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So, you’ve been told you need to lose weight.

There are very few people who are overweight and don’t know it.  Yet it’s amazing how often people will tell you that you need to lose weight.  As if you didn’t already know.  Or hadn’t noticed. When it comes to Hidradenitis Suppurativa, people are often told that being a healthy weight can help.  Studies show the condition is more common in people who are overweight and that losing weight can help relieve some of the problems.  However losing weight is really not that easy – if it was, no one would be overweight.  We take a look at what can get in the way of losing weight and look at some of the habits you can get into that can help.

What affects weight?

Genetics

Did you know that around 50% of our weight is explained by our genes?  Genes can affect how our appetite is controlled, how we store food, where on our bodies fat is placed and even the foods that we like to eat.  This means that it can be more difficult for one person to lose weight than another.  This is why it is so important not to compare yourself to other people when you are trying to lose weight.  It can genuinely be much harder for some people than for others.  Give yourself a break.

Stress

Stress will always look for an outlet.  It can be alcohol, it can be drugs, it can be exercise. However, it is often food.  Someone who is stressed will often comfort eat – and it’s rarely salads we want when we are stressed!  When stressed, it is normal for your body to crave carbohydrate & fat– bread, pasta, chocolate, sweets, chips/crisps, crisps and sugar.  Eating these foods can help people feel a little better (for a while at least).  Now and again, this won’t be a problem but over time it can add to quite a lot of weight and be difficult to control. The problem with a condition like Hidradenitis Suppurativa is that it can lead to a lot of stress.  Which can lead to a lot of overeating? Which can lead to more weight gain? Which can lead to more stress?  Which can…well, you get the picture.  It is not always possible to remove stress from our lives, sometimes what we need to do is to look for other ways to manage it.

How can we manage stress eating?

You know you are a stress eater if you eat when you know you are not hungry. When it is mainly junk foods that you choose and when it feels as though you cannot feel full no matter how much you eat.  A good description is that it feels like throwing food into a black hole.  So if you are a stress eater, what can you do?

Remember that you are stress eating because your body is looking for comfort.  So you need to look for other ways to comfort your body and release the stress.  Some things to try are:

  1. Short bursts of exercise. Stress is really your body’s way of trying to get you to run away from danger or fight the danger in front of you.  It is a very physical reaction that primes your body with chemicals that get you ready for extreme activity  (like running away from the tiger that is coming to eat you…).  The problem is that the stress chemicals stay in your body until you use them.  If you don’t use them, they hang around and make it very difficult to relax.  Movement helps to release them.  Any movement.  It doesn’t have to be going to the gym or running 10ks.  A short brisk walk will make a difference.  If you are able, a very short sprint (1-2 minutes) works as well.  This burst of exercise helps to release the stress chemicals that have you on edge and reaching for the biscuit tin.  If you are not able for a brisk walk or a sprint, try a longer walk, it will have the same effect.  Next time you feel like stress-eating see if a short burst of exercise can help.

Couple having fun together at the park

  1. Regular Movement. Sometimes stress can build and before we realize it, we can be at breaking point.  One of the best ways to “knock back” stress is to try to do some physical activity every day.  This can help with stress eating as well as help to manage your weight.  A 20-30 minute walk can help clear your head.  Yoga, Pilates, swimming, Tai Chi, whatever you can manage or that you would like to do.  Start by getting some gentle exercise 3 times a week and see if it affects the amount of stress eating that you do.
  2. Bath. One of the best ways to knock back stress without leaving the house: a warm bath is comforting and relaxing.  Next time you feel like you are about to stress eat, try a bath (if you have one).  Aim to sit for 20-30 minutes and give your body a chance to let go. If you are not good at sitting still, bring a book to distract you while the warm water relaxes you.
  3. Phone a friend. This does actually work.  Talking to someone – even if it is not about what is bothering you – can help to distract you.  It is surprisingly hard to keep up a conversation on the phone and eat at the same time…
  4. Take up a handcraft. I sometimes call stress eating ”fidgety eating” because it is often that picky, unable-to-settle, way of looking for something to do.  And stress eating usually happens in the evenings, when we are sitting in front of the TV.  Instead of eating, try knitting, crochet, drawing, anything.  You don’t have to be any good at it – you are not going to be putting what you make into an exhibition! What you are doing, is occupying your hands and distracting yourself from nibbling.

Eating Habits that affect your weight

Often when we think about losing weight, we think about which foods we are going to cut out, what calories we are going to allow ourselves and we get ready to say goodbye to our favourite foods.  But managing weight isn’t just about eating less.  It is about letting your body help you along the way and there are some habits you can get into that will allow your body to do just that.

  1. Eat slowly. This is an old one but still very true.  The hormones that control our appetites can take 15-20 minutes to work when we are eating.  If you are a fast eater, you will clear your plate before you get the full feeling and then go looking for more food.  Instead, try to slow down.  You need to chew each mouthful 25 times and count to 10 between mouthfuls.  It’s not easy to eat slowly but it is a great way to allow your body to tell you when you have had enough food.
  2. Stop clearing your plate. Most of us were brought up to always clear the plate.  However, most of us are using plates that are far too big.  Have you ever noticed when you were eating that there was a point where you started to feel full? That is your body telling you to stop eating.  Telling you that you have had enough.  A great habit to get into is to trust your body and stop eating as soon as you start to feel full.  Don’t feel you have to finish everything on your plate.
  3. You should only be 80% full when you finish a meal. Your stomach needs room to breakdown your food.  Stop packing your stomach – always leave some room.  You won’t be hungry any sooner and it helps to stop you from overeating at every meal.

Foods to add

Losing weight is usually about cutting out food but there are some you can add that will actually help.  High fibre foods are your real friend when it comes to losing weight.  Studies show that people who eat a high fibre diet find it easier to lose weight and to keep it off.  So what foods can you add to boost fibre?

  • If you are having bread, go for wholegrain bread instead of white.
  • Add vegetables to lunch and dinner – aim to have at least one-third of your plate covered with vegetables or salad. Or add a bowl of vegetable soup.
  • Choose jacket potatoes, where you eat the skin, instead of peeled potatoes.
  • Eat more beans and lentils. Chickpeas, kidney beans and even baked beans are great sources of fibre and are very filling.  Try bean salads, chill-con-Carne with kidney beans or soups with lots of lentils.
  • Add barley and lentils to soups, stews and casseroles.
  • Add seeds like flaxseed, sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds to breakfast cereals or salads.
  • Choose a high fibre breakfast cereal. Oats are brilliant or you can look for cereals that have at least 6g of fibre per 100g on the pack.
  • Eat a piece of fruit just before lunch and dinner – it adds fibre and takes the edge off your hunger so it’s easier to eat slowly.

Finally…

Be patient.  Weight loss doesn’t happen overnight (unfortunately).  It can be slow, especially if you are tired, stressed, busy, have small children, doesn’t have lots of time for exercise and so on.  Don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t do everything at once.  Pick one or two habits and see what you can do.  Once you get one sorted, you can add another. Anyway, trying to do everything at once can be its own stress.

Some people do better with support.  There are lots of weight loss clubs that can be very helpful or you can see a dietitian one-to-one for individual advice and support.  You’ll find a list of CORU Registered Dietitians at www.sedi.ie.

About Author

Sarah Keogh

Sarah Keogh RD is a CORU Registered Dietitian with 23 years' experience in nutrition. She has worked in hospitals in both Ireland and the UK and ran her own nutrition clinic in Dublin for 20 years. Sarah works with charities and food businesses in Ireland helping to educate people on how to use nutrition to manage their health.