Nicky Pellegrino: Change your attitude and keep weight off

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Dieting doomed to fail but you can alter the way you eat forever

Nicky Pellegrino changed her way of eating forever and slowly lost 10kg. Photo / Michael Craig
Nicky Pellegrino changed her way of eating forever and slowly lost 10kg. Photo / Michael Craig

Trying to lose weight and keep it off for good? You're doomed to failure, says Massey University's Dr Andrew Dickson.

A column he wrote about the TV show Saving Gen-Y in the Herald quoted depressing statistics and declared that promoting weight loss is unethical.

So do we just give up, keep on piling on the kilos year by year and ready ourselves for Type 2 diabetes?

Is there any point in trying at all?

Yes, because Dr Dickson is only half right. Dieting is doomed to failure. Weight loss isn't.

Four years ago I weighed more than I do today. The scales were inching their way up to 100kg slowly but steadily. I'm exceptionally tall so I carried it well but my doctor told me I needed to lose weight for the sake of my health and I knew she was right.

I'm going to tell you how I shed more than 10 kilos and kept them off. There is no money to be made from this advice. I can't sell you special lite products or charge you for consultations and eating plans. Perhaps that's why the multi-billion dollar dieting industry hasn't bothered to mention it. It's too simple.

Identify what you're doing wrong in your day-to-day eating. There will be something, whatever you may think.

Over-large portions, sugary drinks, regular snacking, too much fat, too many carbs, eating too close to bed-time.

For me it was a ruinous love of the starchy carbohydrate. Great bowls of silky risotto, comforting pasta dishes, mashed potatoes and bread on the side were what stood between me and a healthy weight.

No, I didn't go on a diet. Instead I changed my way of eating forever. And that, it turns out, is the key to lasting weight loss. These days I enjoy lots of fresh vegetables, lean meat and fish, eggs, seeds and nuts, beans, lentils and a bit of cheese. I haven't given up the starchy carbs entirely but I limit them (Nana was right apparently when she said everything in moderation).

The kilos came off slowly but, since I wasn't depriving myself or feeling hungry, that was fine. I know if I go back to my old friends pasta and rice then I'll regain them.

Fortunately I like my new way of eating: Eat real food and enjoy it.

A walk through a supermarket is a seriously over-stimulating experience these days. There is so much stuff to eat. A lot of it isn't really food in my opinion. Fat is stripped out, sugar reduced, vitamins added in. I try to avoid all of that.

Nothing is "forbidden" exactly but I have whole milk rather than trim in my morning latte and butter on my toast, not some margarine designed to reduce my cholesterol.

And I love food.

I like nothing more than discovering new flavours and ingredients to cook with. My cupboards are crammed with spices, vinegars and interesting bottles from Asian stores.

My shelves are lined with recipe books. Food is still a way to celebrate and commiserate, to show love, to find pleasure.

Don't always be trying to lose weight. People get on this terrible see-saw.

They starve then binge, they're either on the wagon or off it. Women especially equate food with guilt and many have lost sight of a normal way of eating.

That's why I think it's vital to have periods where you're not trying to lose weight but merely holding it stable.

The key is to develop a healthy relationship with food and understand how much of it you actually need to consume at breakfast, lunch and dinner (most likely less than you think). If your weight is always either going up or going down you'll never manage that. Periods of it going nowhere can be helpful.

Don't ever think of yourself as dieting. This has to be a life change.

I've watched skinny people and they make healthy food choices. They'll order the Thai beef salad, not the burger and fries. They'll eat one biscuit, not the whole packet. I'm not sure whether they've trained themselves to do that or if it's instinctive. But it's working for them.

Exercise for health, not weight loss. Being active is good for you but it's what goes into your mouth that determines how large you are. At my heaviest, when living in London, I went to the gym four times a week and cycled everywhere.

Now I do far less - a bit of pilates, some horse-riding - and I can tell you it's not what made the difference.

I'm not super-slim but everything in my wardrobe fits again, my weight is in the healthy range and I feel a lot saner about food than ever in my life before.

"Well done, you've kept that weight off," said a friend I hadn't seen for a while. The thing is it hasn't been so hard. And it wasn't about counting calories, following a strict plan, or going to Weight Watchers meetings. It all came down to a change in my attitude.

So when I read the statistic Dr Andrew Dickson quoted in his column that 95 per cent of people who lose weight will regain it I had to put my hand up and say, it doesn't have to be so.

If you're happy as you are then disregard all of the above. But if you want to shed some kilos it's far easier than the weight loss industry would like you to believe. If I can do it anyone can.

Nicky Pellegrino is an Auckland novelist and journalist.

- NZ Herald

Herald on Sunday books editor Nicky Pellegrino has worked as a journalist on newspapers and magazines in the UK and New Zealand and is the author of seven internationally successful novels including Recipe For Life and The Food Of Love Cookery School. Her next book is set in Venice and is about happiness. When not working Nicky likes cooking for friends, drinking red wine, riding her horses and lying in bed reading other people’s novels.

Read more by Nicky Pellegrino

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