I have a confession. I have never been fat. At worst, I’ve gained a few pounds on holiday if I’ve not been able to eat normally or exercise very much.

The reason I’m telling you this is not to boast, but rather because I used to get a lot of grief as a trainer at the start of my career. I used to be told how I couldn’t possibly understand what overweight people were going through if I hadn’t been fat myself. At one point I even tried to put weight on just so I’d have to lose it, and therefore have a better idea of what fat people would have to go through.

Fortunately, that didn’t work. As soon as I started to gain fat, I began to feel uncomfortable, slower, sluggish and generally unhealthy. As a result I stopped pretty quickly. What I learnt though, is that if you become overweight, because it happens so gradually, you'll be more likely to ignore it. Not only that, but your lifestyle will slowly change to match.

I also noticed some very key differences between the behaviours of my more athletic clients and my fatter clients and friends. Over the years these observations were born out and allowed me to really understand what keeps people overweight and as a result, what you need to address if you really want to shift those excess pounds. The following are five key weak spots that most overweight people have in common:

  1. EKcals. One thing you’ll never find on food labels is the emotional calorie value of a food. If you’re overweight, then there are probably certain foods you turn to in times of stress or emotional upset. I’ll even go so far as to suggest that those foods are probably more of the ‘comfort’ variety. Most of my research shows that if you’re overweight, you have emotional connections to food. For you, it’s not just about survival or fuel, food is your friend. If you want to get leaner, you need to recognise what your emotional calorie intake is, i.e. how much you eat because of an emotional trigger, rather than actual hunger. Once you know this you can start to manage the effects of emotional eating.
  2. LKI (Location-dependent Kcal Intake). The calorific value of your meal is a lot to do with where you eat it. If you eat food in front of the TV, you’ll eat more than if you sit alone at a table with no distractions. There are a number of chemical, physiological and psychological reasons for this. The main thing you need to know is that if your brain is focussed on something other than what you’re eating, you’ll miss the signals from your body letting you know it’s had enough.
  3. CPB vs. BPC. One of the reasons you’ll struggle to lose fat is that you’re getting more calories per bite (CPB) than bites per calorie (BPC). One mouthful of pesto chicken pasta can have around 45 calories, which may not sound like a lot, but when was the last time your main meal was done in 10 bites? Compare that to garlic and chilli chicken with broccoli and spinach, which has a whopping 12-16 calories per mouthful. As you can see you’d have to eat 3-4 times as much just to get the same number of calories. Not only that, but the latter also has a tonne of other nutrients that help with fat loss.
  4. You’re trying to ‘make it up’ with exercise. Say you’ve had a ‘big’ weekend. Monday morning, you’re back on track and focussed. You know you slipped, but you’re going to head to the gym first thing and ‘burn up’ those extra calories. Erm, no. Sorry to tell you this, but that ship has sailed. Exercise doesn’t work that way. Whilst those machines in the gym will tell you you’ve burnt 800 calories in your spin class or on your run, in real terms you’re lucky to get half of that. Not only that, but most, if not all of those calories come from whatever fuel is in your blood stream or in your muscles. You’ll really only tap into the energy stored in your fat cells once the majority of everything else has been used up, (which normally takes a lot longer than 45-60 minutes).
  5. You think nutrition and food are the same thing. Most overweight people don’t really get what ‘nutrition’ actually means. If you’re overweight, this probably applies to you too. If you’re hungry, your brain tells you that your body wants food. However, what your body needs, is nutrients. No-one’s stomach starts rumbling and thinks “hmm, there seems to be a shortage of medium chain triglycerides and amino acids, I’d better go and get some”. Rather your brain says, “Feed Me…….Now”. That’s why waiting until you’re actually hungry can be a bad thing. You’re ability to ‘interpret’ what your body’s saying is impaired. You’ll also find yourself more likely to choose calorie dense foods, rather than nutrient dense foods. I’d imagine it’s much the same as choosing a bodyguard if you’re scared. All of a sudden the 6ft man-mountain seems a better choice than the ‘pure lethal in a box’ 5½ft ex-Israeli special forces option.

So with the above points in mind, here are 5 things to start doing straight away that will help you shift any excess weight:

  1. Write down any foods you eat when you’re emotional. Avoid eating any of these for 4-6 weeks.
  2. Sit at a table to eat. Don’t talk, don’t listen and don’t watch. Just eat. When you start to feel full, stop eating. Make a note of portion sizes and adjust how much food you prepare accordingly.
  3. Start adding foods to your diet that have lower CPB and higher BPC values. The easiest way to do this is with dark leafy vegetables. Kale, spinach and broccoli are my favourite three.
  4. Stop ‘screwing up’. Now you know exercise isn’t going to fix your mistakes, start to take ownership of them and stop making them in the first place. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a life. Just wait until you’re in a better position to deal with your nutritional ‘wobbles’.
  5. Plan your nutrition. Have a good idea of what you’re going to eat, when and where. Also have nutritional ‘snacks’ handy in case you get caught short. Homemade protein bars are a perfect option for this, healthy and tasty.

But most important of all, get started today. Don’t wait until next week or the new year. Pick one of the above 5 or all of them. Just take action and see how you get on. If you struggle, reduce the load and keep going, it will get easier. You can do it.