Lose A Stone in 21 Days

My thoughts in response to the Channel 4 programme of the above name. Presented by Michael Moseley, the first episode aired on 5th August.

By Marianna

Is anyone asking ‘why’?

So, did you watch it? A group of people who have struggled with their weight and experienced weight gain during lockdown have turned to Michael Moseley for help in order to shift a lot of that weight. Fast.

Let me start with a positive. The show briefly mentions the importance of preparing your environment in order to successfully make a change. Yes, if you want to break a bad habit, make that habit impossible – in this case, remove the things you don’t want to eat from your house.

Now for the rest…

First, the participants on the show are not idiots and shouldn’t be treated as such. They’re on this programme because they know there is a problem. They already want to make a change so I’m not sure ramming home the point that they’re more likely to die from Covid is really that helpful. In fact I would say that fear based ‘motivation’ can often be shaming and disempowering. Second, they know that eating biscuits for breakfast or drinking half a bottle of wine a night is not a healthy diet. So, the first thing I would be addressing is the ‘why’ behind these actions.

Why is she eating biscuits when she first gets up?

Why is he drinking half a bottle of wine each night?

Habits don’t just magically appear. These people experienced a craving or need and they fulfilled that need with options that were easily available to them. Removing the wine and biscuits helps to break the habit but it doesn’t address the need that caused these actions in the first place.

“Removing the wine and biscuits helps to break the habit but it doesn’t address the need that caused these actions in the first place.”

Listen carefully and you’ll catch that some of the participants are dealing with loneliness, stress and grief, and all are trying to find their way through a global pandemic. These factors shouldn’t be ignored. 

Pandemic aside, what should your PT or Coach be asking?

As a PT and coach, some of the questions I might ask would be…

Is she eating biscuits because they’re convenient? Is she exhausted when she gets up? If the answer to these questions is yes, then do we need to look at the length and quality of her sleep? What could be a suitable and convenient alternative to the biscuits? Would preparing oats and fruit the night before feel like something she could confidently do so she has an easy option first thing?

Why is he drinking half a bottle of wine a night? Is it how he relaxes? Does he struggle to switch off? If it’s due to stress, can we identify the stressors? Is there anyway to remove these stressors or minimise them from his life? Is there another way that he can de-stress? Does he successfully alleviate stress at other times of the day? Is that something we could replicate in the evening?

Ask why. Ask why again. Identify the need. Address the need and agree a sustainable plan with the participant to try and meet those needs in a healthier way. That would be my approach.

An 800 calorie diet

Instead the participants are put on an 800 calorie diet. There is medical research cited for this that I won’t go into here (I’m not a medic or an academic researcher and don’t pretend to be) but in short, there is some evidence that a short term restrictive diet can have health benefits.

After starting the diet however, one man comments that he’s thinking about food ‘24/7’ and that he’s not been like that before. That’s a huge red flag to me! What you eat shouldn’t be ruling your life. It’s a sign of a disorder relationship with food. What we are eating or about to eat shouldn’t be all consuming (excuse the pun). If, as the programme says, 2 out of 5 people quit a diet in the first week, perhaps a ‘diet’ in the traditional sense is not the answer to our nation’s health problems.

A radical change in diet and lifestyle CAN result in huge health benefits in just a few weeks – my own clients have demonstrated this – but at some point ‘radical’ needs to shift to ‘sustainable’; ‘diet’ needs to shift to ‘lifestyle. In my opinion that should be the starting point, not the end goal. Can we really establish long term healthy lifestyles with short term radical solutions?

What next for the participants?

There are more episodes in the series to come. I’m sure we’ll see the participants lose a considerable amount of weight in 21 days. But then what?

What happens when the cameras and support is gone? Will the participants be left with the tools they need to live a healthy lifestyle beyond the 21 days? I really hope so, but if other shows of this nature are anything to go by, probably not. Unfortunately, ‘lose some weight slowly over time, in a way you can enjoy and sustain’ is not so catchy a title!

My Disordered Eating

I just wanted to add in a bit of my personal story here because I have dealt with disordered eating. For me it started with comfort eating developing into secret binge eating and compulsive eating. I ate mostly in secret and if I ate anything in public I was convinced that everyone was looking at me and judging me for whatever it was I was putting away. I felt ashamed and out of control. Shame will keep us isolated but if we can reach out and share our struggles we can break the power of shame and get the help we need. It was a long recovery process for me but my experiences have without a doubt made me a better and more empathetic coach today. It’s the reason that I don’t have a fixed approach to nutrition with my clients. Not everyone needs the same thing. For some tracking is helpful, for others, it’s triggering. 

One of the lowest points when struggling with my eating was ‘wishing’ that I had anorexia instead of compulsive eating, because at least then I would be slim. Can you hear how crazy that sounds? If you watched the show and thought ‘hey, 800 calories sounds like a good idea’, please stop. Think. What problem are you trying to solve? Restriction is not the answer you’re looking for. A diet of 800 calories a day should only be adopted as a result of individualised medical advice. 

If you are thinking about food 24/7 or you feel out of control around food, reach out and get help. Call the helpline provided by charity Beat Eating Disorders on 0808 801 0677 or visit their website for more information

Have you struggled with your weight in lockdown? Do you need some support to make sustainable lifestyle changes? If so, I’d love to chat. Book a free 15 minute chat today

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