The Ten Super Secrets of Permanent Slimming Success

Vernon Coleman

Over the last forty years I have talked to thousands of slimmers - and exchanged letters with thousands more. I have learned that all slimmers face - and must overcome - the same basic problems if they are to succeed.

Here are the ten vital steps you must take if you are to diet successfully - with lasting success. Read the advice on the following pages carefully and you will be able to lose weight - and stay slim - without any calorie counting, without any painful exercises and without any boring, fixed menus.

Secret no. 1
Never forget why you want to lose weight
Many slimmers endure endless agonies: they weigh out every item of food; they count their calories; they perform difficult, painful and tedious exercises; and they spend a fortune on equipment and classes - but they never really have a clear idea of just what they're going to gain by being slim. If you don't know exactly how you're going to benefit by losing weight, you'll almost certainly fail. To slim successfully, you have to sort out what the advantages are going to be so that you are properly motivated. Don't let your diet fail for lack of motivation. Here are just a few of the benefits you'll enjoy if you lose unwanted weight:

* you will be healthier.
* you will be able to wear more exciting clothes - and you'll probably be able to buy bargains in the sales, too.
* you'll have far more confidence.
* You'll be able to enjoy sports and social occasions much more.
You can probably think of another dozen advantages. So do just that - think of the ways in which your life will be better when you've lost weight. Then write down your reasons and keep your list somewhere close at hand - so that you can look at it several times a day. Remember: if you sincerely, genuinely and honestly want to be slim, you will succeed.

Secret no.2
Start a compost heap
Do you dislike throwing food away? Do you find it difficult to put down your knife and fork when there is still food left on your plate? If, when you are clearing your plates away from the table you see perfectly good food left over, do you ever eat any of it? Do you ever eat up the crumbs in the biscuit tin?

When I conducted a survey of slimmers I found that over half of all people with a weight problem admitted that they felt terribly guilty if they ever had to throw food away. Just under half admitted that they would always eat food rather than throw it away, and a third rather shamefacedly admitted that they frequently ate other people's leftovers.

This cautious, respectful attitude towards food is something that most of us acquire when we are young. We are encouraged to eat up all the food on our plates by mothers who frequently remind us that there are starving people who would be grateful for the food we don't want to eat. Consequently we grow up feeling guilty whenever we leave anything on our plates or throw food away. We will (albeit with some pangs of guilt) throw out clothes that are worn out or grossly unfashionable, but too often we find that we just cannot throw food away. I've known slimmers who would rather put a piece of mouldy cheese into their mouths than throw it into the dustbin. I've known slimmers who would eat food they didn't even like rather than throw it away.

It's daft, isn't it? Your body doesn't need the calories. And all that food is merely going to be stored as fat. You're probably going to have to spend weeks losing the pounds that you should never have gained in the first place. The fact is, of course, that you aren't helping anyone by using your stomach as a dustbin and eating unwanted leftovers. No one in Africa or India will eat any better because you aren't throwing food away. You aren't saving any lives by eating up those leftovers. In fact, by perpetuating bad habits you are harming your health. When you pass on those bad habits to others (for example your children) you are simply creating new problems - not solving any old ones.

I realize that learning to throw out food can be difficult; the old,long-established barriers of guilt can be difficult to break down. The only way to succeed is to practise. Try it now. Go into the kitchen and look through the cupboards and the fridge. Then throw out unwanted or stale bits of food. Throw out stuff that you know you aren't ever going to use. If you have a garden, start a compost heap - knowing that the food you're throwing out is being used will probably make you feel better.

Finally, here are a few extra tips that will prove helpful:
* Try to be more accurate when guessing how much food people will eat. Most cooks prepare too much rather than too little, particularly when entertaining guests.
* If you always seem to prepare too much food, don't put everything you prepare on to the table. Leave some in the kitchen. If it's needed, you can bring it out: if it isn't needed, you can always put it in the fridge or freezer to be used another day.
* Make a collection of recipes suitable for leftovers. You won't feel so bad about having food uneaten if you know that you can use it up afterwards.
* Have a supply of small, sealable containers ready for storing leftovers.

