Chew On This: Your Thoughts, Behaviours Get You To A Healthier Body Weight

Chew on this

Food. Water. Sleep. Breathing. Movement. Our most basic needs. That hasn’t changed since the first people wandered the plains.

By Candice Smith, Head of Vitality’s Nutrition Strategy

What has significantly changed, though, is the world around us. We quench thirst with sugar-laden drinks while sitting at desks in modern skyscrapers, before snaking through traffic in fast cars, all of which mean we effectively sit all day long.

Food for thought

People eat not only to survive, but also for enjoyment. Food comforts, it makes us feel happy and helps to ease our stress. We laugh, we make new friends and spend time with old ones around the dinner table or the braai. Very little boosts the mood like food – the smell of freshly baked bread, the spicy aroma of a warm stew on a winter’s day, a pot of early-morning coffee.

Food is essential to wellbeing. But there is more to it. Understanding how you behave around food and why you make the choices you make will go a long way towards creating a healthy relationship with food. Food can make you perform at your peak at a healthy weight, or it can lead to weight gain and unpleasant health problems. Staying within a healthy weight range or losing weight to be healthier is a challenge many people face.

Weight pandemic

[highlight]Today, more than twice as many people are overweight or obese than in 1980. [/highlight]The way we live, overeating, and choosing easy calorie-packed meals full of salt and sugar are all culprits. There is an entire generation of adults, 2 billion to be precise, who now live in bodies that are unwell due to weight and cause them to have negative feelings towards food.

Illnesses related to overweight and obesity cause 3.4 million deaths each year. What’s worse is that these deaths are all preventable, simply by making small changes to eating habits for a healthier weight, and getting back to those basics of drinking enough water, sleeping enough and moving more.

Mindset matters

The question is, why do people struggle with weight loss? It’s possibly linked to how we think. Remember, gaining weight tends to happen over a long time. Why, then, do we think that we have to lose the weight it took years to gain, overnight?

Losing weight the healthy way is a slow process. Experts in the science of weight loss say, slower is better if you want to keep it off. Just 0.5 to 1kg a week is enough to make sure your body does not go without essential nutrients and that you don’t feel deprived or hungry all the time.

Let’s be honest, diets promising you’ll lose 6kg a week make it sound so easy. These fad diets usually involve radical changes that are hard to keep up and removing essential foods from your kitchen. What will happen when you stop? Unsurprisingly, you gain back all the weight you lost and then some.

fitness motivation

Numbers game

Second to realising weight loss is a slow process that involves healthy eating is the importance of facing up to the number on the scale. One of the biggest struggles with losing weight slowly is that results might be so subtle that you lose hope and start doubting whether the sacrifices made is actually worthwhile.

People who have successfully lost weight over time and maintained it say that sticking to regular weigh-ins keep them on track and accountable and allowing them to make changes before their weight gets out of hand. This, however, shouldn’t translate into daily obsessive fights with the scale. My advice?

  • Weigh yourself weekly

  • Use the same scale every time you weigh yourself, remove your shoes and any excess clothing

  • Weigh yourself on the same day and at the same time each week


Many factors affect our relationship with food: culture, family support, economic status, and even mood. We sometimes use food as a coping mechanism when we feel out of control in stressful times. Start by understanding yourself, your life and how you think about food.

Are you ready to get started? This is step number one… You have to be honest with yourself and what you want to achieve. Any doubt about losing weight can hold you back. The best time to tackle the number on the scale is usually in calmer times. Attempting it when you know you will be overly stressed does not set you up for success.

Check list

So what do you have to know? Know you are ready, know your habits and triggers to behaviour that will not support weight loss like the places you store food or the places you go. Know your goals – keep them realistic, and over a shorter time frame. Having short-term goals are easier to work towards than a larger end goal – lose 1kg this week vs lose 12kg in three months. Self-monitoring and tracking of progress, at least once a week, are also essential.

Additional tips for weight loss:

  1. Exercise every day
  2. Limit screen time
  3. Get guidance on how to personalise your nutrition
  4. Eat breakfast daily

Individual response

Weight loss is something that is different for every single person – what might work for someone else might not necessarily work for you. It’s important to consult with a registered dietitian to adjust your plan to work for you, helping you to make a healthy lifestyle part of your life.

Setbacks happen. Don’t let it stop you. Block thoughts like, ‘I’ve failed’ or ‘it’s too hard, I cannot do it’. Keep going, but don’t obsess. Track and reward yourself as you get to a healthier body weight. You can still enjoy tasty food and eat regularly.

Small gains, big improvements

Encouragingly, the amount of weight you need to lose to be healthier is usually just 5 to 10% of your initial body weight. It’s often much less than you actually want to lose. No one says stop there, but you may be closer to better health than you think – it could just mean making a small change in your thinking and behaviour around food and weight loss.

Vitality Weight Loss Rewards – a behaviour-based intervention targeted at combatting overweight and obesity – is the latest offering by Discovery Vitality. The weight loss intervention uses behavioural economics principles and methods to help and reward participants – with a Body Mass Index or waist circumference outside recommended ranges – to reach weight-loss goals in short, manageable cycles.

Learn to cook easy, nutritious meals at the Vitality HealthyFood Studio, where fresh, seasonal ingredients, real nutrition and sustainable eating all come together with a dash of delicious – proudly launched in partnership with Woolworths and Prue Leith Chefs Academy. Learn more here.

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.