• Dr Sally Norton


It’s all too easy to jump on the latest fad diet in the hope of shedding a few pounds before summer, or Christmas, or whatever. But trying to follow a diet usually requires a lot of willpower....and willpower fails us when we are tired, hungry and stressed. And then we fall off the diet... again.

We lose motivation, our self-esteem drops further and we face another year of trying to cover up, wondering if we will ever be able to pull on a pair of shorts or feel good in a party dress again.

Years of working and researching in the weight loss field have shown me that the majority of dieters will regain all the weight they lose – countless times. But they have also shown me that weight loss can be easier if we focus less on the weight and more on the issues that cause our weight loss struggles.

So, here are my top tips for regaining control of your weight:

1. Don’t count calories without counting nutrients

Low-cal food may be stripped of goodness and filled instead with chemicals. Avoid ‘diet food’ like the plague and instead focus on real food. Ideally food that doesn’t need a label like fruit, veg, raw nuts, fish and olive oil. Good nutrients help to boost your brain and make willpower more plentiful.

2. Don’t force breakfast

Breakfast isn’t necessarily ‘the best meal of the day’. In fact, a recent review has shown that eating breakfast doesn’t equate with a lower weight. An early morning rise in the hormone, cortisol, naturally ensures you have sugar in your bloodstream to fuel you, first thing. So, listen to your body and eat when you feel you need to.

3. Adopt a shorter eating window and don’t snack

The old advice to eat little and often is flawed. We are better eating less often to allow hormones like insulin to fall between meals. Insulin promotes fat storage, so if it is constantly high we are in storage mode for longer, meaning it’s hard to shift that body fat. Plus, we may become resistant to its effects prompting our body to produce more, exacerbating the problem and putting ourselves at risk of diabetes. Instead, try to have at least 12 hours without eating at all – 8pm to 8am for example. Ideally longer. And try to avoid eating between meals. Studies show that eating fewer meals, even with the same number of calories, helps weight loss.

4. Ditch sugar wherever possible

It’s not easy but keep at it. You may fail time after time but eventually you will find you no longer miss it. Sugar is just empty calories and is pretty addictive for most people. But with 85% of processed food containing sugar, it is hard...unless you focus on real food, home-cooked where possible. The benefit of ditching sugar is that you, by default, ditch nutrient-poor junk food and sugary, fatty snacks – your waistline will thank you for it.

5. Cherish your gut bacteria

A healthy population of gut bacteria helps us in some many ways – absorbing nutrients, maintaining our immune system and helping our weight control. Don’t destroy them with sugar, artificial sweeteners and junk food. Instead, nurture them with veg, live yoghurt and fermented foods and they will nurture you back.

6. Sleep

I can’t stress this highly enough. People who sleep badly eat more calories the next day, usually of the high fat / sugar variety as they attempt to boost their energy. A poor night’s sleep raises cortisol – a chronic stress hormone that can also sabotage your health and weight. A good night’s sleep boosts your willpower as well as your health and makes weight control much easier.

7. Ditch the scales

Jumping on the scales when you have ‘been good’ all week, only to find that they have gone up a few pounds is a recipe for instant demotivation and diet failure. But, that weight gain may be water, or a fibre-filled healthy meal from the night before. Forget the scales and instead focus on how you feel, how loose your waistband is getting and how much fitter you are becoming....you are much more than a number on the scales.

8. Build muscle

Women lose muscle at around 8% per decade after the age of 40. It’s called sarcopaenia – and it’s a problem for our weight as muscle burns more calories than fat. So, focus on strength exercises and let your muscle help you burn through those calories, even when you are sitting on the sofa!

9. Get cold

Getting out in the cold to exercise does more than boost your fitness – it may boost your weight loss efforts too. Cold weather and exercise have been shown to increase levels of brown fat – a type of fat that burns rather than stores energy. So, don’t let a miserable day be an excuse for sting indoors – get out and embrace the weather and see those pounds start to shift.

Take the emphasis away from weight loss and, instead, focus on building healthy habits that tackle the real, root causes of weight gain. Many of these are rarely understood, let alone addressed. Only then will you be able to ditch dieting for good.

If you want to know more about how to control your weight long-term without fad diets, have a look at my 12 week online Weight Loss for Life programme. It will take you week-by-week through easy changes you can make that will help you re-engage with your body's natural weight-control mechanisms - so you don't have to do all the hard work!