Growing up in the eighties in a working-class North East England household, the ideal body shape was skinny… Barbie was an iconic figure with dieting, aerobics and tight shiny leotards the cultural norm. If you were not Olivia Newton John svelte you were not beautiful or successful, in fact you were a failure with a lack of self-control.
Like it or not that was the message for my generation. We saw our mothers jumping about the front room with Jane Fonda blasting out from the tape cassette, attending a weekly weigh in at the local ‘fat club’ (as they named it), and then stuffing their faces afterwards at the chippy, having a few days of bingeing and then back on the starvation diet Monday morning. And we seriously wonder why we have food related issues?
Now 30 or so years later have we moved on? We now recognise obesity as a condition, and a Public Health challenge. Researchers and Public health specialists are striving to banish the stigma of overweight and obesity and search for ways to make our environment healthier even though this is a huge battle against the money (commercial interest). I will say this because I am one of these researchers. Passionate about changing a culture which misinforms and confuses, increases self-loathing in human beings who are not made for restriction. We have this so wrong, with more scientifically endorsed diet programmes and books than ever before and more people living with obesity!
Crash dieting is still a huge business, people still flock to the weigh in weekly, attend gyms so focused on weight loss, start a new habit only to give it up, as its too difficult (because of our innate biology) to resist and restrict. Food scientists have refined products to make them absolutely moreish (bliss point), we are optimistic beings at least half the week we can do this! The other half we flop into a self-loathing after all, if we cannot be slim (see a change from ‘skinny’ in the eighties) then we must not be good enough.
Well, let me tell you just in case you didn’t already know. This is a big fat lie! You are and always have been good enough, in fact you are a human being which is exactly the reason why you want to eat the whole packet of biscuits.
Self-awareness and thinking differently is key to this process. To change your weight, you really have to change your thoughts.
The FIVE areas of focus
- Creating your food environment reduces cravings
We really don’t have the time to wait for the external environment to change and legislation to protect us, and so in the meantime all we can do is influence our own environment and accessibility to foods – a barrier to our best health.
We are optimistic for our future selves (we will always do it better tomorrow!) but we underestimate the power of food cues in our own kitchen, and the advertisements. In the Nourish You programme our focus on sharing pictures of healthy food is a positive strategy that works to help cravings for nutritious option.
- Clean out your kitchen – remove ‘bliss point’ foods, those that are tempting and lack the nutrients (you know which ones), and even the relatively healthier options e.g. salted nuts, which cause you to overeat
- Make snacks less easy to access, out of eye site and swap the easy to grab often unhealthy energy bars for an orange and a few almonds as an example
- Avoid junkfood advertisements as much as possible and follow healthy food accounts on social media – surround yourself with healthy food cues!
- Eat foods that fill you up and nourish you – be prepared
Your brain will kick and scream at you if it thinks you are starving. Your survival depends on fuelling your body, it is biology. Your brain will not allow it and will nag until you eat.
Keep your brain happy by consuming foods high in nutrients and fibre and lower in energy (calories). These high fibre foods which keep you fuller for longer include vegetables, wholegrains, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, fruits, potatoes, sweet potatoes etc.
- Keep moving
Regular exercise we know without a doubt helps to regulate appetite, reduce stress, improve sleep and so much more in terms of health and disease. It is not a weight loss tool as such, because it takes a lot of exercise to work off just a small piece of food. And so, many people drop off an exercise programme viewing as only weight loss. Exercise is medicine and it may also be essential to healthy weight maintenance.
The idea is we move enough that at the end of the day our body is in need of rest. The key is variety of movement throughout the day including walking, gardening, swimming, some high intensity cardiovascular exercise such as running or HIIT and strength building such as yoga, Pilates and lifting weights.
- Sleep is key to a healthy weight and healthy mind
We are in a sleep focused revolution, I think. Lots of research and books are being released on the importance of sleep. I have always loved and valued my sleep. Often as we go through life changes sleep patterns are affected. Rather than say, ‘I don’t sleep well anymore’, think about changes you can make. Life is not static, as we age, we need to make changes to our lifestyles to adapt. Good sleep is never out of reach for the long term (if there is a medical condition such as sleep apnoea – seek medical help, this will make such a difference for you).
- Aim to go to sleep at a similar time each night and awake at a similar time each morning – this will support your circadian rhythm and help you into a great sleep pattern
- Avoid technology (TV and phones) before bedtime, and sleep in a cool room
- Have a bedtime ritual so that your body and brain know its time to sleep – reading, meditation, journaling, warm bath, herbal tea etc.
- Love sleep, talk about enjoying and loving and valuing your sleep
- Manage stress
Let’s be clear, stress is normal. We are supposed to feel stress and fear as protection for our species survival. We just need to be self-aware enough to increase our toolbox of stress strategies and know when it’s time to implement. We react differently to any situation when we feel overwhelmed and stressed. But how we think about stress is a big part of how stress affects our health. If we think of stress as a killer and not the normal cycle that it is, this is greatly detrimental to health.
Stress and anxiety are a cycle, we need coping strategies and often we need to seek help (If you are feeling overwhelmed please do seek help form a professional). There is no shame in this, the amount of society overwhelm we have today is HUGE. The feelings will end…
Your toolbox will be different to someone else’s, but here are some ideas to help you think about your own tools. Make sure you do at least one of them daily.
- Exercise – move
- Yoga and meditation
- Attend a retreat (sarahseed.com)
- Take some deep breaths
- Ring a friend who makes you laugh
- Watch your favourite comedies on tv
- Hug someone
- Journal or even just write a list
- Read a book
- Go to a coffee shop and sit and read – find some peace!
- Take a warm bubble bath with candles
- Garden or declutter a room
- Get outdoors in nature
You this, its a journey! Keep peeling off the layers and find your own story and your best health.
Please let me know if this helped or posed any questions for you,
So much love and health,