Category Archives for "Basics"

Dieting Glossary

This is the final post in the dieting basics series. All the previous posts are linked to from the series outline.

Sometimes, diet books and websites seem full of weird acronyms or scientific terms. Here’s some of the jargon explained, with definitions and links to other posts in the dieting basics series where appropriate.

Where I’ve put a word in bold within a definition, that means the word is explained elsewhere in the list.

Blood sugar

Your “blood sugar level” is the amount of glucose in your blood. It rises when you’ve just eaten, and is lowest first thing in the morning. The body controls the amount of blood sugar in your blood using insulin and your blood sugar levels usually won’t vary very widely during the day.

In everyday terms, “low blood sugar” is often used to describe the weak, drowsy or shaky feelings that people experience if they’ve not eaten for a while.

If you have diabetes, you need to help your body regulate blood sugar levels by taking insulin.


Your Body Mass Index is a number that indicates whether you’re a healthy weight for your height. It’s calculated as your weight in kilograms divided by the square of your height in metres. If that’s too complicated, there’s a handy BMI calculator on the NHS website.

A BMI of 20-25 is considered “normal”. Lower than 18.5 is considered “underweight”, 25-30 is “overweight”, 30-35 is “obese” and 35-40 is “morbidly obese”.


Your Basal Metabolic Rate is a measure of how many calories you burn just to stay alive – which varies according to your weight, height, age and gender. You can work this out using the Basal Metabolic Rate formula. Just knowing your BMR alone doesn’t tell you much: you need to multiply it by a percentage based on how active you are.


The calorie is a unit of energy, and is used both for energy intake (eating food) and energy output (exercising and metabolic functions). The dieting basics guide contains information on what a calorie is, the recommended daily calorie guidelines and how to calculate your personal calorie allowance.

Calorie density or caloric density

The calorie density (sometimes called caloric density or energy density) of a food is a measurement of the average calories per gram of that food. Most food labels indicate the values per 100g of the food, and comparing these across food ranges lets you know which choices will provide more bulk for fewer calories. The higher the calorie density, the more calories there are per 100g.

Foods with higher water contents have lower calorie densities, as water has weight but no calories. There are some great examples of what 200 calories looks like here, showing exactly how much food you get for your calories.

The “Pritikin Principle” or “Pritikin Diet” works by advocating foods with a low calorie density.


Exercise described as “cardio” or “cardiovascular” (sometimes “aerobic”) is the sort which gets your heart rate up and leaves you sweaty and out of breath. This includes jogging, brisk walking, swimming, cycling, and so on. The “cardio section” of a gym is where the cross-trainers, rowing machines and exercise bikes are. Cardio work is often contrasted with resistance (or “weights”) work. Doing cardio exercise burns energy, helping you to create an energy deficit and lose weight.


Cholesterol is a type of lipid (a type of fat found in the body). It’s a soft, waxy substance which comes from certain foods and which is produced by the liver. Saturated fats raise your cholesterol levels, but the polyunsaturated fatty acids linoleic acid (omega-6s) and linolenic acid (omega-3s) help to lower cholesterol levels.

Complete protein

A “complete” source of protein is a food that contains all 8 of the essential amino acids. (Think of amino acids as the “building blocks” of protein: when we eat protein, our digestive system breaks it down into separate amino acids.)


The idea of a “detox diet” is to rid the body of toxins, and advocates of detoxing list a number of benefits (increased energy, improved digestion, weight loss, boost to the immune system). Many doctors and dieticians, though, emphasise that the human body is perfectly able to expel toxins during normal day-to-day life and believe that “detox diets” have no beneficial effect.


Food is broken down during digestion so that it can be absorbed into the blood and used by the body. Your digestive system works from the point when you start chewing food to the point at which food is excreted from your body. Eating a healthy diet with plenty of fibre promotes good digestion – particularly regular bowel movements.

Energy deficit

In order to lose weight, you need to create an energy deficit. This means expending more calories than you take in. You can do this either by eating less or by exercising more – most dieters do a bit of both. (See the seventh part of the Dieting Basics series to find out how to calculate your daily calorie intake.)

