I get a couple of emails a week from people I don’t know, either when they’ve read my book, or seen something I’ve posted on social media. Out of the blue I received one such email from Anthony after he had seen a short video I had posted about Appetite Retraining, which said:
I have been struggling! I have bad knees, sleep apnoea, high cholesterol and high blood pressure and my 70th birthday is coming up soon. I am twenty stone and feel I should be 16 stone. I have done all the Fitbit stuff gym with personal trainer etc etc. I do all the cooking at home as I really enjoy it and am food aware but eat too much and have too much of an appetite. Waist is 42” and want to get to 38”. I have a big frame and carry my weight well in terms of how I am seen. But I am unhappy! Can you help please?”
A bit of background
Anthony is a writer and works at home. He lives with his wife, and their grand-daughter Rosa currently lives with them. Anthony said that cooking is his favourite hobby and he explained that evening meals were very important family time. He said that he loves good food and wine and entertains frequently.
He was keen to try Appetite Retraining because something in my video had clicked with him.
The changes Anthony wanted to make
The first step in Appetite Retraining is to work out what the client specifically wants to change in their eating habits, and then to take just one habit change at a time.
Anthony decided as a first step to change his early morning eating patterns – he decided to have a smaller breakfast, and to stop buying and eating Danish pastries when dropping Rosa at the bus stop on weekdays. Anthony was keen to focus on both these changes as a first step, and to focus on nothing else but this for a month.
One month in Anthony reported back
“I feel I’ve taken control again and I’m enjoying it. I have started a later breakfast and smaller amount which I find can take me through to my evening meal. If I get hungry during the day I eat a banana and/or apple and If I really can’t last I have a slice of toast with a bowl of soup and a piece of cheese at about 2.30. I am aware of portion control and leaving small amounts of food uneaten.
I have carried on having my one or two glasses of wine in the evening and I often have a couple of squares of chocolate! Having said that, I’ve found it quite easy to just drive past the bakery in the mornings and thanks to giving up the Danish pastry buying my sugar intake is right down.
I am feeling quite pleased with myself and feel a little fitter and perhaps a bit less tired. I haven’t had any visible weight loss yet and I am still the same waist size! I will try to be patient.”
Anthony told me that his “taste buds are now much sharper” and that he was surprised to discover that he felt OK with feeling hungry in the lead-up to mealtimes. We agreed he would continue with the same focus for the next month.
Two months in
Anthony continued the new pattern of a later smaller breakfast and his evening meal, with a light snack if needed during the day. This new routine suited his writing – previously he’d had three meals a day and found that breaking for lunch would disrupt his flow, and he preferred being able to immerse himself in writing from breakfast until it was time to cook dinner.
He was still enjoying his family evening meal with wine and 3 pieces of chocolate to finish. He said, “I feel healthier, more bouncy and have less pain in my joints. I’ve been to the dentist who said my dental health is excellent. I’m now not afraid of feeling hungry before meals – in fact it is semi-pleasurable. But I still have no weight loss.”
I find it interesting, and puzzling, that people sometimes report no weight loss for weeks when they make a change to how they are eating. I don’t know enough about human biology to understand how this is, but now I have seen it a number of times, I focus on the behaviour change and ask the client to do the same. It becomes something of an act of faith that if the client makes a significant eating habit change, weight loss will follow eventually (unless of course the habit change is compensated for in other ways).
I simply told Anthony that this does sometimes happen and checked he was happy to continue with the same pattern, which he was.
At the four-month point
It was great to hear how upbeat Anthony sounded – he was now noticing weight loss from his neck, shoulders and bottom and said, “I really enjoy the hunger thing. I’m feeling 10 years younger. I’ve had less heartburn & indigestion and my aches and pains have reduced. I had been assuming I’d need hip and knee replacements but now maybe not.” He was really pleased about his progress and said “People are now noticing I’m losing weight. The dental hygienist said my gums are better than ever. My sleep apnoea is improving and I’m sleeping much better”.
Anthony told me he’d been thinking about making another change to his eating habits as he now felt his new pattern of eating was really easy to stick to. He wanted to change his evening meal to having main meal at lunchtime as he felt that would be healthier.
A month later however Anthony reported that the lunch change didn’t work at all so he had changed back to having breakfast and his usual evening meal. He was OK with this and happy that it was an experiment which simply proved that having a main meal at midday wouldn’t work for him.
Keen to make a further habit change, Anthony decided to reduce his wine intake to one glass a night instead of two.
Six months in
Anthony felt that his new routine was working very well and said that feeling hungry before meals was now actually enjoyable. He had now lost 2 stones in weight and his waist now measured 38”. He set 36” as his next target.
With a recent house move and other major changes in his life, he was now taking long walks every day. His weight was still falling, though he was frustrated at the slow progress, but over the next few weeks his weight was down to seventeen and a half stone and he felt encouraged again. He was now drinking just 2-3 glasses of wine on Friday and Saturday evenings instead of two glasses every night, which meant six glasses a week instead of fourteen!
Our final session, nine months after starting
In our final session, Anthony said that his weight was still falling and his waist was now 36”. He now wanted to get down to 34” and aimed to achieve this by reducing the size of his evening meal in small steps over a few months. He was delighted at the changes in his overall energy and the reduction in a range of physical symptoms. It was great to see that he was now confident identifying the next achievable steps he still wanted to make. Anthony was looking forward to getting to a point where he’s happy with his overall eating habits and with settling at a comfortable weight. He has changed very specific eating habits, one at a time, and has no diet to come off. He’s thrilled!
What does Anthony’s experience show about losing weight permanently?
I know it’s too early to say whether Anthony’s two and a half stone weight loss and six-inch reduction on his waist will be sustained, but there are reasons to be optimistic that it will.
- the change to his eating routine suited his lifestyle so well – two meals a day fits around his writing better than three did, so he’s unlikely to revert to the old pattern
- he discovered that mild hunger was actually enjoyable and meant that he enjoyed food even more than he had before. “Coming to terms with hunger for the first time in my life has been extremely good”
- his health benefits have been pretty phenomenal, from more energy to less joint pain, reduced heartburn and indigestion and reduced sleep apnoea meaning that he is sleeping better
- although Anthony experienced some very major life stresses during the time working with me, they did not throw him off course which shows that the changes he made were robust enough to weather the stress
My summary of how Anthony aged 69 lost 2.5 stones and 6 inches in 9 months
Anthony did not go on anything resembling a conventional diet. Instead he retrained his appetite making this series of concrete steps:
- changing the size and the timing of breakfast
- stopping the bakery visits
- trying out moving his main meal to lunchtime (though this turned out to be a blind alley)
- changing the amount of wine drunk
- increasing the amount of exercise he was doing
Do you want to learn how to use Appetite Retraining with your clients?
Appetite Retraining offers a way of tailoring a weight loss plan to each client depending on their lifestyle and what they want to change. It recognises how hard it is to change long-standing eating habits, and tackles these using behavioural and cognitive methods from experimental psychology. It includes a simple method I have devised to identify obstacles to progress each client may encounter, and offers evidence-based techniques to address each (lack of motivation, lack of willpower, lack of self-belief and pressure from other people).
I run regular workshops for professionals of all disciplines on “The Psychology of Weight Loss”. If your work involves helping people change how they eat, do join us. The emphasis is on developing evidence-based clinical skills that will help your clients achieve their goals.
The next workshop is coming up soon in mid-October and you can find further details and the booking link here.
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