Stop dieting. If you’re reading this, you probably know to your cost that they don’t work. A whole mega-bucks global industry relies on it: you keep failing, you keep forking out for more over-priced, over-packaged pseudo-foods and latest wonder weight-loss fads – products at best unnecessary, and at worst actively harmful, to human and planetary health. The good news? You don’t need them. You can achieve and maintain the right weight naturally, cheaply, and above all enjoyably by Eating for Life, the holistic solution to weight control problems. I’ve lost 20 lb this way and am nearing my target weight while eating whatever I want, in moderation (1). The bad news? It’s no quick fix. It requires permanent changes in your mindset and eating habits, from minor tweaks if your lifestyle is already wholesome and active but over-indulgent, to a full overhaul for sedentary junk junkies. But trust me, it’s worth it – you’ll live, feel and function better in every way. So answer the following questions honestly. Do you ever:
- Eat just because something’s there, even if you’re full/don’t particularly like it?
- Obsess about the last chocolate/biscuit/slice of cake/pizza until you finally give in and eat it?
- Keep a secret stash of goodies for your personal consumption?
- Conceal/lie about what/how much you’ve eaten (eg stuffing wrappers to the bottom of the bin)?
- Pile your plate high and finish everything, no matter how full you feel?
- Beat yourself up about what/how much you’ve eaten?
- Overindulge to the max on all social and festive occasions?
- Tend to binge on certain foods?
- Think about food constantly because you feel constantly hungry?
- Experience mood swings, depression, lethargy, bloating, constipation, indigestion/ heartburn, or poor concentration?
A ‘Yes’ to any question from 1 – 8 means you have a dysfunctional, addictive relationship with food. It’s not your fault, it’s how you’ve learned to comfort or reward yourself – but like any dependence, you do need to conquer it so that you only eat when you’re hungry, know when to stop, then forget about food till you feel hungry again. That’s the goal: to enjoy normal, healthy eating habits and being able to live at your optimal weight without dieting (2). A ‘Yes’ to 9 and/or 10 means you eat/drink too much of the wrong stuff, and not enough of the right. It’s possible to be simultaneously overweight and malnourished/dehydrated due to over-consumption of nutrient-deficient, ultra-processed, high-fat, artificially flavoured junk food/confectionery, intensively farmed animal products, and additive-laden soft drinks. These horrible products mess up your blood chemistry but don’t nourish or sustain, so you crave more, get fatter, feel worse, crave more to cheer yourself up and so on (3). Furthermore, they increase your risk of developing life-threatening conditions including bowel cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Ideally, no-one should eat sugary, salty, fatty junk because it’s so damaging in so many ways, and reducing your intake is essential if you seriously want to lose weight and improve your health at the same time.
Eating for Life replaces junk with wholesome alternatives, making you feel so good you won’t miss the calorie-laden bad stuff. It gives you control; you can take baby steps so you don’t feel deprived, (if you can’t give it up, cut it back), or big leaps to get quick results. It teaches you to identify your true needs and feed them appropriately, and helps your appetite self-regulate so that by simply monitoring and adjusting your intake/output, you can maintain either weight loss or stability. Best of all, the more you stick to it, the easier it gets. So give it a try – you’ve nothing to lose but your fat!
1. Work Out What. Break the barriers of ignorance/denial.You need to know exactly what you consume, so start an Eating for Life diary and keep it up for as long as/whenever you need it. Record your initial weight and measurements so that you can keep track of progress, then everything you eat/drink during the day. Calculate how many calories it contains. You may be horrified. The average adult needs 2000 – 2500 per day. A pound of fat contains c. 3500. Therefore if input exceeds output by 350 calories per day – equivalent to a single Mars Bar or family bag of Doritos, or a half-dozen milk-and-two-sugars – in ten days you’ll put on a pound. Scary, eh? That’s why you gain, or can’t lose, weight even when you think you eat frugally – it takes very little to tip the balance. But you’ll see straight away what/where you can cut back painlessly: skimmed or semi-skimmed instead of whole, one instead of two, a spoonful less, a smaller slice, no seconds. Your stomach will shrink, you’ll need less food to satisfy it, and weight loss will follow naturally.
