Susan Maiava interviewed in February's Good Health magazine
by Indiana Munn
What inspired you to write Fat Chance! The No-Going-Back Weight Loss Workbook?
During my own weight loss journey I was always looking for good advice but never found exactly what I was looking for on the bookshelves; most focused on dieting or sticking to diets. There was nothing that in my view combined a comprehensive, holistic approach, including dealing with emotional hunger and changing thinking and habits, with a personal, reflective, interactive workbook format. So after I lost weight I decided to research and write it myself. How would you describe Fat Chance?
It’s a colourful, stylish but very practical and interactive workbook which the reader engages with every day over 12 weeks to make the changes needed to lose weight and keep it off forever. The question and answer format enables the reader to slow down, reflect and draw out of themself the changes they must make in their thinking and behaviour at a very personal level. The goal is to live differently; the weight loss will happen as a result of that.
What motivated you to go on your own weight loss journey?Why did you self-publish the book?
I was tired of the debilitating effect being overweight had on my life. When I looked into the future I didn’t want to be like that for the rest of my life. I couldn’t keep up with my children. I was an observer rather than a participant and I wanted to participate in life. When you’re overweight you’re slower, you achieve less, you can’t keep up and you’re not taken seriously. Despite your size you are invisible. In my career my opinions were less valued and I was overlooked professionally. Physically I snored, I got headaches and heartburn, my skin chaffed and I was borderline pre-diabetic.
So I could retain control and build the business myself. Actually I have really enjoyed the publishing process; it’s not as intimidating as you might think.Do you plan to write any more weight loss books?
Absolutely! I want to produce regular editions and tailor different editions to different groups such as men or teenagers. I’d also like to go electronic so people can purchase an interactive e-book or receive it each day electronically. Perhaps I’ll translate Fat Chance!
into other languages and break into overseas markets.
Think Thin to Break Old Habits
Here's something different, a book designed to be used as a tool to help you lose weight. It doesn't just tell you what to eat and what not to eat but asks readers to use it to help themselves.
It's like an interactive personal look at what you eat and helps you change the way you think about food. It can be used for sustainable weight loss by individuals or groups, so you can use it on its own or in conjunction with other programmes such as Weight Watchers.
Fat Chance! The no-going-back Weight Loss Workbook, by Susan Maiava, is certainly different. I really liked the sound and sensible advice in it. For instance:"Forget about how fat people diet. Concentrate on how slim people eat." Each day of the week has a theme - for example, establishing new habits and becoming more active.
Maiava says it is all about thinking differently about food. And she should know. Maiava recognised she needed to change her attitude in order to lose weight. She couldn't find a book to help her so decided to write one herself.
Here, Maiava explains her method.
How does the book work?
Fat Chance!is a practical workbook which the reader works through one day at a time over 12 weeks. This has several advantages.
First, readers must slow down and draw out of themselves the answers to the questions - and some of the questions are pretty deep. In doing this they can identify the changes they must make in their thinking and behaviour at a personal level and what works best for them individually.
Second, it allows change to become embedded over the 12 weeks as readers keep a journal of their progress. Habits take time and practice to change.
Third, the workbook becomes the encourager. The workbook itself - not the author - is the narrator, the friend who walks beside readers on their daily journeys.
Fat Chance!is also very comprehensive, with six daily themes. They are: thinking like a slim person, working with your body, establishing new slim habits, dealing with emotional hunger, getting active and enjoying a healthy balanced diet. Day seven is for debriefing and reflection, and a day when groups can come together. This means each day is interesting and new but the full picture layers and builds week-on-week.
The key change also starts on day one and will continue for the rest of your life. I think that is the key difference here and is why this is not a diet.
Was it trial and error for you or did you just know what you had to do in order to lose weight?
I had a number of insights and help along the way as well as researching the best current knowledge. My earliest insight was the realisation that if you ate the number of calories to maintain your slim weight - your goal weight - over time you would reach and maintain your slim weight. Second came the importance of self-talk and I make considerable use of cognitive behavioural therapy. Third was dealing with emotional hunger. It wasn't until the end that I was able to put all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together.
You say it is very important not to skip to the back of the book and start reading. Why?