Secret no. 3
Don't eat in the evening
I've lost count of the number of slimmers I've met whose main problem has been night-time nibbling. During the daytime they hardly eat at all - but in the evenings, while sitting down watching television, they hardly ever stop! And most of the food they eat is, of course, extremely fattening: biscuits, crisps, peanuts and chocolates. Night-time nibbling has nothing to do with hunger but is usually done to allay boredom. The nibbler doesn't stop when he or she is no longer hungry, because hunger has nothing to do with it.

The main problem with eating during the evening is that most of the food which is consumed isn't needed - and so it is stored as fat. Some slimmers believe that it doesn't matter when you eat as long as you limit your intake of calories. But this simply isn't true. Calories consumed at night are far more deadly than calories consumed in the morning.

When you eat five hundred calories at breakfast-time they will be converted into blood sugar within a relatively short time. And since the chances are high that you'll be busy early in the morning, your body will burn up that sugar to satisfy its immediate energy needs.

However, when you eat a meal of five-hundred calories at supper-time the consequences are rather different. Once again the calories will be converted into blood sugar, but this time your body won't have any immediate need for them. Your body burns up far fewer calories when you are slumped in front of the television set or lying in bed than it does when you are rushing around doing the shopping and the washing or getting to work. So in order to prevent your blood sugar levels rising to intolerable - and even dangerous - levels much of that unused potential energy is converted into fat, to be stored for future use.

By the time you wake up the following morning - and start to get yourself ready for the day ahead - your blood sugar will be relatively low again. And as you rush around you will feel uncomfortably hungry. Your body will need energy supplies quite quickly. In theory you don't need to respond to that feeling of hunger because your body has stored plenty of calories from the food you ate the night before. And if you ignore the rumblings in your tummy and the slightly light-headed feeling that you have, all will be well. Your body will obtain the energy supplies it needs from the calories you ate yesterday evening.

But, in practice, that isn't likely to happen. You'll eat more food - and obtain the energy you need from a fresh supply of calories. Inevitably, your attempts at dieting will be in tatters and you will put on weight. The calories which you ate during the evening, and which were stored for some future use, will stay stored.

Here are some tips designed to help you control night-time nibbling more effectively.

* Stop buying high-calorie fattening nibbles. Make sure that if you do nibble, you nibble slimming biscuits or sip at low-calorie drinks. Keep apples, bananas or oranges handy - rather than packets of biscuits or roasted peanuts.
* Try to keep yourself busier during the evenings. One of the reasons why most people find it easier to avoid nibbling during the daytime is that they are busy with other things and don't have too much time to think about food or succumb to the temptation to nibble. Try to get out of the house more in the evenings. Perhaps you could enrol in a night school course. Perhaps there are clubs or groups which you could join. Maybe you could take up a sport or a hobby to which you could devote more attention. If you spend long periods of time watching television, take up knitting or embroidery or crocheting - all will keep your fingers busy and away from the biscuit tin.
* If you're trying to break bad eating habits, move all the furniture round in your living room. When you sit down to watch television sit in a different chair - or move your favourite chair to a new position. Change the easy things - and you'll find bad habits easier to break (that's why switching to a `green' diet is going to make dieting easy for you).
* Buy vegetarian nibbles rather than sweets and chocolates. Nuts, dried fruit and raisins aren't particularly low in calories, but you're less likely to get hooked and eat your way through a whole boxful of calories! Besides, you can take some small comfort from the fact that vegetarian nibbles are at least packed with goodness.

Secret no. 4
Only eat when you're hungry
It is now over half a century since one of the most remarkable research projects ever planned was first described in an American medical journal. Until I unearthed the scientific paper that described the research work, it and its astonishing conclusions had been forgotten. And yet that one experiment provided the basis for all sensible slimming programmes.

It led the way to the discovery of the appetite control centre - an impressive, automatic device hidden deep inside every human brain. The power of this unique control centre is quite astonishing: it can make sure that you never get underweight or overweight, and that you never become short of essential vitamins or minerals.

The experiment was performed by Dr Clara M. Davis of Chicago in the 1920's, and she first published her results in the American Journal of Diseases of Children in October 1928. Dr Davis had three aims. She wanted to know whether the young, newly weaned infants she had chosen for her experiment could:

1) Choose their own food and eat enough to stay alive.
2) Select a good balanced diet without any outside help.
3) Pick foods which would help them to stay healthy.
The results were staggering. Dr Davis found that without any prompting the infants automatically chose good, varied diets. Their growth rates, development, vigour and appearance were just as satisfactory as those of babies who had been eating foods carefully selected by expert dieticians and nutritionists. The young children ate the right types of food in the right amounts, and they stayed healthy.

