On the menu: Increase chances of success by committing aims to paper

Writing out a plan forces us to really think about what we want to change

Record your pattern of eating, drinking, sleeping or activity with a diary or smartphone app. Photograph:Getty Images

Record your pattern of eating, drinking, sleeping or activity with a diary or smartphone app. Photograph:Getty Images


Are you making big, bold resolutions to “eat right” in 2014?

Personally I’ve found writing out my goals clarifies them, but planning to succeed requires more than just hoping and wishing for change.

When clients tell me they want “to get to a more comfortable weight”, I usually reply “Good! Now what are you prepared to do to get there?”

Committing a plan to paper forces us to really think about what we want to change. More importantly, it helps us make really concrete decisions about how we are going to do it.

It may mean writing out your own meal plan, a shopping list or an activity plan. It takes time to “eat an elephant” but if you have a large number of intolerance genes like me, you can tie yourself up in “all or nothing” thinking.

This either creates a huge amount of anxiety if you don’t get on with the business of change efficiently and quickly, or a huge amount of fear which paralyses you before you begin.

The changes we need to make are so great and so arduous that when we look at the extent of the change necessary, it is simply overwhelming. This can mean we either never start the change or that circumstances just sabotage us. Life gets in the way – that great old excuse. It’s worth reviewing the steps to change described by the late psychologist Dr Joyce Brothers.

Step 1: Accept that change involves . . . change. Habits die hard. We construct neural pathways that mostly serve us well and make life easier and more efficient for us. That’s a good thing. But when we try to change our habits or neural pathways, the brain resists. We need to take this normal resistance seriously. If not, old habits return eventually.

Step 2: Be exact about the change you want. Wishing and hoping to “do better” won’t cut it.

Decide precisely what you want, what it will look like, and how you will measure your progress.
Step 3: List the penalties of not changing. What will it cost you over a lifetime to continue your old habit? Will your health suffer? Will you die younger?

Step 4: List the rewards of making the change you want. How will you and those closest to you benefit from this change? Will you be healthier, live longer or with more congruence?

Step 5: Decide the change is worth it. Make the commitment. Design systems and strategies for success. What are your supports? Think it through and be very clear. Desiring or longing for change is not enough.

Step 6: Be accountable. Tell people about the change you are making and ask them to monitor your progress. Ask family to be your allies. Record your pattern of eating, drinking, sleeping or activity with a diary or smartphone app. Get a coach.

Step 7: Map your progress. Post your changing body composition on your bathroom mirror. Use graphs and pictures to mark your progress and get feedback from people who care about your success.

There are few common habits among the 6,000 participants on the US National Weight Control Registry. Not only did these people successfully lose weight, they also prevented the weight from returning again. Common behaviours included reducing their calorific intake, weekly self- monitoring, participation in a high level of physical activity and eating breakfast almost every day. This suggests that the simple habit of starting your day with breakfast is an important strategy for losing weight and keeping it off.

Start the day well
Skipping breakfast is counterproductive as your body stays in its “hoard mode”, thinking it’s starving because you’re fasting for a very long period of time without food. Breaking the fast helps to boost your metabolism and your energy levels.

If the family is missing out on a good breakfast, set the table the night before and get everyone out of bed five minutes earlier. A quick nutritious breakfast of a high-fibre cereal topped with low-fat milk and some seeds and chopped fruit will do. You can relax at weekends, introducing a wider range or breakfast foods such as eggs, beans, grilled tomatoes or wholemeal pancakes filled with yoghurt and berries.

Make the environment work with you

Stimulus control involves learning what social or environmental cues seem to encourage undesired eating, and then changing those cues. On reflection, you may learn from self-monitoring that you’re more likely to overeat while watching TV

, or whenever the box of sweets are on display in the office, or when you eat with a certain friend or in a certain place.

You might then try to sever the association of eating with the cue (don’t eat while watching TV), avoid or eliminate the cue (leave the sweets on some one else’s desk), or change the circumstances surrounding the cue (plan to meet your friend for a walk). In general, visible and accessible food items are often cues for unplanned eating and unhealthy chain reactions.

Losing weight ultimately involves eating fewer calories. Choosing smaller glasses and plates all help to limit portion sizes, as does changing the pace at which we eat. Putting less on each fork full and chewing more helps us focus on how satiated we are, so we can stop before we feel stuffed.

The fibre filler
Some 80 per cent of us are not getting enough fibre. The greatest quantities of fibre are found in foods such as vegetables, beans, lentils, fruit, nuts and grains.

Studies indicate that people who eat a high-fibre diet find it easier to control their weight than those who don’t. Fibre contributes to weight control by increasing the time taken to chew foods; it adds bulk to the diet and helps us to feel fuller for longer.

Certain types of fibre can help lower cholesterol too. People with high-fibre diets are one-third less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.

The protein filler

For many, finding time to eat a healthy lunch at work or at home may be even more challenging than finding five minutes for breakfast.

Like all balanced meals, it’s important to try to eat a variety of foods which will give you carbohydrate for brain fuel; protein for alertness and satiety; some good fat to provide you with fat-soluble vitamins and essential fatty acids.

What you eat for lunch can either boost energy levels or leave you feeling sleepy and easily distracted. Protein-rich foods such as seafood, lean meats or eggs at lunch keep us alert and focused in the afternoon. Protein-rich foods also trigger the sensation of fullness faster than fatty foods. Sandwiches and salads exclusively made from salad leaves and bulky low-calorie vegetables are light but probably insufficient in protein. Always include a lean protein at lunch and at your evening meal.
Carrot, orange and hummus: Coarsely grate 1 carrot and mix with zest of half an orange and 1 tablespoon of reduced fat hummus in a wrap.
Egg and cress: Mash a hard-boiled egg with 1 teaspoon of low-fat mayonnaise. Add finely chopped chives and cress and stuff into a wholemeal pitta.
Apple and cheese slaw: Grate a small apple, 1 stick of celery and mix with 25g of your favourite low-fat cheese like brie. Stir in chopped spring onions and 2 teaspoons of natural yogurt and pile onto your bread of choice.
Steak sarnie: Layer leftover beef (chicken or turkey also work well), red onion, rocket and 2 teaspoons of Dijon mustard on a small crusty ciabatta.
TLT (turkey, lettuce and tomato): Chop up sliced turkey breast, lettuce and cherry tomatoes and mix with a little low-fat mayo. Pile into a pitta pocket or wholegrain bap.
Roast pepper and brie: Spread matchbox size of lower-fat brie on your bread of choice, top with roasted red peppers. Add smoked salmon for a treat.

And remember if you’re not hungry, why are you eating? Tuning into your body’s needs over time will lead to establishing mindful eating patterns. Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.

Paula Mee is lead dietitian at Medfit Proactive Healthcare.
pmee@medfit.ie; Twitter @paula_mee.

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