This is a bit of a long one, so I recommend grabbing a cuppa first!
My Slimming World consultant has been asking me a lot lately – what advice would you give to someone just starting out on their weight loss journey? Whenever I’m posed with such a question my mind instantly goes completely blank. The same goes for if I’m asked something like ‘how is life different now?’
It’s not that I don’t have an answer, it’s just that my own answer to those questions is made up of a thousand tiny little answers that I’ve come up with over the course of a lifetime. No wonder I can’t give a decent response on the spot! So I decided to write a post to see if I can come up with something helpful. And perhaps something that I can refer back to when the question inevitably comes up in the future.
First of all a little disclaimer – these are just things that have worked for me. It might not be the right way for others, and that’s absolutely fine. Try things out and see what works for you.
Which brings me nicely to my first bit of advice.
1. Trial and error
I’ve been in my current job for 10 years this month, and I’ve been trying to lose weight that whole time. One of my major issues was getting in from work at 6am and being starving. In the beginning I’d be so hungry after my shift that I’d stop off at the 24hr Asda at the end of the road and buy the biggest pizza they sold. And I’d eat the whole lot for breakfast. That only stopped when they went back to normal trading hours (and I found plenty of other food to replace it with).
The pattern of going over the top after work only stopped when I started actively seeking a solution, and it took a good year before I came up with something that worked. I had to work out when is best to eat dinner, what to eat, how much to eat, when to eat my work lunch and what to have when I come in.
For me what works is an enormous Slimming World dinner as late as possible before my shift starts at 10pm, which will see me through to my lunch break at 4am. Then I have a substantial lunch (normally pasta and low-Syn vegan meatballs with passata, packed out with fresh tomatoes and roasted veg) which ensures I’m not famished when the shift finishes shortly after. Often I don’t even need anything when I get in and go straight to sleep, but if I do need something I have my healthy extras (wheat biscuits and chocolate oat milk, yum!)
So my advice is to keep trying different things until you find the thing that works. Try big meals and little meals, healthy snacks, eating at different times… and listen to your body. If it’s hungry you should feed it, just work out when you really are hungry and work around that. If I need two lunches in any given day, then I have two lunches! As long as you follow the plan, you’ll lose weight.
2. Be REALLY kind to yourself
No one can thrive when they’re being spoken down to all of the time, and that counts for our internal voices too. I’ve been there and I get it – you think you look like crap, you tell yourself you’re disgusting, greedy, lazy and a whole load of other awful LIES.
Being genuinely kind to yourself takes a lot of practice, and even then I’ll admit I’m not perfect. I have days where I look at myself and despair, but it’s usually not long before I’m back thinking rationally.
We are conditioned to think that only slim bodies have worth (just look at the mainstream media, at the images we are bombarded with every. single. day.) But honestly it’s just… bullsh*t (‘scuse my language). Most of the people we see are Photoshopped to high heaven – even models don’t look like like models in real life.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t lose weight. If you want to, then go for it. Quite possibly you’ll have more energy, a longer life, have less aches and pains and a whole host of other benefits. But while you’re doing that, know that fat bodies are beautiful. Flawed bodies are beautiful. Thin bodies are beautiful. And all of them have the right to exist because it’s your body and you can do WHATEVER THE HELL YOU LIKE WITH IT. It’s really hard, but I’d recommend embracing your body every step of the way. I go to group and I look around me and see so many beautiful people, in all shapes and sizes, and when I think of how different people are when they start to lose weight I’m not thinking about how their tummies have shrunk or if their butts are smaller.
More often than not the real big changes are in confidence, how people carry themselves, how big their smiles are. But you don’t actually have to lose weight to do those things.
I’d recommend following real people on social media. There’s a huge Body Positivity movement going on and it’s awesome. If what we see is saturated with bodies only a tiny percentage of us are even physically capable of having, then change what you see. It could change your life.
As far as weight loss goes, you might find (as I have) that how you actually look is a secondary benefit of losing weight. And when you discover the other benefits, it’s a HUGE motivator to carry on.
3. Take the focus away from food
This was a real turning point for me. I’m not talking about distracting yourself if you feel hungry, I’m talking about finding things you love that aren’t eating.
In 2012 I lost 7 stone, but I put it all back on again because even after I’d lost it I was still miserable. Looking back I think it’s because food was the only thing in my life that I truly enjoyed. I was seeing someone at the time and not happy at all. I was bored with sitting in front of the TV every weekend, so much so that my only consolation was a tub of Ben & Jerry’s. I never really did anything for myself, and thinking back I have no idea how I used to fill my days. I didn’t do anything.
So my advice here is to find the things you love more than food. For me they are my parrot, walking, exploring new places, photography and spending meaningful time with family and friends. Luckily for me these pursuits all go hand-in-hand.
I do still enjoy things like reading and films, but I used to find it really hard to sit down and read without a glass of wine in hand, or to watch a film without popcorn. But you can train yourself to enjoy relaxing without mindlessly consuming a thousand calories in one sitting as I was doing. Now I just get fully immersed in a film, and if it’s not grabbing my attention enough that I’m bored and want to eat, then I turn if off and do something else. Life’s too short to watch bad films, and much too short to waste it on ice cream.
4. Ask for help, and give it freely
Really that should be the other way round, because I found that when I started trying to help and encourage people, it was much easier to accept help in return. I’m shy and a bit of an introvert, so this is something that was (is) hard for me so I started small.
I started online. If you think someone is doing well then definitely, definitely tell them, as it could make their day. You can change a bad day into a good day for someone. And you never know what friendships will bloom from that. I get so much support and encouragement from people I’ve never even met (at least not yet, in some cases!) and I know that help is only a message away.