Five years later Dr Davis produced details of more research work that she had done. Having studied fifteen infants for between six months and four and a half years, she had come to the conclusion that they were all able to select a good variety of satisfying foods and to ensure that they ate neither too much nor too little. Despite the fact that none of the children had been told what to eat, they all remained healthy. Their eating habits seemed to be unplanned, even chaotic, but none of them ever suffered from stomach ache or became constipated. None of the children who was allowed to choose his or her own food became fat or even chubby.

Some years later, during the Second World War, a larger and more sophisticated experiment, organized by army doctors, showed that when soldiers are allowed access to unlimited supplies of food they eat what their bodies need according to the environment. Without any professional prompting or guidance, the soldiers automatically chose a mixture of protein, fat and carbohydrate that was appropriate for their immediate needs.

The only conclusion to be drawn from these experiments is that if you listen to your body - and eat when it tells you to - you will not go far wrong. If, in addition, you can make sure that you eat the foods your body tells you to eat and that you stop eating when your body tells you to stop, you'll not only stay healthy but you'll also stay slim.

I've explained the importance of the appetite control centre to numerous slimmers over the last few years. And everyone who has learned to use it has gained enormously in confidence and in slimming success. As far as I know there has never been a failure. Everyone who has used the techniques I've devised, which are based on the existence of this control centre, has successfully lost weight - and, even more important, stayed slim.

But to start with, just about everyone has been sceptical. `If there is such a marvellous device in my brain,' they say, `then why am I fat?'

The answer is simple. Most of us have lost the art of listening to our own bodies, and we've acquired many bad eating habits which over-rule our internal appetite control centre. We no longer eat simply because we're hungry - we eat for all sorts of other reasons too. Boredom, guilt and depression are probably the three most dangerous enemies of any slimmer. Thousands and thousands of women and men regularly eat not because they are hungry or because they need food but because they are bored, feel guilty or are depressed.

Boredom is one of the commonest and yet one of the most under-estimated problems in society these days. It affects millions: people who have dull, routine, uninspiring jobs; people who have retired early; and people who have no job at all. In a special survey I conducted recently, I discovered that 87 per cent of people with a weight problem admitted that they regularly ate to cheer themselves up, while 91 per cent of slimmers admitted that they regularly ate because they were bored. Can you honestly say that you've never munched a biscuit for no other reason than that you were bored?

The only answer, of course, is to try to add more excitement to your life. Start going to evening or day classes at a local college. Take up a hobby that you find fascinating and rewarding. Begin a small business of your own at home. None of these activities need cost you much money - just time and a little effort. If you give yourself something to think about, and something to keep your mind occupied, the chances are that you won't get bored so often. And you won't end up trying to relieve your boredom by eating.

Guilt is underestimated as a driving force, too. Many slimmers don't have to do anything to feel guilty. They feel guilty simply because they are overweight. They feel that they are letting themselves or their partners down. They feel guilty for ever having put on so much weight. And they feel guilty for having failed to get the weight off again. As soon as they eat something fattening, even more guilt piles on. All that guilt then produces depression and shame, and the depression and shame lead directly to misery and unhappiness. Too often more food is seen as the answer.

We learn to associate food with our emotions when we are small, as I described earlier when talking about psychological food addiction. Gradually, over the years, we get into the habit of associating happiness with food - particularly sweets and other fattening food. The only way you can break this link is by learning to cheer yourself up in other, less fattening ways. Pick up the telephone and talk to a friend if you feel like breaking into the biscuit tin. Do some vigorous vacuuming or go out for a brisk walk if you're feeling miserable and are tempted to start comfort eating. Buy yourself a new book, magazine, record or tape if you feel glum. Get yourself a bunch of flowers or a new jumper.

Over the years thousands of women have admitted to me that they have a weight problem because they have allowed their emotions to dictate their eating habits. I can still remember the first time I ever spoke to a slimming group. I asked the women members of the class why they thought they had a weight problem. Amazingly, it was a question that none of them had ever tried to answer before. And even more amazingly, none of them could give me a serious reply. Everyone managed quick, easy, slick, traditional answers.

`I like food too much,' said a thirty-five-year-old housewife.

`I just can't say `No',' confessed a twenty-nine-year-old mother of four.

