Dieting is a journey - and a tough one at that. It can be easy to give into temptation and when you do, it can be even easier to hate yourself.
But, according to new research, the key to successful weight loss could lie in cutting yourself some slack instead.
The survey found that self-criticism often resulted in dieters comfort eating or giving up dieting completely. However, when people learned to be kinder to themselves they quickly got back to healthy eating, lost weight and kept it off.
Amy Dugan, 26, is a prime example of this. She managed to lose 10 stone through dieting and firmly believes that being kinder to herself whenever things went awry was a key factor in her weight loss success.
She said that instead of dwelling on her failures, she allows them to be "the catalyst for something bigger".
"I draw a line under it and move on," she explained. "I’ll just think ‘well that was silly, but it’s done now’. I don’t ever feel guilty as I know it’s just one of those things, it happens to all of us."
Amy Dugan before and after her weight loss
Dugan's success story comes alongside new research from Slimming World which suggests that if people want to lose weight, they need to learn to be kinder to themselves when they go off-track.
The survey found that 98% of dieters have experienced a slip-up when trying to lose weight and have gone off-track in a way that they worried would affect their weight loss journey.
However, it’s how people feel about themselves after a lapse that’s most crucial to long-term slimming success.
The majority of people (84%) said they gave themselves a hard time after a slip-up and saw themselves as "weak, stupid or a failure".
Of those surveyed, 78% who had been self-critical after a lapse were unsuccessful at losing weight and 47% gained weight again.
Those who learned to be kinder to themselves were more successful in losing weight - 81% of the most self-reassuring group lost weight and kept it off.
Dugan, who is from Norfolk, said her weight problems began when she was just 10 years old and tragically lost two of her brothers in a house fire.
She began comfort eating and, from that point in her life, whenever she had to deal with upset or heartbreak she would turn to food to make her feel better.
"It became a vicious cycle that I didn’t seem able to break, and I was desperately unhappy," she said.
"By the time I left university I weighed more than 19st. I wore size 28-30 trousers at my graduation and was so ashamed of how I looked in the official photo that I refused to let my grandparents have a copy."
Dugan's weight peaked at 21st 13lbs and she knew something had to change - if not for her health, for her confidence.
"I just didn’t like the person staring back at me in the mirror," she explained.
"I was fed up of being too scared to go out with my friends, sick of not being able to fit in the cinema seats, making excuses not to go to theme parks for fear I'd get on a ride and they would ask me to get off again because of my weight.
"I wanted all those things my friends were doing - careers, families, finding love... But thought how could I expect someone to love me when I didn't love myself?"
She explained that she tried to lose weight on her own terms, many times, but nothing seemed to stick.
"I’d have periods of eating healthily or going to the gym and it would work at first, I’d lose a stone or so and I’d start to think that maybe this time I’d be able to stick with it. However, eventually I’d have a slip up, as everyone does from time-to-time when trying to make healthier choices," she said.
"Without someone there to help me gain perspective, I just felt like I’d completely blown it and so I may as well finish that family packet of crisps or get a takeaway instead of cooking.
"It made me feel guilty and so my emotional eating would continue and I’d regain all the weight I’d lost."
After speaking to a colleague who had joined Slimming World and lost 6st, Dugan decided to try it for herself.
It was there that she was taught she could still enjoy her favourite meals if she made simple changes in the way that she prepared and cooked them to make them healthier.
She said: "As someone who struggled with comfort eating and felt guilty about it, it was a revelation for me to be able to share experiences with other people who understood what I was going through.
"Through fantastic support, I’ve learned to recognise that everyone goes off-track sometimes when trying to lose weight, so it’s not something to feel guilty about."
Now, after learning to cut herself some slack, Dugan weighs 10st 4.5lbs and feels much better for it.
She said: "My confidence has improved ten-fold and I’ve managed to change the way I respond if ever things going wrong – and they still do occasionally.
"Like anyone, I’ll sometimes make an unhealthy choice, for example if I get home at the end of a long day and don’t have anything prepared or if I’m particularly stressed or upset, I might still reach for the takeaway menu occasionally.
"The difference now though is that rather than dwelling on it and allowing it to be the catalyst for something bigger, I draw a line under it and move on. I’ll just think ‘well that was silly, but it’s done now’. I don’t ever feel guilty as I know it’s just one of those things, it happens to all of us."
She added: "I’m so much happier and healthier now, I’m much more confident and sociable, I love life and I’m happy with the person I am.
"I know I’ll keep the weight off for good and I’ve no doubt that getting the support to stop being so self-critical and to learn to be kinder to myself has played a big part in my success."
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