Being confident in your own skin is one of the most common problems people face worldwide. ‘Body image’ refers to the way someone views themselves and assumes the light in which others see them too. This can be influenced by the people surrounding them, societal expectations and social media. There are two things that can be done in this situation. You can work hard to get into shape to feel healthy and reasonably fit. But once you get there, you also need to accept your body for what it is and stop pushing for something completely unattainable. In reality, everyone has different body shapes and we all hold fat in different areas. You are born with a certain body composition and there are some things you just can’t change.
I don’t want to push people to look a ‘certain’ way, or maintain a six pack for 52 weeks a year. I want to teach you how to listen to your body, fuel it with nourishing food and get your blood flowing a few times a week. A few simple changes is all it takes but the results will change your life forever.
Photography by Winston Gee
A Beginners Guide To Weight Loss
Unfortunately, when someone gets to a certain point where they decide they need to make healthier choices, they don’t always make the right ones. There is too much information out there which makes it hard to decide who to listen to, or what will be the most effective for them as an individual. Too often, I see people turn to extreme dieting which isn’t a sustainable option, causing them to put the weight back on again within a matter of weeks. They try to cut out carbs all together which tends to put them in a bad mood and deprive their body of energy. They count calories which can turn into an unhealthy cycle of never being satisfied and regularly being frustrated with themselves for eating a meal if it goes over their allocated daily limit. It can also lead to eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.
The way we look at ourselves in the mirror has become such a serious issue, that it’s time to change our mindset and the stigma around it.
So what can you do to get into a naturally healthy state, mentally and physically?
1. Participate in exercise you enjoy 3-4 times a week – If you force yourself to do something you hate, it will negatively affect your mental health and you probably won’t be able to stick it out for long. For someone that currently does zero exercise, I would 100% recommend starting off with two walks a week. It doesn’t need to be strenuous or extreme, your body will take time to build up the fitness and get used to it. If you want to start off at the gym, I would recommend getting a personal trainer for the first few session to write you up a plan and ensure you have the correct techniques to avoid injury.
Group sports may work better for some people as they have others relying on them to succeed and ‘keep running’ or ‘score the goal’. Getting out in nature is my absolute favourite option because it also acts as an immediate stress reliever. Try hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, swimming etc, and enjoy the view along the way!
2. Keep a food diary for at least 2 weeks – A food diary is an excellent way to see where you could be going wrong without realising it. At the end of the day once the food has been logged, simply just highlight each item a different colour to distinguish the choices you made. For example this could be green, orange and red or pink like a traffic light. Quite often small snacks may add up at the end of the day or drinks you have when you are on the go which may be full of sugar. You can do this in a simple hand written diary, in the ‘notes’ section of your phone or on an app.
3. Stick to natural wholefoods – One of my favourite sayings is “If it has ingredients you can’t pronounce, don’t eat it”. Of course, most things are okay in moderation and finding a good balance that fits with your lifestyle is they key. I find that sticking to foods in their most natural form make you feel fuller for longer, give you more fibre and increased nutrients. Some examples of these include brown rice, pumpkin, kumara, nuts, seeds, vegetables, fruits, oats and legumes! All of these are packed with iron, protein, calcium and more.
4. Create healthy alternatives – Learn to swap out certain ingredients for others that provide more nutrients and contain less sugars and fat. For example, instead of having cake or ice cream for dessert which are empty calories and give you a sugar high right before bed, try these recipes containing more wholesome ingredients:
When it comes to meals such as lunch and dinner, try to opt for lots of vegetables and legumes as it will be easier on your digestive system. Make takeaways a treat such as saving it for once a month for a lazy night in, so you can actually appreciate it. I also like to do meal prep, which means I will cook a bulk meal of 4-6 servings so it lasts several days. This saves your money spent at the supermarket and your time spent cooking!