2. Work Out Why. Knowing why you eat is equally crucial, so note how you feel at the time: bored, lonely, restless, unhappy, ravenous, peckish, stuffed but can’t stop? It may be easy to spot when you’re hungry for something – company, interests, fulfilling occupation – other than food. It may be painfully hard. Disordered eating often stems from trauma (4) as you’ll know if you ever watch programmes like My 600-lb Life; and unless underlying emotional issues are resolved, not even radical gastrectomy can prevent people from regaining lost weight. The only cure is to face the pain, heal from it, release food as a coping mechanism, and move on to a happier, healthier future. So identify and tackle the cause of your eating behaviour, no matter how hard it seems. Believe me, it’s worth it. You’re worth it.
I revisited this process in January 2021, after gaining 12 lb to hit my lifetime maximum weight (again), which I hate because it’s uncomfortable and exhausting. Knowing it was down to ignoring the scales for six weeks of unrestrained festive gorging on a reduced winter workload, I was determined to lose what I’d gained plus another 14 lb to take me back to the weight I like best (last seen in 2005).I duly slashed my daily intake and upped my exercise levels. By reducing portions so I never felt too full, spritzing an inch of wine into a half pint, cutting caffeine and snacks, and drinking more water, in the first few days I lost three pounds of bloat and thereafter, up to a half-pound of fat a week. Six months later I’d shed half a stone – where I stuck, despite being back into full summer work mode of two – five hours moderately strenuous gardening a day. I regained muscle without regaining pounds, which improved my BMI, but the scales remained stubbornly pegged. Reviewing my daily intake showed I was maintaining this stable weight on a diet including desserts, chocolate, wine, and a weekly pork pie – so to lose more I clearly had to cut back again, helped by a metabolic kick-start.
Cleanse and Re-boot. Food-Combining, pioneered by Louise Hay, is one diet I do recommend for pleasure and rapid results – I typically lose several pounds just by switching to it for a couple of weeks. Food Combining is based on fresh fruit and veg eaten with either protein or carbohydrate but not the latter together – for instance, lubricating cereal with fruit juice instead of milk, and leaving either the bread or the bacon out of a BLT (5).
To fully de-tox, give up all caffeine, alcohol, salt, sugar, and refined carbohydrate for at least 48 hours. Breakfast on fresh fruit salad and plain fat-free yoghurt (c. 250 calories), then a mid-morning banana, (c. 100 calories), mixed superfood salad with fat-free cottage cheese. citrus fruit and an apple for lunch, (c. 350 calories), fresh veg soup and fruit salad for dinner (c. 350 calories), and unsalted nuts/seeds/dried fruit (c. 100 calories a handful) or carrot/celery sticks (negligible calories) if you need a bite in between (6). Calories take care of themselves; raw, baked, steamed, stir-fried or stewed fresh produce naturally contains so few you can fill your boots and still stay within a 1200 – 1500 calorie/day weight-loss range. It’s also highly nutritious, bulky and full of fibre so you feel satisfied, takes a long time to break down so your blood sugar, energy levels and attendant moods don’t peak and trough, then scours your digestive tract clean as it passes through – a great all-round health boost. A de-tox also reduces water retention and bloat, eases pre-menstrual symptoms, and helps to identify food allergies; for instance, if you’re prone to indigestion and notice significant improvements on giving up wheat-based carbs, (bread, cereals, pasta, biscuits, cakes, pastry etc), you may be gluten-sensitive and should switch permanently to gluten-free alternatives to prevent symptoms recurring.
