Key to an Effective Fat Loss
The missing piece of the puzzle that can help you lose fat effectively
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when deciding to lose weight?
It wouldn't surprise me if one of these were your answers and you wouldn't be far from the truth because to lose weight you need to create a calorie deficit which can be achieved through diet and/or exercise. However, these two elements alone might not lead you to long-term fat loss, without taking into consideration a piece of the puzzle that is often ignored. If they were, our problem would have been solved after a single diet attempt but let's be honest, how many diets have you already tried and have any of them given you the everlasting results you've always wanted? I guess not if you're here, reading this blog. There is no "perfect diet" or "perfect workout plan" so I want you to stop searching, stop removing food groups, stop beating yourself up for failing over and over again. It's time to dust yourself off, draw a line under it, sit back and read on.
Common mistakes when on a diet
Oftentimes, when we feel ready to begin a diet, we decide which diet we are going to follow (e.g., no sugar, no carbs, keto, paleo etc.) and we try to "fit" ourselves into the new way of eating. The problem is that this is a very short-sighted approach.
Firstly, certain diets might not be for you. For example, some people do well on low-carb diets, some don't. Pushing through despite your body struggling and begging for an injection of energy in the form of food can lead to bingeing, low concentration, low mood, poor sleep, poor performance or injury during exercise, tiredness, low libido and many more.
Secondly, what works for your friend might not work for you, simply because your lifestyle might be completely different. If you're a mother of two and a shift worker trying to follow a diet that works wonders for your single friend with a 9-5 job and no commitments, you might end up disappointed. Again.
Your lifestyle and commitments can play an important role in determining whether your diet will be successful or not. However, your emotions and mood can also have a huge impact on foods you choose. Your environment too, can influence how much food you consume during and after your meal. All of these aspects are often not taken into consideration when you purchase a meal plan or decide to follow a diet that your friend told you about.
Instead of throwing yourself into a new diet without any thought or consideration, why not pause for a second and try something different, something that can help you lose fat, maintain the new weight and have some enjoyment from your life at the same time? Are you ready?
The missing piece
Before starting a diet, the very first thing is to get to know yourself - your current behaviours, habits and triggers. This is called Self-Awareness. Building and improving self-awareness requires time though and today's world is very much focused on instant gratification. Trust me when I tell you this - taking your time on this will pay off long-term. Losing weight is a process and this important step isn't one you should skip. Self-awareness is about being conscious of your decision making, patterns and behaviours. Having this information is crucial to know where the problem really lies and what changes you need to make. Dieting without self-awareness is like attempting to get somewhere while blindfolded.
“Self-awareness gives you the capacity to learn from your mistakes as well as your successes. It enables you to keep growing.”
– Lawrence Bossidy
How to improve your self-awareness
Diet and Lifestyle Diaries
There are many ways by which you can increase self-awareness. What I like to use with my clients at the start of my 1 to 1 Coaching is keeping a diary.
A mistake that's often made during a diet is underestimating the below:
How much you eat/how many calories you consume
How much fruit or vegetables you include in your diet
How many times you snack during the day
How much alcohol you consume
How much water you drink
Having everything written down, in black and white can give you a lot of information. Even better, the diaries can also help you understand:
If you often eat your meals whilst distracted
How your mood impacts what you eat and/or drink
If your sleep quality affects your decisions
If you listen to your hunger signals
Do you know the answers to any of the above? You might say 'yes' but I assure you, you can still discover a lot about yourself from completing this exercise. It will encourage you to look at your health and wellness in a more holistic way because there is more to fat loss than just the food that you eat.
I had clients telling me that they had vegetables pretty much every day with their dinner, only to find out that they had one serving of vegetables per week! Or that they couldn't understand why they were not losing weight as they didn't eat that much during the day, only to see that they snacked on high calorie snacks between meals most days. Sometimes we underestimate because we eat or drink distracted, whilst watching TV or sitting by our desks working. By doing that our brains don't "register" how much we eat or drink. Other times it might be because our decisions and behaviours are automated, out of habit, and we grab things without even thinking about it.
As soon as you start completing a diary you are required to pause and think. Some of my clients lost weight in their first week of coaching during which they were filling in a diary. This was because they had to write everything down, therefore before they reached out for food or drink, they would think twice if they wanted to make this entry in their diaries. They started to be accountable for themselves but also to me as they shared the diaries with me at the end of the week.
Completing a diary for seven consecutive days is the most accurate method, as it also includes weekends, which in my experience with clients are the most "problematic" - this is when some people feel the least in control of their diet, decisions and behaviours. For accuracy, I advise clients to complete the diary as they go rather than wait until the end of the day. This is to prevent underreporting as a thing or two can be easily forgotten and missed.
Below, you can download a copy of my Daily Diet and Lifestyle Diary that I use with my clients. It's a great start to self-awareness and it will help you understand what changes you can start making to progress with your fat loss.
