Super Slimmers: Did They Keep the Weight Off? #diet #healthylifestyle

Photo credit: Channel 4
Photo credit: Channel 4

Last week, Channel 4 in the UK put out a documentary about Super Slimmers – people who had lost huge amounts of weight.  All had achieved recognition of one kind or another for their dramatic weight-loss; there was a US winner of ‘The Biggest Loser’, a Slimming World ‘Woman of the Year’, a Rosemary Conley ‘Slimmer of the Year’, a Lighter Life ‘Wall of Fame’ loser and a couple of others.

The question in the programme title was always rhetorical – you knew that, didn’t you? Because, like 95% of dieters, all but one of these poor ‘losers’ had put masses of weight back on again.

My heart sank for the men and women whose undeniable dieting efforts had come unstuck.  I felt their pain, because I’ve been there too. In 2002 I dieted with WeightWatchers. I lost 50 pounds. Then I put it all back on again – and more – in the two years that followed. And that wasn’t the first time that had happened. So I know what it’s like to lose the plot, to see a pound, and another, and another pile back on, until you stop weighing yourself because you don’t want to face what you know is happening. I know what it’s like to swell up through the dress sizes, feeling utterly bewildered by the speed at which the weight is stacking up, when you’ve hardly changed your eating habits, and only slipped every now and again… or so you tell yourself.

Getting to Goal

I can’t claim to understand the personal journeys these regained Super Slimmers have been on, but it seemed to me that in being awarded recognition for their success in reaching some predetermined goal, they were considered to have reached an end point. Perversely, the recognition and reward they received reinforced the perception that their weight-loss journey had now reached a conclusion – in effect, a point where old/bad habits could be allowed back in again. Why? Because the job of dieting was done. And because don’t we all secretly want to consume really unhealthy stuff that clogs up our digestive system and dulls our mind, all the time? Hmmm.

Responsible diet programmes usually promote some kind of maintenance plan for once goal is reached, and that’s what is supposed to help dieters keep the weight off. But the very fact that 95% of dieters regain lost weight is testimony to the inadequacy of the diet-and-maintenance approach. I speak from personal experience here and I can tell you, the difference between eating for weight-loss and eating for maintenance is infinitesimally small – much smaller than you think.  Much.  Most people (myself included) assume all sorts of tempting foods they had foresworn for the duration of their diet, can be welcomed back for first occasional but then, inevitably, regular consumption.  Not so, friends. SO not so.

As many of you will know, my weight-loss – 70 pounds to date – was until recently frustratingly plateaued for several weeks. But in a weird way, I’ve been quite happy about this.  That’s because, beyond see-sawing within a three pound threshold, I didn’t put any weight back on.  I continued weighing myself every day (and, now I know it works for me, I always will) and eating for my new healthy lifestyle, with all habits established over the last few months still in place. I feel as confident as I can be that these habits are my lifetime habits, not something to cast aside in a fit of self-destructive pique when I’ve a bad day or feel weak-willed. They are, perhaps surprisingly, not habits which demand vast reserves of willpower from me any more (though they did at first), just a generally positive attitude (which I can summon up most of the time) and a constant refocusing on how much healthier, happier and more energetic I’m feeling overall, than I was two years ago.

To lose weight is one thing; but to keep it off, one needs to have changed the habits of a lifetime – food habits, exercise habits, stress habits, sleep habits, social habits.  Yes, all of them. To keep the weight off, those changes have to be permanent, not temporary. They have to be about not simply squashing your overwhelming desire for a biscuit with your cuppa, but altering altogether how you think about food and exercise – and yourself. They have to be about changing mindset, so you find yourself wanting to go out for a walk, not forcing yourself to do it. They have to be about loving how the changes are making you feel, so much that you never, ever want to go back to your old ways. They’re not about resisting temptation, they’re about never feeling tempted. When this is how you feel, the chance of you keeping the weight off significantly increases.

Change is for Life

Of the six Super Slimmers, which one had successfully kept the weight off? What do you know, it was the only one who hadn’t actually been on a diet.  Daniel Wheeler, the very picture of male physical health and fitness, today makes his living helping others achieve their weight loss and fitness goals by… yes, you knew it was coming… changing lifestyle and adopting healthier habits, not for a few extreme dieting months, but for LIFE.

