Losing Weight – You Don’t Need To Do It All In One Go!

One of the main issues that clients tend to have during a period of controlled and intentional weight/fat loss is that motivation is highly fleeting. When you first start out on a lifestyle change that is so all-encompassing as improving your health by changing your diet and exercise habits to lose weight you’re pretty excited, and this is totally understandable. You’re embarking on a new journey, you’re excited about the results that you’re going to get, and while you may be a little apprehensive, you’re almost looking forward to doing things a bit differently.

When you first start out on a lifestyle change that is so all-encompassing as improving your health by changing your diet and exercise habits to lose weight you’re pretty excited, and this is totally understandable.

The problem is: that excitement at trying a new thing goes away really, really quickly, and along with it goes your adherence to your new healthy habits. While the early-diet buzz is more than enough to carry you through the first days and even weeks, at some point it’ll go away as your lifestyle becomes the norm, and you’ll find yourself at home, not in the mood to cook, and thinking more and more about the local takeaway. Your adherence to your diet isn’t going away because you have no willpower, or because you can’t do it, but due to an extremely well understood psychological phenomenon known as temporal discounting bias. What this means, in short, is that we disproportionately devalue things that are further away, and massively overvalue things that are close. As such, when the excitement of starting a new lifestyle goes away, the thought of the end-goal and the value you place on that isn’t great enough to make up the shortfall, and so it’s eclipsed by thoughts of pizza and wine.

What’s worse is that there is NOTHING you can do about it…but you CAN work with it.

Conventional dieting practices are predicated on the implicit assumption that in order to be making progress you need to make progress as often as possible. Put another way, we assume that a diet needs to involve week after week after week of trying (and hopefully managing) to lose fat/weight; and this assumption is so ingrained that we don’t even question it – it’s obvious!

But it’s also wrong.

That’s not necessarily how fat loss needs to work, and there are a number of good reasons why you may consider breaking it up – I’ll start with the reason I’ve already hinted at:

  1. You can set goals that will be achieved sooner, rather than later

As mentioned, the temporal discounting bias means that it’s really, really hard to be motivated by something that won’t pay off until way in the future. Think about it, if I asked if I you’d rather have £100 today or £120 tomorrow, you’d wait, right? Would you wait if it was £100 today or £120 in 10 years? Less likely.

The same principle applies to weight loss goals. It’s hard to be motivated to achieve a goal that may realistically be 6 months away or more, so appreciate that and set smaller, closer goals. Instead of looking to lose 40lbs in the next 6 months, look to lose 10lbs in the next 8 weeks. You could then perhaps have two weeks eating a little more (either by increasing your calorie intake if you track this, or by simply increasing portion sizes or adding a snack) and maintaining your weight, then you can attack the next 8 weeks with a new goal. You could do 10, 8 or even two-week cycles – it’s entirely up to you to decide how you want to work it, to best fit your personality!

  1. The beauty of this is that you can really start planning out what to do to achieve what you want.

If you set a 6-week goal and get to week 2 you can ask yourself – are you a third of the way there yet? If so, then continue what you’re doing. If not, you can adjust your approach in real time before checking in again a week later. After this, if you get to the end of your 6-week weight loss phase and you didn’t achieve your goal, it doesn’t really matter because this isn’t the end of the process anyway. You can take the next 1-2 weeks of eating a bit more to regroup, reflect on what you could have done differently, then apply that in the next burst. Baby steps will soon add up!

  1. You learn how to maintain

Each time you get to the end of a ‘dieting’ burst, you increase your portions/food/calories and maintain before the next burst. This is actually a really important step because it answers one question that almost every single other dieting approach avoids – how do you maintain your new weight at the end? Oftentimes what happens with weight loss is that people who eat a high calorie and convenience/processed food-based diet will improve their diet to lose weight, of course, but this presents a problem – you only know how to eat poorly, or how to eat to lose weight. Once you reach your goal you don’t need to do the latter, so you go back to the former and boom – rebound town.

Taking the time to learn how to eat a health-promoting diet that is not directed towards weight loss, to be able to eat more without throwing it all out of the window, and to be able to control yourself while still enjoying a little more food flexibility is so valuable that it really can’t be overstated, and this approach lets you do just that.

  1. Your body won’t adapt to dieting so much

This is a minor yet still important point. When you eat in a calorie deficit to lose weight your body adapts to a degree in order to reduce that. This is not the mythical ‘starvation mode’ that so many talk about, but your calorie expenditure CAN drop by up to around 15% more than you’d expect from simply losing weight. The kicker is that over 90% of this 15% is accounted for by daily movement and fidgeting – the subconscious stuff we do when we’re full of beans and not dieting (meaning that the ‘your metabolism will slow down!’ stuff is about 2-3% at the top end…no big deal). As you lose weight you get a bit lethargic because you’re under-fuelling and this can make success harder because that can reduce your calorie expenditure. On top of this, on a more straightforward level, you also get way hungrier over time!

Spending 1-2 weeks at maintenance between dieting blocks can work to undo this to an extent. Again, this isn’t some magic that will make or break fat loss for you, but it’s certainly something that bears thinking about because it might make it easier.

  1. You get to eat a bit more food every now and then

By now I hope you know that there are no good or bad foods, and you absolutely can enjoy the foods you love in moderation while losing weight, but there’s a bit more to it that most don’t talk about – the truth is that fitting in the foods you like is kinda hard if you have a low energy expenditure (maybe you’re relatively small and have a sedentary job?). That means that yes, while you COULD have 4 Hob Nobs while you’re dieting, that might mean you’re left eating steamed white fish and spinach for the rest of the day – not much fun!

By now I hope you know that there are no good or bad foods, and you absolutely can enjoy the foods you love in moderation while losing weight

This approach means you get to satisfy your cravings on a regular basis and also regularly eat enough so that you’re not at all hungry, punctuated by relatively short periods of adhering to a dieting approach. Indeed, learning how to do this in moderation without going overboard just adds to point #3 above.

So there you have it. If you’re looking to improve your health and lose weight, remember you don’t have to do it all at once. Indeed, breaking it up might even be one of the best decisions you ever made. It might make it easier to do, easier to maintain, and dare I say it – more enjoyable!

"All in or all out" Rachael is a vibrant, no-bullshit-talking Scottish nutrition geek and coach helping women to lose weight without giving up their confidence OR their favourite foods.

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