The path to long-term weight loss

Weight loss has been and will always be a hot topic, especially given how much focus is placed on image and body shape in general. Cara-Lisa Sham reveals the path to long-tern weight loss.

Before I start, I must emphasise: weight loss must always be a bonus consequence, not the cause of healthy living. You may be thinking ‘but I want to lose weight – that is my goal?’ Okay fine, you want to lose weight. I get it. There is nothing wrong with wanting to better your body. My argument here is, don’t make it the focus of changing your lifestyle, because if it becomes the sole driver of your healthy habits, those habits certainly aren’t going to stick.

Let me explain…

When we focus only on our weight or body shape as the reason for implementing healthy lifestyle changes, these changes become linked with the numbers you see on a scale. This means that if you’ve lost weight, you will think “Yay, healthy eating and exercising is awesome!”, but if you don’t lose weight, or you don’t see quick results (we’re all about instant gratification these days), you’ll think “What a waste of time, I’m not doing this anymore!”

So, in this way, you’re connecting your healthy behaviours to something very fickle. That is, the amount of weight you’ve lost rather than how good you feel, or how much more energetic you are.

Tell me this, what happens when you’ve reached your goal weight? Does this mean that you should stop those healthy behaviours because the link they share to your weight is now fulfilled?

Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Logically speaking, if you go back to your old ways, you’ll inevitably gain the weight back. But if you stick to your healthy changes, where the link between health and weight is now deeply entrenched, you won’t feel satisfied in doing so any longer, because, well you’ve lost the weight. This creates a bit of a predicament: why persist with something that’s already achieved?

The ultimate path here is:

Your thought process about healthy living

In maintenance, there comes discipline. The thing with us weirdly complex humans, is that we always want what we can’t have. If we feel confined or restricted in any way, we start feeling the need to rebel. So, for every crash diet you go on, your cravings for the no-go foods will amplify tenfold. Your mind-set or thinking about why you’re doing what you’re doing is critically important. You need to hack the system here to see and maintain long-term results.

That is, you need to attach the right reason to implementing an inherently restrictive change by appraising it in a way that is maintainable for the long run. If you set your mind right from the get go, the rest is easy. And for this reason, it is never a good idea to programme your mind to focus on weight. There are so many factors that affect weight – hormones, time of day, water retention, what you ate that day…the list goes on. So, you would really be setting yourself up for failure if this becomes the be all and end all of eating clean and exercising.

Now, if you decide to apply healthy behaviours because you care about your longevity, and want to feed your body with nutritious healing foods, and want to feel more energetic and zestful, then that will be a far more motivating reason to stick to eating healthy. In this case, what food you choose to eat becomes more about how it will benefit your body on a cellular level and less about the calories or fat contained in the food.

Don’t obsess

How many of you obsess about fat, calories and carbs? The more attention you put on something, the more it comes back at you. You’ll find you’re craving exactly that: carbs, fat and calories. Don’t underestimate your thoughts; they are a lot stronger than you may like to believe.

If you’re focusing on eating well and exercising because you want to better your health and be more energetic, then that is what you’ll attract. You’ll want to eat more of the good foods that are making you feel great; you will want to exercise consistently because it makes you feel so good and energises you; you won’t crave the not-so-good stuff because the good stuff is making you feel awesome. And, the weight will come off easily.

Of course, this requires time, commitment and discipline. But once you start the habit, it will simply fall into place because you’re feeling fantastic. So, naturally you’re going to want to do more of it. And when you feel like the occasional treat, you’ll still be able to enjoy it without feeling guilty afterwards.

14 principles to kick-start your path to long-term weight loss but ultimately for a healthier, happier life:

  1. Cleanse your system: As you wake-up, drink a glass of warm water with lemon every single morning. This cleans the gut, detoxifies the system, boosts the metabolism and prepares it for digestion.
  2. Prep your gut: Take one high-quality probiotic capsule per day. Take your probiotic with the cleansing lemon tonic. Probiotics help maintain healthy bacteria in the gut and balances your digestive system. Due to high stress levels, our digestive systems take a lot of strain. Therefore, taking a probiotic is a great way to re-establish a healthy gut environment. Remember healthy digestion is key to fat loss. Digestive enzymes are also very helpful if you’re struggling with digestion; one capsule with every meal will help ensure that your body is breaking down the food properly, and utilising it for energy.
  3. Eat smart carbs: Yes, you can still eat carbs. Carbs are the main and most effective source of energy, so why would we exclude them? It’s not about excluding them, rather it’s about choosing the right ones. Think vegetables, legumes, wholegrains and small portions of fruit. To maximise fat loss, avoid eating complex grain-based carbohydrates after 4pm (unless you have exercised in the evening). Once you have reached your fat loss goal, you can start enjoying small portions of healthy carbs at night. Eat your carbs when it makes sense: if you are having an active day, then carbs make sense to replenish energy. If your day is quiet and involves a lot of sitting, then you don’t need as many carbs.
  4. Exercise: Aim to exercise at least four times per week. Find something that works well for you, and that you enjoy. Don’t go crazy on fads. Train based on what works for your body type. And when you find what you love, pretend you’re an athlete, and then train like one. We, as humans, have forgotten that our bodies are biologically designed to be high-performance machines. Independent of your current physical fitness or ability, know this your body is a performance masterpiece.