None of them could really say why they had a weight problem, and yet they all desperately wanted to lose weight.

`Would you all agree that you weigh too much because you eat too much?` I asked them.

One by one they agreed that this comment was fair.

`So, to find out why you all have a weight problem we only have to find out why you eat too much?'

My slimming group agreed with me.

`When did your weight problem start?' I asked the housewife.

She thought carefully for a few moments. `About a year after I got married,' she said at last.

`Your weight was stable before then?`

`It had gone up and down a bit, but it had never been too much of a problem,' she told me. `It was after I got married that it really became a big problem.'

`Why?' I asked bluntly.

She said nothing for a full minute.

`Several reasons,' she said at last, very seriously. `I had given up my job and I was bored at home. I started nibbling between meals. The usual things - chocolate biscuits, cake and so on. I also started having trouble with my mother-in-law. That upset me a lot and I got quite depressed.'

So you started eating too much because you were bored and depressed?'

The housewife nodded.

`What about you?' I said, turning to the catering manageress.

`I've always had a weight problem,' she said firmly.

`Always?' I asked.

`Well, since I was about twelve or thirteen,' she replied.

`Can you remember why you started eating too much at that age?'

Once again it took quite a while for the full answer to emerge. But emerge it did.

`When I was twelve I had an enormous bust,' she said, blushing a little. `I was ever so embarrassed by it. I went to a mixed school and the boys used to make awful comments. I used to cry every time I got home from school. My mum always tried to cheer me up by giving me lots of chocolates and stuff like that. After a while I found that the extra weight I'd put on meant that I didn't get so many rude remarks. My bust wasn't so prominent when I was fat all over, so the boys stopped making remarks.'

`And you've been fat ever since?'

She nodded.

`And you?' I said to the mother of four. `Can you remember when your weight problem started?'

`It started after my first boy was born,' she told me. `I was ever so depressed at the time, and then my husband had an affair with someone he worked with. If I wasn't screaming and shouting at him I was sobbing my heart out in the bedroom.' She paused for a moment. `I ate to cheer myself up,' she admitted. `It was as simple as that.'

I don't pretend that those three slimmers were typical. But they certainly weren't unusual. Over the years I've heard thousands and thousands of similar stories.

Every slimmer is different, of course. Everyone who develops a weight problem does so for very personal reasons. But in 99 cases out of 100, when someone develops a serious weight problem it is because they have been eating for all the wrong reasons - to cover up sadness, or to help them cope with boredom. Clearly, therefore, one key to successful slimming must lie in learning to find other ways to deal with these very real problems, and in learning to regard food as a fuel rather than a comforter.

There are many reasons why people eat too much. Ask yourself the simple question I asked my group of slimmers: `Why do you think you have a weight problem?' Try to think back to the days when you didn't have a weight problem. Then decide what changes influenced your eating habits. You may well be surprised by some of the answers you give yourself.

Next time you find yourself picking up a packet of biscuits or a piece of cake when you know you aren't really hungry, try to analyse the feelings which are uppermost in your mind. Try to decide exactly how you feel. Once you have worked out which emotional feelings are strongest when you start to overeat, you'll be well on the way towards conquering your problem. Suddenly a lot of answers will become fairly clear to you.

You may, like many slimmers I've known, find that you eat too much when you're feeling lonely. If that's the case, it's clearly important to make some new friends and revive some of your old friendships. Join clubs and associations, write letters, ring people up. Find a part-time job or a post with a voluntary organization.

Once you've eradicated all your bad eating habits you can concentrate on learning to listen to your body when it talks to you. You can learn to eat only when you are hungry and to stop eating when you are full. There is a simple but extremely effective trick you can employ here: every time you put food into your mouth ask yourself: `Am I hungry? Do I need this?' After a while you'll find that your ability to listen to your body will improve; eventually your appetite control centre will regain its rightful authority over your eating habits.

Secret no. 5
Set yourself easy slimming targets
Nine out of ten slimmers set themselves impossible targets. When they decide to start losing weight they jump on the scales, work out how much weight they need to lose and aim to lose the lot in the first month. I have known slimmers who have expected to lose 40-50lb (18-22kg) in a matter of six or eight weeks. I've known slimmers who have been disappointed when they haven't been able to get rid of a lifetime's accumulated fat in a fortnight. A questionnaire I gave to slimmers showed that a massive 89 per cent were aiming at a target weight that was too low for them; nearly all these slimmers were hoping to lose their weight at an unrealistically rapid rate.