Essential protein

There are 8 essential amino acids and 12 non-essential ones. Essential amino acids can’t be produced by our body and have to come from the food we eat. Non-essential amino acids can be manufactured by our body. (See the third part of the Dieting Basics series for more information about protein.)


In the UK, the government encourages us to eat five servings of fruit and vegetable per day. A serving is 80g, and you can’t count the same fruit or vegetable twice in a day. You can also only count one portion of juice per day. If you’re eating a healthy diet, it’s not hard to exceed the five-a-day target – remember it’s a minimum rather than an ideal. (If you struggle to get enough fruit and vegetables, here’s some fun ways to get your five-a-day.)


Found naturally in fruits, fructose is a monosaccharide (one-molecule) sugar. (See the first part of the Dieting Basics series for more information on fructose.)


We need glucose for energy – it’s the simplest form of sugar, and our body breaks down the carbohydrates we eat into glucose. It can also be found in foods, particularly energy bars and gels, and is sometimes known as dextrose. (See the first part of the Dieting Basics series for more information on glucose.)


The glycemic index (GI) ranks carbohydrates according to their effect on our blood sugar levels. High GI carbohydrates break down rapidly during digestion, whereas low GI carbohydrates that break down slowly and release glucose gradually into the bloodstream. The GI scale only applies to foods with a high carbohydrate content.


The glycemic load ranks carbohydrates based on both their GI (glycemic index) and portion size. A high-GI food consumed in small quantities would, in theory, have the same effect on blood sugar levels as a larger portion of a low-GI food. GL is calculated by mutiplying the weight in grams by the GI of a food, then dividing by 100.

Hydrogenated fat

Also known as “trans fats” or “transaturated fat”, hydrogenated fats are produced by a process called hydrogenation which turns vegetable oils into fats that are solid at room temperature. (See the second part of the Dieting Basics series for more information about hydrogenated fat.)

Insoluble fibre

The fibre known as “roughage” which helps keeps your stools bulky, is insoluble fibre. It isn’t absorbed by the body and passes straight through the digestive system. (See the fourth part of the Dieting Basics series for more information about insoluble fibre.)


Like the calorie, the kilojoule is a unit of energy. Calories are imperial units (standard in the US), whereas kilojoules are metric ones (standard in Australia). UK food labelling uses both, though popular usage prefers the calorie. There are 4.2 kilojoules to 1 calorie. (See the fifth part of the Dieting Basics series for more information about kilojoules.)


Found in milk and milk products, lactose is a disaccharide (two molecule) sugar. (See the first part of the Dieting Basics series for more information about lactose.)

Lean protein

Foods described as sources of “lean protein” are ones which contain a high percentage of calories from protein and few calories from fat. (See the third part of the Dieting Basics series for some examples of lean protein sources.)


A low-carboydrate diet restricts your daily intake of grams of carbohydrates; the Atkins diet is a well-known example. These cause rapid weight loss in the first few weeks, but have been associated with on-going health conditions and problems with maintaining weight.


Malted products, such as some breakfast cereals and types of bread, contain maltose – a disaccharide (two molecule) sugar. (See the first part of the Dieting Basics series for more information about maltose.)


The word “metabolism” covers all of the processes that occur inside your body to keep you alive. In dieting terms, though, “metabolism” and “metabolic rate” are used to talk about how many calories your body burns whilst at rest. People with a “slow metabolism” are those whose bodies tend to be most efficiency at using the energy provided in food – this makes it harder to lose weight. A “fast metabolism” can be promoted by building more muscle and by ensuring that your food intake doesn’t drop below 1,100 calories per day.

Monounsaturated fat

A type of unsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature and solid when refrigerated. (See the second part of the dieting basics series for more information on monounsaturated fat.)

Obese and Morbidly obese

The official definition of obesity, sometimes called “clinical obesity” is a BMI of over 30. A BMI over 40 (in some cases a BMI over 35) is “morbidly obese” – this means there is a significantly increased chance of the person dying from causes directly related to their weight.


