Last week I received this email…. I am grateful to be given the chance to answer to a voice that represents many people.
I eat relatively healthy and like to be active in a variety of ways but for the last year, I have struggled to lose weight. When I eat less healthy, it's because I want to enjoy food that falls under the 'guilty pleasure' category (pizza, burgers, desserts, ice cream). Years ago when I tried to lose weight, I eliminated these and other food groups and developed a very unhealthy relationship with both food and exercise. While I've now decided it's healthier to enjoy these foods in moderation, I feel this is what has caused my weight gain (5-8 kg more).
I don't want to go back to restriction, but I recognize cutting back would probably help me reach my goal. What can I do to enjoy those foods a little less without triggering past unhealthy behaviors? I thought I reached a happy medium of being able to enjoy those foods as part of my diet (not something I consume daily or ate in secret) and without mental anguish, but the weight gain has caused its own anguish of being unhappy with my appearance and wanting to improve my physical health.
Firstly, I thank you for this email. Addressing your thoughts is the first step to losing weight and feeling healthy.
You've recognized your past behaviors, educated yourself about damaging food thoughts, and worked on your mindset, which is so important when it comes to making healthy lifestyle changes.
You're absolutely right that you don't need to cut out any foods you enjoy to lose weight and live a healthy lifestyle, but it sounds like you're struggling in your body at the moment, and you can change that.
Weight is not the best way to measure health or happiness.
Weight is not a defining factor of health, weight is purely a number and it doesn't tell you how happy you feel, how your organs are functioning, anything about the activity you do, your quality of life, or your social interactions.
With that in mind, there is nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight and improve your health.
There are many factors that contribute to weight gain, so it might not necessarily be that you're eating too many "guilty pleasures."
Often we simplify weight gain to diet and activity levels, but actually stress, sleep, age, hormones, medications, the types of gut microbes you have, and your past diet history can be other factors.
Take a good look at your lifestyle holistically, considering whether you're sleeping enough and moving in ways you enjoy.
Your diet is more important than exercise for weight loss, studies show, but thinking about how you can keep active over the course of the day and focusing on your non-exercise activity is also important.
Wanting to enjoy all foods in moderation is the right approach, it simply comes down to eating a little less of some.
One thing that can be done is to try and half portion sizes of these particular items that you have labeled as 'guilty pleasures. Of course, there's no reason to feel guilty, but instead of having three scoops of ice cream, have two, instead of having a whole dessert, share half with a partner.
I am also a big fun of the 80-20 principle which essentially means focusing on nutrient-rich foods 80% of the time, and enjoying less nutritious "treats" guilt-free for the remaining 20%. Keeping a food diary might help you assess your progress and see whether it's actually more like 50/50.
I suggest making sure you're eating plenty of fiber-rich foods and keeping an eye on alcohol consumption too.
I am a big believer of the psychological support too!
It's important not to gloss over the amazing progress you've already made on challenging your thoughts about food groups.
I think this is huge and far more important than being at a certain weight. Sometimes we have to let go of the weight in order to have a better balance in life and be happier.
If you try to taking a step back and thinking about body image and acceptance rather than automatically thinking you need to lose weight, it might help.
However, if your weight gain is a result of unhealthy behaviors creeping back in, then psychological work needs to take place first.
I always see that it's important to address these underlying issues and triggers surrounding the dieting before actually looking at the weight loss itself.
Reach out to a psychologist, dietitian, or even a supportive friend.
Ultimately though, you are not stuck. You don't have to feel this way forever. You can make the changes that are right for you and will help you feel happier, healthier, and like yourself again.