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Wednesday 30 June 2021

Keep at Your Target Weight Forever


Gail Hanlon from Is This Mutton with some of her healthy eating and diet books

Today I'm talking about keeping weight off once we've lost it. Weight loss is, I think you'll agree, sometimes the easiest part of it.  We're usually fired up and have a particular diet plan and regime, and, if things go well, we lose the weight.  I've done it many times.  But it's keeping the weight off that's tough, because if you're not careful, it comes creeping back.

I was asked by a long distance friend to give my tips on keeping slim.  I had to smile because to be frank, I feel I suffer from a mild form of body dysmorphia.  I don't think I am very slim.  I would like to lose another 7 pounds so I would be a size 10   (US size 6) but I'm not going to for reasons I'll explain below. On a good day I am satisfied with my body for being strong and doing all I ask of it. 

What doctors and diets get wrong

Most diets tell you that the average woman needs 2,000 calories a day to exist, without any exercise.  That's the biggest reason most diets and maintenance programs fail. The number is totally incorrect for those over the age of 40.

As we get older, hormonal changes and our metabolic rate mean we need fewer calories to exist. If you have a Fibit or equivalent, you'll know that if you're over 50 and don't take any exercise, you burn just 1100 - 1500 calories a day, depending on your weight, age and height.  For me it's around 1300 calories. Think about that.  What do most diets usually suggest as a target for weight loss?  1500 calories a day. 

So you can see right away that to lose weight, we would need to drop to below 1000 calories a day, OR add exercise to our days. Or be prepared for it to take a very long time, which I'm not willing to do.

In recent years I have lost weight quickly with programs like Alevere, which is wonderful if you can afford it.  But my "A-ha" moment came in 2019 when I went to a health spa for a few days and lost 4 pounds on their delicious low-carb diet. I was eating so much I fully expected to have gained weight!  I carried on with the same principles and turned the loss into 7 pounds. Since this post was written, I have been to an outstanding boot camp, and got down to 9 stone 1, which I've managed to sustain through low carb eating, intermittent fasting and exercise.

Gail Hanlon from Is This Mutton doing a Joe Wicks virtual work out

There's a lot of deception in the diet industry

Once I'd arrived at my target weight, I knew I had to be careful about not "eating my way back," as my mother used to put it. 

I know a lot about diet theory, I have read dozens of books and tried countless diets over the years.  Every new diet book will claim their method speeds up your metabolism or does something unique to insulin spikes, etc etc.   It's all marketing hype.  

Diets work because they reduce your food intake and  increase your exercise levels.  It's that simple.  There's very little medical evidence to prove that low fat diets are better than low carb diets, and vice versa. Most studies are sponsored by companies with vested interests, not universities or governments, so they are not worth the paper they are printed on. 

Even the "5 a day" fruit and veg stipulation was made up, emerging from a consortium that included a cancer charity and, wait for it, companies involved in the shipping and production of fruit and veg. Nutritionist Zoe Harcombe covers this in more detail here

Decide the foods you won't give up 

I'm going to give you a very honest view of what I eat, because women so seldom do. Some of it would appall dieticians, I'm sure. I know full well that I should be eating foods like liver, leafy greens, spinach and sardines. And possibly I should be on a vegan or mostly plant-based diet.  But  I'd rather eat things I enjoy.  Life is too short and I am not Gwyneth Paltrow.

There are a few foods I love, which I didn't want to give up or just have on special occasions:

  • Quiche:  I love a slice of quiche with salad and kimchi. It's a high fat food, but I buy an individual quiche, one portion, which gives me a weekly quiche fix.
  • Cheese.  It's full of protein and calcium, fat,  vitamins A and B-12, along with zinc, phosphorus, and riboflavin.  Seriously ladies, if we don't eat enough foods like this we will shrink in height and develop osteoporosis. I have cheese every day for my lunch.
  • Houmous:  I have the mini pots which are sold in trios at most of the big supermarkets.  I'll have this either as a snack with carrot sticks, if I'm starving, or with falafels in a salad. 
  • Taramasalata:  I love this too but it's very hard to keep consumption down once you have a big pot so I only buy it very occasionally 
I experimented for the first few months of my maintenance program.  I started to reintroduce "normal" food, but excluding bread, fruit and bad carbs. When I reintroduced the Friday treat of fish and chips, and a curry,  it wasn't catastrophic. Since the boot camp, I now try to "earn my carbs" before indulging.

The basic principles of my diet

I mostly avoid bad carbs and sugary things like fruit, cereal, cake.  It's not a hardship because I'm very ambivalent about sweet things.  I'm not bothered about having a dessert, ever.  By bad carbs I mean white bread, potatoes, white rice. 