Don’t be afraid to ask for it. Ok, some people will inevitably not be quite up to the task. Perhaps they aren’t the friend you thought they were, or maybe they just have something else going on in their own lives that needs their full attention. But there’s always someone out there who cares. Need a bit of extra support? Then hit me up. Seriously, pop a comment in at the end of the post and I’m all ears. In fact, once I’m done here I’ll see if I can add a contact page to the blog. My inbox is always open.
As far as ‘real life’ goes, I found that after doing these things being encouraging to people face-to-face became much easier too, although I fear I’m still terribly awkward when I talk to people! But trying to lift people up (as best as I can) is more important than worrying about transitory awkwardness.
It’s not always easy to know what to say to people, but I’ve found that a simple ‘what can I do to help you?’ or ‘I’m here if you need me’ is often enough in those cases.
5. Keep going to group, and do what you can
Even, no, especially when you’re struggling. When I lost weight before as soon as I hit a stumbling block I stopped going to group. After all what’s the point in still going if you aren’t even losing weight? What’s the point of going if you’re gaining weight.
I’ll tell you now – there is every point in going. When I went back to group in October 2016, tail between my legs and almost every pound of my 7 stone loss regained, I noticed a little group of ladies who had been attending the same group even before I originally started going in 2012.
They didn’t have anything like as much as I had to lose, even at their start points, yet they still weren’t at target after all this time. Did I think any less of them for that? Did I think they had failed in some way?
Nope. I was envious. Insanely jealous.
They had done exactly the right thing. They might not have been making as much progress as they’d like. They all have active social lives so I’m guessing a lot of the delay was due to having a fantastic time with friends, but they still kept going and chipping away, half a pound at a time if necessary. When there were gains they were taken on the chin. When there was an off plan day, there were another six of being on plan. They didn’t talk down to themselves or beat themselves up over it.
I’ve tried to emulate that attitude and it has worked. In the not-so-distant past an off plan day for me would always turn into an off plan week (or two) and it was not unusual to see me gain half a stone in a week.
My weight has yo-yo’d dramatically in the past, but somehow during my most recent period of real struggling (which was between November last year up until the end of August) I managed to more or less maintain my weight for the first time in my life. And it was all down to sticking with the plan every moment I felt I was able to, and not letting a bad weekend spiral into a bad week. Sometimes I had to take one meal at a time, but it meant that when I found my current group after being an online member for a while, I’d only gained 2 pounds rather than, well, everything I’d previously lost.
6. Don’t take things at face value
This is something I’ve been thinking about after starting my new group, because the people there haven’t seen me at my biggest. On the face of things it’s easy to look at me and think ‘blimey, she’s lost over 7 stone in a fairly short space of time, why can’t I do that?’ I’ve had those thoughts, I still do have those thoughts. It’s natural I suppose. But then you have to dig a little deeper.
It hasn’t really taken two years for me to get to this point. In reality it’s taken decades of learning about myself, of falling down and picking myself up time and time again. So don’t feel bad if you feel you’re not making progress as quickly as someone else is, you will get there in your own sweet time.
This is my weight graph from September 2015 to now, and as you can see it’s been anything but plain sailing.
The important thing is to focus on an overall downwards trend, and not worry about how long it will take. It will feel impossible, until all of a sudden it isn’t and target is within reaching distance. If it’s anything like my experience, it’ll sneak up on you when you least expect it!
7. Think about what scares you, and face that fear
This is something that came up in group last night, and something I’ve given a lot of thought to. Whenever I’d just had a weight loss award, I would tend to self-sabotage, and it takes a lot of introspection to find out why you’re doing it.
At first I thought my own theories were nonsense, but as I get to know myself better I realise they aren’t. The truth is, getting what you want, what you’ve fought for so hard for, for so many years, is actually quite scary.
My number one fear is what I’ll be left with when I’m done, particularly loose skin. I think it’s something we all worry about, and I know for sure that I’ve failed at weight loss attempts in the past due to negative ‘what’s the point I’ll still look crap’ thoughts sneaking in.
Going back to body positivity, those thoughts should be ignored for that reason alone, though there are others. Your body is a miraculous thing that made space for you when you were bigger. It might have been under a lot of pressure (I have had knee problems myself) but it still kept you going, and those things sometimes leave their mark. That’s OK!
I worry that people wouldn’t be attracted to me because of my body, and yeah in some cases that’s true. It’s true if even if you have a ‘perfect’ body. Not everyone is going to find us attractive! It’s easier to say this than actually believe it (it’s a tough one for me) but if someone likes you for you but can’t accept your body, then they are NOT THE ONE.
It’s a concept I’ve struggled with recently – I met someone I really clicked with, but I knew my body was not for him. It took me a long time to accept that, and it really affected my confidence (it was even a factor in stalling my weight loss) because you just can’t help it when you have intense feelings for someone.
I even started considering a tummy tuck, an idea I’d dismissed some time ago, because deep down I just wanted him to like me. But if you have to cut bits off of yourself for someone to like you, again, they are NOT THE ONE.
The other thing I’m frightened of is getting to target and it never being enough. I’m scared of what I’ll replace the buzz of getting a good loss with once I’m not losing any more. It’s a huge part of my identity right now, what happens when I’m ready to stop losing for the first time in my whole life?
The truth is I’ll be stumbling around in the dark for a while, but it has to be done anyway. When I do think about how life has changed for me (that’ll be covered in another post as soon as I can find the words) it’s even scarier to imagine going back to how I was before.
Well, I suppose I’d say those are my top tips so I’ll leave it there for now. In any case I hope it has been useful, and it’s definitely been helpful for me to get these thoughts that have been swimming around my head into some sort of order.
If you made it this far, thanks so much for sticking with it!