I de-toxed until the scales shifted by three pounds, then returned to pared-down normality. Changing to an open sandwich for breakfast and lunch saved two slices of German rye bread/200 – 300 calories per day, sustained me equally well, and cured the indigestion I often suffered at work due to repeated bending on an over-filled stomach. I cut dinner portions by roughly a third, ate slowly, and always left room for dessert. Fate then stepped in with The Bathroom Conversion From Hell, which for kept me so busy, distracted and stressed I either forgot to eat (imagine!) or was so pumped with adrenalin and rage I simply couldn’t (7). Four more pounds melted away, and lo! I’d lost as much in six weeks as I had in the previous six months, 14 lb altogether. The moral of that is:
Up Your Activity Levels. I don’t advocate employing a rogue business to jack up your pulse-rate, but being stuck at a stubborn weight is the time to take up a new hobby or sport to stop you slumping in front of daytime TV (burns one calorie/minute, same as sleeping) with a packet of HobNobs (c. 1400 calories/pack for plain, c. 2000 for chocolate). Make and sustain the effort. Hoovering and mowing the lawn burn five – ten calories/minute. Walk briskly or cycle instead of driving. Use the stairs not the lift. Wash the dishes by hand and dance while you dry them. Do chairobics or floor exercises while watching TV. Do anything you enjoy to up your heartbeat, tone your muscles and help you get and stay in shape.
Kick Your Addictions. Sugar is as addictive as heroin and, in its way, equally harmful. We joke about having a sweet tooth, or being ‘chocoholic’, but sugar addiction really isn’t funny, and its consequences loom large all around in the shape of our global obesity pandemic and related health problems.
Sweet or savoury, whatever your poison the cure is to starve addiction out, not encourage it. So let your palate recover from ‘tongue-blindness’. Shun diet products and meal replacements. Adverts calling them ‘delicious,’ ‘satisfying,’ and ‘nutritious’ are LIES – they’re at best tolerable and at worst downright nasty. (They do work if you stick to them, as any medically ill-advised, ultra-low-cal crash diet will work in the short-term – but you’ll be miserably hungry, learn nothing about healthy eating, and regain losses PDQ when you return to your regular habits). Typical ingredients include fructose, lactose, glucose, corn syrup, (all sugars), artificial sweeteners, wheat flour, palm fat/oil, emulsifiers, anti-caking agents, flavourings, preservatives, colourings etc, plastic-packed and unhealthy as it comes. Powdery milk shakes and cardboard cookies only fill you for five minutes, keep you stuck firmly in sugar dependence, and in no way replace a proper meal. For the same 150 calories as a glass of vile Cambridge Diet you could have a lovely filling jacket potato with low-fat sour cream and a big green salad tossed in lemon juice; instead of a processed 100 calorie cereal/cake bar, (or even a tasty virtuous cold-pressed Nakd bar), you could eat two apples, a banana, or a handful of dried fruit and nuts – real foods to nourish and satisfy, rather than unpalatable facsimiles of compulsive trigger foods which reinforce your addictive behaviour instead of teaching you to eat normally… and no plastic packaging!
So kick the diet, mass confectionery, processed and fast-food industries where it hurts – in the pocket. The less of their products you eat, the less you crave; the more you eat natural wholefoods, the better they taste, and the more former favourites revolt. Luxury biscuits, ice-cream bars, Nutella, and fondant fancies no longer remotely tempt me because they’re either too sweet, too greasy with palm-oil, too plastic-packaged, or all three. Substitute well-diluted fresh fruit juice for soft drinks, and wean yourself off sugar or artificial sweeteners in coffee and tea. Beverages taste better without. (If you disagree, you’re probably addicted to the sugar/hazelnut syrup/chocolate sprinkles or whatever as much as caffeine or the drink itself). You can taste them, for one thing. For another, ditching the strong flavours and empty calories lets you appreciate the subtlety of caffeine-free herbal infusions, which often carry health benefits in addition to helping you reduce your caffeine intake: turmeric and ginger treat inflammations and infections, lemon & ginger soothes colds and sore throats, peppermint aids digestion, sage relieves menstrual and menopause symptoms, chamomile helps you relax, and dandelion or nettle purify the blood and make you pee, reducing fluid retention and bloat. Acquiring a taste for unsweetened drinks doesn’t take long, and you never miss sugar; I gave up my teaspoon per cup forty years ago, saving a good 150 calories every day since, and now can’t abide the stuff in any drink but cocoa.
