Mon, Jun-20-22, 00:27
Tom Watson: Here’s how to keep weight off for good
Tom Watson: Here’s how to keep weight off for good
The former Labour deputy leader explains why you should view weight loss as a journey, not a destination
Five months ago, if Tom Watson had done this interview, he would have confessed to eating too much cheese and that he’d gained 12 pounds; his father’s death, a third lockdown and the dark winter months had all knocked him off course.
Due to the training he has done in mindset and motivation though, it’s a different story today. He’s feeling great; gym-bound two to three times a week and running with his dog. “I’m perky and feeling happy. My blood sugars are in a good place and the weight is coming off again,” he tells me from his home office in Worcestershire over Zoom.
In 2018 the former Labour deputy leader astounded everyone when he lost eight stone, going from 22st to 14st in two years and reversing his type 2 diabetes, going on to write the bestselling book Downsizing.
Yet there is no happy ending for the food addict. Watson will never be free of the urge to eat sugar. The mere thought of a Hobnob can still have him salivating. If he finds himself needing to re-fuel on the go he’ll grab a packet of turkey slices from the likes of M&S. “But I could so easily go to the biscuit aisle and eat a packet there and then,” he says.
Calling his new book Lose Weight 4 Life might at first seem a bit of a boast. As Watson says: “That’s a heavy and onerous responsibility I’ve given myself there”.
However, the title in fact refers to the cycle of small setbacks followed by resets that are inevitable.
“You are losing weight for life because you’re going to have good days and bad days. You’re going to put a bit of weight on and have to learn how to put yourself in the mood to shift it. Whether it’s logging your food that week, or starting to take your measurements, as long as you’ve got a reset programme that brings you back to the journey, you’re going to be OK.”
Multiple times during our interview he tells me that weight loss is a “journey, not a destination”.
Tom Watson’s Week One reset
1. Food logging and daily weighing should be top of your priority list, along with measuring your step count. (Add in blood sugar level and ketone measurements if it helps.)
2. Prepare yourself mentally
3. Don’t let your mood spiral downwards if your weight goes up or you haven’t exercised
4. Focus on each day, then at the end of Week One reflect on what might have led to your weight gain. Have you created an unconscious bad habit?
As trite as that might sound, it’s also a reassurance for all those who have hit their target weights and then found the weight starting to creep back on. How can you maintain healthy habits, and willpower, for life?
While the 55-year-old doesn’t want to be “preachy”, he understands the emotions of motivation and maintenance more than a theoretical diet expert.
When Watson lost weight he was inundated with emails from people wanting to know the details.
Not everything he did, he makes clear, will work for everyone else, but it’s a place to start.
Setting rules that can go on to become habits is his top piece of advice. As Watson admits, it’s something he struggled to maintain after he stood down as an MP in Dec 2019 and moved from London to Worcestershire. All the positive habits, such as having his trainers always by the front door of his London flat for a morning run, crumbled away.
Then, two months later, he was plunged with the rest of us into the pandemic.
“I had to laugh when Boris talked about home-workers eating slithers of cheese from the fridge, because in ‘Lockdown Three’ I did have a setback in my programme that involved a lot of mail-order cheese and the fridge.”
Watson focused on rediscovering a positive mindset to help him reinstate positive habits, rather than becoming mired in self-pity. He is a fan of gratitude journaling and says even his cheese problem had a silver lining. “Yes, it was calorifically dense, but at least it wasn’t chocolate that was sending my blood glucose through the roof.”
Watson says he “banks” the wins, the daily achievements. “Make sure your inner voice is high-fiving you when you come out of the gym.”
The flipside of that, he says, is knowing how to deconstruct what’s going on when you’re in a slump and you’ve not trained for a week.
What’s snuck into the shopping list that wasn’t necessary? Do you need to prepare your meals a bit earlier?
Watson’s reset is to go keto, cutting back on the carbs. Today he had a bulletproof coffee (“it stops hunger pangs”). On mornings when he’s peckish he’ll have an omelette with spinach.
If he was a minister now he’d be reengineering the British breakfast away from sugary cereals back to Fay Weldon’s ‘Go to work on an egg’, he says.
And while he acknowledges that, “If you’re on a low income it really is hard,” he observes that if you’re the sort of person that indulges in Just Eat and Deliveroo, buying fresh vegetables and cooking from scratch will actually help you save money.
The government delaying the implementation of a ban on BOGOF deals meets with his disapproval. “The argument is about the cost of living, but I’ve never seen a buy-one-get-one-free carton of eggs. It’s always empty nutrients, poorly produced food, that’s on offer.”
His first intervention, if he was in government, would be to prescribe a glucose monitor on the NHS for a month to those who are overweight. “If you can visualise the effect of going to the fridge and glugging a bottle of coke when you’re hungover, that will help with behavioural changes. That would have helped me.”
Whole supermarket aisles are dead to him and he hasn’t had a beer in five years (“Too much sugar”), now favouring spirits such as vodka and gin.
Watson’s relationship with food will always be like that of Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a steep hill. “You can either be overcome by that or you can find a way of pushing the boulder and enjoying it. And that’s all mindset; taking pleasure in small things.
“If I get an early walk in before breakfast, I tell myself, “What a great start to the day.” Rather than: “I can’t believe I have to do all this”
Tom’s top tips for staying trim
1. Never eat directly from the fridge. Put whatever you’re taking out on a plate, even if it’s a few carrot sticks dipped into a keto mayonnaise. Otherwise, several trips later, you’ll find that you have eaten the equivalent of a meal.
2. Never eat anything with your hands – always get a knife and fork. As with using a plate, this technique may make you think twice about raiding the fridge.
3. Don’t con yourself about how much you’re snacking when you’re round someone else’s house or at a social function. Even one crisp is a chink in your ‘armour’ - this form of eating is part of the denial process and leads to unhealthy habits forming.
4. Don’t panic if your clothes start to feel tight again – reset your routine if you fall back into old ways.
5. Moving house, changing jobs and caring for a relative are among the challenges that can throw you off course, so have an honest think about what has unbalanced you.
6. Get yourself a support network such as a walking group or exercise buddies to get you back on track and keep you there.
7. Surviving on fewer than seven hours of sleep a night not only affects you mentally, it also impacts your weight. Set a regular bedtime and stick to it.
Lose Weight 4 Life by Tom Watson (Octopus)
You may remember Tom Watson's original weight loss story:
Leading British politician reverses Type 2 diabetes diagnosis by low carbing