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Unlocking sustainable weight management

Resident Nutritionist, Magdalena Marvell, embraces behavioural modifications.

As summer draws near, the desire to shed some pounds or improve our overall weight before donning swimwear becomes a common pursuit. In this journey, you’ll come across a variety of diets, ranging from trendy fads to scientifically-backed approaches.

However, selecting the right diet is merely the initial step on this transformative journey. The real challenge is staying committed to your chosen path, and that’s where making behavioural changes becomes important.

Weight management isn’t simply about a temporary shift in eating habits but rather a sustainable and holistic transformation of our behaviours and mindset. While diet plays a pivotal role, it’s the behavioural modifications that underpin long-term success and yield lasting results.

In this article, I will explore a range of behavioural modifications that can support individuals in their weight management journey. These strategies go beyond conventional diet plans, focusing on cultivating sustainable habits, fostering a positive relationship with food, and addressing the underlying factors that influence our behaviours and choices.

Engaging in abrupt and extreme transformations, like solely consuming cabbage soup, may result only in temporary weight loss. However, these changes can be harmful and not recommended for long-term progress. To establish lasting improvements in your eating patterns, it is crucial to adopt a deliberate strategy that involves reflection, replacement, and reinforcement.

Firstly, REFLECT upon your individual eating habits, both detrimental and beneficial ones, as well as identify the factors that commonly trigger unhealthy eating episodes.

Secondly, REPLACE your unhealthy eating habits with healthier alternatives that promote nourishment and balance. This could include incorporating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins into your meals while minimising processed foods, sugary beverages, and excessive sodium or saturated fats.

Lastly, REINFORCE your newfound, healthier eating habits by reinforcing positive behaviours and creating a supportive environment. This can involve seeking guidance from a nutritionist or dietitian, surrounding yourself with individuals who share similar goals, and regularly monitoring your progress.

Make a list of your eating and drinking habits. Keep a food diary for a few days, noting everything you consume, including sugary drinks and alcohol. Record the time of day for each item to uncover your patterns. For instance, you may find that you often reach for a sweet snack during the mid-afternoon energy slump. Also, note your emotions when eating, especially if you eat when not hungry. Were you tired, upset or stressed?

Identify the habits on your list that may contribute to overeating. These can include eating too quickly, always finishing your plate, eating when not hungry, eating while standing (which may lead to mindless or quick eating), always having dessert, or skipping meals (such as breakfast), snacking when bored.

Examine the unhealthy habits you’ve identified and pinpoint the triggers that prompt those behaviours. Choose a few habits you want to work on improving first. Remember to acknowledge and appreciate the positive things you’re already doing.

For example, if you regularly snack when you are bored – try to find another way to distract yourself such as talk to your colleague or go for a walk outside your workplace. These are commendable habits! Recognising your successes will motivate you to make further positive changes.

Create a list of “cues” by reviewing your food diary. Pay attention to moments when you’re prompted to eat for reasons other than hunger. Note your emotions during those times. Often, environmental cues or specific emotional states can trigger non-hunger eating.

Common triggers include seeing your favourite snack in the cabinet, watching television at home, experiencing work-related stress, feeling unsure about dinner plans, being offered a special dish, passing a shop with sweet treats, sitting near a vending machine in the work canteen, seeing doughnuts/cakes at a morning meeting, visiting a drive-through daily, and feeling bored or tired and seeking a pick-me-up through food.

Circle the cues on your list that you encounter daily or weekly. While occasions like Christmas may trigger overeating, focus on the cues you face more frequently on a daily basis for now. Eventually, aim to develop a plan for addressing as many eating cues as possible.

By becoming more aware of your triggers and identifying the cues you face regularly, you can better prepare yourself to manage and respond to them effectively.

For each circled cue, ask yourself the following questions:
Can I avoid the cue or situation? This is applicable to cues that don’t involve others. For instance, could you take a different route to work to avoid passing by a corner shop with favourite sugary treats or fast food restaurant? Is there another spot in your workplace where you can sit, away from the vending machine?

If I can’t avoid the cue, how can I approach it in a healthier way? Understandably, it’s not possible to avoid all triggers for unhealthy eating, such as work meetings. In such situations, consider your alternatives. Can you suggest or bring healthier snacks or drinks with you to the meeting? Can you occupy yourself by taking notes or engaging in a distractive conversation? Can you sit farther away from the food to make it less accessible?Can you plan ahead and have a nutritious meal before the meeting?

By evaluating your options and finding healthier approaches to manage the cues, you can make positive choices even in challenging situations.

Replace unhealthy habits with healthier ones. For instance, if you tend to eat quickly when alone, commit to sharing a meal with a colleague or inviting a neighbour for dinner once a week. Practice putting your fork down between bites and avoid distractions like watching the news while eating, as they can lead to mindless eating and overconsumption.

Eat slowly and mindfully to better gauge your hunger satisfaction, rather than rushing to finish your plate without considering if you’re still hungry.

Eat only when genuinely hungry, rather than using food as a response to emotions like tiredness or anxiety. If you find yourself eating for non-hunger reasons, engage in alternative activities such as taking a short walk or having a phone call with a friend to improve your mood.

Plan your meals in advance – dedicate a day to batch cook, to ensure you have nutritious, well-balanced options available.

Reinforce your new healthy habits and be patient with yourself. Changing habits takes time, so don’t expect instant results. When you notice yourself doing something unhealthy, stop and ask why. Make the changes you need to without being overly critical of yourself, even if it’s just one change per week – every step counts! Remember, one mistake doesn’t undo all your progress. Take it one day at a time and stay motivated.

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