Yes, to be most effective I do emphasise that the workbook journey must be undertaken one day at a time. Losing weight, changing your self-talk and changing your lifestyle is not easy. You don't just decide to do it then do it.
It takes time to identify the changes that have to come from within and discipline to slowly and deeply embed the changes. The discipline is not in resisting food - we know that doesn't work - but in changing your thoughts and habits. And that is whereFat Chance! walks with you as you journal your progress.
We all know how easy it is to lose motivation halfway through something. How did you stay focused and resist temptation?
It is important to keep your mind on your end goal and to remind yourself there is no going back. But your end goal is not to lose weight. Your end goal is to live differently, and that never ends. Ask yourself: Do I want to live differently or do I want to be fat?
But I must add that there are ways to work with your body to reduce hunger and so reduce the desire to eat. One day each week focuses on working with your body to do this. Dealing with emotional hunger helps, too.
How long is the programme?
The programme is 12 weeks but, as this is not a diet and the changes are permanent, in this sense it never ends. There is no end point and no going back to old ways. I don't mean that you have to diet forever. Instead, you reach a new equilibrium with a new lifestyle where you always think and eat like a slim person.
And tips for staying slim?
I don't distinguish between losing weight and staying slim. If you think and eat like a slim person from day one you will lose weight and stay slim.
Did you lose the weight you wanted to and have you kept it off?
I want to say that this book is not about me or how I lost weight. But I do know what it is like to be overweight - and all the emotion and rationalisation. It is about everything I learned during my process of change. I did lose most of the weight I wanted to and have kept most of it off, although I'm probably 4kg heavier than I would like to be. I have made the changes I recommend, although I admit that getting active is the hardest challenge for me, which probably accounts for the last 4kg.
Ditch Sweet for Fresh
Susan Maiava thought she was a bad mother. Why was it so difficult to get her son to sit down and eat a meal?
But the Palmerston North woman gradually realised her son was teaching her an important lesson, one she shares in her book Fat Chance: The No-Going-Back Weight Loss Workbook.
Maiava's son was thinking like a slim person and only eating when he was hungry. Why else eat?
Maiava thought differently about food and behaved accordingly. "I gave food a priority in my life which it didn't deserve. It was the realisation that there are actually more important things."
When Maiava, who has a PhD in development studies, wanted to lose weight she went looking for a book to help her. She was disappointed with what she found on the shelves: either personal stories or books written by experts who did not know what it is like to be overweight. "I just thought I could write this, I've got it in my mind. `Why don't I just do it'."
Maiava said the workbook is not the story of her weight loss journey, but the result of research she did drawing on her academic background. But she was able to do that research from the perspective of someone who knows what it is like to be overweight.
"I understand in my head what it is like to be overweight and how people want to lose weight and why they eat emotionally and how they try and justify their overeating and all the mind tricks we play with ourself: `oh, just one more won't hurt'."
The book is designed for people to write in everyday as they record their journey and learn about everything from eating slowly to dealing with past hurts.
She uses cognitive behaviour theory to help people change their inner dialogue. Instead of thinking you deserve a slice of cheesecake after a hard day at work, think you deserve to be slim. "Wanting to eat is not being hungry."
Maiava lost weight about five years ago after realising she needed to so she could enjoy her children more and be a participant rather than spectator.
A former lecturer in development studies at Massey University, she is on the Leprosy Mission's New Zealand and International Boards and has a governance role with the Churches Education Commission, which provides Christian religious education.
She was an "absolute classic example" of the yoyo dieter and now concentrates on the number of calories she needs each day to maintain a healthy weight. "Forget about how fat people diet. Concentrate on how slim people eat," she writes in the book.
Maiava is "almost" happy with her weight – her biggest challenge is getting enough exercise. "I am a human being like everyone else. "The book is not about "look at me", but "look at what I have learnt". One of those lessons is to enjoy savoury flavours more.
"I've learnt how nice fruit and vegetables taste when they come directly from the garden. It's so different, they taste so lovely and wonderful."
Our stand at the 2011 Booksellers Conference
The publication of Fat Chance! The no-going-back Weight Loss Workbook was first announced at the Booksellers Conference Trade Day in Wellington in July 2011.