5. Stress and Sleep – These factors play a major role in determining what your body does with the food you eat. If you are stressed, it may hold onto the fat in your body to prepare itself for the ‘fight or flight’ mode. This is our bodies primitave response that prepares us to ‘fight’ or ‘flee’ from a perceived attack, harm, or threat to our survival. However, these days we aren’t worrying about fighting off animals or scavenging for food, nor are we burning off the energy from the food we are consuming. We will stress about family problems, our careers or financial restraints whilst sitting on the coach or at a desk. Over time the stored fat will continue to build up, putting you in an even worse state.
Sleep is also a dominant factor, as when you are sleep deprived you tend to crave the most fatty/sugary foods to boost your energy levels. Scientists have discovered that when you haven’t slept enough, Cortisol (the hormone associated with stress and fat gain) rises. This results in you craving food as it activates the reward centers in your brain. High levels of the Ghrelin hormone which is also a result of lack of sleep, will mix with the cortisol and shut down certain areas of your brain. This may mean that you continuously feel hungry, no matter how much you eat throughout that day. So next time you reach for that doughnut, take a second to think about the root cause of the problem and see if you can fix that first.
6. Don’t focus on the scales –
View yourself based on your body as a whole, rather than a number below your feet. There are many contributing factors that can make the scales go up or down.
One of the best pieces of advice would be to focus on gaining a little more muscle. Increased muscle mass will fasten your metabolism, allowing you to burn fat in your sleep! When I go for runs, I do High Intensity Interval Training by sprinting up-hill on and off for 20-30 mins. This increases muscle mass in my thighs and glutes mainly, which would make me heavier on the scales. This method is more effective than one long run at a continuous speed. It makes it more interesting, challenging and can be done in half the time!
I was always worried as a woman, if I did weights at the gym I would look like a man, as I have a naturally muscular build. However, it really helps to slim you down in all the right places and makes you look much healthier. I have now learnt to focus on what I see in the mirror each day and view myself as ‘healthy’ rather than a meaningless number.
7. Motivation and Self-Control – How do you stay motivated to continue a healthy eating and exercise schedule?
- Hang out with friends who have similar goals and interests to you.
- If you are considering skipping a workout, get dressed into your gym clothes anyway.
- Track your progress and reward yourself at certain points along the way.
- Know your ‘WHY’ behind the goals you want to achieve.
- Sign up for classes with a coach pushing you to work harder or group fitness.
- Listen to fast up-beat music that you can’t sit still to.
How do you maintain the self-control to avoid the foods you crave?
If you want a burger and fries, go out and have one. If you just really want chocolate, go out and get some. Balance really is the key when it comes to these situations. I tend to be quite strict on myself at home. I won’t even BUY unhealthy foods from the supermarket so I can avoid staring at it in my pantry. However, I may be a bit more lenient on myself if I dine out so I can enjoy a ‘treat’ here and there. If I get chocolate cravings at home, I would rather have a dairy-free chocolate protein shake or make cookie dough bliss balls for a snack or dessert.
If you are too strict on yourself, you are more likely to have a complete binge when you cave in. Yet if you allow yourself to enjoy those foods here and there you will really savour the taste and experience, then can go back to eating normally for the rest of the week.
8. Practice Mindfulness – One of the most simple tips that many of us don’t do, is simply listening to our bodies. When you eat an unhealthy meal high in sugar and fat, how do you feel? Most likely sluggish and irritable. When you eat a refreshing meal filled with nutrient packed ingredients that also leaves you with a full stomach, how do you feel? Most likely energetic, fresh, positive, and ready to take on whatever life throws at you!
Simply by listening to your body, it can often tell you what it needs to get through the day or to heal itself. With the never ending amount of health advice on the internet these days, we all get too overwhelmed with it coming from all directions. Simply just take a step back, write down some ideas of what you believe could work for you. Try things out one-by-one and give each of them a good shot. Everyone’s body reacts in different ways and there is no ‘one size fits all’.
I wish you all the best with your journey, don’t be too hard on yourself. Love your body for all that it does for you, and embrace the features in which make you unique!
Check out some of my other posts to help get you started –
- 5 Unusual Ways To Lose Weight
- How We Have Been Mislead About What’s ‘Healthy’ To Eat
- Transitioning To A Plant Based Diet
Or connect with me on Instagram for daily inspiration and health tips at @cassieamber__