I try to eat 4 portions of veg or salad and 1 of berries a day.  I eat seasonally and locally, to avoid air miles. I like avocados but limit now to once a week because their environmental impact is awful. I don't eat other fruit, like bananas or apples. Too much sugar, albeit in a different form. 

I enjoy sour cream on casseroles, butter on my miserly slice of bread, and clotted cream on my raspberries. My yoghurt is 5% fat Greek yoghurt.  I avoid "diet foods" like low fat yoghurt because they're either stuffed with sugar or sweeteners, or other chemical additives to try to make you feel satiated. 

I try to eat for good gut health, because a healthy gut is said to alleviate problems including insomnia and bladder issues.  I take Bimuno every day, which is a tasteless additive to pop into a glass of water  (as recommended by Dr Michael Mosley, who believed it helped with his insomnia). I also have kimchi, kombucha in drinks form, and kefir, every few days.

My Top Tips 

  • Weigh every day.  I know people scoff at this, but it truly works for me.  If I have a fish and chip supper or restaurant meal, I will have put on one or 2 pounds the next day.  I simply cut back slightly, and the next day the scales are back to normal.  If I didn't keep an eye on it, the pounds might creep on, and then it becomes very difficult when it's more than 5. This has happened to me on many occasions, and you're in denial for the first few pounds and then horrified at the prospect of a diet. 
  • Add some exercise.  I try to do a four mile walk most days.  This burns around 400 calories on my Fitbit so makes a lot of difference in terms of what I can eat. On the days I don't walk, I aim to do a short workout. Like many of you, I exercised with Joe Wicks in the early weeks of lockdown. 
  • Don't lose too much weight. It's tempting to get very slim. If you're over 50, think again. You may lose weight first from your face, shoulders and clavicles (as I do) and look gaunt.  Once gone, that fat won't return, and facial fat is needed to try to retain some volume in our cheeks. In a nutshell, you'll be thin but look older, and no-one wants that. Plus, the smaller your body mass, the fewer calories you need. So you'll have to eat even less to maintain that slim physique.
Gail Hanlon from Is This Mutton doing a home workout. Using weights and resistance bands two or three times a week is essential for older women to maintain muscle mass and bone density

What I actually eat

I've given up calorie counting for the last 2 years which is amazing because I started doing it when I was 12, and it was deeply ingrained in me.
  • I have a relatively low carb breakfast and lunch, and a normal dinner, portion-wise.  
  • Breakfast is usually 2 poached eggs on half a slice of seeded bread; occasionally Greek yoghurt with berries, or porridge with nuts and berries. 
  • Lunch is a large piece of cheese, two Peters Yard crispbreads  (very low carb but not like cardboard!), 5 cherry tomatoes and bag of Quavers.  Sometimes I make a salad instead. 
  • Dinner might be a home-made lamb tagine or chilli, with sour cream on top, served with cauliflower cheese and vegetables. Lately I've been having raspberries and cream after dinner.  Another dinner might be a salmon fillet with hollandaise sauce, ratatouille, broccoli and peas.
  • On Sundays I enjoy a traditional roast at lunchtime, including the "trimmings" such as a Yorkshire pudding with beef, or pigs in blankets with chicken.  I have a large portion of meat, cauliflower cheese and 2 or 3 other veg. Sometimes I''ll follow this with a couple of chocolate biscuits.  Then I don't have anything else until the next day.

On holidays and in restaurants 

On holiday, I am very disciplined.They can so easily become our downfall.  I really don't want to go home with surplus pounds just for a few ice creams, cakes and wine which I don't really care for anyway.   I always ask myself: "What would Madonna do?" Or, "Do I want to squander 400 calories on this piece of cake?"

On our annual hiking holiday I'll eat a hearty breakfast if we have a full day's  walking ahead. This means a full English, or smoked salmon and scrambled eggs. For lunch, an energy bar, because the packed lunches made by hotels are usually limited to sandwiches with processed meat, crisps, fruit cake and bananas. And then for dinner, which is extremely good at the hotel we go to, a starter and main course. 

On a beach holiday my breakfast will be a hard boiled egg and yoghurt with prunes.  I go without lunch and then have a starter and main course at a restaurant.

At my mum's, I have to be tough because she is inclined to be "a feeder."  She yearns to give me the things I love, pasties, cream teas, cheese pie, home-made cake.  But I insist that if we eat out at lunchtime, I'll only need a very light snack in the evening. And no puddings or chocolates. 

