For me (and not only me), a successful strategy for ‘keeping it up’ was to make clearly formed resolutions. Instead of saying to myself I will do more exercise or I’ll go jogging more often, I made resolves like I will do a quarter of an hour’s upper body training every day before I watch the evening news or Every Tuesday and Thursday after the team meeting at work I will go straight to the gym. Attaching the resolution to a concrete external trigger takes the decision away from your brain, so to speak, making it more likely to happen automatically, and less likely that you will start vacillating about whether you should do it or not, so you’ll just do it.
This sounds simple but it’s extremely effective: simply do not keep temptations within reach, and instead, place things you want to do within your view. Not keeping sweets at home, making it necessary to go out and buy them especially, creates a considerably higher hurdle to overcome. And keeping your cross trainer constantly at the ready in front of the television, rather than covered in clothes in the corner of your bedroom, will make overcoming unwillingness to exercise that bit easier. I found home-made popcorn works very well as a substitute for ‘sweets’ (if, like me, you eat it fat and sugar free, it’s actually quite healthy and full of dietary fibre), because it takes some effort to make. In addition, researchers have found out that self-control is a limited resource. This means that if you’ve already had to resist something several times, you’re more likely to give in the next time, because your ‘power of resistance’ has run out (Muraven et al., 1998). So it makes sense to limit the temptations that surround you.
It can be helpful to prepare a list of possible activities, in advance, that you can turn to as alternatives to (over)eating (e.g., if you are stressed the list could include taking a bath, reading a good book, watching your favourite series, going for a walk, or relaxation exercises like meditation or yoga).
Protein-rich meals make you feel fuller, and so it can be easier to deal with cravings if you can find high-protein alternatives to normal foods. Claims that a protein-rich diet places increased demands on the kidneys of healthy people have been disproved numerous times, including, for example, by Manninen (2004), who undertook a comprehensive analysis of previous studies and found no evidence of kidney or any other organ damage in people who ate twice to three times as much protein as the recommended amount. On the contrary, a high-protein diet was found to be associated with lower blood pressure and a long-term positive effect on bone density.
A basic weight-training program
This can be done completely for free using YouTube videos, other instructional materials, or even just very basic exercises like squats and push-ups. The exercises should focus on building muscle mass, so when an exercise becomes too easy and eight to 15 repetitions are no problem to complete, they should be made harder with (extra) weights rather than by adding more repetitions. So, rather than doing 300 squats, it is better to do three sets of 12 squats while holding a 10 kg weight. It is also important to make sure you don’t exercise the same muscles every day. You should alternate training days and rest days for each muscle set. It’s during the rest days that muscles grow, and too much training can even inhibit muscle development.
Several studies, for example those by Oh & Taylor (2012) or Ledochowski et al. (2015), have shown that 15 minutes of brisk walking is highly effective in reducing cravings for chocolate and other sweets. A 15-minute walk is not only effective for countering acute snack-attacks, but also as a preventive measure. It was found that subjects had fewer cravings for sweet things in the hours after a walk.
This is the only negative-calorie foodstuff, which means it doesn’t burn infinite numbers of calories, but it is good for your health and helps prevent thirst signals from being misinterpreted as hunger signals. Apparently, a ‘mix up’ of this kind can occur because the hypothalamus (part of the brain) is responsible for regulating both appetite and thirst. Dehydration can trigger signals which are then erroneously interpreted as hunger. Alissa Rumsey, former spokesperson for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says it is therefore a good idea to drink a glass of water right after you get up in the morning, and also to drink some water and then wait a few minutes whenever you have a craving. Drinking a lot can also prevent fluid retention.
Weigh yourself regularly
When and how you weigh yourself is a matter of personal preference. The only thing that’s important is to stick to a routine, because your weight can fluctuate a lot throughout the day. Personally, I like to weigh myself before I go to bed at night because I don’t want to start the day by looking at the scales, and the thought that I am about to get on the scales often prevents me from snacking in the evening. I prefer to weigh myself every day, particularly because my weight can fluctuate a lot from one day to the next. If I only weighed myself once a week and then happened to do so on a day when my weight spiked, that would bother me more than weighing myself every day and knowing that yesterday I was 1 kg lighter and so the spike must be because of fluid retention.
Low body weight is associated with stable eating habits: in their daily lives, slim people and those who have lost a lot of weight almost always follow eating routines. This is echoed by studies that show that too much choice of food leads to overeating. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you have to live off low-fat cottage cheese and lettuce alone, but it does make a lot of sense to seek out certain foods that you like and can eat regularly.
The people around you might not always be supportive, so it can help to speak to people who are going through a similar process to you and have a similar view of it. Personally, I got a lot out of this Reddit site. That forum inspired the title of this book and provided me with a lot of motivation in several ways. In real life, too, it can help to seek support elsewhere if your friends and acquaintances can’t provide it. So, go out and look for gym buddies — who are ideally already fitter than you are.