If your BMI is between 25 and 30, you are considered overweight. There are not significant health risks associated with being overweight, especially if you are reasonably fit – however, many people find that they are healthier when not carrying extra weight.

Polyunsaturated fat

A type of unsaturated fat and sometimes known as “good fat”, polyunsaturated fat is liquid at room temperature and liquid when refrigerated. (See the second part of the dieting basics series for more information on polyunsaturated fat.)


Dietary fibre is known as NSP (Non-starch polysaccharide) in scientific literature. In most popular dieting advice, you’ll see it referred to either as “fibre” or “dietary fibre” – or if you’re in the US “fiber” and “dietary fiber”. (See the fourth part of the dieting basics series for more information on fibre.)


Your Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA), known in the US as your Reference Daily Intake (RDI), is devised by the government. It’s the intake of a particular nutrient which is considered healthy for the vast majority of people, and is often printed on food labels. This covers intake of carbohydrates, protein, fat and fibre, as well as intake of individual vitamins and minerals.

Refined carbohydrates

Sugars are often known as “simple carbohydrates” or “refined carbohydrates” as they are quickly broken down by the body into glucose. (See the first part of the Dieting Basics series for more information on refined carbohydrates.)


Exercise which involves lifting weights for a number of repetitions (typically 12-25) is “resistance” work, as opposed to cardio. This is because it involves working the body against a resistance – a heavy weight. Resistance work builds muscle and helps to tone up your body.

Saturated fat

The type of fat considered “bad” is saturated fat, which is solid at room temperature. Too much of this will raise your cholesterol levels. (See the second part of the Dieting Basics series for more information on saturated fat.)

Soluble fibre

Unlike insoluble fibre, soluble fibre is used by the digestive system: bacteria in your colon break it down to create fatty acids which are thought to lower cholesterol levels. Soluble fibre also helps you to feel full for longer, as it slows the passage of food through the digestive system. (See the fourth part of the Dieting Basics series for more information about soluble fibre.)


Often considered the worst sugar nutritionally, sucrose is made up of a glucose molecule and a fructose molecule joined together. It’s usually derived from sugar gain. (See the first part of the Dieting Basics series for more information about sucrose.)


The term “superfood” is used for foods which have a high concentration of certain nutrients (particularly fibre, vitamins, antioxidents and which are considered particularly good for you. It’s not generally used by serious nutritionists, and can come across as a marketing gimmick.

Unsaturated fat

Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, and are subdivided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. (See the second part of the Dieting Basics series for more information about unsaturated fat.)


A Very Low Calorie Diet (VLCD) is one which cuts calorie intake to under 800 per day. VLCDs should only be followed under medical advice, and you should not attempt one if your BMI is under 25.


Cereal products which use the bran and germ around the cereal grain are called “whole-grain”. These include brown rice, wholemeal (also known as wholewheat) flour, popcorn and oats. Whole-grain products contain more fibre, helping you to feel full for longer and boosting smooth digestion.


Some doctors and nutritionists use the “Waist to Hip Ratio” (WHR) to determine whether your weight is putting your health at risk. Weight stored around the waist has been shown put people at greater risk of heart problems and other health issues than the same weight stored elsewhere on the body.

Yo-yo dieting

Also known as weight cycling, yo-yo dieting involves repeatedly losing weight and gaining it back again. You might find yourself in this position if you go on an extreme diet which results in initial, rapid weight loss, but which you follow by “eating normally” again. The problem with yo-yo dieting is that you tend to lose muscle but gain fat. Yo-yo dieters often end up in poorer health than before they first attempted to diet.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the dieting basics series – I’ve had a great time writing it! I’m going to be publishing an ebook containing all the posts, and some extra content, soon: make sure you’re getting RSS updates so you don’t miss out…

  • Updated August 8, 2012
  • Basics

Calorie-counting recipes

This is the eighteenth part of the dieting basics series – see the series outline for links to all the other posts so far.

