How to lose weight — and keep it off forever

It’s no secret that losing weight is a struggle for many of us. Despite being well-informed about nutrition and healthy eating, sticking to our plans long-term remains an uphill battle. A 2021 Ipsos survey found that 43 per cent of Britons were trying to lose weight, yet the knowledge doesn’t always translate into lasting results.

Through my work as a behavioural-change scientist specialising in addiction and weight loss, I’ve seen first hand the vast gulf between knowing what to do and actually implementing it consistently over time. Food is meant to be enjoyed — it connects us, allows creativity and love to be expressed, and can be delightfully delicious. Deprivation and rigid rules often backfire. The truth is that sustainable weight management isn’t just about what you eat, but about how you think about food and, most importantly, how you think about yourself.

So, here are my tips on how to manage your weight for life, without a single piece of advice on what to eat.

To learn more and get access to further exclusive advice, you can join my Evening Standard Masterclass “How to lose weight for good” on Monday 1 July, 6pm-8.30pm. You can book a ticket and find more details here.

Diets don’t work — habit changes do

Diets, in their traditional sense, can help us achieve our weight goals but they don’t teach us how to stay there. Many people think that once they have rigidly followed a plan and lost weight, they will be able to keep it off. But losing weight on a diet does not teach you how to keep it off. What you need to do instead, is focus on identifying (and intentionally repeating) the new daily choices that you will have to normalise and master in order to maintain your weight loss long-term, whether that is regarding portion control or avoiding snacks, for example.

It’s ok to feel hungry every so often

Factor-in — and accept that — discomfort and cravings will be part of the process until you have adjusted to your new habits and responses. Reframe the pursuit of designing and embedding a new way of eating as an opportunity to learn transferable strategies for more impulse control and self-belief. If changing your eating habits and managing your weight remains the greatest lifelong challenge you face (a reality that causes my highly intelligent, accomplished and impressive clients to question everything from their intelligence to their worthiness) then learning to withstand short-term discomfort will equip you with a proven tool kit of transferable impulse control skills.

Treat your body like a child — a balance of firmness and kindness will help you to manage cravings and urges

If you have a blip, don’t give up

Seasoned dieters often develop a “feast or famine, all or nothing” mentality. Their repeated unsuccessful attempts to lose — or keep off — weight leave them trusting themselves less, choosing more punishing plans, and beating themselves up when they don’t manage to keep up their plans perfectly. Not only is their self-talk unrecognisable from the compassionate, encouraging motivating messages they would give a loved one facing the same challenge; it’s also unwise, unhelpful and delays results.

Learning to forgive yourself quickly and treat minor, human blips as a temporary deviation from your wellbeing plan (not a personal failing and catastrophe that sets about a string of sabotaging “I’ve blown it until Monday” food choices) ensures that overall, you make more helpful choices than unhelpful ones in the pursuit of weight loss.

Have a clear vision of what you want to achieve

Learn to trust in yourself more than your plans. Assume and accept going in that the process of changing habits will be filled with moments when you will find creative, compelling reasons to give up. Instead of colour-coding strict guidelines meticulously on a “fed up” Sunday evening, focus on how you will talk yourself into making choices on the spot that you will be proud of the next day.

Learn to forgive yourself if you slip up (Getty Images)
Learn to forgive yourself if you slip up (Getty Images)

Make it easy for yourself to make good choices

It’s common to create our plans when we’ve reached rock-bottom. It can be difficult to imagine in those moments how anything other than a combination of rules and desperation could be required to make any habit changes required to achieve such valued, important and meaningful goals. We should assume that regardless of our long-term desires, habit change will be difficult, and we should do everything in our power to create an environment that makes it easier to take difficult but helpful choices in the short-term. This could mean ensuring the healthy meals that we want to normalise have been planned in advance or that our gym kits are packed and ready to go and we’ve made appointments in our diaries for our workouts. In the same way, we can make it harder for ourselves to make unhelpful choices.

Find ways to indulge yourself that aren’t food-based

Many of us deprive ourselves of self-care or pleasures until we achieve our weight loss goals, especially if we associate being slimmer with higher self-worth. However, we are deserving of kindness and self-care regardless of our weight, and these acts can actually aid in weight loss. Gestures like lighting a candle, enjoying fun experiences, or putting ourselves out signal to ourselves that we matter and our quality of life matters. Making kinder, healthier choices with food feels more natural when we have been kind to ourselves in other ways all day. Difficult choices for new routines become easier when we feel resilient, calm, and capable, so it serves us in the pursuit of changing our eating habits to engage in as many choices as possible that leave us feeling those ways.

Start at the end

Quick-fix diets that promise short-term results can be tempting, especially when we are frustrated by past failures. It’s easy to believe that being delighted with ourselves for having lost weight will suffice when it comes to the knowledge we will require to maintain it. It’s unwise to lose weight through methods we can’t realistically sustain. Instead, imagine you have already lost the weight and create a balanced, sustainable plan to maintain it. While results might be slower, mastering the choices and habits for long-term maintenance helps avoid the disheartening feeling of not trusting yourself to stay at your goal weight.

Treat your body like a child that needs a new routine

Adjusting to new eating habits will come with urges and cravings. Change, even if desired, involves periods of adjustment where you will want to revert to old habits. It’s important to anticipate these moments and push through the adjustment phase.

Rather than beating yourself up, adopt a kinder approach. Think of your body as a child needing to be soothed and guided through new routines until they become the new normal. This balance of firmness and kindness helps manage difficult cravings and urges, allowing you to maintain new habits more effectively.

Understand the difference between simple and easy

The concept of weight loss is simple: eat healthier, exercise more. However, implementing this simplicity in daily life is not easy. It requires consistency, patience, and resilience. Understanding this distinction helps set realistic expectations and prepares you for the challenges ahead.

Shahroo Izadi will host an Evening Standard masterclass, How to lose weight for good (Photographer: Dana Ingabire)
Shahroo Izadi will host an Evening Standard masterclass, How to lose weight for good (Photographer: Dana Ingabire)

If you can’t make the best choice, make the second best choice

Despite initiating diets ourselves, we often feel constrained by them, especially when we don’t follow them perfectly. In moments of lapse, we might feel like we have blown it and can’t make smart, mature choices anymore.

This all-or-nothing mindset leads to over-indulging and sabotaging our progress. Instead of giving up, recognise that one unhelpful choice doesn’t invalidate your overall effort. Make the next best choice and move forward, rather than waiting for the next Monday to restart.

Focus on strengths, not shortcomings

Concentrating on negative outcomes or bad habits isn’t enough to keep us on track. Instead, focus on your strengths and capabilities. Remind yourself of how capable you are of making difficult choices. Prepare for moments of doubt by reinforcing self-belief and acknowledging your achievements. Positive self-talk and confidence in your ability to make the next best choice are crucial for long-term success.

Join Shahroo for her Evening Standard Masterclass “How to lose weight for good” on Monday 1 July, 6pm-8.30pm, £75. For a 20 per cent introductory discount across all our masterclasses, book before Sunday, June 30. Book a ticket and find more details here