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Fighting fat : New solutions to classic problems

Struggling to lose weight? Don’t beat yourself up about slipping off track. Instead, avoid the same mistakes next time around. We pulled our expert team together and asked them to create new strategies to defeat these common weight-loss barriers.

Despite what many of us think, weight loss isn’t just about willpower – far from it! So reframe your thinking – you didn’t ‘fail’; you were just practising to succeed. Then maximise your success by making these changes.

  • Write motivational tips on post-it notes. Stick them to your computer screen to keep you positive and motivated. If you don’t want others to see them, set yourself phone reminders instead.
  • Teach yourself correct portion sizes. Buy a portion plate, or visit an Accredited Practising Dietitian.
  • Don’t overload yourself. Focus on three small, achievable changes (see '3 simple changes' below) and practise until they become habit.
  • Write down measureable short-term goals so you have clear markers to aim for. Seeing your success will motivate you to keep going.
  • Think long-term. A piece of cake might seem like a big slip-up – but look at it in the context of ‘the week’ and it’s not a big deal.
  • Think beyond food and drink as rewards. What do you really have your eye on? For some it’s a new book, a piece of clothing, a short holiday, for others, it’s permission to have a day off every month to just do nothing. Write down the rewards, big and small, that will motivate you.
  • Check and address your stress levels – both at work, and at home. You don’t need extra stress when you are trying to change habits. Take control of your stressors before incorporating the healthy changes you want to make.

Making changes can be difficult – especially if weight loss is not front-of-mind for the rest of the household. In fact, whether you live with your family, flatmates or on your own, your home can be your weight loss downfall! Some of these tips may seem too simple, but you’ll be surprised at how effective they are.

  • At the end of the day, watching your weight is about establishing healthy habits – not about deprivation. Even if your family doesn’t need (or want) to lose weight, getting them involved will benefit them too – remind them of that when they're grizzling about the lower-fat milk now in the fridge!
  • Make it easy on yourself when it comes to portion sizes – buy smaller plates to reduce your serve size. Smaller wine glasses will help you drink less kilojoules, too. You’ll be surprised at the difference this makes.
  • If you currently eat two dinners – an early one with the kids and a later one with your partner – either have half your meal with the kids and the other half with your spouse, or eat the veg or salad portion of your meal with the kids and the remainder of your meal with your partner.
  • If you have a sweet tooth, but don’t trust yourself to have chocolate bars in the house, try a chocolate cereal like Coco Pops, with skim milk. It just might be enough to satisfy your sweet cravings – minus the fat and extra kilojoules. If not, walk or drive yourself to the store to buy a treat – just make sure it’s a single serve!
  • Nobody likes empty fridges or food cupboards. Subconsciously, these are unhelpful for weight-loss as they reinforce an ‘all-or-nothing’ mentality. Instead, create a healthy ‘land of plenty’ at home. Stock up on foods you’ll need for the week ahead, fill up the fruit bowl and crisper, and, if you like treats (and who doesn’t?), buy healthy options that fit the bill.
  • Assess all the sauces, dressings and other condiments in your house. These can add significant kilojoules to your meal, so only keep your favourites at home. Opt for lighter versions wherever possible.
  • Keep a packet of mints in the cupboard. Suck on one while cooking so you don’t pick at the food as you go.
  • Update your herb and spice collection – they add flavour (and antioxidants) without kilojoules. Use measuring cups to scoop out serves of foods like dry pasta, rice and couscous so you have portion control from the start.
  • Chop veg when you get it home from the shops so it’s ready to cook as needed. That way, you’ll have less excuses to opt for takeaway.

Most of us spend a majority of our waking hours at work – places hardly renowned for having a variety of fresh, healthy fare available!

  • Tell at least one of your colleagues you are serious about changing your eating habits, so they can support you if others harass you about not indulging. Ideally, find a work buddy who has similar weight goals.
  • Don’t eat at your desk. You’re less likely to recognise when you’re full if your mind is still on work.
  • Be prepared – bring food from home. Get into the habit of bringing your lunch each day. Include work food and snacks on your weekly shopping list and, if you find it difficult packing a lunch each day, bring a bag of lunch ‘makings’ at the beginning of each week. This may include bread, canned fish, yoghurt, cottage cheese, fruit, salad vegetables, sachets or cans of soup, baked beans, crackers and canned vegetables.
  • Identify potential hazards in your workplace. These may include the work canteen, vending machines, or regular routines such as staff morning teas or after-work drinks; once identified, plan coping strategies for each.
  • Have whatever you want for lunch one day a week – even if it’s ‘unhealthy’. It’s better to do it on a weekday than on a weekend since you usually have more structure – you can’t sit and eat all day! Avoid making this day on Fridays, however – it will set you up for a weekend of overeating.
  • Keep snacks and food away from your desk. Keep it in the kitchen or your locker instead.
  • Take turns with a like-minded colleague to bring lunch for each other. You’ll be more likely to put effort into preparing something healthy and tasty.
  • Every time you feel hungry, have a glass of water. You could just be thirsty. If you are still hungry after the glass of water, then get something to eat.
  • Always attend morning tea with a cup of tea in hand. That way you don’t look like you’re not participating even if you aren’t indulging in some cake!

Yes, you should try to enlist the support of family and friends when you’re trying to make healthy changes to your life. But sometimes it’s your loved ones who sabotage your efforts! This might happen because they feel threatened by your attempts to change your life and it makes them feel guilty about their own less-than-healthy habits, or they may simply not realise they’re having a negative effect on your efforts. Whatever the case, you can avoid falling into the same traps in several ways.