There were some other points touched on in the programme too, to which I want to turn in future weeks… the drastic nature of powdered meal replacement programmes, the role of exercise, and overcoming the challenge of a slower resting metabolism (something called persistent metabolic adaptation). But the concept of being on a diet versus developing a healthier lifestyle for life was top of my list, as it’s very dear to my heart.

Yo-Yo is a No-No #yoyo #diet

weigh-689873_1920I’ve been a yo-yo dieter all my life – here’s my story of the ups and downs.  Every time I lost weight, I put more back on.  This perpetual state of failure took me to the point of total despair. I decided a few years ago that I wouldn’t try to diet any more, as I always ended up worse off.  I actually came to fear weight-loss, because of the inevitability of the weight-gain which would follow.  I’m not alone – a survey in 2014 found that 60% of yo-yo dieters will try up to 20 diets in their lifetime.

What changed for me in September 2015, was that I found a way to alter my mental attitudes towards food and health, to make a holistic change to the way I live.  This has underpinned not a successful diet, but a total change of lifestyle which happens to have led to weight-loss; one which I ultimately believe is sustainable in the long-term; and one which carries with it the promise of not regaining that weight, but instead successfully breaking that yo-yo cycle.

So, I read with some interest a few of the articles which have been appearing in the press recently, about a study presented last week at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions, which is bad news for the yo-yo dieter.

Yo-yo dieting has long been associated with a range of health issues, including hormone imbalances, arthritis and osteoporosis.  But from this study it appears that yo-yo dieting is harmful in a potentially much more serious way – it harms your heart.

What goes down, comes back up – faster

When you diet, your body thinks it’s being starved.  It will protect itself, as anyone staying on a weight-loss programme for any length of time will tell you, by holding on to those pounds for all it’s worth.  Eventually though, you will lose weight, and your body will get used to functioning at a lower metabolic level. But when the diet ends and normal eating resumes, with this new slower metabolism, you will gain weight rapidly. It’s happened to me, again and again. The last time, I put on a pound a week for over 18 months – I just couldn’t seem to stop it.

Yo-yo dieting is more harmful to the heart than obesity

The AHA study analysed data from over 158,000 women over the age of 50. It found that over 11 years, women of normal weight who confessed to yo-yo dieting more than 4 times in their lives, were 3.5 times more likely to die from a heart attack than women whose weight stayed stable, even if they were obese.

Losing weight, it appears, is all very well, but it’s the regaining weight – which has that yo-yo inevitability about it – that stresses the body, increasing heart rate, raising blood pressure and elevating blood sugar levels. The problems accumulate, as these elevated levels do not fall back down during the next yo-yo cycle, leading to worsening health and elevated risk over time.

And that’s not all…

The articles about this study cover other issues too, including problems with bone density, fertility, skin elasticity, hair condition, gum disease… and possible correlation to some cancers. If you’re a yo-yo dieter, even if you’re not obese, it’s not a pretty picture.

I wasn’t just a yo-yo dieter, I was obese too.  I still am, according to the BMI charts. I came to fear dieting, for the yo-yo factor – and many others will understand that fear. The way to break the cycle is not through the food you eat, or the exercise you do.  Well, it is, but it doesn’t begin there.  Those are just the tactics. The way to break the cycle begins in the mind.

Success starts in your head – that’s where you can learn to tap into your motivation, positivity and resourcefulness.  It’s where you can flick the switches that mean it’s not all about willpower – which eventually fails – but about designing a different view of yourself, and creating a different and compelling vision for your future; one which puts the wind beneath your wings.

I’ll be writing quite a bit more about this in the coming weeks.

Dietary Heresy – or New Wisdom? #functionalmedicine #sugar #fat #carbs #cholesterol

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A quickie post today: I thought I’d share a few of the websites and influences that I’ve found helpful in shaping my attitude to food and health in recent months.  One or two of the understandings I’ve arrived at, having read some of the material available on the internet and in books, are beginning to catch a wave – it seems they’re not such crazy notions after all.

