Sometimes, just making those first steps into dieting can be the hardest part.
It's all well and good me giving my top tips, but how do you get going in the first place? I saw a comment on good old Facebook from a friend who was complaining that eating salad had made his start on healthy eating boring already. I do think it was partly in jest but it got me thinking.
Some people believe that you have to start diets at 100 miles an hour, full throttle exercise and perfect diet right from the off. I fell partly into that trap myself, pushing myself to do over an hours cardio exercise every day for a week, sending my body into shock. I was shattered, I'm not going to lie, and when the scales showed no movement it did make me think of giving up. I think that if you throw yourself into it like that immediately, you're going to both tire yourself out, make yourself hungry, and probably burn out very quickly.
So, where should you start?
In my opinion, with a food diary and calorie count. For the first couple of days, maybe even a week, don't change what you're eating but look into it in more detail. Like anything else, a good diet requires some planning and research.
It may also be worth, as a reader rightly commented, not calling it a diet but a lifestyle change. Get it into your head from the start that this is how it has to be now to stop you falling back into bad habits. However, for ease of reference, I'm still going to refer to it as a diet - but this point is extremely valid and worth a try.
Anyway, back to the food diary. If you're confused as to what this should be, let me give you an example of one of mine (I'll pick a good day to make me look good!)
- 50/50 Bread, 1 slices, 94kcal
- Boiled egg, 1 whole, 77kcal
- Lurpak Lighter Spreadable, 1 serving 54kcal
- Barm cake, 1 whole, 177kcal
- Ham sandwich meat, 2 slices, 44kcal
- Salad greens, 1 cup, 5kcal
- 3% fat mayonnaise, 1 tbsp, 10kcal
- Spaghetti, 60g, 94kcal
- Tinned tomatoes, 1/2 cup, 60kcal
- Grated carrot, 1/4 cup, 14kcal
- Spinach, 1 bunch, 40kcal
- Beef mince, 110g, 352kcal
I would just like to state I don't eat this little calories! I've left off snacks as at this point I didn't think they were important in this example. Also, it is recommended for a female that you do not eat less that 1200 kcal a day as anything under that is considered dangerous. (Read more about calorie intake here). Some diets do recommend you eat 3 healthy snacks of 100kcal or less between meals.
Ok, that aside. You can see from this example that you do have to be quite in-depth about what you record to get a good estimate of your calorie intake. Its difficult to be exact but you can be more sure you are in the ball park if you record more information - the more vague you are, the more rough your estimate will be. I don't record herbs and spices either as they are so little in calorie value it doesn't make much difference.
When you start recording what you eat, you will see straight away where your problem areas are. In this example alone, I could have saved calories by not having butter on my toast and by replacing the minced beef with something lower in calories. You will also see that you don't have to survive on salad alone to eat healthily. You can start making the changes to your diet so that you can still eat the food you love, just healthier versions of it.
While I missed snacks out of my example, they are still important. I was a massive snacker, and it would always be crisps and occasionally chocolate. Referring back to swapping food for healthier versions, I have managed to change this to either low fat crisp-like snacks if I need a crisp fix, or fruit, nuts or seeds. I still have the occasional chocolate bar, but I'll have a fun-size bar instead of a full size one.
Over all, I stick to 1400 calories as recommended to me by Aimee, my Zumba instructor, who is also a trained nutritionist. Please seek advice on what yours should be as everyone is different. There is also an NHS recommended plan here.
By knowing what you are consuming and making gradual changes, you will soon be sticking to your recommended allowance and you will have found it easier than just jumping straight in and starving yourself. Hopefully, as you can still eat things you like, you won't get bored quickly either.
What about exercise?
While you are getting your head around the food side of things, you can also start to introduce more exercise. If you're not used to exercising regularly, to prevent exhausting or injuring yourself a gradual approach will work better than full out exercise to the max every day.
In my 'Useful Links' section I have linked to 2 articles on over exercising which are definitely worth a read. In summary, they recommend a low level of exercise every day, such as a stroll, and then a more full on exercise 3-5 times a week. The rest between high level exercise is important to allow your muscles to repair and get stronger.
My recommendation would be to start with something once a week for maybe 2 weeks, and then gradually introduce more. I'm a massive advocate of something such as yoga or pilates on your 'rest' days as they are low intensity but still have a massive effect on muscle tone and strength. Again, make a plan and record what you do to keep track of your progress.
Tracking your progress is important
It's a great idea to record where you started and all your progress so you can see how far you've come - and then celebrate it! Some things to keep track of outside of diet and exercise are obviously your weight but also take some measurements. It has been pointed out to me that even if you don't lose much on the scales, you can still be toning your muscles and losing physical size. You need to feel a sense of achievement to stay motivated and you won't know what you're achieving if you don't keep track.
Aimee recommends the following measurements -
- Waist at narrowest point
- Widest part of bum
- Legs together about a third of the way down
A slight aside here on weight monitoring - it has been recommended that you shouldn't weigh yourself more often than once a week as your body goes through regular fluctuations which can give you an inaccurate reading. Once a week, on the same day at the same time is best. You can read more on this subject here.
I see everywhere 'before and after' pictures of people in their underwear and I can definitely see why these are a massive motivational tool. In theory, I would recommend doing this to anyone. However, I am yet to pluck up the courage to do so myself as I dread there being a record of what I see in the mirror (on the rare occasions I look). But like I say, I can see the benefits of it and while I haven't done this myself, I do recommend it.
And that's it! It sounds like a lot but with a little groundwork and preparation, it really will make your experience so much easier. As the article above says, dieting is a marathon, not a sprint. You have to remember you're in it for the long term, so there is no harm in building yourself up to it. Referring again to the comment by my reader - its a lifestyle change and changes don't always happen over night.
To anyone that is embarking on a weight loss journey, I hope this helps and I wish you the best of luck!