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How to stay slim – for life!
Do you manage to lose weight - only to regain it again a few months later? If so, you're not alone. After analysing 31 long-term weight-loss studies, researchers in America found that the vast majority of people who lost 5 to 10% of their body weight regained it within six months. More frighteningly, nearly two-thirds of people weighed more than when they started, five years later.
Keeping the pounds off can be just as hard (if not harder) than losing them in the first place. The truth is that staying slender requires a different kind of approach to losing weight. If you never want to diet again, here's how to stay slim for life...
1. Don't focus on 'getting to the end' of a diet
Do you find yourself looking forward to the end of a diet - when you can go back to eating and drinking all the things you enjoyed before? Now is the time to change your thinking.
"Thinking about new eating patterns 'as a diet' suggests you will start eating differently once you have lost the weight, and this will lead to weight gain," says Kay Howard, hypnotherapist and weight-loss specialist.
"Far better to focus on 'healthy and enjoyable eating habits' - which is the way you will eat for the rest of your life."
Once you've reached your goal weight, Kay suggests keeping a reminder of how far you've come. "Keep a photo of you at your heaviest and one now in a prominent place. Seeing it every day will show how much you've accomplished - and motivate you to stick with your new healthy lifestyle."
2. Check your portion sizes
You may have got used to restricting your portion sizes on a particular diet plan, but once it comes to an end those extra few potatoes, snacks and glasses of wine can soon add up.
"Meals in restaurants, cinema popcorn, huge wine glasses... portion sizes have got bigger in recent years, which can make it hard to know what's normal," says Dr Marilyn Glenville, a leading nutritionist specialising in women's health.
Rather than using measuring cups or scales, Dr Glenville suggests checking how much room each food takes up on the plate. "Visualise your plate split into quarters. One quarter should be covered by protein (such as fish or beans), a quarter by unrefined carbohydrates (brown rice or wholemeal pasta) and the rest vegetables."
Or try comparing the foods on your plate to real life objects. "Protein should be roughly the same size as a deck of cards, and pasta or rice about the size of a cricket ball."
The order in which you put food on the plate matters too. "It's easier to dish out more food when the plate is empty, so serve up vegetables first rather than protein and carbohydrates - that way you'll help restrict the amount of calorie-dense foods on the plate."
Opt for smaller plates and your meals will look satisfyingly big rather than half empty.
3. Don't assume healthy food is low-calorie
While it's a good idea to focus on eating well rather than counting calories don't be fooled into thinking you can eat unlimited amounts of healthy foods as they're 'good for you'.
"Dieters will often say 'I eat healthy, so I don't know why I'm putting on weight,' but they haven't stopped to consider how many calories they're consuming," says Dr Glenville.
Most of us eat a diet high in carbohydrates but even the 'healthy carbs' can add up to a serious amount of calories.
"While wholegrain bread and wholewheat rice and pasta are great sources of fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, they also cause an increase in blood sugar and a rise in insulin (less than white rice and pasta) which can make you put on weight - so you need to watch how much you eat," says Dr Glenville.
A level tablespoon of cooked brown rice contains around 30 calories. Six extra spoonfuls on your plate can add up to 180 calories. Over the course of a month that's 5,400 calories - enough to gain a couple of pounds.
4. Listen to your gut
When you're on a weight-loss plan you get used to following a strict calorie allowance but once it's over it can be hard to know if you're eating too much or not. We all know to eat 'when we're hungry - and not if we're not' but sometimes that's easier said than done.
"Learning how to tune into your body's hunger and full signals can significantly change your mental attitude towards food," says Kay.
"Always put your hunger on a scale of 1- 6. When you are at '1' you are just starting to think about food, '2' means within about 30 minutes you will be ready to eat, '3' is when you begin to salivate thinking about food - and this is when you eat. Once you get to '4' you are extremely hungry and likely to eat too much - '5 to 6' means you are completely out of control and won't be able to stop!"
We're often told to take our time eating, chew food slowly and appreciate its taste, but Kay suggests taking things one step further.
"Each time you put food into your mouth, remember where it came from, how much time and effort was made by so many people to bring it from the farm, then to the shop, and eventually to your plate," suggests Kay.
"By sending feelings of gratitude to your unconscious mind you will appreciate the taste and instantly connect with your body's satisfied signal, telling you to stop eating sooner."
5. Stick to three meals - and plan ahead
Three square meals and just one snack if you need it are best for a number of reasons.
"If you snack on sweet or carbohydrate-based foods too frequently throughout the day, eating every two hours or so, the body's hormones that work to break down fat and glycogen (stored in sugar) don't get chance to do their job properly," says weight-loss coach and fitness coach Russell Shingles.
"Snack on crisps and crackers, or sweet things, such as biscuits or dried fruit, and the body experiences continuous spikes in blood sugar and insulin, which can lead to weight gain."
"Make big meals with plenty of protein, greens and a small amount of good carbohydrates (brown rice, wholegrain bread, sweet potato), and you shouldn't need lots of snacks."
If you followed a particular 'diet plan' you may be happy to throw it out of the window but planning your meals is a healthy habit for life. Make sure the cupboards are stocked with foods you need for the week's meals ahead and take a healthy snack when out and about.
"Deny yourself enough food during the day and you're more likely to binge eat in the evening. Sometimes we think we are too busy to eat - then when we get home we are so hungry that once we begin eating we cannot stop," says Kay.
6. Exercise for life
We all know the most effective way to drop the pounds is to eat less and exercise more - but did you know that exercise is the key to keeping it off?
While studies show that diet, rather than exercise, is the most important thing when losing weight, if you've reached your target weight through dieting alone it's unlikely you'll keep it off unless you increase your physical activity.
In contrast, research shows that the majority of people who have lost weight and kept it off for five years or more combined healthy eating with exercise.
Exercise doesn't have to mean going to the gym. Find a sport, dance or exercise class you can enjoy with friends, and you're far more likely to keep it up. To stay slim for life though, Russell recommends weight training.
"Aerobic exercise is great for burning calories but once you've lost the weight, it's even more important to build in some weight training," says Russell. "Pound for pound lean muscle burns more calories than fat, increasing your metabolic rate and ability to burn fat."
7. Keep up your good habits
If you find the weight creeping back on make a list of the bad habits that caused you to gain weight in the first place. Next, write down all the good habits that helped you slim down - like drinking more water, exercising and limiting your portions.
Habits are formed day by day, decision by decision - so it can help to have some regular reminders. Post-it notes around your computer or inside cupboard kitchen doors, photos of how far you've come, motivational messages set as 'reminders' on your phone before each meal time - do whatever it takes to get your mindset back on track.
Having a slip up now and then is perfectly normal and only to be expected - the important thing is what you do the day after a big blow-out meal.
"If you end up overeating on a particular day, perhaps due to a special occasion or over the weekend, don't panic - just get back to normal as soon as possible. Cut down on your food the next day and fit in some extra exercise - that way you'll avoid gaining back the pounds that you worked so hard to lose," says Russell.
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