Sugar – what people generally call either free sugar or simply added sugar (ie, not the sugar found naturally in whole fruits, for example) – is an unhealthy and unnecessary dietary additive and the root cause of the so-called Obesity Epidemic. It may be tasty, but it’s addictive, it brings long-term harm and lifelong weight challenges, and we don’t need it.

Simple Carbohydrates – I’m thinking pasta, white rice, bread – should not be the foundation stones of the average meal. They convert to sugars far too quickly and mess with the body’s insulin regulating mechanisms. Particularly if you’re overweight and want to lose excess pounds, or you have type two diabetes, or are pre-diabetic, ditch those simple carbohydrates.

Fat – is not the enemy. In many, many forms, fat is more friend than foe, and should be an essential component within a healthy diet. The food industry has got rich persuading us that low fat products, processed and stuffed with additives and sugar, are healthy. This is more than misleading.  Dairy fats have much to commend them, and so-called healthy fats in nuts, oily fish, olive oil and avocados, for example, are an absolute must.

Cholesterol – which Big Pharma has gone into overdrive to persuade us is killing us – is natural and normal and for the vast majority of us, does not need to be controlled by drugs.  Statins are a con being perpetrated against vast populations of healthy people, for profit.

Great reference sources and health heroes

Action on Sugar http://www.actiononsugar.org  is a group of specialists concerned with sugar and its effects on health. It is working to reach a consensus with the food industry and Government over the harmful effects of a high sugar diet, and bring about a reduction in the amount of sugar in processed foods.  Spearheading Action on Sugar is one of my dietary heroes, Cardiologist, Dr Aseem Malhotra http://doctoraseem.com.

Diet Doctor https://www.dietdoctor.com seeks to promote natural health. Focused on LCHF (Low Carb High/Healthy Fat) approach, the website is an enormous practical and inspirational resource, particularly for those battling weight issues and diabetes. It promotes what began as a revolutionary approach a few years ago (carbohydrate reduction, the happy consumption of fats), but which is gaining considerable credibility in the medical community and beyond.

Dr Mark Hyman http://drhyman.com is a practicing physician, prolific author and advocate of the power of Functional Medicine. It seeks to identify and address the root causes of disease, and views the body as one integrated system, not a collection of independent organs divided up by medical specialties. It treats the whole system, not just the symptoms. Dr Hyman has written extensively on issues around fat and sugar.

Dr Malcom Kendrick https://drmalcolmkendrick.org Practicing GP and author of ‘The Great Cholesterol Con’, Dr Malcolm Kendrick throws light on the lies, damned lies and statistics that surround the demonization of cholesterol, the pushing of statins to almost anyone over the age of 50, and the ways we are made to fear eating just about any foodstuff you can contemplate. Great blog and real insights into how statistics can misdirect, and the difference between correlation and causation.

Insightful videos, podcasts and films

The Big Fat Fix

http://www.thebigfatfix.com

Addresses the issue of how recommended but misguided dietary advice over the last 50 years has spawned the obesity and diabetes epidemics.  It looks at the role of healthy eating – based around what’s become known as the Mediterranean Diet – in treating and preventing these and other diseases.

That Sugar Film

http://thatsugarfilm.com

In this revealing film, Damon Gameau embarks on a unique experiment to document the effects of a high sugar diet on a healthy body, consuming only foods that are commonly perceived as ‘healthy’. The results are shocking.

The Truth about Sugar (BBC Documentary)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K4LzSH9qU_Q

Even-handed documentary on how much sugar there is coursing through our everyday foods.

Dr Mark Hyman on Eating Fat to Get Healthy – with Lewis Howes

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xgWBKJsJtk0

An interview podcast, Dr Mark Hyman talks passionately about why eating fat is the key to weight loss.

That’s by no means an exhaustive list, and remember, I’m hardly the expert. But I personally have found each one of these websites (and their wealth of resources and links), health heroes and videos an excellent source of information and insight.  They have shaped my new eating and lifestyle habits, helped me towards a weight-loss of over 70 pounds in the last 13 months, and helped me to become healthier, happier and more energetic than I’ve been in almost two decades.

The Big Fat Fix

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I’m going to use this week’s post to promote a crowdfunded film I’ve just watched.  It’s called The Big Fat Fix, and you can stream or download it here.