Why train like an athlete?

  • By training like an athlete, you will finally tap into your body’s full potential by working it in the way that it was designed for.
  • Your focus will be away from aesthetics, and onto high performance. This is the right kind of focus. Working on improving speed, strength, power, and endurance, all the things the human body is designed for. And, the aesthetics will come in a big way.
  • You will feel better than you’ve ever felt in your life. Your metabolism will be fired up, your circulation will improve, your energy levels will sky rocket. And you will be motivated, not just with exercise, but in all areas of life. It’s a wonder to see how much of what you learn in mastering your physical ability is transferable to mastering work, and life in general.
  • You will finally come to realise just how incredible your body is – what it can do, and tap into skills and abilities you never knew you had, which will also do wonders for your confidence!
  • You will develop mental strength, a mind-over-matter approach, that can be applied to all areas of life.
  • Above all, you’ll realise that the more effectively you fuel your body, the better your athletic performance will be. And so, naturally you’ll want to eat healthier.
  1. Practice restorative movement: Yoga, Pilates and stretching are considered restorative movements as they incorporate movement and breath, and help build the mind-body connection. These types of exercises also work on strengthening and lengthening muscles, and target muscle groups that you wouldn’t usually work in other types of training. Try to add one to two sessions a week to your training to promote a good balance of exercise. There are fantastic online yoga and Pilates workouts.
  2. Rest your body: I cannot stress enough how important it’s to provide your body with sufficient rest. I advise a minimum of two rest days per week to allow muscles to fully recuperate, build and restore. Over-exercising causes muscle breakdown; increases susceptibility to injury; raises cortisol levels (stress hormone which activates fat storage); and can impede fat loss due to fatigue. Too much exercise can really send your body into panic or survival mode which causes it to hold on to all its nutrients including fat, so less is more! I also recommend taking one full week off every four to six weeks to allow your body to fully restore. This will enable your body to settle and reset so that it is ready to perform at maximum capacity again. During this time, focus on restorative movement and stretching to promote blood flow. 
  3. Get a good night’s sleep: Make sure that you get at least seven hours of sleep per night. Switch off your phone, laptop, TV and all technology at least 30 minutes before going to sleep. This will allow your mind to quieten, and your body to relax and prepare for rest. Please do not sleep with the TV on! The flashing light stimulates your brain and prevents you from a deep and peaceful sleep. Lack of sleep also causes us to feel energy-depleted, which makes us crave more and more food to replenish the energy that we need. Our cortisol levels increase too – not great for fat loss! So, get plenty of quality sleep.
  4. Get your mind right: Without your mind on your side, your attempts at fat loss become futile. Negative thoughts are the equivalent of throwing acid on a beautiful work of art – all the effort, all the work is to no avail. Start by ripping those negative thoughts to shreds. As they pop up, cut them out and replace them with positive, healthy, happy thoughts. Write down five short statements about yourself/ your body that you want to achieve and word them in the present tense as if you already have them e.g. “I have the most incredible body / I love my waistline”. Visualise exactly what you want your body to look like and contemplate this image for five minutes every day. Detail is key, try to capture exactly what your body looks like, feel the emotions associated with having achieved your best body. While you are picturing this image, repeat your statements with conviction and belief. Even if at first you don’t believe it, just push through and continue.
  5. Hydrate: Make sure that you drink plenty of water – eight glasses or 2 litres per day. At first, this will be irritating because you’ll need to go to the bathroom often, but once your body adapts, you won’t need to go as much. I recommend making a large jar of green tea (2 tsp. green tea leaves and 1 litre hot water). Keep this by your desk and drink throughout the day. Green tea is incredible for detoxing your system, flushing out any gunk and boosting your metabolism.
  6. Treat yourself: Allow yourself to indulge on occasion. Don’t ever feel deprived. You want to maintain a healthy relationship with food. Enjoy one to two treat meals/snack per week – limit this to 1 meal or snack only and then eat healthy for the rest of that day. Avoid allowing your treat meal to turn into a treat day as this may turn into binge eating. Treat meals are a great way to raise leptin (fat burning hormone) levels which promotes fat loss once healthy eating has commenced again. Try to make your treat meal healthy, for example, zucchini pasta, cauliflower pizza, protein pancakes, or low-carb cheesecake. When you’re eating your treat meal, enjoy it, savour each mouthful and tell yourself that you can have more later if you wish. This will help you really feel satisfied and content. Enjoying the occasional treat ties in to building a positive relationship with food; one that is healthy, sustainable and non-restrictive. This means eating clean 80% of the time and indulging occasionally (20%). In doing so, the perception of forbidden foods is eliminated, leptin secretion is maintained and fat loss is optimised.
  7. Get to know your portions: Remember to keep tabs of your portion sizes. This is a key factor in weight loss. Portion size awareness in conjunction with healthy food consumption and exercise (4-5 times per week) is the most effective recipe for sustained weight loss. When you eat, sit down and enjoy your food without any distractions. Make eating the only activity you’re doing – no phone or TV. Be conscious of your food, your digestion, how your body is feeling and how much you’re eating. Chew your food properly and eat slowly. The more connected to your body you become, the easier it will be for you to gauge when you have had enough to eat, without feeling overfull.
  8. Work with your body: Learn to listen to your body. Let it tell you what nutrients it needs. That way you will be able to learn the difference between a craving and a genuine nutritional need. When you eat, stop consumption once you’re comfortable – not full. It takes 20 mins for our brains to register that we have eaten, which is why we often eat more than we should and begin to feel overfull only 10 mins after eating. You’ll see that if you allow your body 10 to 20 minutes to digest your food and to process that you have in fact eaten, you’ll no longer feel hungry. Only if you still feel a little hungry after 20 minutes, then eat a little more.
  9. Do not overeat: Avoid overeating completely. Learn how to decipher when enough is enough. Be mindful of your body and try to come to understand the difference between that point just before satiation and being too full. Over time, your body will learn what portion sizes to expect and will adjust accordingly so that you feel comfortably satiated after the correct portion.
  10. Be in it for the long run: Most of all, look at the healthy changes you’re implementing as ones you intend to keep for the rest of your life. Remember, you are worth it!


