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The Healthy Food Guide team believe that making small diet and lifestyle changes brings the best long-term gains. We look at the science behind the headlines and promote a balanced way of eating.

Another new year, another diet plan? If losing weight hasn’t worked out before, it’s time to look at why – and make this the year you break the cycle…

If your plans for the new year include losing weight, getting fitter and feeling healthier, we’re with you all the way. But we understand, too, that there’s a good chance you’ve been here before and your efforts may not have been successful in the past. So why should this year be any different?

The key to success is to identify your motivation – or reason – for wanting to lose weight. You will then have something definite to refer back to whenever you lose the will to continue. ‘If you have a history of dieting unsuccessfully, your mind may have attached negative feelings to losing weight, such as stress, boredom or feeling isolated and lonely,’ explains clinical hypnotherapist and weight-loss expert Georgia Foster. ‘So your mind is already scared and predicting failure before you’ve even started.’

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That’s why identifying a positive motivation is the best start for healthier, happier weight loss. ‘From there, you need to learn to think about it from a space of calm and logic,’ says Georgia. Think specifics: what might be different when you lose weight? How will you feel? What will you be able to do that you can’t right now?

Perhaps you’d love to go on a walking holiday but don’t feel fit enough. Maybe there’s a special occasion you want to buy a new outfit for. You might have had a health scare that you know a better lifestyle could address. Or you’d like the energy to be as involved as possible with a new grandchild. Mull this over for a day or two, then sit down and list all the motivations that have come to mind.

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Now you need to find a way to keep them going. Here’s where finding the right motivational tool comes in. We’ve identified five useful aids – choose the one that makes the most sense and find out how to make it work for you.

Motivational tool: Find a mantra

What? ‘Self-esteem is key to weight loss and keeping it off,’ says Georgia. ‘You need to learn to respect your decision to diet as an opportunity to embrace a healthier you – and not question it.’ This is how a mantra can be useful. It should be something reassuring, such as, ‘It’s safe for me to like myself as I am now, while I am losing weight.’

Why? ‘It’s important to break the association with dieting as something stressful, boring, frustrating or isolating,’ says Georgia. ‘Developing the right mindset means thinking about weight loss as self-care – a gift to yourself, not a punishment.’ Don’t try to be perfect. The ‘all or nothing syndrome’ inhibits success and affects your dieting self-esteem. Treat each meal as a separate situation. To discover the power of the link between your emotions and your relationship with food, keep an emotional diary for a few days, detailing what you’re feeling when you think about food in ways that could interfere with your goals.

How? Keep the mantra in your head, on your computer, phone and desk, and repeat it before eating. Whenever an internal voice in your head predicts failure, challenge it and repeat your mantra. Avoid anyone who’s a ‘feeder’ until you have the confidence to say no (if necessary, take a minute to repeat your mantra internally before speaking). Each time you think about food, focus on something that makes you feel happy and safe to let your brain register calm, safe feelings before you eat.  Try Georgia’s seven-day online programme, The Weight Less Mind, £54.97, georgiafoster.com (60-day money-back guarantee). You can try the first day for free.

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Motivational too: Meditate

What? Meditation or mindfulness is a way of calming your mind and bringing clarity and focus into your life. People who practise it daily swear by its capacity to reduce stress. ‘It’s about getting to know your mind and putting a bit of peace and tranquility into your life,’ says life coach and meditation expert Pete Cohen.

Why? ‘Even if you’re not physically running around all day, your mind probably is,’ says Pete. ‘Meditation slows it down and gives you an opportunity to relax. It’s cheap, quick and empowering.’ Mindfulness can be very useful when it comes to weight loss, too. ‘People who meditate are more in control of their emotions and less likely to feel like overeating in response to them,’ says Pete.