The Big Fat Fix is an independent co-production between former international athlete Donal O’Neill – the Producer of Cereal Killers (2013) and Run on Fat (2015) – and UK Cardiologist Dr Aseem Malhotra, who is one of my lifestyle-as-medicine heroes.

The film addresses the issue of how recommended but misguided dietary advice over the last 50 years has spawned the obesity and diabetes epidemics.  It looks at the role of healthy eating – based around what’s become known as the Mediterranean Diet – in treating and preventing these and other diseases. And it examines the way we can and should exercise for optimal health.

At around 1 hour and 20 minutes it’s a long-ish film, and it begins at a leisurely pace. But stick with it, as you’ll find a wealth of advice which dramatically contradicts traditional dietary recommendations – advice which is gathering momentum and credibility at an exciting pace these days. It addresses issues around obesity, diabetes, stress and heart disease.

I commend this film to you.  That is all. The end.

On getting away with it

diabetes-528678_1920Several people in my circle and my general age-bracket, are in a poor or deteriorating state of health at present. There’s cancer, Parkinson’s disease, arthritis, a stomach ulcer, the after effects of blood clots, ulcerative colitis, diabetes, high blood pressure and even heart disease. I don’t have an enormous circle of friends and acquaintances, and that’s a lot of un-wellness; a combination of the diseases of middle-age, auto-immune conditions and the impact – physical, psychological and emotional – of modern living.

And that means… stress.

Stress brings with it a heavy payload of physical and psychological symptoms (just Google ‘stress symptoms’ and check out some of the lists). But chronic stress also opens the door for some far more serious conditions and diseases to enter. Who knows whether it actually causes them, but it certainly makes you more vulnerable.

Stress is about helplessness and feeling out of control.  It’s not, as some people assume, about having too much to do.  It’s far more about the feeling that, for whatever reason, you can’t cope with what you have to do or deal with. It’s about feeling ineffective, pushed around by others, powerless to influence your circumstances, or spiralling into some kind of a hole that you don’t feel able to climb out of.

Stress… actually weighs you down

Interestingly, stress is also an inhibitor to weight loss, as cortisol, the hormone produced in circumstances of stress, causes the body to hold on to its fat stores. The more chronic your stress, the harder it becomes to lose weight. And of course, the harder it is to lose weight, the more out of control the overweight person will feel. It’s one of those cruel vicious circles of life.

A contributor, for sure, to my yo-yo-ing weight and its gradual upward trajectory over the years, was the level of stress I lived with, mostly through the sort of work I used to do (which was wrong for me in many ways, but well-paid, so I pushed myself onward), and occasionally in bad relationships and their fallout too.  Divorce, financial pressures, unsatisfactory living arrangements, poor relationship decisions, work related anxiety including two redundancies and striking out as a solo-preneur, a problematic menopause, and a constant, gnawing sense of being not quite good enough at everything I tried to do. All these things contributed to a fluctuating but ever-present level of stress throughout my thirties and forties and right through until a couple of years ago. And all the while the weight piled on.

Until such point as it was no longer a product of stress, but one of its causes.

Fat stresses

Yes, fat itself became the stressor.  Here’s how it gets you: You stress about what people are really thinking of you. You see a bucket chair in a cosy coffee bar or gastro pub and wonder if you’ll be able to squeeze into it.  You see a different kind of chair in a school assembly hall, at the end-of-year stage production starring your young nephews, and wonder whether it will hold your weight for a whole two hours.  You worry about getting too hot or sweaty when you go out somewhere, to meet clients or be social. Wherever you go, you worry you’ll be the fattest person in the room.  You stress about being out of control, about your excess weight being so overwhelming that you’ll never feel normal again. You stress about never having something comfortable or stylish to wear for an important event. You become acutely aware of heaving yourself about, hoping others will not notice the effort.  When your well-meaning friends ask kindly if you’re OK to walk a few steps, or climb to the second or third floor, and you realise they think you’re almost disabled, you stress about it. You stress about weight limits on fitness equipment and spa facilities, because you exceed them.  And that’s just where it starts…

