine so I save my 10% for that. Oh and cheese, I do like a plate of cheese and crackers (with pickles and dried figs, mmmnnn).
5] Play the long game.
Abandon the diet mindset by not putting a date by which you want to reach your ‘target weight’. You might find it helpful to set a goal and that’s fine - a good initial goal would be 5% of your body weight, so if you are 70kgs, 3.5kg initial loss would be great. But don’t be too set on a date to achieve it by. In my book I have a 28-day food plan mapped out and if you follow that most likely you would lose around 3.5kg, but it might take longer, it might be quicker, but it will happen if you are simply consistent in your approach. Once you reach your initial goal reassess, do you want to lose more? do you want to just try maintaining that weight for a while? … see how you feel.
So, there are my little tips for mindset adjustment when it comes to weight management. I am sure that if you adopt this more realistic, kinder mentality you will meet with greater success. Making friends with food again is a beautiful thing!