Marta Garaulet: “Motivation is the key to successful weight loss”
Increased consumption of processed foods and a sedentary lifestyle, among other factors, have led to a worrying increase in obesity worldwide. This epidemic kills four million people worldwide every year, according to a World Bank report.
Cardiovascular diseases, cancer, osteoarthritis, diabetes and sleep apnea are some of the conditions it causes. Hence the importance of taking care of our nutrition and eating a healthy diet, something Marta Garaulet (Madrid, 1965) has worked on for more than 20 years — she has even created her own weight-loss method.
A doctor of pharmacy, a nutritionist, a professor of physiology and physiological bases of nutrition at the University of Murcia and holder of a master’s degree in public health from Harvard University, Marta Garaulet has written several books, including some on nutrigenetics and chronobiology related to obesity. In them, she provides the keys to a good diet and the healthiest habits to losing weight.
In order to succeed in losing weight, substantial changes need to be made, notes Garaulet, beginning by identifying what external stimuli make us gain weight and also believing that you can do it. “Some people who try to lose weight have very low sense of self-efficacy and don’t think they can do it due to failures in the past. But there are others who believe that they’re going to do it, which is really important. Motivation is the key to success.”
Having the firm desire to change habits is crucial to shedding the extra pounds and keeping them off over time. For this mindset, we must also consider how many years the person has been obese. “If you’ve been this way your whole life, it’s harder to change.”
Garaulet says that it’s a question of analyzing the situation to notice the positive and the negative, and then enhancing the good points and trying to find solutions to the bad. These unfavorable external stimuli vary for each person. Stress and anxiety, social life or lack of organization are a few examples.
Those around you also being overweight is a factor: “We’ve come to think that obesity is contagious. This is not true but, since it has a lot to do with behaviors, if everyone around you is obese, it means there are common behaviors that lead to everyone being overweight. That’s another situation that needs to be analyzed and addressed. You can’t change on your own; the whole group or family needs to change because otherwise, it’s much more difficult.”
In addition to analyzing the situation and wanting to change, being informed is also essential. “We think we know it all, but the reality is we don’t. Everyone talks about nutrition but there are still many people who are overweight — something isn’t working.”
Setting specific goals and avoiding an all-or-nothing mentality
To get motivated, Garaulet suggests setting specific and measurable goals, for example, fitting into a pair of jeans three sizes smaller (or even buying them). The goal itself should not be to lose weight, but to overcome something that’s bothering you and then measure that change to see if you’re succeeding.
To do this, it’s important to get rid of the sense of failure. “Just because things have gone wrong other times, that doesn’t mean this time will be the same. It’s important not to throw in the towel. If it doesn’t work, try again. As long as you’re motivated to keep taking care of yourself, you’re on the right track.”
According to a study conducted by Garaulet herself, the people who fail the most are those with an all-or-nothing, black-or-white mentality. Extremes don’t work when trying to lose weight: “With quitting smoking, it’s a habit that you could stop doing suddenly, but to lose weight, you don’t stop eating, so you need to be kinder to yourself. Avoid thinking that it has to be all or nothing. If you couldn’t do it perfectly today because you didn’t have what you needed, that’s okay, do the best you can and start fresh tomorrow.”
It’s important to let go of the feeling of guilt, too. “We’re seeing that people who feel guilt are more likely to quit. Guilt is only an obstacle when it comes to losing weight. Feeling guilty for eating something you shouldn’t have just makes you eat more.”
Based on this expert’s research, the three main causes of failure when trying to lose weight are lack of motivation, the all-or-nothing mentality and the association between stress and eating.
Garaulet offers some techniques to break this link: “Stress is associated primarily with eating at night and straying from the concept of a Mediterranean diet. When you’re stressed, you eat in a much more disorganized way and eat more sweets, pastries, fatty foods, and so on. When you get home from work, you need to dissociate your house from the stress of the day.”
To achieve that separation, it’s useful, for example, to change clothes, to get comfortable. “You’re no longer in that tense situation in your life, you’re already in a place that is supportive and friendly.” It’s also good to take a hot shower that relaxes you after you get home and before dinner; taking a moment between stepping inside, with all that stress, and sitting down to eat food.
Other tricks that help you lose weight in a healthy way are not going grocery shopping when you’re hungry, taking a list and planning small dietary steps. “Many people deceive themselves and say they buy cookies, chocolate and pastries because they have children, but these foods aren’t good for your children or you. That doesn’t mean you have to completely eliminate them from your diet. You can still eat them occasionally, for example, every Sunday you could go to the bakery, buy something and eat it that day without going overboard. When you’re on a diet, you should have as little forbidden food in your home as possible.”
How can you maintain an ideal weight long-term?
Garaulet is not in favor of restrictive diets to lose pounds, such as drinking smoothies or ketogenic diets. This is because they don’t help you learn viable habits over time or provide you with the tools to stay at an ideal weight. Learning such habits will make it much easier to achieve your goal long-term. However, she warns that the body tends to return to its typical weight. “At least one year after weight loss, we have to be extremely careful because the body considers this a special circumstance and wants to regain homeostasis, which is the weight at which it has been the most stable for the longest.”
The goal of losing weight is easy, what’s hard is maintaining that ideal weight over time. A study of 55,000 people in the United States reveals factors that differentiate those who gain weight after a diet from those who manage to maintain their weight loss. The latter group records their weight weekly after ending a diet. In addition, they are active, have structured exercise and, in general, have healthy habits. They include fruits and vegetables in their diet.
As an expert in chronobiology, Garaulet says that the time you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner is important. Several studies have shown that, regardless of age, “eating late, having dinner late or delaying the mid-point of food intake is associated with obesity. However, it’s true that there are different risks and that each person’s chronotype plays a factor. Dinner should be about two and a half hours before you go to bed.”
One of the conclusions of a study involving 420 people, half men and half women, is that those who ate before 3:00 pm, following a Mediterranean diet, lost a lot more weight than those who ate later, doing the same.
Equally important: Psychological care
For this expert, the psychological aspect is also important; everything behavioral or cognitive helps to make lasting change. “There’s a very close relationship between emotions and successful treatment.” Mindfulness is a useful tool because it helps us become aware of what we’re eating.
On her website, Garaulet offers a ten-question test to find out whether or not someone is an emotional eater. “We’ve found that people who are emotional eaters lose up to 4 to 5 kilograms [8.5 to 11 pounds] less when they lose weight than those who are not emotional eaters.” How do you identify emotional eating? “For example, it is when you eat really fast and compulsively, and you’re not able to control it. When you get that feeling that the food controls you and not the other way around.”
Is there a better time of year to push yourself to lose weight? The nutritionist says that the start of the year is an excellent time because this is when we think about changes, reflect on the previous year, and see what went well and what didn’t. We’re more aware and feel more strongly about making a change because we want to improve. However, she adds that “The best time is when you feel strong and sufficiently motivated, but it’s important to take advantage of the strength that the beginning of the year brings to make the change.”