Health anxiety

This is the next layer of fat-stress. Health anxiety, or hypochondria, is a fearful thing.  Health anxiety surfaced for me as the menopause kicked in, and a confusion of symptoms became very unsettling. Beneath my intellectual appreciation that I was immersed in the time-of-life experience, lay an occasionally paralysing fear – because I was fat – that there was somehow something far more serious going on, that I had brought upon myself by being overweight. The sense of impending doom I would eventually learn to manage as I tried to calm my palpitating heart in the wee small hours, was frequently overwhelming. I called an ambulance on two occasions (and nearly called them on a dozen more) and once spent the whole night in A&E wired up to heart monitors as stress and anxiety exacerbated those all-natural hormonal misbehaviours.

Statistically speaking

And health anxiety isn’t just an internal thing – it’s fed by the media, in their pursuit of emotionally-charged headlines. The voices of statistical authority would have me believe that my excess weight (well over 100 surplus pounds when I started this healthy lifestyle thing last September) made – still makes – me a candidate for all manner of disease, including most of the conditions my circle of friends and acquaintances are suffering.  Obesity, so say the statistics, puts me at significantly elevated risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer of numerous kinds, high blood pressure, high cholesterol (whatever the implications of this are supposed to be) and diabetes – and that’s just for starters.  Add osteoarthritis, sleep apnoea and asthma, gout, gallstones and fatty liver disease. Oh, and anxiety and depression too.

All in all, it’s a misery-laden feast, particularly if you’re inclined to let scary headlines get under your skin.

A matter of time

But despite those 100 or more excess pounds, I’m one of the fortunate overweighties not eating at this misery-laden table.  I wasn’t at 270 pounds, and I’m still not at 207 pounds either. In fact, notwithstanding the 50 pounds or so of excess weight I still have to get rid of, and the anxieties related to my state-of-weight that I carried for years, my health is very good. I’m through the menopause (hurrah!) so I’m even feeling like an actual human being again, no longer screaming at the universe whilst sweating from every pore.  As I shed my surplus tonnage, I’m getting fitter and healthier by the day.

Believe me when I say I’m not in the least bit smug about my current state of health and wellness. And things could always change, I know this; I’m only 56 years old after all. But at the moment I suffer none of the ailments that should, if the statistics are to be believed, be my misfortune.

I changed my lifestyle last September because I finally acknowledged I was getting away with it.  The slew of disabling and depressing ailments within my circle of friends and acquaintances had made me realise this, and want – at long last – to do whatever I could to avoid these conditions becoming part of my lot in life.

I know no amount of healthy living can guarantee this, but common sense tells me that it must help, to manage my weight better, eat more healthily, improve the state of my heart, lungs and circulation, and exercise regularly.  I just finally got to the point where the push to do something was greater than the pull of the sofa, the packets of crisps and the ready-meals.

Now my stress level has dropped to a record low. I’m handling work better as my brain is more alert and I no longer suffer the 3pm slump. I am calmer, more relaxed, less easily provoked to irritation. I have energy to enjoy more social activities. I have self-respect again. What little disquiet as I may occasionally feel, as anyone does, is counterbalanced by a growing sense of confidence and wellbeing which has come from looking better and feeling healthier and knowing that at long last, I’m doing right by myself.

One of the Healthy Ones

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I visited my GP last week for the first time in well over a year. During a miserable menopause, I was in and out of her surgery every few weeks, with one distressing or uncomfortable symptom after another, overwhelmed by what they used to call hypochondria, but now label ‘health anxiety’. I spent the better part of six years stressing about a host of discomforting symptoms. The worst of these, by some considerable margin, was prolonged bouts of lurching, pounding heart palpitations, lasting hours at a time. Every time my hormonally induced palps kicked off, which they did frequently, I could not suppress the fear that I was in some sort of cardiac crisis; worse still, that I had brought it on myself, through my failure to take control of my eating and unhealthy lifestyle habits.  But it turned out I was fine – once the hormonal havoc settled, so did my blippy, ectopic heartbeat.

The last time I saw my GP in connection with one of those bewildering menopausal symptoms that there wasn’t anything to be done about, as I left her surgery, she said to me, “You don’t need to be here.  You’re one of the healthy ones.”  Her words stuck with me.  She was of course politely – very politely – telling me to pull myself together and stop taking up appointment times. On one level she had a point, but that time-of-life thing is a prickly period for some women, physically and psychologically.

