There are many, many healthy eating and diet plans out there, promising brilliant results if you just follow their advice. But so often I see people who have made large changes to their diet and lifestyle that have initially resulted in them losing weight, but they are now becoming bored and demoralised and finding it difficult to stick to.
Often this can be because in taking up the new plan, they have stopped doing many of the things that they love. This can either mean stopping eating foods that they enjoy, but also avoiding events and people that involve eating or taking up strenuous exercise and not having the time or energy to do other things that they enjoy.
If I asked you what you enjoy, you would think that this would be easy to answer. But in this blog, I look at why we can end up thinking that we enjoy things that we actually don’t, discount the things that we do enjoy or perhaps not try new things that we might come to love.
Do you love the foods you think you love?
It’s easy to think that the things we enjoy most are the foods that it is often recommended to cut down on when eating healthily: cakes, biscuits, desserts, crisps, fast food, pies etc. Surprisingly though, you may be craving something because you have told yourself that you cannot have it rather than because these are the foods you actually enjoy the most.
No matter how much you do enjoy a food, you’d also get bored of it pretty quickly if it was all that you could eat. So even if something you do enjoy is allowed on your new plan, you can get bored of it and naturally limit how much you have. This is one of the ways that diets that are very restrictive in what you can eat work, and also why they often fail as you become bored of the foods and meals that you are allowed.
Becoming more mindful while eating can help to find out more about what you do enjoy. Eating mindfully is something many of us have forgotten how to do. It’s so common to do something else at the same time as eating. This might be scrolling social media, watching the telly, chatting to others or grabbing lunch whilst walking or driving. We rarely pay a great deal of attention to our food. When we are distracted like this, we don’t notice the textures and flavours of food and also can miss our body telling us that we are hungry and so keep eating when we are full.
There are whole books written on the subject of mindful eating, but here is an exercise you can try. It is actually quite a challenging thing to do as it’s so easy to be distracted and fall back into old habits, especially if you live with others and eat at the same time. But it is well worth doing to understand more about what you really enjoy. If you want to you can keep a diary of what you have found out doing it.
This exercise can be done with a snack or a full meal, something you eat regularly or when trying something new. It’s can be interesting to try it with foods that you are craving. If you are unsure about trying this, remember that eating something you consider unhealthy once won’t completely mess up your healthy eating plan.
Mindful eating exercise.
Set aside some time out from everything else to eat, ideally sitting down at a table in a quiet room.
Look at your food, notice the colours and the textures. How hungry are you feeling, and how much do you think you will enjoy it?
Take one mouthful at a time and concentrate on how it tastes and how it feels in your mouth.
Rate how much you are enjoying that food. Do you like the taste, is it satisfying to eat?
Stop halfway through the food and think about how full you feel. Are you still hungry, or would you be satisfied if you stopped eating now? When you’ve finished are you full enough?
If you are eating a food you really wanted to eat, notice how satisfying it is after the first portion e.g., one biscuit, what about the second? If you eat a large amount of it, do you still enjoy it as much?
After you have eaten the food do you stay full or are you hungry again soon afterwards?
Things you might find:
There are foods that you really crave, that you don’t actually like that much. It just not being able to have them that makes you want them.
Other foods, you might find that you really love when you take the time to pay attention.
Then there are foods that taste wonderful for the first bite but get less satisfying the more you eat.
Some foods or meals will fill you up better and make you more satisfied than others. Some will fill you up short term, but you get hungry soon afterwards.
You might change your mind about how much food you need. You might be eating too much because you are eating your food too fast to get fullness signals. Or perhaps not enough to satisfy you and this causes you to snack later.
There are no strict rules for this. It is to find out what works for you.
For more information on why we get hungry see my blog I always seem to be hungry, what can I eat to make me fill full?
How to keep foods and meals that you love in your diet.
Many meals can be adapted to be healthier or lower calorie and still just as enjoyable.I have previously written about finding out what foods and meals you enjoy and adapting recipes to be healthier on my blog on the Mediterranean Diet.
But if there are certain foods that you love and will accept no substitution remember that there are no banned foods in a healthy diet. With careful planning it’s usually possible to carry on having some of these foods even when trying to lose weight.
Thinking about things you enjoy that don’t involve food.
When thinking about what we enjoy it’s also worth thinking about things other than food. There are many times that we might use food for reasons other than hunger. We might be bored and using it as something to do, distracting ourselves from stress or something we aren’t looking forwards to doing, or eating hoping that it will cheer us up when feeling down.
