365 Days Of Dieting
That sentence alone makes the average woman want to reach for a cronut. But when I met an old friend at a party and complimented her slimmer figure, she confessed that she’d started a clean-eating plan 12 months earlier. “I thought my personal trainer was crazy when he suggested a year long diet,” she admitted. “I struggle to date the same guy for a year, let alone stick to the same eating habits. But I discovered it was a lot less grueling than all the crash diets I’ve ever been on and a lot more successful.”
That night she was celebrating her one-year ‘diet-versary’ with a sugar-free mocktail. “I thought I’d be desperate for a junk food blowout by the end,” she said. “But over the last year my tastebuds seem to have changed and my appetite has decreased. I definitely don’t have the same cravings that I used to.”
It might sound restrictive but, according to a new study from the University of Copenhagen, dieting for 12 months straight is the best way to lose weight healthily, and to keep it off permanently. In fact, researchers found that following a year-diet can even change a person’s “set-point” – the weight your body strives to maintain – and reduce hunger hormones.
It makes sense that a long-term diet will have long-term effects. The problem is that the average woman only sticks to a new diet for five weeks, two days and 43 minutes, according to a British study. Can you imagine eating clean for 8,760 hours? Could you say no to a year’s worth of desserts, drive-throughs and office birthday cakes? “Most of us want instant results and quick fixes,” says dietician Emer Delaney, who has helped A-list actors achieve extreme body transformations. “Unfortunately very quick weight loss is often a reflection of fluid loss. It takes time for our bodies to burn fat, so a slow and steady strategy is vital.” But do we have stamina to hit the 12-month milestone?
In Britain, a separate study found that 57 per cent of women say they’re trying to lose weight “all or most of the time.” But many admit swapping between different detoxes and diet plans, with no consistency. “This often happens when we restrict calories too tightly,” says Delaney, who tells clients to follow five golden rules. “Eat regular meals, eat slowly, always have breakfast, be mindful of portion size and opt for low-GI and lean protein foods, which keep you fuller.”
In 2016, US News and World Report ranked the Dietary Approach to Stopping Hypertension (DASH) eating plan as the safest and most effective diet. Based on healthy eating principles (vegetables, grains and limited sugar), it can be followed for as long as you desire. “Just be aware that it’s natural for weight loss to plateau,” Delaney says. “When it does, it’s important to continue with your positive changes. You will start to lose weight again as long as you’re patient.”
Plan To Succeed
What do you want for breakfast in six month’s time? Blogger Kelly Whalen plans for her entire family’s meals a year in advance to help her eat healthily and save money. It’s easier than it sounds,” she says. “I put together four weeks of meals and they repeat and they repeat over and over throughout the year, with some minor tweaks depending on the ingredients in season.” Need inspiration? Search Instagram under the hashtags #mealprep and #mealprepdaily. The (slightly smug) fitness fans who make a week’s worth of meals in advance say it’s the secret to sticking to their good intentions.
When it comes to eating, repetition can be motivating. Jennifer Aniston famously ate the same lunch every day for 10 years when filming Friends (a cobb salad with beans and turkey bacon.) According to a study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, “mealtime monotony” can reduce calorie consumption. Nutritionist Zoe Bingley-Pullin often eats the same breakfast of grainy bread, avocado, tomato and eggs, sometimes with feta. “These days we’re far too overstimulated when it comes to food choices,” she says. “We forget that food is just fuel and we spend far too much time thinking about it. My advice is to have fewer options, but the right options. If a healthy eating plan is convenient, it’s more likely to be sustainable.”
It is important to include some variety, especially for women. According to nutritionist and hormone specialist Alisa Vitti, different nutrients are needed at different stages of your menstrual cycle. In week one eat more sprouted or fermented foods which contain prebiotics and indole-3-carbinol – two of the key micronutrients that help the body to metabolise oestrogen. In week three, increase grains and greens to stabilise PMS mood swings, and in week four focus on fatty foods such as salmon and avocado to help with lowering hormone levels.
“It takes time for our bodies to burn fat, so a slow and steady strategy is vital” – Emer Delaney
Even long-term dieters make time for treats. Fitness blogger Kayla Itsines, who eats “really healthy all the time”, recommends putting aside a 30-45-minute window once a week to allow yourself to cheat with higher-calorie foods (“Setting a specific time limit stops it from becoming an entire cheat day”). In a whole year, that adds up to 39 hours of indulgence. Just don’t go overboard. “I have to stress that this is not the time to go out on a full-blown binge,” Itsines says. “If you are having pizza, eat it with a side salad instead of fries and limit your portions. You don’t need to stuff yourself to the point of popping.”
Research shows that intermittent rewards are important for staying on track. “A year is a long time, so it’s important to have short-term goals within the larger picture,” says David Brudo, co-founder of the personal development app Remente. “If you find you’re feeling healthier or can fit into a certain outfit, then celebrate this by treating yourself. You don’t have to wait until the final year milestone to feel a sense of achievement.”
If a year of dieting starts to feel easy, why not take it one step further? The blog 365 Days of Purity challenges people to “consume only the healthiest produce, think only pleasant thoughts and live only the most active and happy life.” That includes doing charity work, donating blood and even giving away your clothing. Suddenly quitting chocolate doesn’t sound so tough…