Anyway, cut to last week and as I sat by her desk, she noted she hadn’t seen me in a while. She could see I’d lost weight, and I wondered if she was wondering whether this was intentional or not – as in, has this woman finally got herself under some control, or is she really, really ill?  But I don’t look ill. I’m actually looking remarkably… healthy.

She asked me how I was, normally the precursor to explaining whatever problem one is experiencing.  I said I was great, absolutely great, thank you. Not the usual response when one occupies an appointment slot at the surgery. (Worth saying, I did have something else to see her about, so I wasn’t there under a purely indulgent pretext.)

I told her what I’d lost over the past eight months, and that it was through adopting healthy eating and exercise habits, including walking regularly and giving up added sugar. She was plainly delighted. I was her first appointment that morning and she said I’d made her day. That was lovely. After our all-too-frequent interactions of recent years, it re-set the clock between us, I feel.

I asked her if I could have an NHS Healthcheck. I had one just over a year ago, and you’re not supposed to have them more than once every three years or so. But I was hoping to get a check on the various important numbers as I reached my weight-loss half-way point.  She readily agreed and I went off for my Healthcheck blood test.

An NHS Healthcheck is a fairly straightforward thing, not particularly detailed, but it does give you some useful data on things like blood pressure and heart health, as well as liver function and a few other things they can assess from your blood – like whether you’re heading for diabetes.

A few days ago, just as I was about to leave to walk down to the surgery for my Healthcheck (I walk everywhere I can these days, especially on lovely, sunny mornings), I got a phone call. It was the surgery receptionist, advising me that the nurse who conducts the Healthchecks ‘didn’t need to see me’. My blood test was ‘normal’ end-to-end and, well, that was that. I explained my situation, and that my GP had happily agreed to my having an interim Healthcheck, but nurse knew better – and seemingly had better things to do than monitor the healthy weight-loss of someone who is nonetheless still in the BMI obese category.

There are many, many good things about the NHS, the most notable one (for benefit of Stateside readers in particular) is that it is completely, totally free of charge at the point of need. Beyond what’s collected in our taxes, nobody pays.  But that means too, that if the NHS doesn’t think I need one of its many services, facilities or drugs, I don’t get it. Fair enough, I have to say, though I was momentarily miffed – well, I’m human, and petulance is my middle name. So I walked down to the surgery anyway (still a good excuse for a walk on a sunny day) and collected a copy of my blood test results.

So it turns out, several of those important blood-related numbers have come down nicely. There wasn’t anything really wrong last time; one or two were a bit borderline (I’ve said before that I knew I was getting away with things) – but even those were now comfortably in the ‘normal’ range. A couple were considerably improved.

I know these numbers aren’t the be-all-and-end-all, but it’s great to have such tangible evidence of the good that my new habits are doing to my insides. There wasn’t much else I needed from the Healthcheck anyway – I can work out my own BMI and I didn’t need the healthy lifestyle lecture.   It would have been nice (I’m a completer, remember?) to have had the full set of Healthcheck tests. But I can’t really object when the reason behind it is that I’m doing so well, I’ve already become medically unremarkable. I’ve still got quite a way to go, but what better way than that, to put my health anxiety to bed once and for all?

I hope you like today’s picture. Thanks to an infusion of nutritious compost and a proper prune, my rhododendron bush too, is healthier than it’s been for several years.

Size Matters

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It seems that eight inches isn’t enough any more. When did dinner plates get so absurdly, gigantically… enormous? 

When you’re trying, as I am, to eat more healthily, it’s not just about what you eat; it’s also about how much you eat. And it got me thinking about the size of the plates and dishes in my kitchen.

When I was growing up, dinner plates were around eight inches in diameter, and that included the rim. Take this out of the equation, and it meant there was a circle of around five inches in circumference, which had to accommodate your entire dinner.  And it did, always. Not only that, but the food wasn’t piled up, one thing on top of another like you so often see these days. Each element of the meal occupied its own segment of the plate. The only thing that would fall outside that modest five-inch circle would be a sprinkle of salt or a blob of tomato ketchup.