Cara-Lisa Sham, founder of the Caralishious brand, is a health expert and blogger, yoga enthusiast and health foods producer with a passion for all things wholesome and nourishing. You can find Cara-Lisa’s online meal plans and lifestyle guides at

Avoid holiday season weight gain

In a recent study, it was found that half the annual weight gain in South Africans occurred over the holiday season. Paula Pienaar informs us how not to become a part of this statistic.

The next three months’ weight gain

End-of-year functions, the holiday season and ‘back-to-school/work’ jingles are key events on the horizon over the next three months, and sadly unwanted weight gain.

During this time, we find ourselves taking a break from our usual daily routine, which on the one hand is great because it allows us to engage more with our loved ones and let our hair down, but on the other hand, also coaxes us into less healthier habits. Diet and physical activity are often the first lifestyle habits to be neglected.

You need not give up quality time with your loves ones to hit the gym, but it is essential to maintain a healthy physical activity pattern during the holiday season to avoid weight gain.

Seasonal food purchases and weight gain

In a recent study,1 investigating the relationship between seasonal food purchases and weight gain, it was found that half the annual weight gain in South Africans occurred over the holiday season.

Interestingly, the research showed that the least nutritionally desirable foods were purchased in November and December, and the most fruit and vegetables in January – possibly due to optimistic New Year’s resolutions. These findings support the need for an increased focus on lifestyle interventions to address health habits during holidays.

In a country where obesity is at its highest level, it is pertinent that we maintain a healthy, conscious lifestyle throughout the year, and especially during these upcoming months.

Weight gain associations

Weight gain is associated with raised blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose. When unmanaged, these conditions may culminate to Type 2 diabetes, which may often co-exist with hypertension (high blood pressure) and dyslipidaemia (high cholesterol).

For the first time, researchers have shown a strong link between diabetes and obesity in all regions of Africa. This first of its kind obesity and diabetes trend analysis, conducted between 1980 and 2014, showed that the prevalence of diabetes continued to increase rapidly and that it was triggered by the high incidence of obesity2.

Take responsibility of your health

To prevent the progression of this diabesity epidemic, it is up to us to take responsibility of our own health. When combined with dietary changes, physical activity has the potential to delay the progression of full-blown diabetes,3 by playing a key role in managing the intermediary risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure and a poor lipid profile.

