Dietitian Susie Burrell shares what she’s learnt about those people who seem to maintain their weight without a second thought. From intuitive eating to losing the obsession over ‘healthy’ food, she shares her tips for sustainable and sensible weight management.
Chances are you know someone like Jane… slim, fit and healthy.
Jane never seems too caught up in talk of fad diets and exercise crazes. She buys her lunch daily, always accepts a piece of office cake and never seems to restrict her eating – yet her weight never changes.
What is Jane doing that the rest of us are not? And why does it appear so easy for Jane to maintain her figure? Or more importantly, what can we learn from her?
While there is plenty of research out there that has examined the diet and exercise habits of those who have lost weight and kept it off, but there are far fewer studies that have looked at the eating and lifestyle behaviours of those who appear to effortless maintain their weight.
With so many of us struggling with mindless snacking, moving less and emotional eating while at home, understanding the impact that in hunger management, daily food habits and general mindset has on preventing weight gain has never felt more needed.
So, here are some of the key observations I have made of these individuals – including many health and nutrition professionals, over 20 years in clinical practice – to shed some light on what those who don’t struggle with their weight do differently.
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They don’t eat mindlessly
Much eating behaviour occurs for reasons other than hunger – we eat because food is available, others are eating or it is a meal time and rarely, if ever is a meal or snack opportunity missed, generally because eating brings much pleasure to our lives. This is where many of us go wrong. Eating frequently, and in particular when we are not hungry sets us up for insidious weight gain over time, as the body is constantly in storage mode.
Here, when we have eaten a larger meal, and we likely do not need to eat again for many hours, few of us are prepared to skip a meal. On the other hand, those who are less attached to eating regularly, and eat only when they are genuinely hungry, will be significantly less likely to be gain even small amounts of weight over time.
They eat the food the feel like eating
One of the issues with restrictive eating it that we can become programmed to let our heads tell us what we ‘should’ be eating – as opposed to what we actually ‘feel’ like eating. The issue with this is that we may end up eating more calories than we need because we eat what we think we ‘should’ be eating – but then often succumb to what we want to eat, as well.
Take the example of birthday cake at work. You may say no to a slice at the time and eat your pre-packed, healthy afternoon tea. But you may continue to think about the cake, and eventually eating that as well. If you had simply enjoyed a small piece of the cake initially, you would have been less likely to overindulge later. The key here is portion control when you do eat the cake.
They are not afraid of feeling a little bit peckish
Humans do not like to feel hungry, and will even eat before they are really hungry to avoid any feelings of discomfort. The issue with this is that it leads to overeating over time, as the body gets used to seeking food every hour or two, as opposed to every three to four hours when the body is truly depleted. When we wait until we are really, genuinely hungry to eat our meals we tend to cut out the mindless snacking that many of us engage in.
These are the people who are able to ignore hunger and power on with their activity only to realise they have not eaten very much. To be clear I’m definitely not saying that not eating is the goal – but rather, focusing on substantial meals that you enjoy at meal times (and when you’re genuinely hungry) is an effective way to naturally control your calorie intake.
They don’t obsess over food
Have you ever noticed that the more you think about your ‘healthy’ meals and snacks, the more you are thinking about food in general and the more you end up eating? Behaviours often follow our thoughts, which means that more you obsess and think about what you should (and shouldn’t) be eating, the harder it will be to keep on track with your lifestyle goals.
This is not to say we should not give what we eat any focus, but rather avoid the daily food obsession by packing or planning your meals each day. Then focus on other things until it is actually a meal time and/ or you are really hungry. Basically the more you think about your diet, the more you may actually be doing yourself a disservice.
They are consistent
Dieters are notorious for cycling off and on extreme diet regimes, often gaining weight over time as part of this process rather than losing it. On the other hand, avoiding fads and keeping consistent with a dietary regime that works for you is a powerful step towards long term weight control. This may translate into fasting during the week, or keeping the carbs low at night. It may be a commitment to a plant based diet most of the time, or limiting alcohol during the week.
Every one of us will be different, but identifying the diet (and exercise) balance that supports you in maintaining the weight you want to be is a key step towards long term weight control.