My dinner plates today (Jamie Oliver – Pukka), are eleven inches wide. With no rim and only the smallest of lips, that’s around a 10½ inch circle available to be loaded – overloaded – with food.  That’s over twice the size of the dinner plates of yesteryear.

I think I know when it happened. With the excesses of the eighties, came the minimalist culinary trend of nouvelle cuisine. An expression of luxury in the exquisite presentation of essentially modest quantities of very pretty ingredients.  Nouvelle cuisine demanded an expanse of pure white porcelain to display posh food artfully, to best effect. And the twelve-inch dinner plate was born.

The trouble with big plates – unless you’re staring appreciatively at a tiny arrangement of pretty food in a trendy eaterie – is that there’s a huge temptation to fill a plate with food, whatever size it is. Not including nouvelle cuisine, a big plate with a modest arrangement of food upon it looks… sparse.  If you’re serving guests, friends or customers, it looks positively ungenerous. And if you’re out, and tucking in at the ‘all you can eat’ counter, your calorie overload from filling that super-sized platter to the rim will be in the stratosphere.

So as plates got bigger so did portion sizes. As we gradually lost touch with what constitutes a perfectly adequately proportioned meal, normal began to feel like a child’s portion and extra-size became the adult normal.

Our personal perceptions were distorted further – and clearly in their own interests – by the food industry.  From fast food to supermarket ready meals, portion sizes have exploded. A normal MacDonald’s meal used to be a hamburger (not a quarter-pounder), a little paper bag of chips (not an extended cardboard cone), and a cup (not a bucket) of cola.  A normal meal from KFC would be two pieces of chicken and a handful of chips in a box you could hold in one hand, not buckets piled with four or five crumbed and fried variants, mountains of fries and a cornucopia of ‘sides’.  But don’t get me started on the concept of food in buckets.

Ready meals are no different and in 2013 British Heart Foundation (BHF) warned that Britain’s supermarkets are ‘out of control’ when it comes to portion sizes. Standard meals like pies, chilli and lasagne have expanded by anything from 20% to 70% over the last twenty years. Just one example, an average chicken curry and rice ready meal is now over twice the size it was twenty years ago.  And our eyes have adjusted accordingly. No surprises, a ready meal from the early days of meals-in-a-box and poke-and-ping would look positively minuscule today.

So without much ado, we happily fill our enormous plates with piles of food that look quite… normal – and in doing so, we are in danger of consuming food in quantities that would astonish – and probably disgust – the 1960’s family.

In my kitchen, it’s time for smaller plates.

The next size down from those Jamie Oliver Pukka plates (27 cms) is a size he calls Munchies (23cms). The name suggests it’s a plate for snacks, salads or sides, but it’s actually still larger than those traditional dinner plates of old. So Munchies has become my new dinner plate – but even that’s not quite enough, and I’m working on eating more from the next size down from that.  It’s a side plate which Jamie fondly calls Side Kick (19cms).  That’s not a bad size for a light meal.  It’s more than enough for something dense, like a chilli or moussaka.  I’ve downsized in bowls too.  At 17cms there’s nothing little about Jamie’s Little Tinker bowl. If you filled it with breakfast cereal you would surely explode before lunchtime. More appropriate then is his 14cm Nibbles bowl, which is more or less the same size as my childhood cereal bowls. The name Jamie chose might suggest that this one is for hungry snacking moments, but when I get a snack attack, I’m using the next one down – the 11cm Cutie, which Jamie describes as a ramekin.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not having a go at Jamie Oliver; I’m just using him as an example of the recent trend, as my cupboards are full of his stuff. I love his beautiful white-on-white crockery and tableware. I love how he has made a shift towards healthier recipes at just the time when I’m looking at the same, and I wholeheartedly support his campaign for a sugar tax.

But size does matter. I may not have ignorantly pigged-out on piles of crap, like ‘the obese’ are often presented as doing on TV; but I know I’ve let myself eat progressively more of all sorts of things over the years.  So I’m trying to get used to eating less, without feeling deprived.

When it comes to mealtimes, eating off smaller plates and bowls is a great way to recalibrate your sense of proportion – and portion.