In an extract from his book Weight Loss for Food Lovers: Understanding our minds and why we sabotage our weight loss, Dr George Blair-West explains his approach to lasting weight-loss.
There is no single reason why diets fail – everyone is different, after all – but diets traditionally mean giving up foods that we have a deep emotional attachment to, which leaves us feeling deprived. The moment you start feeling deprived, you are at risk of ‘failing’ at your weight loss goals.
But while we all have an attachment to some kind of ‘forbidden’ foods, we’re not usually attached to ‘all’ foods. In my experience, only a minority of the forbidden, ‘fattening’ foods we eat are foods we’re particularly attached to – foods that would be a ‘high sacrifice’ to give up. In fact, you can take many ‘fattening’ foods (foods high in kilojoules, but low in nutrients) out of a diet, and it doesn’t bother people at all – as long as you keep those ‘high sacrifice’ foods, foods you love, in your diet.
The trick is to identify which foods are your ‘high sacrifice’ foods, and which ones aren’t.
The foods you love vs the foods you flirt with
Think of all the ‘fattening’ foods you eat. Apply the following test to each one as it comes to mind: If I could never eat that food ever again, how much would that bother me? How big a sacrifice would it be to give them up forever? Close your eyes and notice your emotional reaction to this question with each food.
Identifying your LSFs and HSFs
The point I want to make here is that low sacrifice foods (LSFs) are those that you do not have a strong emotional attachment to: they are foods you can live without and it’s no big deal. People often eat fattening foods they are not particularly attached to – sometimes out of habit, or because they are usually found in the immediate vicinity of food they really love (eg. eating the burger because it comes with the shake or the fries), or out of ignorance, because they don’t know just how fattening certain foods can be.
In short, LSFs are foods we flirt with and are the foods we are going to give up so we can focus our attention on those we love.
Identifying your high sacrifice foods is easy – just think about your ‘forbidden’ or favourite foods. These foods would be a big sacrifice for you to give up forever. The prospect of life without them does not bear thinking about! High sacrifice foods (HSFs) are these foods we have grown to love over the years. Don’t feel guilty about enjoying these foods – embrace them.
The time to feel guilty about them is past! What we have to learn to do is eat them in a way that does not cause us a health problem, but which allows the pleasure that they offer. This brings us to the Golden Rule: there are no foods that are forbidden. There are only foods we need to manage better.
Adjust how you think about HSFs
From now on, we are going to apply the ‘fattening foods’ test, as we would with the people we love: Is this food worth dying for? In this day and age, it is not often we are put in the position of risking our lives for someone we love, but with fattening, arteryclogging food you are doing it every day. The foods worth dying younger for are your high sacrifice foods. If we can then eat them in smaller amounts, less often, we may just end up living longer.
So this means we might go through the drive-through and just get the fries or the shake to eat with a healthier meal.
The antidote to craving – allowing
So, while the LSF list is now off the menu for you, the HSF list is definitely ‘in’. ‘Allowing’ might seem like a simple and obvious concept, but after years of guilty struggle with trying to avoid forbidden foods, some people really struggle with allowing themselves their HSFs in a manageable way. It took one of my male clients, a very capable executive, three weeks and two visits just to convince his mind that he could allow himself a chocolate frog for morning tea (the very same that he would happily binge on at other times).
When I get people to list the emotions they have as they begin to eat different foods, I consistently find one emotion with eating HSFs, such as chocolate, and foods like it – guilt! Worse, when I ask them how much savouring happened at the time, they say words like ‘Are you kidding? Because I shouldn’t be eating it, I shovel it down so fast it doesn’t touch the sides!’
For those of my patients who love chocolate, I prescribe it for morning tea on a regular basis. A strange thing happens when I do that: A surprising number of my clients come back and tell me that not only did they find that they did not crave chocolate later in the day when they were more likely to over-eat, but some days they skipped the chocolate altogether. This is where ‘allowing’ is more than just a way of avoiding the feeling of deprivation as the day progresses. It actually treats the craving for the food in the first place.This is simply because the craving was created by disallowing. How do you get a child to want something – tell them they can’t have it!
Some people are really worried that if they start (allowing HSFs), they won’t stop. This is part of the deprivation-binge cycle. Take out the deprivation and the urge that drives the binge disappears. It may be there initially, when we start to ‘allow’, because our brain is not convinced yet. But, over time, usually no more than a couple of weeks, the drive to binge lessens. On top of this, people rarely binge or overeat food in the morning. Unless you have an eating disorder, such as Bulimia Nervosa or Binge Eating Disorder, overeating is usually a ‘pm’ pursuit.
Whatever your HSFs are now, it is important to be aware that these will change. An LSF, once we stop eating it, may become more attractive to us over time. If this happens, simply treat it as an HSF and add it back on your menu. Don’t forget – food is there to be enjoyed!
Reproduced with permission from Weight Loss for Food Lovers: Understanding our minds and why we sabotage our weight loss by Dr George Blair-West.