Monday 2 January 2012

And now for something COMPLETELY different

I was lurking around Facebook a couple of days ago, and one of the fitness magazines I'm friends with mentioned that today is National Diet Day. So, in true writerly style, I googled it... and found no mention whatsoever. Alas, my (very latent) non-fiction writing brain had already kicked in and thought of a good post. So, whether it is or isn't a national day to start your diet, here's what I'd write about it....

As some of you may be aware, I'm a fitness instructor in real life. (In fact, as I mentioned it in my last post, I'll be a bit upset if you don't - lol!) As such, whenever I read, hear, see things about diets, I cringe. I HATE that word, indeed the whole concept of dieting so much!

The basic idea of going on a diet means that you'll be restricting your calories, probably to an extent that it will be unsustainable and you'll feel like you've failed and feel bad about yourself. And when you decide to come off the diet, you'll eat the way you ate before. Now, forgive me for being blunt, but the way you ate before is the reason you went on a diet in the first place.

The physiology of our wonderful bodies goes back to cavemen times, when food was abundant for months and then scarce for long periods.

Lots of food = lots of eating = lots of podgy cavemen!

Winter = no food = starvation mode = bodies restrict how many calories they need by slowing their metabolic rate and reducing the amount of muscle they hold (using the muscle as a dense energy source) = cavemen living until the next crop of food, albeit a bit skinnier now.

Finally, because their metabolic rate had slowed during the lean times (meaning they didn't need so many calories per day to exist) when they ate properly once more, they put the weight back on because they were now technically over-eating, plus a bit more for good measure in case the next famine was longer. For our cavemen ancestors, this saved their lives.

These days, we don't have this feast/famine cycle, but we mimic it by going on drastic diets.

So, I have some top tips:

1) Although you need to be aware of the calories you're eating, counting every single one smacks of being on a diet, and I don't want you to think you are. Instead, start by making simple changes. If you always have three pieces of toast and jam for breakfast, have two. Maybe consider swapping the jam for a 100% fruit spread (sharper taste, possibly acquired). If you eat cereal, consider weighing out the size portion suggested on the box for a couple of days (people always over-estimate a cereal portion!) Try to do this with every meal. And add vegetables to everything. Try for 5 portions of veg a day and 2 portions of fruit.

2) There's nothing evil about snacking. But if you snack on Snickers and cake, the calories mount up. Good snacks, for both morning and afternoon, could be yoghurt, fruit, a couple of spoons of cottage cheese, nuts.

3) On the subject of nuts, they are not a bad food. Although they are high in fat, the fat is the good monosaturated sort. They are also high in protein. Between the fat and the protein, nuts will keep you full-up for longer.

4) And on the subject of protein filling you up, try to have some at every meal: yoghurt, cottage cheese, meat, fish, nuts and seeds, pulses (tinned are easy to use, but try to avoid ones packed in salted water).

5) Fat is not the enemy: sugar is. Fat fills you up: sugar makes you crave more. Avoid low fat food. (My particular bug-bear is low fat yoghurt. Youghurt is not a high fat food, but they still make a low fat version, and to maintain the taste and bulk of the original, they fill it with sugar! No, this is very wrong!) Some of the Weight Watchers cakes are up to 50% sugar!

5) Enjoy your food. More than that, really, really ENJOY your food. Focus on every mouthful, eat slowly, consider the taste, the feel, the smell. And listen to your body when it tells you it's full.

6) Increase your activity levels. (This is where I'm going to repeat all the advice you instinctively know.) Walk to the local shops (carrying the bags home sort of counts as weight-training... ish), take a brisk walk at lunch time, use the stairs, dance around the kitchen while waiting for the kettle to boil (oh... just me?), take the kids to the park and join in - swing, slide, playing frisbee and football, have a race on the balance beams.

7) To increase fitness rather than just increase calorie expenditure, you need to raise your heart-rate, you need to get warm and sweaty, and not be able to hold a full conversation - cycling, jogging, brisk walking up steep hills, workout videos or classes, joining a gym. But that's a whole other topic!