It's the same at Christmas.  If the over indulgent food doesn't find its way into the house, we don't then have to eat it.  Fortunately my husband agrees with this and doesn't look for chocolates or treats.  We have a proper Christmas dinner  (no roast potatoes for me), and I have a treat of bread and butter pudding, and he has sticky toffee pudding.  Then we eat normally - our normal -  for the rest of the time.

I hardly ever drink alcohol.  It's not really to save calories, I just don't like the taste of most drinks. 

If we go out for dinner at a restaurant, I have the starter and main course of my choice, but not usually a dessert or cheese. 

How my husband lost weight

John has lost over two stone in the last few months, simply by cutting out snacks (nuts and olives mainly) and puddings.  He reduced his beer consumption to one bottle a day.  He was determined to get in shape for his 1000 mile cycling challenge, Land's End to John O'Groats, and it worked because he looked great in the unforgiving Lycra jackets.


I've never got on with running or cycling, but I love walking. 

Prior to lockdown I did a fair bit of walking, but lockdown and no commuting gave me more time to do it.  I aim to walk 5 days a week and usually set off by 8am and cover 4 miles. I wear good quality headphones and enjoy dozens of podcasts as I walk.

Last year I did the Walk 1000 Mile Challenge, logging my daily miles with Fitbit and a wall chart.  I'm still doing the same this year but I'm also trying to walk faster. There's a wonderful Facebook group if you're doing this challenge.  You can also walk 500 Miles, 2000 Miles, 5000 Miles....and buy a medal to boast about your achievement. 

Walking is a good way to get fit, and the Walk 1000 Mile Challenge is good for motivation. Gail Hanlon from Is This Mutton shows off her medal from 2020

I'm lucky to live near Epping Forest where there are lovely trails. But even if you're in an urban area, you can still find some useful walks. When I was commuting to the office, pre-Covid, I walked for an hour at lunchtime and had three or four different variations. 

I have a few urban walks where I walk to a superstore and come back with a few essentials in my rucksack.  Tesco is a 4 mile walk there and back, Sainsburys and Waitrose are both 5 miles. I have my shopping delivered each week but there are always a few things I need to pick up, like lettuce or raspberries.

On the 2 days where I don't walk, I use weights. This helps maintain muscle mass and bone strength. I have a few simple routines, around 40 minutes long. I try to do cardio continually throughout the workout, to keep my heart rate up:  running on the spot, star jumps, jump squats, kettle bell swings.

I have a couple of 4kg hand weights and a 8kg kettlebell, plus a step, some fitness bands, and a yoga mat.  I'm not a trained instructor so I'm not going to describe my exercises here - your best bet is to find a fitness instructor who can develop a routine for you, or take classes via YouTube. Or join a gym. 

I'm conscious that I don't do Pilates or yoga which I probably should, to maintain flexibility.  I prefer online classes because I was traumatized by a local yoga teacher asking "Is that you?" when my knees made their usual crunching sound in the middle of a class.  (Crepitus.  It doesn't hurt, and a lot of us with dodgy knees get it).

So that's my maintenance routine, and maybe one or two of the tips might be useful for you. My other tips are around acceptance of yourself, and doing the best with what you've got:
  • Identify your body shape and buy the styles of clothing which suit you best.  There are websites, and style consultants, to advise on what type of shape you are and how to flatter that shape. I'm a short waisted inverted triangle, and I've learnt over time what to wear. 
  • Find photographic angles which flatter  (yes - even if you're not a blogger.  Take the angst out of holiday or wide-angle family shots!).
  • Have a bra fitting. It's amazing what a difference this can make.
  • Shape wear can also make a difference. Remember those TV shows with Trinny and Susannah and Gok Wan?  I use shape wear when I'm feeling fat.
I'd love to hear your thoughts about diet and fitness in the comments. Is it a constant battle for you? Have you any tips to share?

Sharing this post with:  Beauty by Miss L, Top of the World Style at High Latitude Style, Chic & Stylish at Mummabstylish, #SpreadTheKindness  at Shelbee on the Edge, #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings, Thursday Moda at Elegance and Mommyhood, Turning Heads Tuesday at Elegantly Dressed and Stylish,  Style with a Smile  at StylesplashStyle Six at Coast to CoastTFF at Doused in PinkLizzie in Lace Confident Twosday at IDoDeclaireRena at Fine WhateverFabulous Fridays at Lucy Bertoldi, #Neverendingstyle at The Grey Brunette #TheWednesdayLinkUp at Claire Justine, Fancy Friday at Nancy's Fashion Style

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1 comment

  1. I had to gain weight and went to a diƫtist a few years ago.I larve to eat, good,,. Gerben also went to her, to loose weight. Je more eats much often on a day, 7 times! Is not a diet, but a different way of eating!


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