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How to set your own dieting guidelines

We're coming to the end of January and many of you will have started 2021 with weight loss ambitions.

How many of you set a new year resolution to drop the pounds and make this year your fittest yet?

However, did you know that 80% of resolutions are over by February and 92% give up their goals in total.

This is because of the extremes we go to in a short space of time.

In December everybody goes wild on party food and alcohol.

January comes and suddenly it's strict dieting, detoxing and inner body cleanses.

Mentally and physically you've gone from one extreme to the other and it's no wonder you can't sustain it.

This binge-and-restrict pattern sets you up for failure and is fundamentally damaging to your long-term health.

You're shaming yourself into a pattern of harmful yo-yo dieting without even realising it.

Instead of forcing ourselves to go to extremes in the quest to lose weight, we need to set clear personal goals and then apply guidelines instead of rigid rules to follow.

This means no cleanses, no detoxing and no restrictive dieting.

Getting started

Throughout your day you will find things that can trip you up. It's important to have a few key behaviours that you aim to do:

Don't leave the house hungry: aim to eat breakfast every day and make it a satiating combo of protein, fibre and fat instead of restricting calories to save for later.

Make sure you eat regularly: instead of trying not to eat for as long as you can hold out, get ahead of the hungry feeling by planning and eating every 3-4 hours

Schedule in your walks and exercise: Book in your regular walks and gym workouts just like you would a work meeting or coffee with a friend.

These three things may sound simple when you read them but it's surprising how often your efforts are derailed by not planning ahead.

Below are some basic steps to consider and use as a way to create your own guidelines.

Step 1: Assess your own routine

Where do you eat? Considering your environment when you eat is crucial because it helps you to identify what you are eating because of its availability.

- Do you eat at home in the evenings?

- Where are you when you say, "I really fancy a pizza!"?

- What are you doing when you 'find' the biscuit packet on your lap?

The first thing to do is assess your daily and weekly schedule and identify when you are likely to come across these scenarios.

Maybe you've got a works meeting coming up and you know there's going to be a buffet put on.

You've identified that you're likely to overeat pizza at these meetings so what can you do about it?

Depending on your personal approach, you could do one of the following;

1 - Eat the pizza, count it in your calorie tracker and make adjustments throughout the rest of the day and increase your activity levels.

2 - Eat before the meeting - you could prepare your lunch beforehand and make sure that you're not hungry going into the buffet

3 - Eat some of the pizza and fill your plate with vegetables and sald.

Do what you feel is suitable and sustainable for you.

Step 2: Consider and set boundaries based on your schedule

If your breakfast consists of latte and bacon sandwich every day, it stands to reason that a big chunk of your daily calories will be used first thing in the morning.

Now, I'm not one to ask you to restrict foods. That's not how we sustain long-term weight loss.

But, you will need to make some adjustments to the food you eat throughout the day.

If you're dieting on 1,500 calories a day and you use ~ 600 for breakfast, that doesn't leave you with a huge amount for another two meals and a couple of snacks.

Enjoy your breakfast but consider your snack choices and you may need to choose the lower calorie option.

So if your schedule includes a particular food or social occasion, set guidelines around that so you can continue enjoying it rather than giving it up.

Step 3: Identify who and what is likely to hinder your efforts

We all have people, places and activities that pop up and suck the life and time out of the day.

Life happens and we have to make adjustments.

The key is to figure out who and what they are, where they likely occur and what it is that they do to you.

Is it Jane, your Prosecco after work friend?

Or Dave, your mid-morning doughnut colleague?

We all have numerous events and people that happen and can derail your weight loss efforts.

Identify what yours are and put boundaries in place to deal with them.

Remember that most things are fine within moderation so if it was me, I'd track whatever I eat and move on.

But, if the temptation is likely to be too much and you can't control yourself, think about what you can do to mitigate against the risk.

Step 4: If this then that

Think if this happens then I'll do that.

If you've scheduled an exercise class into your day at 6 pm but you know there's a meeting planned for 4:30 pm that might overrun, adjust beforehand rather than sitting with your anxiety praying the meeting ends on time.

We all find ourselves in situations that we have little control over. It's important to have a set of guidelines to use so 'if this happens then I'll do that'.

Schedule and prioritise your health and fitness plan and consider what you can do if something threatens to derail it.

Step 5: Think before you act

Picture the scene.

It's a dark, cold winters night and you're sat in your pj's, under a blanket watching TV.

You have that familiar craving for chocolate and just as you're about to get up to go to the kitchen to get some, you have a choice to think before you act:


Are you thirsty? Drink a glass of water before you snack.

Is it specifically chocolate that you want? Maybe it's not chocolate that you're after but something sweet, maybe a few grapes would be enough?

Are you tired? If yes, go to bed.

Consider your calorie allowance. How many have you got left for the day? Could you plan ahead and leave enough in the bank for this kind of scenario?

To sum up

Remember, good is better than best.

We can't be perfect all of the time so having guidelines instead of strict dieting rules is key to long-term success.

My guidelines are below. It's important to remember that I go through the above steps often and use them to set a framework to ensure I follow my guidelines;

1 - I loosely count the calories I consume throughout the day. This allows me to eat what I want in moderation without restricting anything.

2 - I walk a minimum of 10,000 steps every day for my mental and physical wellbeing.

3 - I strength train 3 - 4 times a week so I look good naked.

What are yours?

Ben Yates is a personal trainer based at Places Gym Hinckley and Hinckley Leisure Centre in Leicestershire.

To book your free personal training consultation click here


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