If you set yourself an impossible target (both in terms of the amount of weight you want to lose and in terms of the speed with which you lose it) then you'll fail. And when you fail you'll be depressed. You'll abandon your dieting plan. You'll return to your old eating habits. Failure begets failure.

So, begin by setting yourself a realistic target. Find the average weight for your height. Then think about it carefully before you decide on the sort of weight you ought to be. Don't expect to be the same weight at forty as you were at sixteen. Don't aim at model-like slenderness if you've had three children. Be practical. Be realistic. Remember there is no point at all in setting yourself a target that you'll never be able to reach - let alone maintain.

Next, work out how much weight you need to lose in total. And then work out how long it's going to take to lose it. Work on a basis of losing 2lb (1 kg) a week. That's a good, sensible, steady weight loss. If you lose weight at 2 lb (1 kg) a week than in three months you can lose 26 lb (12 kg), in six months you can lose 52 lb (24 kg) and in a year you can lose over 100 lb (45 kg)! If you lose more than 2 lb (1 kg) a week you'll probably get tired, weak and ill, endangering your physical and mental health and running a greater risk of failure.

Once you've worked out how much weight you need to lose - and how long it's going to take you to lose it - forget these figures and make yourself some short-term targets. Decide that in the next two weeks you're going to lose 4 lb (2 kg) and that in the next month you're going to lose 8 lb (4 kg). That's all you need to concentrate on. If you give yourself a small, realistic target the there is a great chance that you'll succeed. And if you succeed, you'll be a winner. You'll feel great. You'll feel like a successful slimmer. You'll feel good. Your confidence will get a boost and you'll tackle your next target with renewed enthusiasm and confidence.

Secret no. 6
Put food in its place
Ever since I first started writing about slimming I've received a steady stream of letters from people who have become obsessed both with food and with losing weight. Here's a typical letter:

`Please help me. I am obsessed with food and dieting and it's making my life a misery. I feel really ashamed. I know I should be able to help myself, but I can't. From the moment I wake up I hardly think about anything but food. I just eat and eat and eat. In the morning I think about what I'm going to eat in the evening, and in the evening I think about what I'm going to eat the next day. I spend a lot of my reading about diets and collecting magazine articles on slimming too. I'm overweight, I'm boring and I'm worried sick.
Please can you help me?'

This sort of obsession with food is extremely common - and nothing to be ashamed about. It's quite common for people who realize that they are overweight to put so much effort into losing excess pounds that they can think of virtually nothing else. They count calories, look for slimming foods, read diet books all day long and dedicate their lives to the search for slenderness. Eventually the obsession with dieting also becomes an obsession with food.

Of course, losing weight is important if you are overweight. I understand that well enough - I've met enough slimmers whose lives have been devastated by their excessive weight. But losing weight is not, and should never become, the only thing that matters in life. And it has to be kept in perspective.

The only way to beat this particular problem is not by concentrating on it (that will simply make things worse) but by doing exactly the opposite. Do your best to fill your life with so many other interests and enthusiasms that there just isn't time for your obsession with food to survive.

Begin by trying to define the other important things in your life. Make a list of all the people, ambitions and things which really mean something to you. Don't forget to include the simpler aspects of life. After people, we tend to think of homes, cars and clothes as being the chief things in our lives. They may well be. But there are many pleasures which won't cost you a penny to enjoy: lying on your back watching the clouds float by, having a cat sit on your lap, spending a warm day on the beach, walking in the soft summer rain, sitting by an old-fashioned log fire.

Try to put the other aspects of life into perspective. Try to remember what your ambitions were when you were a teenager. What did you hope to do with your life? Some things may be impossible now. But many of your dreams will still be attainable. You can still write a book, take up painting or learn to dance really well. You don't need much money to do any of these things - just time and patience. You can get all the books you need out of the public library, and find all the classes you need at your local adult education centre.

Think about work. Would you like to do something more satisfying? Do you want to try doing something else for a living? Are you prepared to start a new training course? Would you like to learn more about gardening or keeping animals? would you like to take a car maintenance course?

It doesn't matter what you do as long as you start putting new things into your life. If you do, you'll benefit doubly. First, you'll enjoy the excitement and pleasure of a new occupation or hobby. Second, as you build up your other interests you won't find any time left for your pre-occupation with food.

