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Before you shed 10, 20 or 50 kilograms, you need to lose just one. Thinking small can lead to big changes.
Losing weight is easy. We’ve all done it a half dozen times. Problem is, it’s usually the same kilos we’re peeling off and packing back on. Research shows that about 80% of people who drop 10% of their body weight aren’t able to maintain that weight loss for a year. Look, we all love a quick fix. But ask yourself this: will you be able to follow your special diet not only today but also every day this week? Can you do your intense workouts week after week? And can you keep these habits up for the rest of your life? If it sounds difficult, go easy on yourself.
“Transitioning from ‘anything goes’ eating habits to a very strict diet is like going from a bicycle in the country to a stickshift Ferrari on the Autobahn,” says Krista Scott-Dixon, of Precision Nutrition. “You might manage for a while, but eventually you’ll crash.” So instead of aiming for a lofty target of 10, 15 or 25 kilos, set this manageable goal right now: “I will lose 1 kilogram.” Your new strategy is simple: choose just one healthy habit from the options on these pages and practice it for two weeks. That’s the amount of time people need to implement a new behaviour into their lifestyle, says Scott-Dixon, and for the behaviour to lose its stress factor. After two weeks, the behaviour often becomes automatic. From there, adopt another healthy habit for the next two weeks. Repeat until friends and colleagues stop recognising you.
When one step’s time period ends, don’t stop doing it; just incorporate the next step. Here’s a helpful tactic that Scott-Dixon uses with her clients to help them select a habit: ask yourself how confident you are, on a scale of 1 to 10, that you could keep practicing the habit every day for the upcoming 14 days. If you answer 9 or 10, then go ahead and take it on. If it’s 8 or below, either make the proposed goal easier or pick another one that you’ll be more likely to stick to. Each of these new habits will make a difference on its own, but together they can permanently transform your body.
Put the Fork Down (Weeks 1 + 2)
Start with something seriously simple. Research consistently shows that being mindful at meals helps you eat less. Precision Nutrition’s Brian St. Pierre usually starts his clients off with this advice: put your fork down after every bite and consciously chew slower. With something like chicken, aim for 20 chews; for an apple, do 10. Over the course of a day you’ll take in about 1 000 fewer kilojoules, St. Pierre says. That may not seem like much, but it adds up over time and helps you shed fat while still feeling full and satisfied. (This does not, however, grant you free license to consume foods that don’t require much chewing – like Twinkies and milkshakes.)
Move Every Day (Weeks 3 + 4)
Of course, you need to exercise more too. According to data from the US National Weight Control Registry, nearly 90% of people who lost weight and kept it off did so by combining diet and exercise. Remember, small steps: aim to walk, run, or lift three days a week for 30 minutes. The form of exercise you pick doesn’t matter, as long as it’s the one you know you’ll do most often. Find an activity you enjoy and do it as consistently as you can. As a benchmark, 30 minutes of calisthenics burns about 1200 kJ; running cuts 1600, and plain old walking eliminates 750. Heck, even gardening burns 650 kJ in half an hour.
Join the 30-30-30 Club (Weeks 5 + 6)
As in 30 grams of protein at every meal. A pork chop, a salmon fillet, or 1½ cups of cottage cheese has at least that much. Protein not only helps you build and maintain muscle – it also keeps your appetite in check. People who eat high-protein meals feel fuller for longer than those who eat low-protein meals, according to a new Purdue review. So if you stock up on protein at mealtime, you’re less likely to tear open a 1000-kJ snack bar later in the day. Here’s an easy trick for visualising 30 grams: if the serving in question is slightly larger than the palm of your hand, you’ll likely hit that crucial 30 grams when you chow down.
Prioritise Produce (Weeks 9 + 10)
Have vegetables and fruit at every meal; they’re loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Plus, they’re low in calories and help you feel full because of their water and fiber content. Here’s another way to think about the power of produce: vegetables elbow out the more calorie-laden foods that tend to crowd your plate. If you pile on squash, you won’t have room for pasta. Think you’ll be sad missing out on mac ’n cheese? Maybe not: people in an Australian study who increased their fruit and vegetable intake reported improvements in overall life satisfaction. Shoot for two fist-size portions of produce at each meal, says St. Pierre.
Increase Your Liquidity (Weeks 11 + 12)
Hydrate and you’ll lose weight. Starting when you wake up, set your phone timer countdown to two hours. Drink a glass of water before the time runs out. Then reset it as long as you’re awake. By drinking this much water, you flush away the temptation to guzzle calorie-laden juices and sodas, which tend to total around 800 kJ a serving. While you’re thinking about drinks, cut calories from your coffee by trimming adjectives from your order. A double caramel mocha frappe with whip isn’t coffee – it’s a 2 500-kJ caffeinated dessert. Try adding just whole milk to black coffee. Later, cut out the milk. If the flavour’s still too strong, add cinnamon.
Forgive Yourself (Weeks 13 + 14)
Most crash diets force you to live in a black-and-white reality where some foods are bad and others are good, says Scott-Dixon. But a guy on a crash diet might take one bite of food that doesn’t fit into the diet’s “rules” and decide that his entire diet is ruined, says Graham Thomas, a weight-loss researcher at Brown University. This could then lead him to ditch the diet, a phenomenon known as the “abstinence violation effect.” Soon he’s back at his starting weight. To avoid this trap, follow the 80-20 rule: if the vast majority of what you eat is smart, the other 20% is for whatever you want. Yes, even that mac ’n cheese.
De-Stress to Deflate (Weeks 15 + 16)
When stressors arise, crash dieters crash and burn. So have two go-to comfort meals on deck for whenever you’re under the gun, suggests St. Pierre. One could be a giant bowl of chicken soup with two eggs and a handful of spinach. Or make a burger: in a hot, oiled pan, sear a 100g seasoned beef patty, about 3 minutes per side for medium. Slide the sizzled patty into a whole-wheat pita with tomato and lettuce. That’s 1150 kJ, 22 grams of protein, 18 grams of carbs and 3 grams of fibre. (Serve it with a tall glass of milk to hit that 30 grams of protein.) To fight flavour fatigue, use the same recipe but with ground turkey or chicken or a salmon fillet.
Take Breaks (Weeks 17 + 18)
Manage your anxiety and you might not even find yourself turning to food. “Stress is a killer,” says St. Pierre. “It stores fat, eats muscle, ruins health and crushes fitness performance.” In fact, people in an Ohio State study who were under stress burned an average of 400 fewer kilojoules in the six hours following a meal than those who had lower stress levels. That’s why taking just 20 minutes a day to unplug can improve your physique and help you make better food decisions. Try meditating, hanging with your dog, walking, reading or even Lego. Anything that takes your mind off your aggravation may also help you take off the weight.
Pick Up a Pan (Weeks 19+)
In a Johns Hopkins study, people living in households where they ate six or seven home-cooked dinners a week consumed 550 fewer kilojoules a day than those in homes where hardly any cooking took place at all. Cook daily for 20 days and you’ve cut 11 450 kJ. There’s more good news: people
in a 2016 Harvard study who regularly cooked at home had a lower diabetes risk than those who never fired up the stove. Need help? Go to mh.co.za/food/15-minute-meals. The requirements: five inexpensive kitchen tools, a few basic techniques and one serious appetite.