The celebrity chef, Nigella Lawson, had been reported to have lost up to three stone recently. However, unlike most celebrities who lose weight, she had not attributed this to a miracle diet programme, which was highly unusual.
As it turns out, the reason for her weight loss was actually surgery. But not the “stomach stapling” kind but a double bunion operation that meant she was off her feet for a few months (or at least hobbling around a lot).
In her own words, being unable to get around made it harder for her to get to the fridge and she felt it was awkward to ask other people to get her “a second slice” of cake.
Since celebrities losing weight is only really interesting if we can use what they have done to help ourselves lose weight, here are some observations:
1. Nigella is/was probably a “grazer”
Many years ago, when I was a junior doctor working in a cardiology department in a Melbourne teaching hospital, I remember many of the patients admitted with heart attacks being very overweight middle-aged men. And I would be amazed at how often, when asked about their diet, they would insist that they “only ate sandwiches”. It made me wonder what they put in these sandwiches. But it also made me wonder how people could not be aware of how much they were eating.
But fast-forward to the present day and at least one of the reasons for this is very much apparent to me: grazing.
Just recently a client told me that she had no idea how she could be overweight, since she ate very small meal portions. When we asked her husband for his opinion however, the answer was clear:
“You walk past the fridge once or twice an hour and you don’t leave there without getting something to eat”
This sort of grazing behaviour can really be a problem because it goes under the radar. Each snack on its own doesn’t seem like much but it can add up quickly. But what it shows is that if you can limit grazing, you can actually make a big difference to your weight.
2. Forget willpower, remove temptation.
While many people make a fuss over using willpower for losing weight, it’s clear that a much more powerful way to control what you eat, is to remove the temptation altogether.
The fact is, the more accessible and convenient food is, the more we will eat it. On the other hand, if getting food is difficult we eat less. The effort of getting up and hobbling over to the fridge was enough to deter Nigella from snacking.
How can you use this to your advantage? Well it doesn’t mean debilitating yourself so that you can’t walk to the fridge, but instead putting up obstacles to getting food (more on that later).
3. Her operation made her lose weight.
I find it interesting that being unable to walk was Nigella’s reason for losing weight.
It is much more common for people in similar circumstances after surgical operations to find that they gain weight. This is often blamed on “being less active” and therefore not burning as many calories as when they were fully mobile.
But this is only a part of the reason. In most cases, boredom and long periods on the sofa in front of the TV lends itself to more snacking which leads to weight gain.
4. In the Telegraph article, they mention three other factors that may have contributed to Nigella’s weight loss:
“Lawson also attends Pilates classes and employs the services of a personal trainer. And she has cut down on alcohol consumption.”
The alcohol is almost mentioned as an afterthought compared to the exercise class and personal trainer.
However if you were to rank those three things in order of which has the most effect on losing weight, this is how the top three would pan out:
1. Cut down on alcohol
2. Cut down on alcohol
3. Cut down on alcohol
This isn’t to say that more exercise isn’t good for you, of course it is, but when it comes to losing weight, cutting back alcohol trumps it completely. Remember, alcohol is liquid calories, and the amount of exercise needed to burn off the calories in 2 glasses of wine is more than most people would muster in a day, even with a personal trainer.
This doesn’t mean you have to cut out alcohol altogether, but cutting back a little can have dramatic effects.
So what are the overall lessons here? Aside from having an operation, how can you use Nigella’s example to take control of your own weight?
1. You don’t need to diet to lose weight.
When I tell people that I help women lose weight without dieting, some think that I’m speaking of an impossibility. But you would hard pressed to call what Nigella did a diet. And yet this accounted for quite significant weight loss. The fact is you don’t need to diet to lose weight. You just need to make some small changes to your eating patterns and the results take care of themselves.
2. Put up physical barriers to food.
The success of Ms. Lawson in losing weight seemed to be largely down to the barriers that immobility put up to her eating. But you don’t need an operation or to put up a fence around your fridge to get the same effect.
a. Don’t keep tempting food at home. It might seem comforting to have chocolate in the house, but the mere fact that it’s there is enough to make you eat more of it. And often our cravings for food are activated just by seeing it in front of us. Out of sight, out of mind.
b. Spend as little time in the kitchen as possible outside of meal times. i.e. don’t do work on the kitchen table with all the food at arms reach
3. Put up mental barriers to food
This is simply a matter of making “rules” that you follow that minimise your chances of incidental eating due to food being so accessible.
a. Make a rule that you only eat in one room of the house.
b. Make a rule that you don’t eat in front of the TV
I think Nigella deserves credit for her attitude to weight and weight loss. She has resolutely resisted the urge to get caught up in unnatural or drastic weight loss attempts. And through a rather unusual set of circumstances she has demonstrated how one can lose weight without resorting to fad diets.