How to ditch damaging diets and lose fat in an enjoyable way

After my second Slimming World attempt, I felt like a failure as I regained and reached my heaviest weight. I developed a poor relationship with food, regularly ordering takeaways and overindulging. I hated the idea of eating “healthy”, which I thought meant cutting out my favourite foods.

I couldn’t be bothered to exercise because it never got me closer to my ‘dream’ appearance. I was close to accepting being chubby forever — “it’s just my genetics” — but then I decided to give fat loss another go and signed up for personal training. It was at this point I unexpectedly developed a passion for fitness. I realised I could lose fat whilst having fun and eating chocolate. I no longer had to spend money on fads with an 80% failure rate, in an industry projected to be worth ‘$245.51 billion’ this year.

A recent study stated the average British adult will try 126 fad diets during their lifetime and abandon them after six days. This is not because they are failures. It’s because most diets offer unsustainable quick fixes. Truthfully, there are no shortcuts. But it is possible to lose fat and keep it off long term without diets that damage your mental and physical health.

Me in June 2021 before my fat loss journey began — Me in February 2022

To lose fat, you have to be in a calorie deficit. This means eating fewer calories than your body requires.

“The body has a certain amount of fat tissue that contains energy. If you’re looking to reduce the amount of fat you have in your body, you need to tap into that, which will require you to not consume as much energy as your body needs”, explains Didi Ferrari, Head of Nutrition at MARCHON.

You should only be in a slight deficit. Avoid diets that recommend eating 1,200 calories a day, as they can cause nutrient deficiencies, nausea and extreme hunger.

Include your favourite foods into your calorie allowance by making homemade versions or eating them in small quantities. Everything is okay in moderation. If you over restrict certain foods, you are more likely to binge them later. I keep track of my nutrition on MyFitnessPal, with a usual day looking like this:

Breakfast: Porridge with honey and strawberries; clear whey protein shake

Lunch: Pepperoni pizza thins; protein yoghurt; Babybel lights

Dinner: Bagel thin beef burger with bacon, cheese, lettuce, onions and ketchup

Snacks: Low calorie ice cream; pear; cereal bar

(1,600 calories, 145g protein)

What I eat in a day

Ditch the myth that protein makes you bulky because increasing your protein intake actually helps with fat loss. A 2012 study proved that a group of overweight people in a calorie deficit with a high protein intake lost 53% more fat than those consuming less protein in their deficit.

“Protein has a higher thermic effect through digestion, and that means it burns more calories whilst you digest it than fats and carbs do”, said Ferrari. “It’s also one of the most satiating macronutrients, which means it makes you feel fuller.”

My favourite protein snacks

In addition to eating well, aim to exercise four times a week. Take rest days between your workouts to lower the risk of injury and allow your muscles to repair and grow.

Katrina Marie, a trainee mental health and exercise coach from Paisley, believes you should “find the thing that you like doing, not the thing you think you have to be doing”. Personally, I enjoy weight training as it makes me feel physically and mentally strong. Ignore the myth that weights make you bulky as they can help you become leaner and lower visceral fat levels.

Me in September 2021 — Me in March 2022

For Bobbi Cryans, a 33-year-old from Glasgow, swapping fad diets and excessive cardio for weight training has allowed her to lose fat and gain confidence. Bobbi first attempted Weight Watchers at 16. Whilst losing two and a half stone with them, she developed an unhealthy approach to eating and exercising.

“I used to drag myself to cardio and I hated it. I only did it because it meant I could have a KitKat because I got extra Weight Watchers bonus points.”

Bobbi also attempted Slimming World, and became obsessed with the weekly weigh ins. “After weighing in, I would eat so many carbs for the first two days. Then I wouldn’t touch a carb for the next five days.”

Bobbi was back up to her highest weight once the pandemic began. But she has since lost three stone after starting strength training.

Recalling the moment she hit her deadlift PB, she said: “Just go for it. Remember if you can’t do it, you’ve not failed. You’re just not there yet.”

Bobbi before and after starting strength training and learning about the healthy approach to fat loss

When trying to lose fat, you’re likely to create healthy habits that will help you to achieve your goal and improve your day-to-day life too. For example, drinking enough water helps you stick to your deficit.

Allan Purvis, a personal trainer from Glasgow, said: “Studies have shown that 37% of people mistake hunger for thirst. A lot of the time, people are reaching for snacks when they’re thirsty, so they’re having extra calories that are totally unnecessary, simply because they’re not drinking enough water.”

Getting enough sleep also aids fat loss. A 2006 study revealed that women who slept for five hours a night were 32% more likely to experience major weight gain compared to those who slept for 7 hours a night.

To increase your deficit, set a daily step goal. By walking 10,000 steps every day for a week, you’ll burn approximately 3,500 calories, which equates to a 1lb loss. You could also increase your NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis). These are the calories you burn from activities separate from your planned exercise, such as taking the stairs or fidgeting.

There will be times on your fat loss journey when you can’t exercise as much as you want to, or maybe you can’t be bothered. You can’t always rely on motivation and enjoyment. This is when you should remember the ‘why’. Why did I start this?

Me in June 2021 — Me in May 2022

There will also be times when you can’t stick to your deficit. Since last summer, I’ve enjoyed numerous meals out and takeaways. Some I factored into my deficit, others I didn’t. Finding this balance will make your fat loss journey more enjoyable. In the past, I would have given up after going slightly off-plan. But now, I’m happy doing what I can, when I can. If I go over my calories one day, I’ll just get back to it the next day. Consistency is key.

If you want to lose fat, don’t spend money on fad diets that are guaranteed to fail. Instead, invest in two of life’s most important things: your health and happiness.

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Trainee journalist at the University of Salford. Presenter of Alternative Airwaves. Founder of Alternative Atmosphere. Words: Inspo Daily and Mancunian Matters.

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Caitlin Hyem

Caitlin Hyem

Trainee journalist at the University of Salford. Presenter of Alternative Airwaves. Founder of Alternative Atmosphere. Words: Inspo Daily and Mancunian Matters.

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