I have to confess that as a registered nutritionist I'm really not much of a fan of diets. I've written before for Harper's Bazaar about the big detox myth, but faddy diets for weight loss are something I come up against time and time again in my line of work.
For those of you who might have started a new dietary regime this New Year, or used one of your annual resolutions to promise yourself to improve the way you eat, now is about the time you might be wondering what went so wrong and why you (yet again) haven't been able to stick to your plans.
I'm here to tell you that it's not you that's failed, it's the diet that has failed you – and here is why:
1) The diet wasn’t personalised
So often, diets are created as blanket recommendations to everyone, when, in reality we are all very different and react in diverse ways to foods and diets.
Additionally, from my experience, people tend to have a variety of vices when it comes to food. Some people need to focus on reducing their portions, others on reducing free sugar intakes, whereas for some, it may just be about increasing their exercise. Whatever your goal, it's important to first look at what you specifically need to change about your diet and lifestyle and make personalised and specific goals to improve your health.
2) The diet wasn’t realistic
Image Via Terry Richardson
Many diets that we hear, see and read about every day are simply not realistic for people to undertake in the long run. You might keep it up for a few weeks, but if a diet isn't realistic, or you're expected to alter significant aspects of your lifestyle in order to accommodate it, it's unlikely that you'll be able to stick with it for very long. Of course, changes need to be made if you're wanting to lose weight and/or improve your health, but anything that results in you not being able to live your life the way you want to (think juice diets, meal replacements, difficulties eating out, punishing exercise regimes etc.) is unrealistic and therefore pointless to undertake in the first place.
3) It’s not you, it’s me
So often I see women blaming themselves for "failing" at a diet. Additionally, diets are a bit of a vicious cycle; starting motivated → losing initial weight → struggling to stick to it for any length of time → giving up entirely → and then moving on to the next new diet… This cycle tends to affect confidence, as well causing the yo-yo effects we see diets having on weight. It's really important to remember that, more often than not, if you couldn't continue on a diet, it was because the diet wasn't for you, and therefore it was the diet that failed, not you.
4) Too much too fast
Another thing that often leads to diet failure is taking on something too extreme or trying something that encourages you to overhaul your whole diet or lifestyle. As humans, we are creatures of habit and trying to make big changes often doesn't sit too well with us. So if you currently eat out five or six days a week, attempting a diet that means you have to cook seven days a week is going to be a huge change to your overall lifestyle and, again, something you're unlikely to be able to continue long term. Small, simple, personalised and realistic changes are the way forward when it comes to setting goals to improve your overall health.
5) You’re hungry
Image Via Getty
Most diets work on the basis of calorie restrictions. But, however they are dressed up, reduced calorie intake is ultimately the main reason why most diets work in the short term. With this in mind, it's easy to see how cutting a big chunk of calories from your typical daily diet all in one go, for example, skipping meals or replacing meals with liquid alternatives, causes hunger to take over.
When we restrict calories, our brains are usually fighting against that restriction and actually encouraging us to eat more, especially if we are lacking in energy or nutrients compared to our normal consumption habits. Again, this is why it's best to make small changes, reduce portion sizes gradually and not allow ourselves to become overly hungry. Most people (myself included) feel the worst cravings when we're hungry, so it's best to try and keep your energy levels up, while making personalised and gradual changes to your diet over time.
So what should you do if you want to lose weight and keep it off?
1) Decide what you need to change
The first thing is to work on aspects of your diet that you personally need to change. Not a diet or plan that you've read in a book or picked up off a shelf.
2) Remember that it’s all about small changes
You have to remember that it's all about small changes over time for long-term weight loss. Build small changes into your lifestyle so that you're not fitting your life around your diet, but simply slotting in positive changes as you go. For example, you could try varying your breakfast options so that you don't get too bored; eating one less bag of crisps a week; adding a handful of frozen vegetables into your evening meal; or going for a short walk one day after work. You can, of course, build on these small changes over time as they themselves become part of your daily routine.
3) Make sure you really believe in what you’re doing
Ideally you also need to make sure these small changes are something you really believe you can (and want to) stick to – if there is any doubt in your mind that you won't do it, start again and try something smaller. We're more likely to feel motivated for the next step if we succeed, so however small the goal, make sure it's one you know you can achieve.
4) Don’t go too far
Lastly, make sure you don't overly restrict yourself as this is likely to just leave you hungrier and with more cravings for the very foods you're trying to eat less of. Build on changes gradually over time and try making swaps rather than just cutting out foods full stop.
You can read my blog here on No New You, just common sense nutrition with more of my top tips to making sustainable changes to your health.
Via Harper’s Bazaar UK