While it’s tempting to opt for a quick fix when it comes to achieving your “ideal” body, there are healthier and more sustainable methods for losing weight—no calorie counting or punishing exercise regimes required.
Despite years of dieting and daily workouts, Giulia Halkier still couldn’t lose weight. In fact, her weight was rising, with the 5 foot 8 inches former fitness instructor gaining 18 pounds in just a few months. Tired of feeling anxious and sluggish, the body confidence coach decided to reboot her lifestyle. Not only did she lose weight, but her new mindset led to the body confidence she craved.
“I spent a lot of time trying to change my body and I still was never happy, no matter what program I went on,” the 35-year-old told Newsweek. “I decided to focus on healing my mental health instead.”
These tips included:
- Stopping high-intensity interval training (HIIT)
- No restrictive diets
- Quit focusing on weight loss
- Address your mental health to improve your physical wellbeing
How Restrictive Diets and Exercise Programs Can Make You Heavier
Around 42 percent of Americans are obese with a BMI of over 30, according to data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although obesity can cause a range of health issues—from Type 2 diabetes to coronary heart disease and sleep apnea—numerous studies show that restrictive diets do not work long-term, the CDC says.
A 2020 study published in the healthcare journal The BMJ discovered that most low-fat or low-carbohydrates diets did reduce the risk of weight-related health issues in the short term. However, after a year any benefits had diminished.
Research published in the Medical Clinics of North America echoed these findings. Analyzing the long-term results of 29 weight loss studies, researchers found that after two years, participants had on average gained half of the lost weight back. By five years, they had regained 80 percent.
Halkier’s body image issues began in childhood. Growing up in Vancouver, Canada, she first remembers feeling insecure about her appearance in the third grade.
“I remember hating my body and comparing myself to other girls in school,” she said. “I just had this inner feeling that there was something wrong and that if I changed my body, I would be happier.”
Her mother also struggled with poor body image, which Halkier believes unintentionally rubbed off on her. By age 17, she’d developed anorexia.
Although she somewhat recovered from her eating disorder, she grappled with her body image throughout most of her 20s. She tried a range of “fad” diets, including Atkins, cutting carbohydrates and the South Beach Diet.
“You name it, I tried it,” she said. “I was desperate to try and lose weight, but no program worked.”
Along with restricting her food intake, Halkier took up high-intensity interval training (HIIT), as she heard it was the best exercise for fat loss. She also experimented with intermittent fasting and spent countless dollars on personal trainers and fitness programs to get her dream body.
At 21, she underwent breast enlargement surgery, but these changes didn’t boost her confidence as she’d hoped. By age 28, her self-esteem was at rock bottom, but her weight was also inexplicably rising.
Despite working as a fitness instructor, her body was constantly inflamed, and the stress of trying to lose weight led to insomnia and exhaustion. The intermittent fasting meant she was binge eating as her body fought against the restrictive diet. Despite her efforts, her weight rose from 155 pounds to 173.
Ashamed of her figure, she stopped weighing and measuring herself. It wasn’t until she injured her hip from overuse that she realized her lifestyle was harmful.
“My body obviously just hit a point of saying ‘no thank you,'” she said. “I went through a period of burnout.”
‘I Had to Heal My Brain’
Halkier believes the intermittent fasting and over-exercising were causing her cortisol levels to rise. Studies have linked excess cortisol to increased appetite and weight gain, particularly around the stomach.
She was unaware of this fact at the time, so she kept pushing her body to its limits. Describing her injury as a “light bulb moment,” she decided to focus on her mental health instead of her physical appearance.
She gave her body time to rest and swapped HIIT for low-intensity exercises such as walking, pilates, yoga and eventually weight training.
“Our muscle fibers can’t heal if we don’t rest,” she said. “You’re actually stopping your ability to grow muscle by over-exercising. This inhibits weight loss because it slows down our metabolism and increases fat storage.”
She also dropped restrictive diets and fasting, instead focusing on healing her mindset around food. However, she found adding carbohydrates back into her diet particularly difficult.
“I ate what I avoided during my dieting phase, such as fruits—I was even afraid that fruit would make me gain weight,” she said.
She chose foods that would nourish her body and over time, was able to enjoy meals again. Still, she said the biggest hurdle was addressing all of the negative thoughts she held about her appearance.
“I had to heal my brain and free myself from all the emotional pain that I was slugging around with me,” she said. “That was the biggest shift, but it wasn’t an overnight change.”
As well as integrating meditation and mindfulness techniques into her life, Halkier started using the emotional freedom technique (EFT), also known as “tapping” or “psychological acupressure.” An alternative therapy for pain and distress, EFT users believe that tapping 12 different points of the body can release negative energy.
She also experimented with toning the vagal nerve. Found in the neck, the vagal nerve impacts the function of digestion, heart rate, reflexes and more.
“I was very diligent about it,” Halkier said. “I made it an everyday priority to focus on that and it totally transformed my life.”
Within a year, both her mental and physical health had drastically improved. As a result, Halkier decided to launch her own business, called Brazen, to help other people overcome their body image issues through mental health support and mindfulness. She recommends that people throw out the scales and measuring tape and learn to prioritize their mental and physical health.
“Learning to reduce stress has a huge impact on your body composition,” she said. “That’s why I’m so dedicated to helping women free themselves from this cycle and find the healing they deserve.”
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