So that's my very brief and not-at-all comprehensive way to make small changes that will hopefully help to break the dieting habit. I don't suppose I've written anything that's not available (and better articulated) elsewhere, but it's my first try at non-fiction writing, so if I try it again I'll have something to improve on.

Thanks for reading. Comments appreciated on both the style and the content. Advice available if I've struck a chord!


  1. Great advice. Everything in moderation--denial only makes you binge later. I think our biggest problem is portion size--we have been raised on mega meals and breaking that mindset is difficult. And as for fat vs fat free, many fat free versions have just as many calories as their full fat counterparts. Take the fat and let it fill you up.

  2. Such sensible advice. I think with the new year and everyone dieting, it's a reflex action and one that can't be sustained. People want to see instant loss and feel fab by the end of January. I know it doesn't happen like that.

    I've slowly been losing weight for two years. It's not easy but I'm sustaining what I'm doing and it's gradually coming off. My change of attitude that it won't happen over night has helped my mindset and not left me all anxious because I had a chocolate biscuit out the fridge one day. If I deprive myself everything permanently I will go insane, so instead, I eat better but with the odd bad treat thrown in. It works for me. Slow but steady.

    Great advice for a lot of panicking New Year dieters.

  3. Some great advice Annalisa. I always admire those who stick to fitness and good eating habits. I try to pull in my abdominal muscles as often as possible and keep them tight. It has made a big difference over time so now whether I walk or sit I'm getting the exercise.

  4. I couldn't agree more with that whole philosophy. Having been a yo-yo dieter in my teens, I know how bad dieting is for you. Learning to eat properly and listen to your body is key. Thanks, Annalisa - interesting and informative!

  5. Thanks guys! I could probably start a whole new blog on my thoughts about the diet and celebrity fitness video industry. As you have all aluded to, it's just common sense... but so many people are making a living out of peddling myths and fads.

  6. I learned quickly that a lifestyle change made for a more permanent change than a diet.
    And I'm sorry I wasn't following! Every time someone new follows, I click on the icon in the Google Friends Connect box to follow back - but a third of the time, that icon isn't connected to a blog and I can't. I have to wait until the person leaves a comment before I can follow back to a blog. Yours must've been one of those. My apologies!

  7. What can I say.... I am sooo glad you are my fitness instructor at the gym and it is my chance to put back into practice what you I will try harder and I will lose the weight and I will do it b4 the end of January and then it will be the time to set a new goal. All I can say is if you do start a new blog for your advice on fitness and diets I will be the first to want to follow you.

    Thank you for all your help in the past two years

  8. I'm doing really well with the first part of 5 ;-)

  9. I never really got diets myself. I'd just take smaller portions and work out more if I wanted to loose weight. But that's really hard during the holidays. I skipped a couple of gym sessions to make cookies...I was so bad XD

  10. I've been losing weight for the past couple of months. I try to tell myself it's healthy eating rather than dieting, so that I can make new habits. It's a struggle, but I'm working on it :-)

  11. Alex - I feel like I've twisted your arm behind your back, but as my mum always said 'If you don't ask, you don't get'... Also, I figured where Alex goes, others will follow! :-)

    Sue - thanks for the vote of confidence!

    Pasty - me too! lol

    Gwen - lol @ skipping gym to make cookies - love it!

    Sarah - that's all you need to do. And exercise!

  12. Hi Annalisa. I just stopped over from Alex's blog, and am now your newest follower, so:

    Nice to meet you!

  13. Hi Matthew, welcome to my blog. Feel free to look around and comment.

  14. Great advice! Dieting never works for the long term. You're so right - it's better to make small changes. You're more likely to stick with it and follow through.

  15. Thanks for commenting, Nicole. Nice to 'meet' you.

  16. You're welcome Karen. There's so much focus on fat, the sugar problem gets ignored, but I think it's a much more important issue.

  17. the ideas sounds good for long time non-believers, to make them try it out. In small measures it is easier too.Funnily though,I know a lot of vegetrians who have sugar problems, and they do eat lot of vegetables. But the carbos they swollow makes them high sugar.


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