When you’re dieting, sometimes every calorie counts. It’s important to keep an accurate record of what you’re eating – and recipes often don’t come with a calorie figure attached. If you make the same dishes regularly, you probably don’t even follow a recipe from a book.

Some dieters use an “average” figure for a shop-bought ready meal to guesstimate the calories in their dinner. For example, if you ate lasagne last night, you might look up the calories in a typical supermarket version and use that. But this method is best avoided, as:

  • It’s difficult to have an accurate idea of portion size
  • The ingredients in your recipe could be quite different

If you go with a “best guess” figure, you may find that you’re under-estimating the calories you ate. And since you need to take in fewer calories than you expend to lose weight, your diet might appear to be “failing” for no reason.

Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to figure out the calories in whatever you’re cooking, and once you’ve figured it out for a recipe once, you can just refer back to the same figure when you cook the dish again in future.

What do you need to know to work out the calories in a recipe?

When you next cook dinner, keep a notebook in the kitchen with you and write down:

  • Each ingredient you use
  • How much it weighs (raw/dried weight)

When it’s time to serve up, record the number of portions made, eg. 2 if you’re splitting it evenly between yourself and your partner. It’s much easier to work out how much you ate in this way than to try to guess a figure in grams.

You’ll also need to know how many calories there are per 100g or 100ml of each ingredient. This information is often available on the packet, though some fresh foods (vegetables especially) come unpackaged. For these, use a table of calorie information such as Calorie Database to look up the calories per 100g.

Using a spreadsheet to calculate the calories in a recipe

Once you know the ingredients, quantities and calories per 100g for each ingredient, you can fill these into a spreadsheet and calculate the calories per serving of your recipe. I’ve created a spreadsheet to download which lets you put in the numbers and does all the maths for you!

If your recipe made four portions, but two were for your kids (so smaller servings) you will need to estimate how many portions it would have made at a size equal to yours – perhaps three – in order to get an accurate result.

To download the spreadsheet, and for more guidance on how to use it, read the post where I introduced it.

The final part of the dieting basics series will be a dieting glossary, explaining terms like BMI, GI, monounsaturated…. Get the RSS feed today to make sure you don’t miss it!

(Image above by Claudecf)

  • Updated August 8, 2012
  • Basics

Fitting your diet around your life

This is the eighteenth part of the dieting basics series – see the series outline for links to all the other posts so far.

Most diets are abandoned after a few days or weeks not because dieters lack willpower but because the diets form an awkward fit with our busy lives. If you have to slave away preparing separate meals for yourself and the family, or if you end up working late without access to anything healthy in the office, no wonder your diet “fails”. You need ways to fit your diet around your life, so that it isn’t an extra burden, but a natural part of your daily routine.

Plan your meals and snacks

I’ve written on The Office Diet before about the importance of planning ahead. Having the right things in the fridge makes cooking dinner simple; there’s nothing worse than getting home from work only to realise that one vital ingredient for your meal is missing. The thought of having to drag yourself out to the shops is likely to make phoning for a pizza all the more tempting… But if you’ve planned ahead and bought groceries at the weekend, everything will be ready for you to cook.

Planning also applies to smaller meals and snacks – making sure you have milk for breakfast, for example, and buying some healthy odds and ends to keep at work (rather than digging into the communal biscuit tin whenever your blood sugar dips.)

Eat the same meals as your family

If your diet involves eating completely different meals to everyone else in the house, you’re likely to give up because of the hassle and the secret resentment that you’ll feel. It’s a pain to keep preparing separate meals (and takes almost as long to cook enough food for one person as it does to cook for four): when you’re feeling busy or harried, you’ll wonder what the point is. Plus, when everyone else is tucking into a roast dinner, it’s unlikely you’ll feel completely satisfied with your healthy chicken salad. Whether you admit it or not, part of you resents the fact that you’re stuck with “diet food” and everyone else gets to eat what they like…

There’s no reason why your family can’t eat the same meals as you. Granted, you might get a few grumbles at first, but try to find options that everyone enjoys and that are healthy. (If you’re not sure where to start, try some of the ideas on the recipe pages.) Dish up extra for those who aren’t dieting, and make a few tweaks – perhaps you’ll have low-fat salad dressing on your potatoes, whereas they’ll have butter. You won’t feel left out or ostracised by your diet, and you’ll know that you’re helping your loved ones to eat healthily too: a powerful motivation to stick with it!