So, it can be useful to think of other things that we enjoy or that reduce our stress levels as an alternative in these situations. Being busy doing something you enjoy is a good way to avoid heading to the fridge for snacks. If you’re someone that tends to reward yourself with food after a hard day or dealing with something difficult, non-food rewards, small things that bring us joy, can be used to replace using food.
I have found this section quite difficult to write. It’s tempting to try to come up with a list of relaxing or fun activities, do an internet search on “non-food rewards” and you will find lots of ideas. But it’s actually quite difficult to make suggestions. Something one person might enjoy, such as gardening or working on the car might be a total chore for someone else.
So have a think about the things that you enjoy doing rather than those suggested by someone else. You might need to think back into the past to things you used to enjoy or perhaps keep a diary and become more mindful about how you feel doing different activities in your life.
It might not always be the same things. Something you haven’t done for a while might be more enjoyable than if you did it every day. Alternatively, an activity, such as doing a craft or sport, might be deeply frustrating to start off with and then bring real joy once you get more skilled. As with food, it’s good to have variety of ideas.
If you live with others, talk to them about things they enjoy doing to see if you can come up with activities to do together. But also, don’t be afraid to set boundaries to do the things you love. Try to set time aside for activities that you enjoy and not feel guilty about taking time for yourself. Try to do just the one thing so that you can pay attention. We are constantly multitasking these days reading a book with one eye on the TV whilst eating might not bring the enjoyment that any of those activities might have on their own.
There might also be activities that you enjoy that involve food such as going out for meals with friends. For these have a think about what it is that you enjoy. Is it actually meeting the people involved rather than the food and so could you change to a non-food activity?
Thinking about exercise.
When we think about increasing exercise, we often think of it only in terms of burning calories and losing weight, which can lead to us plugging away for long times at high intensity exercise that perhaps we don’t really enjoy. This can increase our risk of injury and being too tired to do other things. And is very easy to just end up eating more calories that we have burned doing the exercise.
However, exercise has huge benefits to health and wellbeing, even if it doesn’t result in any weight loss. Any drug company that created a pill that gave the same benefits would be very rich indeed.
It improves the health of our heart and blood vessels, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes, and maintains and builds the strength of our bones and muscles, reducing the natural loss of these as we age. For people with, or at risk of, Type 2 diabetes, not only do you burn more blood glucose whilst doing it, but your body also becomes more sensitive to insulin for some time afterwards reducing blood glucose levels further. It also has big benefits for mental health, releasing feel good endorphins, particularly when we exercise outside.
If we take the focus off of weight loss, it gives the opportunity to find activities that we enjoy and are more likely to keep up. Any exercise even getting up from our seats for a short period, has benefits. Exercise that makes us warm and raises our heartrate for 10 minutes can add towards the recommended 30 minutes of moderate activity a day.
So, think about finding ways to exercise that you enjoy. Here are some ideas to try. Some of these obviously more challenging during lockdown if you live alone, but perhaps you can rope in a friend to compare notes over the phone or on Zoom.
Can you split up the time that you spend sitting down during the day?
Can you make your exercise more social with friends or family?
Combine activity with something you enjoy. This could be by playing a sport, but also bird or nature watching or even fossil hunting (you’d be amazed what you can pick up in fields in some parts of the country).
Combine activity with helping others perhaps volunteering or helping a neighbour.
Get outside and connect with nature. This might seem more challenging in winter, but good quality walking boots and waterproofs make it still possible to get out in grotty weather.
We often feel like we don’t have the time but combining activity with other things that need doing such as going to the shops or spending time with family or friends can free up more time.
When nothing gives you much enjoyment.
If you find that nothing gives you the enjoyment that it used to, it is possible that you have low mood. Right at the moment this is not uncommon so please don’t feel alone in this.
If your mood is low, then it's probably not the right thing to do to go on a restrictive crash diet or beat yourself up because you are not making big changes to your life. Perhaps the best thing that you can do is to talk to someone about how you feel or ask for help from a qualified health professional such as your GP.
NHS information on support for mental health.
NHS Information about getting more urgent support.
Many areas have a free NHS healthy minds (IAPT) service which you can self refer to.
Why a consultation with a dietitian might help.
Dietitians translate the scientific evidence on diet and lifestyle into straightforward, practical advice that works and support you to make healthy changes. A dietitian can answer all of your questions about food and exercise and help you to set goals that will work for you.
Dietetic advice can be valuable if you have a medical condition, such as diabetes, that benefits from dietary changes or you take medication that affects what you eat.
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