The best way to beat an obsession is not to tackle it head-on but simply to put it in its place.

Secret no. 7
Build up your self-confidence
Confidence is very important in everything you do. If you pick up a pile of plates with confidence, you'll probably be able to carry them safely into the kitchen. If, however, you pick them up expecting to drop them, you probably will drop them. If you get on to a pair of skis and tell yourself you're bound to fall, then you'll fall. If you get into a motor car and tell yourself that you are going to have a crash, you probably will.

Likewise if you start a diet knowing in your heart that you're going to fail, then you'll almost certainly do so. A few months later you'll be worrying about your weight again - convinced that no diet in the world is ever going to work for you. Yet, amazingly, many would-be slimmers actually seem proud of their lack of confidence. Scores of letters come in to me from readers who say things like: `I'm the world's worst slimmer', `I'm no good at dieting' or `You're not going to have any success with me.'

If you are going to lose weight permanently, you must have confidence in your ability to slim successfully. You must be able to say to yourself: `I can do it. I can lose weight.' You must, in short, learn to have more confidence in yourself. There are several things you can do to build up your self-confidence.

1) If you lack confidence, the chances are that although you know very well what your weaknesses are you don't know what your strengths are. You are probably rather timid and shy (even though other people may not realise that), and you doubtless have little faith in your own abilities.

To counteract those fears sit yourself down with a piece of paper and a pencil and write down all the good things you can think to say about yourself. Everything. Imagine that you are writing an advertisement for yourself, and pick out all your very best points. You'll probably be amazed to see just how many virtues you have got. People who are shy and lack self-confidence tend to be unusually honest, generous, thoughtful and hard-working. You're probably exceptionally moral, careful, punctual, kind, ambitious and creative. List your physical as well as your mental attributes. If you've got lovely hair put that down. If you've got beautiful eyes or perfectly shaped feet, put them down. List everything good that you can say about yourself. Then study your advertisement as often as you can in order to build up your own image of yourself.

2) Learn to put things into proportion. Many people who are slightly overweight regard themselves as being `failures'. What nonsense this is! Would you dismiss someone as worthless if there was one thing about them you didn't like or that wasn't perfect? Of course you wouldn't. Why, then, should other people regard you with contempt just because you happen to be overweight? Do you reject people as possible friends or business acquaintances just because they are skinny or bald or have small hands?

3) Don't be ashamed of your weight. If you have a weight problem, there are almost certainly some very good reasons for it. This book will have helped you discover what those reasons are. You can now set about solving your weight problem permanently. You should be no more ashamed of your weight than you are of your hair colour. Until now you probably had no more control over your weight than you had over your height. Now that you know why you are overweight, you can deal with your problem speedily and successfully.

Once you have managed to change the way you feel about yourself you will, I think, find it much easier to deal with your weight problem. With more self-confidence and self-assurance you will be able to approach your weight problem from an entirely different angle. The more faith you have in yourself, the more successful your diet will be.

Secret no. 8
Stand up for yourself - be more selfish
I want to tell you about some patients of mine: first, a lady whom I will call Martha. When I met her she was really miserable. She was 6 stone (39kg) overweight and ashamed of it. She told me that one of her main problems was that, as a wife and mother of three children, she hardly ever stopped cooking.

`My husband gets cross if I don't eat with him,' she said. `And the children are the same. They think there's something wrong if I don't sit down and eat when they have a meal.'

Martha's problem was that she was never, ever selfish. She never thought about herself or what she wanted. She was always too keen to please other people to be thinking about her own needs. She only managed to deal with her weight problem successfully when she broke free of her home and found herself a part-time job. Not being around at home all the time gave her a chance to run her own life a little more. And she soon found that she could stand up for herself.

Martha had forgotten how to think of herself as an individual. She'd forgotten that she had rights and needs. Her family were treating her as though she was a piece of kitchen equipment.

My second patient is a lady whom I'll call Teresa. Her problem was that she was too nice for her own good. When I first met her she was so anxious not to cause any offence that she was for ever being pushed around. She told me that her problem was Sunday lunch with her in-laws.

`They're very nice people,' she said, `but my mother-in-law is one of those people who gets very offended if you don't have second helpings at every meal. I always end up eating far too much - even though I don't want it - and ruining my attempts at dieting. I've given up trying to lose weight now, because I know that all my effort during the week will be ruined on Sundays.'