Count calories rather than following a set plan

Diets fit much more easily around your life if they don’t involve eating specified meals or snacks: it’s better to count calories than follow a set diet plan. This allows you to eat anything (though means small portions of calorie-dense foods) and lets you have a bit extra at weekends and a bit less on weekdays. The diet plans that you find in books and magazines are almost all calorie-counted, even if calories aren’t shown, so there’s absolutely nothing wrong with devising your own diet.

If you’re not sure how many calories you should be eating, check the recommended daily guidelines (and calculate your own personal allowance.) I also have spreadsheets to help you work out the calories in a recipe.

Don’t become obsessed with your diet

If you’ve ever reacted to the offer of a cookie with, “Do you have any idea how many calories are in that thing? Do you want to ruin my diet? Take it away!” … then you’ll know how easy it is to become a little obsessive about dieting. This all-or-nothing thinking makes your diet feel like something negative which controls your life, rather than a way of eating well to improve your health. (And there are more tactful ways to refuse a cookie.)

Try to relax about your diet. One cookie will not make you gain three pounds overnight. Of course this shouldn’t be an excuse to indulge whenever you feel like (that one cookie won’t make a different, but a whole packet will), but you shouldn’t feel you have to miss out on special occasions such as birthdays. Have the occasional “naughty” snack or indulgent meal … just make sure you get back to your usual good habits the next day.

Make exercise a natural part of your routine

Although you don’t have to exercise in order to lose weight, I (and many experts!) believe that getting active is a perfect complement to a healthy diet. But your motivation for going to the gym is not likely to be high if you try to force yourself there every day after work … especially if that means getting home two hours later than usual.

Find a time of day when exercise can slot neatly into your routine: maybe a quick jog first thing in the morning, or a brisk walk at lunchtime. As with your dieting, try to avoid the all-or-nothing mindset: you don’t have to do an intense gym session every day to see benefits. Once exercise is established as an easy part of your day, it’s much easier to stick with it than when it seems like yet another chore.

The final post in the Dieting Basics series will be a glossary of all those confusing dieting buzz terms, like “GI”, “BMI” and “RDA”. Make sure you’re getting RSS updates so that you don’t miss it!

(Image above by dandelionfourteen)

  • Updated August 8, 2012
  • Basics

How to beat any food craving

This is the seventeenth part of the dieting basics series – see the series outline for links to all the other posts so far.

“I need chocolate – NOW!”

Do you ever feel like that? (If you’re female, it might happen a lot at a certain time of the month.) True food cravings are signs of a dietary deficiency, but we all get those occasional “cravings” when we really, really want a particular food. Whether it’s a bag of Kettle chips, a bar of Green & Blacks, a glazed doughnut or a Big Mac … it’s almost impossible to resist the temptation.

Oddly, few people have cravings for fruit and vegetables…

If your reaction to a craving is just to give in, read on! Stop telling yourself that you’re weak-willed … you aren’t, you just don’t know (yet) how you can conquer those cravings.

Don’t keep “trigger” foods at work or in the house

All of us have foods which we find it hard to indulge in sensibly. For many people, a piece of chocolate is just enough … to make them want more, and more. Others find it very difficult to have just one bag of crisps, or one cookie. If you know that you tend to over-eat certain foods, ban them from your house and office. (Or at least keep them in a place that is firmly designated for “Other People’s food” rather than yours.)

