‘Feeling fat’ is something I know too well. For me it was triggered by a number of things, like seeing a photo of myself where I looked much bigger than I wanted to, feeling uncomfortable in my clothes, scrolling social media and comparing myself to others, overeating or not exercising as much as I wanted, and even if a friend lost weight, and I didn’t.

Unfortunately, ‘feeling fat’ doesn’t motivate you to get healthy. When you ‘feel fat’, your knee-jerk reaction is to go on a wild diet or bury your head in a tub of Ben & Jerrys icecream. Neither of those things will help long term. But there are some things that can make a difference.

1. Stop trying to lose weight. I mean it.

It may sound counterintuitive but hear me out. You’ve spent your whole life trying to lose weight, right? And be honest, where has that gotten you? Not far.

I lost 20kg (45lbs) when I stopped dieting. What you might not know is that it took four years to lose that weight. Averaged out over the four years, that means I lost just 100g (3.5oz) of weight per week. So if my goal had been to ‘lose weight’, I would have given up when I barely lost weight each week. Luckily, my goal wasn’t to lose weight but to change my habits and be healthy – and it worked.

While we’re at it, there’s nothing wrong with your willpower. You’re simply using the wrong approach. I made health, not weight loss my goal and stopped asking, “Can I eat this?” and started reminding myself that, “I am allowed to eat anything. What do I truly feel like?” Food became a choice. When I stopped trying to control food, food stopped controlling me. While at first, I wanted to eat lots of the foods I had previously made forbidden, with time – I started to crave healthy options because I knew all foods are allowed.

Diets? They’re all lemons. Image: Lyndi Cohen

Of course I still wanted to lose weight because ‘feeling fat’ sucks and the urge to diet is so strong. But if I didn’t invest in myself then – for the long-term – and make ‘health not weight’ my goal, then I’d still be struggling now (Interested? This blog post Unhappy with your body? Read this might be useful).

2. Stop swimming. Build a bridge instead.

Trying to diet when you’re ‘feeling fat’ is like trying to swim across a river with a really strong current. You can only swim for so long before you get tired and end up back where you started, feeling like a failure.

Instead, I suggest you build a bridge. Sure – it takes much longer, but once you invest in getting solid foundations, you never have to swim across the river again.

How do you build a bridge? You build a healthy relationship with food. You re-learn how to eat, not for weight loss but for your health. You let go of food guilt, and you learn how to stop the cycle of “feeling fat”. I teach people how to ‘build a bridge’ and develop a healthy relationship with food in Back to Basics.

3. Shift your habits.

To stop ‘feeling fat’, there are some proactive things you can do right now about it. Small habits performed every day add up to make a big difference. Progress makes you feel healthy, stronger and boosts your confidence.

While I’m anti-diets and rules (because they don’t work), I am a big fan of healthy habits and routines. And right now – a healthy routine may help you. Here are some ideas:

  • Eat a snack before leaving work each day (or have a larger lunch)so you don’t arrive home ravenous.
  • Carry a water bottle with you.
  • Cook dinner at home one more night a week – and when you cook, make twice as much so you have a healthy lunch the next day.
  • Eat one more serve of vegetables.
  • Nail a healthy grocery shop or order groceries online if it helps it get done.
  • Try Meal Prep Power Hour (something you get every week for Back to Basics).

Add one of these habits at a time. Once it’s feels easy (and happens in autopilot mode), they add in another. Keep adding in the habits until you’re naturally doing these things habitually.

4. Stick within the ‘enjoyment zone’.

I always tell the Back to Basics community 20 minutes of exercise you enjoy is better than an hour at the gym that never happens. If you struggle to lock in exercise, you’re doing it wrong. The trick is to stay within what I call “the enjoyment zone”. Calories and weight loss might motivate you to sign up to the gym, but only enjoyment will keep you going. Repeat after me: exercise is a choice, not a punishment. Rather than seeing it as something you ‘have to do’, realise that it’s something you ‘get to do’.

Pilates dates are my kind of self-care. Image: Lyndi Cohen

So ask yourself, what type of exercise do you ACTUALLY enjoy? For years I thought I needed to do high-intensity exercise to make the most of my time but I hated it so I was inconsistent. Now, I like walking with a podcast, Pilates, yoga and sometimes circuits. I’m more consistent which means I end up exercising more long-term. What do you enjoy?

Another tip for consistency is to book it in your diary. I book myself in for Pilates classes a few days a week (which I have to pre-pay and this helps me not cancel). On Saturdays, I arrange to meet a friend for a walk so that helps ensure that happens. For the other days, I go for a walk with a podcast I love or do Back to Basics workouts (like yoga and BOUNCE workouts).

5. Clear out your wardrobe.

Get rid of those clothes that don’t fit you, including the too-tight jeans that make you feel squished, bloated and fat. While you’re at it, stop buying clothes in a smaller size because that’s a sure-fire way to ‘feel fat’. If you want to look good and feel good, buy clothes that fit, regardless of the number on the label. No more buying clothes you need to lose weight to feel good in. Remeber: No one else can see the size.

6. You don’t need to love your body.

‘Feeling fat’ has nothing to do with your weight. It’s got everything to do with how you feel about yourself. Even skinny people ‘feel fat’ and it’s totally understandable that you sometimes ‘feel fat’. After all, we live in a society where ‘role models’ are underweight and photoshopped and the mannequins in our dress shops are so tiny that even the smallest size clothes need to be pinned to fit. No wonder we never feel like our bodies are good enough.

Accepting my body used a whole lot less energy than hating on it everyday. Image: Lyndi Cohen

You can spend the rest of your life ‘feeling fat’, worrying about your weight or you can decide that the best thing you can do for yourself is to accept your body. Here’s the important bit: You don’t need to love your body or love how it looks. Instead, let’s work to get you to a point where how your body looks doesn’t make you feel down about yourself.

When your brain is filled with “Oh, I wonder how my body looks right now”, it takes away space from all the other brilliant things you could be thinking about or doing. And for the record, accepting your body is not code for ‘giving up’. In fact, it’s the opposite (Interested? You might also find this blog post 15 ways I learned to love my body useful). When you love your body, you start to take better care of yourself.

If you want a healthier lifestyle and better relationship with food check out Back to Basics, my App designed for people who’ve tried every diet and would rather a more sustainable approach.