If there's one mistake people make when trying to lose weight, it's just winging it and hoping for the best, Dr Michael Mosley says.
The British television presenter and "5:2 guy" says planning and goal-setting are crucial for slimming down, as is choosing a proper eating plan to keep you on track when life pushes you off course.
"It's all about preparation, and it's also about knowing why you're doing it," he says on a video call from Britain.
"What's your motivation? That, above all, is one of the most important things – write it down, think about it, and when you face your temptations, which we all do, you'll know it's not worth [giving in]."
Mosley, known for his intermittent fasting regime and Fast 800 approach, which caps calories at 800 a day for up to 12 weeks, has seen a surge of interest in weight loss and type 2 diabetes during the pandemic. Diabetes was the focus of his recent documentary series for SBS and has become even more relevant as people have become more sedentary and started eating more at home.
Even if you don't like vegetables now, when you're hungry you will learn how to cook and prepare them in a way that makes them delicious.Dr Michael Mosley
About one in four Australians with type 2 diabetes are not aware they have it, he says, and people with risk factors such as being older than 40 with a larger waistline or higher BMI and a family history of diabetes should consider being tested.
If you are considering a weight-loss plan, Mosley says, look for one with some scientific credibility and find out who is promoting it and why. There is no single strategy that suits everyone, so consider what is most practical for your needs and lifestyle, and what you can realistically achieve.
"That's the thing about a diet frankly – its success largely depends on whether people actually stick to it," he says.
Intermittent fasting can help some people, Mosley says. His 5:2 program promotes reduced-energy meals two days a week and regular meals on the other five, but there are many forms of time-restricted eating you can try. The 14:10 approach seems to be the simplest, he says, as it involves an early dinner followed by an overnight fast and a late breakfast in the morning.
Whichever path you choose to follow, support is crucial – from family and friends, or from other social networks and online groups if you prefer, Mosley says. His online program fast800.com, for example, offers online support across different time zones.
"When things get tough, you can go back to your plans and you can go back to your support group," he says.
Aside from fasting and energy restriction, Mosley is a big advocate for Mediterranean-style eating: lots of olive oil, oily fish, nuts, legumes, whole grains and vegetables. Not only is it rich in healthy fats and protein, the diet is also satiating so won't leave you feeling hungry.
In terms of what foods to avoid, that's anything you can buy at a service station, Mosley says. That is, ultra-processed foods and convenience items we all know are bad for us but still eat in astonishing quantities. If it's heavily marketed, in bright packaging and full of fat, sugar and salt, it will likely affect our health and mood – and not for the better, he says.
To avoid temptation, don't bring the usual suspects home (biscuits, chips and anything made with cheap factory ingredients), or if they're already lurking in the pantry, throw them in the bin. Instead, fill the fridge with fresh, whole ingredients and stock the cupboard and freezer with tinned and frozen fish, vegetables and legumes. Meal replacement shakes also have their place in moderation if you're particularly busy or travel frequently, he says.
If you feel the need to snack throughout the day or when you're bored or stressed, Mosley suggests looking at your daily routine and examining your habits. If you're working from home, for example, have a stash of unsalted nuts on hand or cut up vegetables and store them at the top of the fridge rather than reaching into the snack drawer.
Build movement into your day – by getting out of your chair and moving every 30 to 40 minutes, or going for a walk in the bright morning light. "Exercise snacking" – short bursts of exercise throughout the day – tends to be more sustainable than trying to find the time for a long workout at the end of the day. Find cues or triggers that will remind you to do a few squats or push-ups – for example, every time you make a cup of tea.
And eat at the dinner table, rather than mindlessly munching in front of a screen. Getting to bed early and seeking out "green and blue spaces" outdoors will help your physical and mental health, too.
The important thing is to approach food in a positive way, and experiment with easy, interesting ways to eat healthy foods. If you're not sure where to start and need some quick inspiration, Instagram is a good source for quick one-minute cooking videos.
"Even if you don't like vegetables now, when you're hungry you will learn how to cook and prepare them in a way that makes them delicious," Mosley says.
"The French have a saying that hunger is the best sauce. So it's all about retraining your taste buds and learning new recipes.
"It does take some planning and preparation [but] it gets easier with time, because you get into the rhythm [and] you get used to it.
"If you want to lose weight and keep it off … then it is going to require a certain amount of commitment. But you don't have to suffer. Good food should be a pleasure, and it's a matter of rediscovering those pleasures."
At the most basic level, Mosley says, losing weight and pursuing better health is about enjoying food and enjoying life.
"What you eat has a profound effect on your mental health, and therefore on your energy levels," he says.
"Once you've started the virtuous circle, then all the other things become much easier."