Another very useful tool to help you increase your self-awareness is journaling. Do you consider yourself an emotional eater? Or do you struggle to stay consistent with your healthy eating and lifestyle? You might want to consider journaling.
I find journaling prompts very useful. It's a set of questions that can help you get to the root of the problem. Fair warning - it can get emotional as you might discover that your experiences, relationships, the way you were brought up etc. have a significant effect on your current situation. Some of our behaviours are what we observed and learned growing up, others can be a result of some painful experiences and we simply had to cope by using a mechanism that worked at the time, not always healthy, which we now repeat.
This is good though. As I always say - awareness is key to change. Spending time on digging deep is what a lot of us don't do but what should be the key element of every fat loss journey. Done right will mean that you won't need to diet, at least in the conventional sense, ever again. Having spoken to many women I noticed that often, the main problem is not the food itself but how, when and why they eat. If you can figure that out, you're off to a great start.
Journaling can also be very helpful if you often "lose control" in social situations, in the evenings or during a stressful time. Simply spending some time thinking about how you felt before, during and after the event, who you were with, what you craved and why can be very insightful. Once you have the answers to those questions you can start thinking about other, healthier ways of coping in the future and try these out when you come across these scenarios again.
In order to increase self-awareness, I'd recommend you try both - the diet and lifestyle diaries to spot patterns and see where the changes are necessary and the journaling to explore the emotional side of eating and our relationship with food and/or drinks. The more data you have, the bigger your chance of success.
“I think self-awareness is probably the most important thing towards being a champion.”
– Billie Jean King
I've completed the diary/journal... What next?
Completing a diary or journaling is only beneficial if you take time to analyse the data and learn some lessons from it. Otherwise, it's just a waste of paper and of your precious time. This is where working with a coach can come in handy as they know what to look for. They can calculate your calorie intake and compare it to both your maintenance and weight loss calories. They can also check if you consume enough protein and fibre, the types of carbohydrates and fats that dominate in your diet, how much water you consume and assess your portion sizes. They can look at your sleep patterns, stress and activity levels as well. Once you know which areas need improvement, they can make suggestions that can help you get to your weight loss goal.
Yes, you can probably get all of that information yourself, however a good coach will be able to explain to you how what and how you eat affects your weight and your energy, what lifestyle changes you can implement to support your goal, what can make you feel more energetic, fuller for longer and help you start losing excess fat. They can help you spot the patterns that you don't see yourself, challenge you and ask questions to help you dig deeper. They can also help you break it all down so it's not overwhelming and keep you accountable as you go through the change. I don't agree with "dumping" a long list of things to do/change on a client - this isn't support, it's creating more stress if anything.
When analysing the nutrition part of the diaries yourself at home you may find the Eat Well Guide helpful. Thanks to this guide you'll have a better understanding of what a well-balanced plate should look like. However, these are basic guidelines for the general public, not necessarily applicable to weight loss. Nevertheless, it's a good start.
Creating an action plan
Having analysed your own diaries, you can now start creating an action plan. Remember, start small. Making small, achievable changes overtime will feel effortless and will bring you long term results. If you create a long "to-do" list you may feel overwhelmed and end up right back where you started. Break it down, start with one simple change - for example swap your white piece of toast for a wholemeal one, or your bowl of cereal for a bowl of porridge oats with some fresh fruit. Do that for a week or two and when you're ready implement another change - perhaps swap a sugary fizzy drink for a fizzy water with lemon. Make a list of healthy alternatives against each less-healthy food/drink you currently eat.
Don't forget to include the behavioural changes you'd like to implement in your action plan too. This might be eating at least one meal a day by the table without any distractions or going to bed 15 minutes earlier, or perhaps calling a friend instead of reaching out for a tub of ice cream when feeling stressed.
Remember, weight loss and lifestyle change shouldn't be all or nothing approaches. You're learning, testing what works for you, what you like and dislike. You will make mistakes, you might slip into some of the old habits in the moment of weakness, the best of us do! Don't give up if something doesn't go to plan. As long as you're moving forward and making those small improvements daily, you're progressing. Reflect on what went wrong, try figuring out why, make a change if necessary and move away from it. Dwelling will not do you any good, it will keep you stuck in one place. Oh, and don't forget to celebrate your successes, however small. Take out the pompoms and have a little celebratory dance!
If you're ready to start your journey to a healthier version of you, print out the Diet and Lifestyle Diary (one copy per day). Spending those few minutes a day completing and analysing these, creating a plan will help you increase your self-awareness and will lead you to achieving your goals more effectively.
If you need help analysing your diaries, finding healthier alternatives or creating healthier habits then do get in touch. I'm here to support you, guide you and walk this path with you. You can book a free consultation call with me below.