Let’s optimise the beautiful summer days and take care of our heart and blood vessels by being mindful of our food choices, and maintaining a healthy active holiday season.

Benefits of regular physical activity

The table below provides information on the physiological benefits of regular physical activity. The exercise prescription is based on international guidelines aimed at using physical activity as a potent treatment of health conditions. These guidelines complement prescribed medication in those with diagnosed chronic disease.

  Physiological benefits Exercise prescription:

Type, duration and frequency of activity

Diabetes4,5 Promotes adaptations in the muscle, fat tissue, and liver associated with enhanced glucose uptake. A: 30 minutes, at least 3 days/week with no more than 2 consecutive days without exercising. Preferably at the same time in relation to meals and insulin injections in patients treated with insulin.

RT: 1–4 sets of 8–15 repetitions, 2 days/week on non-consecutive days. Aim for 5–10 exercises per session.

Taking care of your feet:

  • Always inspect your feet for any changes before and after exercise.
  • Avoid exercise that causes stress to the feet. Exercise which poses minimal weight or stress on the feet is ideal, such as riding an exercise bike, or brisk walking in good footwear.
  • Wear comfortable and well-fitting shoes.
Hypertension6,7 Helps to ‘relax’ the blood vessels, facilitating blood flow and may lower high blood pressure by and average of 11mm Hg (systolic) and 5mmHg (diastolic). A: 30-60 minutes continuous or accumulated in bouts ≥10 minutes each. Most, preferably all, days of the week.

RT: 1 set of 8-12 per muscle group (using light weights) 2-3 times a week.

Please note the precaution for RT with high blood pressure.

You should not do the following, as they can raise your blood pressure to dangerous levels for a short period of time:

  • Lift heavy weights without supervision of a qualified biokineticist or personal trainer.
  • Vigorous short bursts of exercise like boxing or squash.
Dyslipidemia (high cholesterol and triglycerides)8,9 Increases the enzymes responsible for raising HDL ‘good’ cholesterol. A: 40-60 minute sessions at least 5 days a week.

RT: 1 set of 8-12 repetitions, 2-3 days a week. Best when including 8-10 different exercises.

Certain medications used for the treatment of dyslipidaemia may have a negative impact on exercise, such as:

  • Muscle weakness or pain.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Fatigue (feeling tired).

You may need to increase rest periods or reduce intensities to accommodate these adverse side effects.

A: Aerobic (cardiovascular) exercise; RT: Resistance (strength) training


Paula R. Pienaar
Paula R. Pienaar (BSc (Med)(Hons) Exercise Science (Biokinetics)), MSc (Med) Exercise Science) is the scientific advisor to EOH Workplace Health and Wellness, and a PhD candidate at the University of Cape Town. Her scientific research relates to sleep health and managing daytime fatigue to improve workplace productivity and lower the risk of chronic disease. Her thesis will identify the link between sleep and cardiometabolic diseases (Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease) in South African employees. She aims to design a tailored sleep and fatigue management workplace health intervention to improve employee health risk profiles and enhance work productivity. Contact her at [email protected]


  1. Sturm, R., Patel, D., Alexander, E., & Paramanund, J. (2016). Seasonal cycles in food purchases and changes in BMI among South Africans participating in a health promotion programme. Public Health Nutrition, 19(15), 2838-2843. doi:10.1017/S1368980016000902
  2. Kengne, Andre Pascal, et al. “Trends in obesity and diabetes across Africa from 1980 to 2014: an analysis of pooled population-based studies.” International Journal of Epidemiology (2017).
  3. The Society for Endocrinology, Metabolism and Diabetes of South Africa Type 2 Diabetes Guidelines Expert Committee. “Physical activity and type 2 diabetes” in 2017 SEMDSA Guideline for the Management of Type 2 Diabetes Guideline Committee. JEMDSA 2017; 21(1) (Supplement 1): S1-S196.
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  7. Pescatello, Linda S., et al. “Exercise for hypertension: a prescription update integrating existing recommendations with emerging research.” Current hypertension reports 17.11 (2015): 87.
  8. Jacobson, Terry A., et al. “National Lipid Association recommendations for patient-centered management of dyslipidemia: part 2.” Journal of clinical lipidology 9.6 (2015): S1-S122.
  9. Pescatello LS, Arena R, Riebe D, Thompson PD. (eds.) ACSM’s guidelines for exercise testing and prescription. 9th ed. Baltimore, MD: Wolters Kluwer-Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014: 165