The easiest way to beat a craving is not to let it arise in the first place! You’ll find that if you do crave snack foods, the hassle of having to go out and purchase them is usually enough to weaken that craving to a vague “I wouldn’t mind some chocolate right now…”

Wait at least twenty minutes before giving in to your craving

Food cravings can be beaten just by waiting them out. However strong the desire for chocolate (crisps, cookies, cake…), it will fade after twenty minutes. When you have an overwhelming urge for a chocolate hobnob, tell yourself that you can have one in half an hour. Then look at the clock, and take a note of the time – guesstimating when thirty minutes are up is unlikely to work. If it helps, set an alarm on your computer to alert you once the time has passed, and promise yourself you won’t touch the hobnobs till that alarm goes off.

Once the time is up, don’t dive straight for the packet – give yourself a chance to reassess. Do you still really, really want that snack? Or has the desire faded almost completely?

Distract yourself from thoughts of food

Another way to beat a craving is to treat it like a small, whiny child: ignore it. When your craving is screaming “I want ice-cream!”, tune it out, and distract yourself by getting on with something. If you’re at work, get cracking on that report you’ve been putting off, or the backlog of email you keep meaning to tackle. If you’re at home, start on the washing up or ironing, or pick up your paintbrush: anything that keeps your mind and hands occupied.

Cravings only grow when you give them attention: distracting yourself from the craving for a few minutes is often enough to kill it. (Don’t feel bad. Cravings aren’t likely to become extinct any time soon…)

Phone or email a friend who’s supportive about your diet

If you have a diet buddy, a craving is a good signal to give them a ring (or write an anguished email). Unlike the colleagues in your office, who may be getting a little tired of hearing about your daily willpower struggles, your friend will always listen sympathetically. Rant if you have to, complain how unfair it is that you don’t get to eat doughnuts any more – when that stick-thin girl in the office next door can eat three and not gain an ounce.

Once your friend has made the appropriate sympathetic noises, reminded you that you chose to go on a diet, and shared some gossip … you’ll probably have forgotten all about your craving.

The next part in this series will give you the secrets of fitting your diet around your life. Make sure you’re getting RSS updates so that you don’t miss it!

(Image above by Sean Dreilinger)

  • Updated August 8, 2012
  • Basics

Having a perfect dieting day, every day

This is the sixteenth part of the dieting basics series – see the series outline for links to all the other posts so far.

Get your day off to a good, healthy start

The best way to have a perfect day is to start off strongly. Easier said than done, I know – but getting up early, having a relaxed breakfast and making sure that you’ve got everything you need for work will set the tone for the whole day. All you need to do is set your alarm ten minutes early.

For those who really struggle to crawl out from under the duvet, try:

  • Having two alarms, one at five minutes before you want to get up.
  • Putting your alarm clock on the far side of the room.
  • Laying clothes out the night before, so you can get up and dressed straight away, thus avoiding the temptation to whack the alarm and flop back into bed.
  • Going to bed earlier! (Yes, it’s obvious, but easy to miss.)
  • Once you’re out of bed, be sure to:

  • Eat a healthy breakfast – you can find out how and why in this article about breakfast.
  • Make yourself a packed lunch – read the article on lunch or check out this cheap and easy shopping list.

Be prepared for diet challenges during the day

Yes, the Boy Scout “be prepared” motto may have become a cliché – but that’s because it’s such good advice. Inevitably, things won’t go as smoothly as you’d hoped. Maybe you get stuck in a meeting, unable to eat your planned yoghurt and fruit mid-morning snack … and your stomach is gurgling at the sight of chocolate biscuits within arms’ reach. Perhaps one of your colleagues has brought in a birthday cake.

The best way to be prepared is to stay in a positive frame of mind: accept that events won’t always work out perfectly for your diet, and meet these as opportunities to show yourself just how determined you are. Have a few tricks up your sleeve, such as:

  • Having a reasonable amount for breakfast if you know you won’t get another chance to eat until lunch.
  • Knowing how to turn down a cookie without hurting someone’s feelings.