  • Tell only those who you know will be supportive about your lifestyle changes. Find someone you are comfortable with to share your experiences, setbacks and achievements, and who you know won’t compromise your decisions to eat better.
  • When going to a family event, prepare yourself mentally. People may try to make you eat more, so have a strategy in place – even if it’s just saying “No thanks, I’m not hungry”.
  • White lies, such as “Oh, I just ate” or “I’ve already eaten so much today’ can help ease a situation without hurting a loved one’s feelings about your refusal to eat dessert or a second helping. Or ask if you can take some home for later.
  • If you know someone who is a good role-model, engage their help. Chances are they will feel flattered to have been asked and will be very keen to assist.
  • Stand your ground – it’s your choice. Don’t let anyone make you feel guilty. If people won’t let up, put the focus back onto them. Ask, “Why do you want me to eat it so badly?” – or just change the subject.
  • Don’t let others pile food on your plate. Serve yourself at dinner. Do the dishes (or portion out leftovers for lunch tomorrow) while others are eating dessert.

The delicious-looking food at a restaurant or party, the temptingsmells of the food court... it’s difficult to stay on the weight loss track when out and about. But there are strategies that work.

  • If you love to eat the food at parties, have a cup of soup or small bowl of fruit and yoghurt before you go. This will help you be selective with the nibbles, rather than stuff yourself because you're hungry.
  • Before after-work events, have a healthy snack so you are less likely to snack on unhealthy foods when you’re out.
  • Be the designated driver. Even if you refuse food, you can’t really be in anyone’s bad books if you’re driving them home!
  • Try to create a new habit. If you have an event that night, plan a walk or exercise that morning.
  • If you go to a dinner party, suggest bringing dessert if possible. That way you can control what goes into it, can cut small portion sizes, and you won’t feel forced to try it just to be polite.
  • If you indulge, don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s ok, everyone has slip-ups. Simply start fresh at your next meal or the next morning (not “next Monday”).
  • Don’t feel obliged to clean the plate. You don’t have to.
  • Make use of those little white lies – “A small serving please, I had a late lunch”.
  • If you go out to multiple dinners a week, make one dinner the one where you order what you want, and pick the healthier options the rest of the time.
  • Break old food traditions. You don’t need popcorn at the movies, nor a piece of cake when you get a coffee. If that makes you feel deprived, create new habits you can replace old ones with – take your own, air-popped popcorn to the movies, or enjoy a fun-sized chocolate with every other coffee.

Before you turn the page because you don’t like exercise (and never will!), remember that people who exercise lose more weight and keep it off for longer.

  • Rather than meeting friends for a coffee and sitting at the café, get a takeaway and walk while you talk. Burning kilojoules is all about moving more.
  • Commit yourself to one month of exercise. This is long-term enough to get you into a habit, but short-term enough to be achievable. By the end of the month, you’ll notice the results!
  • Don’t turn on the TV when you get home. Simply keeping it switched off has been found to result in burning more kilojoules; probably because we end up entertaining ourselves in more active ways. You’ll be exercising – but you won’t notice.
  • Team up with a friend and set regular times for activity. It’s easy to find an excuse not to exercise, but you’re less likely to do so if it means letting someone down in the process. An exercise buddy can help extend your horizons, too; try signing up for dance classes or join a gym together. It's a lot easier to try new things with a friend.
  • Try exercise DVDs – they’ve come a long way since Jane Fonda’s day. While you are at it, pick up a zumba DVD. It’s a great way to try something new, but you can test it out in the privacy of your own home. If you have small children, get them involved – kids love to dance. The other alternative is to join in on their fun. Pop in a Wiggles DVD and really groove along with them.
  • There are tonnes of video games on the market that are geared towards working out. Check out the selection of Wii and Xbox games. Enlisting friends and family members into some of the competitive games (tennis, anyone?) will add another element of fun to your workout.
  • If you don’t have a single block of time during the day, do half of your workout in the morning, and the other half when you get home.
    If you’re at a work desk all day, buy a Swiss ball to sit on. It will improve your posture and work your core muscles – all without leaving your desk.
  • Use any health facilities available to you. If money is an issue, ask your boss if they have a work health policy (free checkups, etc). Also, find out if your health insurance or Medicare can help with the cost of visiting a dietitian or joining a gym. You never know!

In his new book Mindless Eating: Why we eat more than we think, weight-loss expert Dr Brian Wansink suggests using ‘The Power of Three’. Most diets fail because they ask you to make a large number of big lifestyle changes, he says, whereas making just three 100-calorie (420-kilojoule) changes will make a big difference to your weight (up to 13kg weight loss per year). Even if you only hit one or two of your three changes each day, he says, you’ll still lose weight.

How do you start? Decide to make three food changes (they must be relevant to you – it’s no good vowing to cut desserts from your day if you don’t eat sweets). Try ideas like:

  • switching your regular latte for a skinny latte (and from a large cup to a regular one),
  • drinking a glass of water before your afternoon tea, or
  • taking a 10-minute walk at lunch.

You could also try ‘food trade-offs’, he says – for example: ‘If I do 30 minutes of exercise, I can have a small bowl of ice-cream for dessert’. Once you’ve decided on your three changes, Dr Wansink suggests making a ‘Power of Three’ checklist. At the end of each day, for a whole month, tick off the changes you accomplished. This small act of accountability will make you more mindful of what and how you eat throughout the day.