Ask Arlene: ExcerciseArlene Normand, a dietitian, has built a strong business over ten years dealing with thousands of clients from all walks of life with a common goal – to lose and maintain weight loss.

I have such bad eating habits do you think it could be because of the way I was brought up as a child?  I am always trying to lose weight but without success – I yoyo all the time.  Please help!

Many people blame their parents for their chronic bingeing and dieting as adults – the often-cited rule of “finishing everything on your plate” and being rewarded for good behaviour with certain foods that are otherwise restricted have been shown to have a far longer-lasting impact on us than previously realised.  However, one cannot continually blame parents for everything that is not acceptable in your life – you have to make changes and take responsibility for your own lifestyle. 

Your parents might have restricted your junk food intake and then rewarded you with these foods, which makes you think chocolate, cake, lolly or biscuit is something special.  Start realising you can eat everything but in small quantities – keep your portions small.  Think in terms of everyday food and occasional food, rather than as threats.  Emphasise what is normal in your eating patterns – it is acceptable to have three squares of chocolates but not a whole slab, sit down and enjoy without guilt a piece of cake with a cup of tea, and don’t consider these actions as “bad”. 

Savour your food and make it tasty, but sit down and make an occasion for everything you consume.  Start making changes in the way you visualise food – just remember habits are hard to break, so small changes must be recognised and give yourself credit!

I find it so difficult to stick to my diet.  I have been following your eating plan for three months and have lost 7kg.  Every now and then I have a piece of cake for someone’s birthday at work, and then it turns like a switch in my head and I go mad.  I can put on 2kg in one binge.  Please help!

You have to stop considering my meal plan as a diet – it is a lifestyle. Bingeing is a habit you must break – always remember the consequences of feeling guilty, uncomfortable and regretful. Consider strategies to prevent you from starting the binge. 

Remember it is normal to have a piece of cake or chocolate, sit down and enjoy it.  When you feel the urge to continue eating go for a walk, phone a friend, wash your hair or go and have a bath.  Never eat when you feel frenetic or agitated – you must be calm and relaxed so that you are aware of what you are doing and what you are consuming.

I have lost a lot of weight in the last 18 months by eating right and exercising three times a week, but I still need to lose 5kg.  The trouble is I get tired that it is hard to stay motivated.  Any ideas to help get my energy back?

I can understand that you feel frustrated, but you must not consider your weight loss as a diet, rather as a change of lifestyle.  Your weight will then gradually drop until you attain your goal weight.  You cannot remain motivated forever, you actually have to live.  If you are tired you must look at your food intake.  Perhaps your iron intake is insufficient.  Your doctor should investigate your continual fatigue.  So what is going on?

Since I do not know how hard you are working out or what you are eating, I can only speculate to why you are pooped.  Fatigue can be a symptom of numerous things such as overtraining, irregular sleep patterns, feeling depressed or incorrect eating habits.  Your diet may be too low in calories, which can sap your strength, especially when you are working out regularly.  Add some lean red meat to your diet and be sure you are getting plenty of fruit and vegetables, and that you drink enough fluids.

Why do I get so ravenous before I get my period?  I can eat anything at this time and always break my diet, which makes me so depressed especially because I have been going so well all month.

Progesterone and oestrogen levels peak at this time causing blood sugar levels to drop.  This increases hunger and cravings for some time like chocolate.  Levels of serotonin, a mood chemical, also drop, triggering a craving for sweet biscuits, cakes and chocolates.

Is it true that your stomach shrinks when you go on a diet for a long time?

The capacity of the stomach of an overweight or obese person has been shown to be much larger than that of a lean person.  There is a popular belief that the stomach “shrinks” when a person goes on a diet, but there is no scientific evidence of this.   However, it has been demonstrated that there is a reduction in gastric capacity after a long-term restricted diet.  Ideally, if you consume six small meals a day for at least a year you will feel full after consuming smaller portions.  The body gets accustomed to what you habitually do – if you come home for example and eat a large dinner, you will continue to get hungry at this time for a while until your body gets used to eating less later in the day.  Changing habits is hard work, but eventually, the body adapts.