Keep up your diet resolve

On the other hand, it’s sometimes not external factors which threaten to ruin the perfect day, but our own minds. If your good intentions waver when lunch-time arrives (yes, you have a sandwich waiting in the office fridge, but you rather fancy a humungous slice of pizza from the shop across the street) … remind yourself of your healthy eating plans. Think about all the hard work you’ve put in, and how perfect your day has been so far: you don’t want to spoil it now!

If work is dragging mid-afternoon, stop for a cup of tea or a tall, cool glass of water. Don’t “treat yourself” to a biscuit just because you’ve finally finished that spreadsheet, or sent that difficult email … you’ll only feel guilty five minutes later.

Stay focused in the evening

When you get home, smug, from a perfect day of eating in the office – don’t let yourself get too complacent. It’s all too easy to treat yourself to a second helping of dinner, then decide that you’ll have dessert as you’ve been so good all day … and when you’re sitting on the sofa watching television, you can’t resist getting a little chocolately snack …

Don’t ruin your perfect day! Of course you need to unwind in the evening, but there are plenty of ways to do that without over-indulging in food. Make sure you have a satisfying, healthy dinner, and have a sweet treat afterwards for dessert if you want one – just make it something small and not too fat and sugar laden. (Chocolate mousse, low-fat frozen yoghurt, fruit sorbet or fruit lollies are good options. A giant slice of chocolate fudge cake is not so great.)

If you know you tend to snack whilst watching television, find something to do that occupies your hands instead – ironing or knitting work well. Or turn off the box completely, and get a relaxing bath or get stuck into one of your hobbies – there’s some more ideas in my article about avoiding unhealthy snacking.

One final tip: if your willpower tends to be low in the evening, a glass of wine or a can of beer will not help. Try cutting out the alcohol for a few days, and see if it makes a difference.

Enjoy your perfect dieting day!

The next part in this series will let you into four sure-fire ways to beat food cravings. Make sure you’re getting RSS updates so that you don’t miss it!

(Image above by

  • Updated August 8, 2012
  • Basics

Enlist friends to support you

This is the fifteenth part of the dieting basics series – see the series outline for links to all the other posts so far.

I’ve discussed before on The Office Diet whether you should tell your colleagues that you’re on a diet. Some people like to keep their dieting efforts completely to themselves, especially to begin with – often fearing that they’ll fail embarrassingly (especially if they’ve attempted to diet before and not succeeded), or that others will react negatively. But getting the support of your friends could well be the factor that makes the difference, this time, and helps you to achieve your goals rather than give up part-way.

How friends can help you diet

1. Offer tips and ideas to one another

One of the simplest ways for your friends to help you – and for you to help them! – is by sharing great tips that you’ve come across. These could be anything from recommending a website (how about The Office Diet? ;-)), swapping favourite low-fat recipes, or lending one another dieting books and magazines.

Just some of the tips I’ve had from friends are:

  • Freeze chocolate mousses – they’re (almost) as good as chocolate ice-cream
  • Set out your gym clothes the night before, if you plan to exercise in the morning
  • Soak oats in milk overnight for your porridge – it’ll taste much creamier

2. Phone a friend

You might want to pick one or two close friends to be your personal phone-support line for those moments when all your good intentions have vanished, and when you’re reaching for a chocolate bar. Before you “break” your diet, ring your friend to chat … just twenty minutes of distraction is enough for the craving to pass. Admit to them that you’re struggling, and they’ll find some words of wisdom for you: friends are great at knowing when you need some gentle encouragement verses when you need them to get strict.

One study carried out by Stanford University showed the power of a phone call in helping people stick to their fitness plans – see my article How chatting on the phone can help your fitness (on Diet-Blog).

3. Share your food diary

If you do persuade one of your pals to join your healthy living adventure, why not celebrate your triumphs – and commiserate over the difficult times – by sharing your food diaries once a week. Knowing that someone will be reviewing what you ate (and seeing whether you stuck to the good intentions in your plan) can make you reconsider that third jaffa cake…

Some friends even like to award one another gold stars, or smiley face stickers; if you can do it in good spirits, go for it, but don’t become too competitive (or patronising).

