Like with most things in life, the trick to finding success with your weight management goals requires five things: discipline, accountability, monitoring, moderation and flexibility. If you need motivation or expert advice on this subject, check out my episodes with nutritional therapist Olga Hamilton, and Shakiba Rangoonwala.
“Weight loss doesn’t begin in the gym with a dumbbell; it starts in your head with a decision,” wrote Toni Sorenson, author of a number of bestselling books on personal development. This quote is from her book, The Great Brain Cleanse, and often that’s exactly what one needs to make progress with one’s weight management goals.
Mumbai-based Nitasha Bharwani, who has an 11-year-old son, couldn’t agree more. After struggling with excess weight and IBS for years, when she finally put her mind to it, Nitasha, 46, shed 28 kilos in one year. That makes it sound far simpler than it really is, of course, because as we all know there’s no magic wand to help us reach our fitness goals.
For most people (and this was true for Nitasha too as you’ll read below), losing weight is a difficult process, riddled with many setbacks. Most people tend to give up and even those who start seeing benefits often lose heart when their weight plateaus along the way. Indeed, the most common roadblocks on a weight loss journey are unrealistic expectations, lack of consistency, emotional eating, slow metabolism, lack of sleep, lack of support, and medical conditions. It is important to identify and address these in order to see sustainable change – and typically that requires constantly reminding oneself that these are not insurmountable obstacles.
In one of my episodes titled, ‘Lose weight and feel amazing’, nutritional therapist Shakiba Rangoonwala recommends beginning your weight loss journey with a blood test — this helps rule out issues such as hormonal problems and thyroid issues, which could contribute to weight gain.
“Every individual is different, so there’s no one-size-fits-all rule for everyone,” says Rangoonwala. “But most people will experience benefits by avoiding sugars – especially white sugar, which is poison, in my view – and avoiding refined grains. Instead, eat fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and whole grains. A Mediterranean-style diet is great. And mainly, avoid snacking in between meals. If you fast during these gaps between meals, it allows your body to use your fat for energy.”
In the same episode, Rangoonwala also says that while most people tend to think that a growling or rumbling stomach indicates hunger, it may in fact be water that you need. “If you have had your breakfast, lunch, and dinner, then you will not need food in between,” says Rangoonwala, putting it quite simply. You’ll find more of her easy-to-follow advice here.
The best experts on weight loss, you’ll find, tend to go against conventional wisdom. Just as Rangoonwala cautions against eating in response to a rumbling tummy, dietitian Samantha Cassetty pokes a hole into the notion that the best way to lose weight is by creating a calorie deficit. In an article on NBC News, she says that science shows that “as people lose weight, their metabolism changes; it takes fewer calories to maintain a smaller body size so the calorie rule doesn’t hold up.”
She also says that while she once subscribed to the calorie deficit paradigm herself, she’s come to understand that “quality is probably more important than quantity,” when it comes to calories, “even when it comes to weight loss”. Like Rangoonwala, she, too, offers the example of the Mediterranean diet to illustrate her point. “With unrestricted nuts and olive oil, [the Mediterranean diet] can lead to improvements in belly fat over a five-year period compared with a low-fat regimen. And while nuts themselves are high in calories and fat, studies show that they are helpful with weight loss. Importantly, nuts taste good so including them on your menu may help you get more enjoyment out of your meals, and the fat helps keep you fuller, longer,” Cassetty writes.
Ideally, it’s best to work with a registered dietitian or nutritionist to develop a personalised nutrition plan that takes your individual needs and goals into account. Nitasha, who shed those 28 kilos in a year, for example, managed that with the help of nutritionist Neha Sahaya.
For years before that, however, Nitasha says, she would hide behind other people when it came to taking photographs. She was deeply unhappy about the way she looked. “Neha Sahaya helped with the IBS as well as my weight loss journey – and by the way, she did this without cutting out any food groups,” says Nitasha. The trick, she found, was portion control and mindful eating. “She taught me that the keywords for weight loss are really ‘balance’ and ‘consistency’,” says Nitasha.
Food alone wouldn’t have done it, though. Nitasha’s success has had a lot to do with being regular about exercising. She started by hitting the gym and later graduated to weight-lifting sessions with a private trainer. Once she started getting stronger and leaner, she felt motivated to go the extra mile and therefore enrolled at Mould Fitness. Yoga, calisthenics, FTC and Aerial yoga, all, became a regular part of her life. And the best part? Nitasha can now enjoy her occasional indulgences as she is better equipped to resist the urge to binge.
Nitasha’s case underscores the point that psychiatrist Dr Shefali Batra makes on the subject. “One of the main obstacles to achieving one’s weight loss goals is the fact that the satiety centre of the brain is influenced by emotions. So, if emotions take over, the centre doesn’t receive the appropriate cognitive processing – when this is the case, you can keep eating even when you’re not hungry.”
A system of rewards and punishments may help, says Dr Batra. “If I maintain my diet for 10 days, I can treat myself to a bit of chocolate on the 11th day – this is called behavioural conditioning,” she says, adding that, the converse should also be applied. “If I slip, I, then, have to deny myself something – the rewards and punishments don’t have to be in the form of food; you could reward yourself with a new outfit when you lose an inch, for example.”.
Dr Batra also draws attention to some common cognitive distortions that keep one from losing weight. “People may say to themselves: ‘I keep trying and it never works (based on the past)’; or, ‘I’m just unlucky – other people are born slim’.” This latter approach, she says, diminishes the effort that other people put into their fitness regimens.
“When you don’t take accountability and make the locus of control absolutely external, it is akin to allowing someone else to drive the car of your life; it diminishes the value of personal effort,” says Dr Batra.
Nitasha’s advice? “Consistency is key. You will hit roadblocks and you will fall off the bandwagon but it’s important to get up and start over. Change your mindset from ‘I cannot’ to ‘I can’. I have learnt I am my own motivator and it’s always a case of ME vs ME.”
Weight loss is a gradual process that requires patience and consistency. Feeling demotivated is a common roadblock, so it is important to evaluate goals, seek support, practice self-compassion, take a break, and practice healthy habits to stay motivated. With all that, don’t forget to make time to celebrate small victories like increased energy, improved sleep, and feeling stronger and more confident. To avoid backsliding, be kinder to yourself and be realistic.