With chocolate, go for quality not quantity. The fewer the ingredients, the better. Pure plain contains only 50 – 95% cocoa solids, cocoa butter, sugar, and usually soya lecithin emulsifier and vanilla extract. True chocoholics find its aromatic bitterness heavenly; if you don’t, you’re more a sugar junkie than a real chocolate lover. Pure milk chocolate additionally contains milk fat/solids, and at least 30% cocoa solids. Good chocolate costs more than the adulterated, sickly sweet, low cocoa crap used in mass confectionery, but drop the daily KitKat break and you can afford a weekly organic Fair Trade treat in recyclable packaging from your local Co-op. ‘Chocolate flavour’ coating, as used on diet bars, is basically solid, sweetened vegetable/palm fat with a little cheap cocoa, and should be avoided at all costs.
Also be aware of less obvious sugars in products like cook-in sauces, ketchup, pickles and relishes, salad dressings, sandwich spreads etc, and limit your intake especially while you’re in an active weight-loss phase. The reward? Once you’ve firmly established Eating for Life you can indulge, in moderation, in whatever you fancy.
Rehydrate. Wash toxins out of your system with at least two pints of water a day, (fresh tap water, not the stale micro-plastic soup you buy in bottles). Like it or not, water’s essential for health and effective weight control. Lack of it can lead to anything from blood clots to urine infections, and it’s easy to become chronically dehydrated if you only drink pop and caffeinated beverages which make you excrete more than you consume. It’s also easy to mistake thirst for hunger, so reach for a glass of water before you reach for a snack, sip water before/during meals to aid digestion, and switch to herbal or de-caf tea and coffee where you can. Can’t stand the taste of tap water? Leave a jug in the fridge to off-gas overnight (even our cat will drink it when the fluoride wears off). Add a wedge of lemon or sprig of mint (both natural appetite suppressants). Or toss in blueberries, strawberries, orange slices, whatever fresh fruit you like to add flavour and vitamin C. Stir in a pinch of salt, and hey presto! Smart water. Bottom line is, your body needs water to function properly, so drink more of it. You’ll feel better, I promise.
Go Greener. Eating for Life benefits your health, your own and the country’s economy, and Mother Earth all at once. The giant corporations which churn out products cynically designed and marketed to foster cravings and addiction don’t care about human health, animal welfare, or climate change; they only care about profits. Consider palm-oil. Once used mainly for cosmetics and toiletries, it’s now forced on unwitting consumers in everything from mass-produced bread, baked goods and cereals to gravy granules, margarine, chocolate, and boiled sweets (read the labels) because it’s cheap. Stuff the rainforests razed for palm plantations, or the long-term effects this fat might have on bodies which never evolved to metabolise it, let alone in large daily amounts. Consider the unbelievably cruel intensive farming methods required by the processed/fast-food industries to pump out their mechanically recovered burgers, sausages, and chicken nuggets for such temptingly low prices. With meat as with chocolate, cheap means bad, and bad for you, derived from animals kept in atrocious conditions, artificially fed and pumped full of hormones – so choose humanely-reared free range and/or organic meat products instead, they’re tastier, more nutritious and contain no nasty chemicals. Consider the gigantic global litter/waste disposal problem these companies create with their foam and plastic shells, plastic cutlery, straws, cup lids, condiment sachets etc, thanks to the obnoxious behaviour of too many ‘tosser’ customers. Consider the exploitation/forced eviction of indigenous peoples, the child slave labourers used by Nestle and Lindt to feed our greed for chocolate, the appropriation of community pure water sources (Nestle again) to feed our pointless appetite for bottled water. Learning more about what food contains, how it’s produced, and how the companies responsible conduct themselves in the world, is the best aversion therapy I can think of. I now refuse to buy a whole list of products/to put a single penny into the coffers of fat-cat fast-food and pretentious coffee franchises, and I’d rather starve than eat deep-fried battery chicken portions, or sausages made from cage-reared pig.