How? Many people feel intimidated by the idea of meditation, thinking they’ll never be able to master it. ’You wouldn’t reach for the heaviest weight first at the gym, so start small when it comes to your mind, too,’ Pete advises. ‘Go somewhere quiet, sit comfortably and close your eyes. Find a way of being mindful – that’s being in the present moment – that works for you. For some people that’s focusing on their breathing, for others it’s silently repeating a mantra or gazing into a candle. Start with one minute and build from there. If your mind wanders, just bring it back to your focus.’ Pete recommends meditating in the mornings: ‘Set yourself up to win, so you go on to create your day, rather than reacting to it,’ he says. Pete offers free coaching every morning at 7am via a live online stream.  Search Pete Cohen Mi365 on Facebook, or visit mi365.me, to join in.

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Motivational tool: Join a club

What? Whether it’s a slimming group, a fitness class or a sports club, there can be great benefits to sharing your journey with others, rather than going it alone.

Why? Psychological research shows that it’s easier to stick with a weight-loss plan if you have support, share tips and have exercise buddies. You’re more likely to lose weight and keep it off than if you go it alone. ‘It keeps you accountable,’ agrees fitness coach and weight-management consultant Susan Booth, who runs Alive Fitness – weekly groups aimed at women over 40 in Derbyshire. ‘We have  weigh-in, a 15-minute nutrition session and 45-minute exercise class. If you have friends who are looking forward to seeing you, you’re more likely to stick with it. You can share your successes, discuss difficulties – and seeing others losing weight will inspire you to do the same.’

How? Ask around about local groups and, if your focus is weight loss, find somewhere that keeps a record of your weight and/or measurements. Or start a club with friends, meeting at each other’s homes. To find a nationwide class like Susan’s, visit findmy.fitness (formerly the Rosemary Conley franchise).

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Motivational tool: Listen to a podcast

What? Many people swear by Slimpods, daily podcasts that motivate you to lose weight by retraining your brain to want to eat less, cut down on sugar and move more. Thinkingslimmer.com, which makes them, is a national partner of Change4Life (the Department of Health’s healthy lifestyle campaign). One NHS consultant psychiatrist describes Slimpod’s effects as ‘profound and life-changing’. All you have to do is plug in your headphones for nine minutes a day.

Why? The idea is that by listening to Slimpods you’ll think, feel and behave in a different way towards food. ‘Thousands of people worldwide have achieved lasting weight loss,’ says founder and weight-loss specialist Sandra Roycroft-Davis. ‘They no longer need to rely on willpower to lose weight, and cravings become a thing of the past.’ Using cutting edge techniques from the fields of neuroscience, psychology and unconscious persuasion, Slimpods certainly seem to work. In a trial of 84 people, carried out by City, University of London for Slimpod, 95% of participants using them lost an average of 18lb.

How? Before you go to sleep each night, simply settle down to listen to the podcast, whether you’re already eating healthily or not. Extra support is available in the form of online forums, live chats and video coaching, depending on the package you choose.  Visit thinkingslimmer.com. Choose from the 21-day Slimpod Silver package, £39.99, the 12-week Gold package, £117, or one-to-one coaching on request.

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Motivational tool: Keep a detailed diary

What? Keeping a record of everything you eat and drink is a tried and tested effective motivator. It can be useful to log your exercise, too, and how you feel emotionally and physically before and after eating and working out.

Why? Studies have shown that people who keep a food diary are more likely to lose weight (one found it doubled weight loss). It makes you more aware of calories you don’t really need – that extra biscuit, the kids’ leftover chips. It works in reverse for exercise: if you wear an activity tracker, for example, you may be more likely to walk than take the car.

How? There are lots of websites and apps to help you log calories and nutrients. Be consistent, honest and log everything, every day. The NHS-approved Nutracheck counts calories, has a huge database of foods and a barcode scanner to make tracking easy. It also syncs with Fitbit devices to log your activity. Visit nutracheck.co.uk. It’s free for seven days, then £7.99 a month, or download our food diary template.