4. Exercise with a friend

It’s great to get active with someone else alongside. The best choices are either a friend who’s already sporty (who will be chipper and encouraging when you just want to sit down and moan) or a friend who has been inspired by your healthy living attempts to start up an exercise plan too.

Arrange a set time to get together — it won’t work if you just decide to go for a walk “at some point”. Once you’ve made an appointment with someone else, it’s much harder to break it, and even if you’re not in the mood to exercise, you’ll just have to go along anyway. And, of course, once you get going, you’ll probably have a great time.

Some sports need two people anyway, such as tennis or badminton; try booking a court in your local park or leisure centre. There’s also safety in numbers — if you’re going on a jog, walk or cycle ride, having a buddy alongside means you won’t feel intimidated if you veer off the public track.

Why your diet will succeed with support from friends

1. You’ll avoid your friends sabotaging your efforts

Sometimes, friends can feel threatened when you change your eating habits drastically, or make big lifestyle alterations. They might react by encouraging you to eat things that you shouldn’t, or by acting hurt when you turn down the offer of a giant cookie. Unreasonable? Perhaps, but imagine some of the thoughts which might be going through their minds:

  • “If Sue’s on a diet, I suppose we won’t be able to get together for lunch on Friday like we always do.”
  • “Brian’s not as chubby as me, and he thinks he needs to diet? What does that say about me?”
  • “I’m really worried about Josie. What if she ends up starving herself or becoming anorexic? I’d better make sure she eats enough.”

Essentially, your friends are likely to either feel:

  • Worried that their relationship with you will change (eg. that you won’t ever come out any more, or that you’ll go on and on about your diet to the exclusion of all else).
  • Threatened by the positive changes you’re making to your lifestyle (they might not admit this, even to themselves, but if you and your group of friends have always been a bit overweight and prone to scoffing pizza together, your friends might feel you’re trying to be “better” than them.)

By being upfront with your friends about wanting their advice and support, you make it clear that you want to continue the strong relationship which you have AND that you still need them. Most friends will be delighted to help you to achieve your goals, and they’ll be able to stop you from getting too obsessed, or from giving up the minute things get tough.

2. You tend to behave like the people around you

It’s normal to find yourself behaving like the people around you. I’m sure you notice this at work: we tend to conform to the same patterns – for example, if all your colleagues work late, you’ll probably find yourself joining them.

So when you’re out at the pub and your friends decide to get a few bowls of chips to share … you’ll find it very hard not to join in. It often feels awkward to be the odd one out, especially if you’ve not told anyone that you’re on a diet. And it’s easy to think “if they’re all having chips, why shouldn’t I?”

Or if you’re in the office and everyone else is digging into the box of chocolates sent by a grateful client, it gets harder and harder to refuse when colleagues keep passing it your way…

Letting your friends know about your diet, and asking them not to wave temptation under your nose, means that they’ll be a little more sensitive to how they behave around you.

3. Having support and encouragement makes you more determined to succeed in your diet

If you have a lot of weight to lose, getting your body (and life) into shape can be a long and daunting journey. There’ll be times when you ask yourself whether it’s worth it, and when you consider giving up. And if you’re trying to go it alone, chances are that a run of bad days or weeks will spell The End for all your hard work so far.

This is when you need a support team cheering you on. Having friends to encourage you when things get tough really will make all the difference. They’ll be able to tell you that you’ve visibly lost weight (it’s often hard to see the difference yourself, in the mirror) and they’ll reassure you that you’re doing brilliantly. Knowing that you have a crowd of mates wanting you to succeed can help you pull yourself through the rough patches.

So get your friends on board today: that might mean turning to a colleague, an old pal from school, your partner, or even your mum! If you can’t think of anyone in your life to confide in, email me ( – I’d love to hear how you’re doing, and find out about your triumphs so far.

The next part in this series will explain how your friends can support you during your diet, and why you’ll want to get them involved. Make sure you’re getting RSS updates so that you don’t miss it!

(Image above by Wrote)

  • Updated August 8, 2012
  • Basics
1 2 3 4