These days it’s more vital than ever to reduce, re-use and recycle; to support local farmers, growers and small/independent businesses, grow and cook more of our own, plan weekly menus and shop carefully to avoid food waste and unnecessary plastic. You’ll be amazed at how it slashes your shopping bills and household waste output so you can easily afford high-end organic products. (8). Pound for pound, fresh loose produce is the cheapest, healthiest food available. Cooking, preserving, and sharing it with loved ones are rewarding activites for any age, and if children learn to prefer wholesome, home-made food and tap water to junk and blue pop, they’re more likely to grow up at their optimal weight/state of health, and less likely to be ‘picky’ or develop an eating disorder (9). You don’t have to sacrifice favourites: pop your own corn, dry-roast your own nuts, bake your own low-fat, low-salt potato/root veg crisps – you can find instructions to make anything from apple cake to zabaglione cheaper, fresher, and tastier than the bought versions. My own cakes, biscuits and desserts are an essential part of our manual labourers’ diet as well as a joy to eat, packed with vitamins, minerals and fibre from fruit, nuts, seeds and oat-bran, and slow-release calories from wholegrain flours, butter, eggs, and milk to sustain us through our working day. They’re so filling you’re hard pushed to eat more than one – plus the effort involved in making them is another great disincentive to pogging the whole batch at once.
Eating for Life: the Holistic Way Forward All these elements combine into an effective, self-reinforcing strategy for weight loss and long-term control which helps you save money and save the Earth at the same time. Find the key to your eating behaviour and the rest naturally falls into place; and the more you practice, the easier it becomes until it’s second nature. Ongoing moderation is essential, as are twice-weekly weight checks and prompt response to small gains – it’s easy enough to trim back the odd pound or two, but ignore the scales until you’ve put on half a stone, and you have a much weightier problem.
Since committing to Eating for Life, I’ve gently descended to a weight I haven’t seen for 15 years. I feel very fit and happy with my body now, though still plan to lose a few more ‘insurance’ pounds before stabilising at my chosen weight. I don’t plan to spend six months every year for the rest of my life trying to shed what I gain over Christmas – the game’s not worth the advent candle. Instead I’m looking forward to going meat-and-sweet-free until Solstice, making rather than buying most of our festive fare and gifts, and limiting the feast season to 21st December – New Year’s Day. It’s a marvellously empowering prospect; for the first time ever, I feel like a responsible adult taking proper care of myself – paying mindful attention to my diet/activity levels, adjusting as required, and confident that in future I can stay within plus or minus two pounds of my desired weight.
As with any diet or health plan, Eating for Life does require some self-discipline and perseverance, especially in the early stages – but If a self-indulgent old hedonist like me can do it, so can you! Good luck, and good health.
- Distilled from decades of battling and beating my eating disorders through psychotherapy, self-help, and dozens of failed diets until I read Louise Hay’s How To Heal Your Life (a holistic, dietary approach to treating ailments including disordered eating).
- When Food is Love by Geneen Roth traces the root of her compulsive eating disorder and long journey to recovery.
- Potatoes Not Prozac by Kathleen Desmaisons gives a clear explanation of the relationship between blood chemistry and mood, and how to alleviate depression by making simple changes to your diet.
- In my case, compulsive comfort-eating after the death of my adored grandfather turned me from an average weight-for-height three-year-old into an obese sugar-addict by junior school, periodically bulimic from my teens to late thirties, and an overweight yo-yo dieter until recently.
- A protein dinner might be Greek salad and feta cheese, tofu or lean meat with stir-fry veg (no rice or potatoes), and stewed apples with yoghurt; a carbohydrate version might be guacamole tortilla, vegetable chili with rice, and summer pudding without cream or custard – delicious, sustaining food that sits lightly in the stomach and fills you with wellbeing.
- My favourite fruit salad: fresh pineapple and melon chunks, seedless grapes, a large banana, a chopped apple, a tin each of grapefruit salad and mandarin segments in juice, and a handful each of dried cranberries and dried apricots. And veg soup: a large onion, garlic, two large leeks, two large carrots, a head of celery, half a white cabbage, fresh herbs and seasonings to taste. Chop and fry in a little olive oil, simmer in vegetable stock until tender, then whizz through a blender – delicious hot or cold.
- Look up Steve Brooks on https://www.aspokesmansaid.com/steve-brooks-kitchens-complaints-and-reviews.html to find out why – and I got off lightly compared to those people!
- See my blog Plastic Pollution: how one household can make a difference
- I once saw a junior school class tuck into a medieval banquet including salads, whole roast pigeon and baked trout, (one lad even ate the eyes and pronounced them good – more than I could’ve done!), because they’d researched the menu, prepared/helped cook the dishes, and couldn’t wait to find out how it all tasted.