5 strategies to deal with tempting foods and lapses on a weight loss diet
On any weight loss diet, even the most liberal one, there will be times of temptation when our will power starts to weaken and we are in danger of lapsing.
Does indulging in that "Death by Chocolate” cake mean death to the diet? Well yes, it could, but it does not have to.
The following five strategies can help to deal with lapses when they occur, to use lapses as a positive contribution to weight loss, and to avoid lapses.
1. Be forgiving of yourself
If you give in to temptation and lapse, forgive yourself and start over with your diet straight away.
This is probably the most important rule of all. Think about it. Your body needs to store approximately 3500 surplus calories in order to put on just one pound in weight. It is very unlikely that you would lapse by that amount of calories in one day.
To give an example of what is involved in a major lapse, I will use food that is sold in McDonalds food. I'm certainly not encouraging you to eat there. However, a lot of their menu is the same around the world, so readers from various countries will be familiar with the foods I mention.
If you eat one Big Mac with a large portion of fries and portion of onion rings, and wash it down with a large banana milkshake, you will have consumed 1750 calories.
Therefore, you need to eat two such meals, on top of the 1500-2500 daily calories that would keep your weight constant for that day, in order to lapse enough to put on a pound.
Even if you did go to such huge excess in one day, you can lose that pound over the next 3-7 days of being back on your diet.
It is not the first lapse that kills a diet. It is your state of mind after the lapse. If you forgive yourself and start over with the diet straight away, you will rapidly make up for the lapse. However, many people beat themselves around the head and see themselves as a failure. "I've ruined it now, there's no point going on", they say and reach for another slice of cake.
Another thing to remember, especially if you are on a low-carbohydrate diet, is that a lapse on starchy food will cause a temporary increase in the amount of fluid stored in your body. If your weight goes up by a pound or two the morning after a lapse, much of that will be water. You will lose it almost immediately when you return to your diet.
2. Program in some deliberate lapses
A number of diet regimens actually allow you to have otherwise forbidden food.
This can take the form of a daily treat or two, such as a piece of chocolate or a glass of wine. The Slimming World program, for example, has the concept of allocating a certain number of "syns" per day. These are points given to anything that does not form a normal part of the diet. Some people use these daily, others save them for a weekly splurge.
A further step is the permission given in some dieting programs to have one meal or one day, every week, when you can eat whatever you like. One scheme suggests a day-on, day-off approach to the diet as a whole, when you only follow a diet on alternate days. There is a definite logic to these approaches:
It gives you something to look forward to. If you know that you can eat pizza in three days time, you will find it easier to resist eating pizza right now than you would if being able to eat pizza was just a dream for the distant future.
Secondly, the body is excellent at adapting itself to circumstances. Spending a long time on a diet makes the body become a master at extracting every last calorie from what is eaten. If the diet is very restricted, the body goes into starvation mode and metabolism slows down. This is one reason why weight loss decreases and even stops as a diet continues.
Having planned, intentional lapses keeps the body guessing and prevents this slow-down. I personally have also had success with introducing a week-long "holiday" into a diet at times when weight loss was very slow. Doing this tended to start the weight loss moving again when I returned to the diet. Obviously, some discipline is important so you don't go totally crazy with eating, and it is important to set a start and end day for the holiday.
3. Avoidance tactics
Look at what situations make you eat too much of the wrong things. Keeping a food diary will help. For example, if you cannot resist Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes with roast beef, think about saving the roast beef for a planned lapse meal, or until after you have finished your diet. At parties, keeping your glass full of a wine spritzer, or even just sparkling water if you are happy with that, will stop people giving you refills. Make sure you refill your own glass with your chosen beverage in good time.
A high motivation level can be a strong ally in helping you walk past things you shouldn’t have. Before going into a situation filled with temptation, review your weight loss success so far and give yourself a pat on the back. You will feel much stronger about resisting things.
4. Substitution tactics
Discover things you can eat and enjoy that will replace things you cannot eat at the moment. Try to identify the least damaging options. This is really very much a personal exercise, so I will just give a few examples of things that help me:
Some brands of low–fat or zero-fat natural or Greek yoghurt have a lovely rich and creamy taste. I use them as a basis for salad dressings to replace mayonnaise or salad cream, or serve a dollop with chilli rather than using sour cream, for example.
I like chips (French fries), so I invested in a Tefal Actifry, which makes delicious chips using only a tiny amount of oil. When I wish to avoid potato altogether, I cut butternut squash into fingers or wedges and roast it. I sprinkle salt and vinegar over these “chips” and find them as satisfying as the real thing for a fraction of the calories. My favourite way is to serve them with haddock fillet, which I dust lightly with oat bran and then cook in a pan using one-calorie frying spray or a few drops of oil wiped over the pan with a kitchen towel. This is as good as typical fish and chips in my opinion.
I make up some strawberry or raspberry no-sugar jelly (jello), adding a few drops of rose water to the water I use. I have this with a teaspoonful of low-fat cocoa powder sprinkled over the top. The effect is satisfyingly close to that of eating chocolate-covered Turkish delight.
When tempted by ice-cream , frozen yoghurt or sorbet is less damaging than full-cream ice cream. I also freeze chunks of banana and other fruit to eat straight out of the freezer in place of ice cream. Frozen berries when mixed into a dish of yoghurt will make the yoghurt freeze a little, giving another delicious alternative to ice cream.
5. Exercise it off
Exercise can have an important place in beating temptation.
An intensive exercise session often gets rid of the urge to eat something unsuitable. I think it is partly because you feel so virtuous about doing it, that you do not wish to tarnish your halo.
Exercise will burn off some of the extra calories you have eaten. For every mile you walk, run or jog, you will burn up approximately 100 calories. The actual quantity burned varies slightly depending on the exercise intensity and a bit more due to inherent differences between individuals. Exercising will also speed up your metabolism for a period after you stop.
Exercise will not compensate fully for a big lapse, but will make you feel more positive about yourself because you have done something about it. Thus, you will be less likely to beat yourself up for being a failure...
... which takes us right back to number 1 in this list.