‘I finally realised why I was failing at long-term weight loss’

‘I finally realised why I was failing at long-term weight loss’

After making and breaking the same promise to get fit and healthy at the beginning of each year, Mandi Brown broke up with her scales and discovered a holistic approach was the key to dropping the kilos – and keeping them off. 

For Mandi Brown, it started with a feeling. She was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired; of making the same New Year’s resolution to get healthy, only to abandon it come February. She knew how to lose weight. She had done it twice before after the birth of her children Xavier and Sunny, now 13 and 11. It was the keeping it off that was challenging. “I was sick of hating myself and my body. I knew I wasn’t meant to go through life feeling this way, and sitting on the sidelines,” she tells Body+Soul.

Five years ago, at the start of 2016, Brown turned to what was then known as Weight Watchers (now WW) for guidance. Her goal: to lose 24kg in 12 months so she could feel comfortable in her swimsuit on an upcoming family cruise. And she did. But perhaps the biggest weight that was shifted wasn’t seen on the scales: it was in her mind.

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“In the beginning I was fixated with the numbers on the scale. I assumed once I’d lost the weight, I would also love myself, but I was still picking myself apart. That’s why I’d failed keeping the weight off in the past. I wasn’t looking at things holistically,” she explains.

But through the WW app, she gradually changed the way she approached food, exercise, sleep and her mental health. And even though the weekly weigh-in meetings were gone, she’d fostered a community of supportive individuals who kept her motivated, as well as support from the WW team 24/7. “In the palm of my hand, I had meditation, sleep tracking, workouts… everything.”

WW’s head of nutrition and wellness Jaclyn London says the newest program, myWW+, offers a 360° approach to wellness. “We know that there’s so much more that goes into taking care of yourself. If you want to eat better, there is always the fact that you may be too exhausted to cook. Or you want to stay active but you may be quarantined and can’t do the things you’d normally do. The app is really the first of its kind in terms of a program that touches on sleep, food, activity, mindset and stress at large.”

Forget the idea of cheat days or restricted eating. London says the program has everything on the menu. “I’m not the biggest fan of the term ‘cheat days’. Why are you cheating?” she asks. “It’s not a test. Especially when you think about it as wellness 360°, sometimes the healthiest thing you can do is to have bad food.”

But hours slept, glasses of water drank and number of steps taken are just as important as the food you’re eating, says London. “Hydration is really key to just about everything and so many of us forget about it. From the time we wake up in the morning, we’re constantly losing water. First thing in the morning, when you’re making a coffee, have a cup of water. That’s the perfect way to start the day on the right foot.”

Still, the program’s biggest focus is on maintaining a positive mindset while trying to achieve your goal, and it does this via its guided meditation and community support. “It really does speak to self-compassion – not letting yourself off the hook but also understanding [why you need] to stay resilient,” says London.

Which is why, five years on, Brown has maintained her weight loss – give or take a COVID kilo or two. “For me it’s about a healthy, sustainable lifestyle. But self-respect has been the biggest change. I don’t bully myself,” she says. “I still have my stretch marks, but I love them. They tell a story.” And Brown’s advice for anyone who’s sick and tired of being sick and tired is that there’s a better way to feel. “You’re worth it, no matter how busy you are. Stop ignoring yourself. No-one should feel like they’re just existing. You only get to do this life once.”

How to achieve your New Year health goals

#1. Pay attention to your health and prioritise yourself

“Life can be busy and stressful. With so much going on, it’s easy to prioritise other things – work, kids, our partners’ needs – before paying attention to what our own bodies are saying about our health,” Celander tells Body+Soul. “The reality is, you’re not going to be the best version of yourself and be able to do all of those other things well if you don’t first take care of your own wellness. It’s important to set healthy boundaries and say no to things that conflict with our needs.”

#2. Focus on progress, not perfection

“Try to make healthy choices the majority of the time, but don’t beat yourself up if sometimes it doesn’t go to plan,” says dietitian and WW’s director of program and science Dr Michelle Celander. “Research shows those who practise self-compassion are more likely to eat well, exercise and take care of themselves, even when they’re feeling stressed, and are better able to maintain their weight loss.”

#3. Learn what works for you – and do more of it

“There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach to health and wellness, which is why myWW+ is customised to suit your food preferences and behaviours,” says Celander. “Trial different approaches, whether it’s types of exercise, different recipes or mindset techniques. Repeat the things that work until they become a healthy habit that you both enjoy and can stick to.”