Teresa, I soon found, was one of those kindly people who is always running errands for other people who can perfectly well do their own errands. She was the sort of person who always gets to look after the children while everyone else goes off to the cinema or a party. I explained to her that she would only diet successfully when she changed her attitude and realised that she didn't have to be rude or aggressive to stick up for herself.

She wanted to know if I could suggest some excuses she could use when trying to refuse extra food that she didn't want, but I told her that excuses were no good.

`If you don't want more food, then you must say so - firmly but politely,' I told her. `If you try to offer explanations or excuses, you'll probably end up trapping yourself and being manipulated into a corner. So, for instance, `I continued, `if you try to avoid more food by saying that you're on a diet your hostess may disarm you with a compliment - telling you that you don't need to diet, that you look wonderful the way you are. If she does, the chances are that you'll be embarrassed, flattered and flustered - and before you know where you are you'll have another pile of food on your plate.'

I told Teresa that she had to say something simple and straightforward such as: `I'm afraid I couldn't eat another morsel - but it was absolutely delicious.'

`But won't she think I'm being rude?' she asked. ``Would you think a guest rude if she said that to you?' I asked her.

`Of course not!` she replied.

`There's your answer,' I assured her. `If someone pressures you even after you've said `No', then they are being rude - not you.'

Finally, I want to tell you about Belinda. She was in her twenties when I first met her - and she was very depressed.

She told me that after years of being overweight she had managed to lose a lot and get down to her ideal weight at the age of twenty-two. `It took a lot of effort,' she said. `But I was really determined and I managed it in the end.'

I looked at her, puzzled. She was clearly very overweight.

`I've put it all back on again,' she told me tearfully. `It took me nine months to get it off and three months to put it back on again.'

She told me that she had been having lunch one day with her best friend, who had told her that she was silly to have dieted.

`She said I looked skinny and unhealthy and that I was making myself ill and that I ought to start eating properly again,' said Belinda.

`What did you feel about that?' I asked her.

`I thought I looked really good,' said Belinda. `I felt really happy with my weight. I felt healthier than I had done for years.'


`But I allowed her to persuade me to have a huge meal when I only wanted a snack, and one thing led to another,and before I knew what was happening I'd put all the weight back on again.'

These three slimmers had one thing in common: they had all allowed themselves to be bullied and pushed into eating too much by other people. They all needed to assert themselves more.

This problem is a very common one. Every month I hear from countless slimmers whose diets are being ruined because they don't like saying `No'. They eat because they are worried about offending people. They accept food they don't really want so that they don't hurt other people's feelings. They find it difficult to refuse when the hostess pushes another piece of cake on to their plate. Their good intentions are ruined by their `niceness'. When I asked a group of slimmers how often they found themselves eating food they didn't want because of pressure from other people, three-quarters said they would always eat everything they were given when having a meal with friends, and two-thirds said that they would accept unwanted second helpings too!

Most of the time people who have difficulty in saying `No' confess to a fear that if they say `No' they will cause offence. But no real friend will be offended if you refuse food that you don't really want. And as I've already pointed out, you certainly don't have to be rude or aggressive when you refuse food.

If you suffer from this problem - and you have difficulty in saying `No' with firm determination - practise refusing food in your mind. Imagine that you are at a dinner party and the hostess is trying to put another helping of pudding on to your plate. And imagine yourself saying `No' quite firmly but politely. You can tell her that the food is delicious and that you've enjoyed it very much but that you really couldn't eat any more. The more you practise, the easier you'll find it when the problem becomes reality. Just remember: it isn't rude to say `No', but it is rude to make people eat food that they really don't want!

Secret no. 9
Think yourself thin (and shapely)
You can never over-estimate - or under-estimate - the power of the human mind. Your chances of dieting successfully can be dramatically improved if you imagine yourself slim; if you imagine yourself the shape you've always wanted to be. Indeed many experts would claim that the single most important factor which will decide whether or not you achieve the weight and shape you really want is your mental attitude.

There's much more about this in my book Mindpower.

If you found this article interesting you'll enjoy Vernon Coleman's books Bodypower, Mindpower and Food for Thought. All are available from the bookshop on this website.

Copyright Vernon Coleman January 2007