You’ve decided to lose weight and are raring to go, but there are a number of things you need to do before you start.
Are you really overweight?
The first step is to determine if you're really overweight, or not. Countless people complain that they're not losing weight, but when they calculate their BMI (body mass index) or WHR (waist-to-hip ratio), it becomes evident that they're not overweight and some are, in fact, already underweight.
Check your BMI and WHR. If your BMI exceeds 25, or your WHR is greater than 1.0 for men or greather than 0.85 for women, you are indeed overweight and you need to make a couple of changes to your lifestyle.
If your BMI and WHR don't indicate that you're overweight, don’t punish your body by forcing it to lose weight. You can certainly start following a healthy, balanced diet and do exercise to firm up and improve your health, but don’t go on starvation diets or take diet pills, because you're going to do more harm than good.
How much should you lose?
The next step you need to take (that's if you've determined that you're overweight) is to set yourself an achievable target. Let’s say your BMI is 28 (your height is 1.6m and at present you weigh 72kg), then to achieve a normal BMI of 25, you need to weigh 64kg, which means you need to lose 8kg.
Now read the article entitled "How much weight can you lose?". Be realistic and use 8kg as your first target. Once you've achieved this goal, there will be time to set additional weight-loss goals. Take things one step at a time. This way, you won't get discouraged.
Are you physically fit to lose weight?
Are you in good health or do you suffer from illnesses such as diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease, gout, arthritis, kidney disease, hypertension or polycystic ovarian syndrome? Do you have a hormone problem, like an under- or overactive thyroid? If you don’t know, then please have a medical checkup before you start with a diet and exercise programme.
In fact, it's an excellent idea for all potential slimmers to have a medical checkup before they go on a diet. Discuss your plan to diet and to lose weight with your doctor and ask his/her advice about the types of diet you should avoid, for example, someone with kidney disease or gout shouldn't contemplate going on a high-protein diet or taking protein shakes as meal replacements. Ask your doctor if your present state of health excludes certain types of exercise. For example, individuals with arthritis may not be able to jog, but they can swim or do water aerobics.
If you're given a clean bill of health by your doctor, then you're one step closer to being ready to start that diet and exercise programme.
Are you mentally prepared to lose weight?
The next step is to take a long, hard look at your mental state. Are you tense, anxious, distracted, overworked or depressed? Do you really feel capable of taking on the relatively stressful task of revolutionising your food intake and exercise routine?
If there are any mental or psychological factors that will prevent you from succeeding, then don’t start with a slimming diet. First sort out your underlying anxieties and tensions. If you can’t come to grips with them on your own, seek professional help. Consult a clinical psychologist, an industrial psychologist at work or a marriage guidance counsellor, but don’t think that trying to lose weight is going to make all the problems you're experiencing in your life, your work, your marriage, or your family melt away. Going on a diet and starting to exercise may just be the final straw that breaks the back of whatever situation is stressing you.
If you're calm and in control of your life, and have sorted out problems that could jeopardise your slimming programme, then you're ready to start.
Whose idea is it that you should lose weight?
This step requires you to be brutally honest. Ask yourself whose idea it is that you should lose weight. Is your husband/partner/parent/child nagging you to lose those kilograms? Is your boss making threats that you'll lose your job if you don’t shed 20kg? Or are you convinced that this is what you want to do for yourself and your health?
Don’t kid yourself that you're going to stick to a diet and pump iron, if the idea of losing weight comes from someone else. You're the one who must be 100% certain that you want to lose weight and that you're prepared to make the necessary changes to achieve your goal.
If you're the one who desperately wants to lose weight and you have the motivation to do so, then you're ready to start.
What is your support system like?
The next step is to check on your support system. If you live alone, purchase your own groceries and do your own cooking, then this isn't a problem. However, if you have a family to cater for, it may be difficult to structure your purchases and cooking to suit your diet. Husbands who want to diet may find that their slender wives keep on cooking high-fat meals, in an attempt to sabotage their attempts to lose weight. Wives may get so discouraged, because every member of the family demands special menus that they just give up the unequal struggle.
At this stage, it's important to sit down and have a discussion with all the involved parties - husband, children, parents and partners. Tell them what you're intending to do and what this will entail. There is, of course, no reason why the whole family shouldn't also follow a balanced, low-fat, high-fibre diet - it will improve their health and ensure that they don’t gain weight. But they may fight you all the way. Be prepared for opposition and think of ways of dealing with these problems before you start.
Remember that making a big change to your everyday routine, like going on a diet and/or following an exercise programme, will have an effect on everyone who live under the same roof. You should also inform your partner and family how your exercise programme will impact on their lives. Once again, you may find that your dearly beloveds can’t accept the idea that Mom won’t be available 24 hours a day, or that Dad is going to jog every morning. Ask them to come up with solutions, such as older children fetching younger ones while you go to the gym, or doing some of the housework while you work out.
Don’t be discouraged if your plans to lose weight aren't greeted enthusiastically by your nearest and dearest. Talk to them, tell them why this is so important to you and ask them to help you. If you can get your family and friends to back you and give you all the support you need, you're ready to start slimming.
If you answer ‘Yes’ to the following questions, you know you're ready to start losing weight:
1) Are you really overweight?
2) Have you set yourself a realistic and achievable weight-loss target?
3) Are you in good health?
4) Has your doctor given you the green light to diet and exercise?
5) Are you relaxed and calm and feeling positive about your slimming programme?
6) Have you sorted out any psychological problems that could prevent you from losing weight?
7) Are YOU the one who wants to lose weight?
8) Is your support system in place and is your partner, spouse, family 100% behind you in this venture?
How did you score?
1-3: you need to go back to the drawing board, start again and sort out those problem areas.
1-6: you still need to do some work on certain areas - solve a few problems before you start.
7-8: you're ready and as prepared as you'll ever be - get going with that diet and exercise programme right now!
Dr Ingrid van Heerden is a registered dietician and holds a doctoral degree in Nutrition and Biochemistry. She believes that "we are what we eat" and offers free nutrition and weight loss advice via her DietDoc service on Health24.com.