On 1 January, did you make a list of resolutions? Was one of them to lose weight? If so, were you tempted to log on to the internet and get the latest diet book, or slimming foods and supplements, or sign up to an online weight loss site?
If you have said yes to any of the above, you have helped line the coffers of the global diet industry, worth an astonishing £55 billion a year, and the sad thing is you’ll probably end up heavier than before you started your diet. Only one in five dieters reach their target weight, and 35 per cent put weight on (an average of 4.7lbs).
Instead of following a futile fad diet, you change your eating habits for life, eat less and exercise more. That’s it
Yet the diet myth continues, with every new book on the subject hailed as if it is the Holy Grail. If there was a diet that was 100 per cent effective, the weight loss industry would be in ruins. From which it is simple to make the assumption that it wants us to fail, and thus keep following its latest fads.
“Fad diets have one thing in common: they are fundamentally flawed,” says Glen Matten, nutritionist and author of The 100 Foods You Should Be Eating. “You might get short-term results, but in the majority of cases, the whole thing backfires when those short-term successes turn into long-term failure. There’s a high probability that the weight will creep back on, often with added interest. You’re not only back to square one but will probably end up fatter in the long run thanks to fad dieting.
“They might have a clever name, celebrity endorsement, or come packaged in pseudo-scientific clap-trap, but strip away the fanfare and all we’re left with are empty promises.”
The truth about the diet, health and drug industries – and the answers to achieving total wellness – will be revealed in his forthcoming book, The Health Delusion, published in May.
Experts now say that an anti-diet approach is the best way to lose weight. The idea is simple and effective. Instead of following a futile fad diet, you change your eating habits for life, eat less and exercise more. That’s it.
Studies show that the anti-diet approach works. “The approach is to recognise what our body wants and then regulate how much we eat, based on hunger,” says Professor Steven Hawks, lead researcher of an intuitive eating study at Brigham Young University, Utah.
When someone eats intuitively, it correlates significantly with lower body mass index, lower trigliceride levels (which decreases cardiovascular risk) and higher levels of high density lipoproteins (the good form of cholesterol, which protects against risk of heart attack). What makes intuitive eating different from a diet is that weight-loss diets work against human biology, whereas instinctive eating means people work with their own biology and learn to understand their own bodies.
Hawks says: “This is a nurturing approach to nutrition as opposed to a regulated, restrictive approach. That is why diets fail, and that is why intuitive eating has a better chance of being successful in the long term.”
The anti-diet encourages us to accept and value our bodies, to recognise that dieting is harmful, and to think about how and what we eat. That means not eating for emotional or social reasons, learning to stop eating when you are satisfied rather than finishing what’s on the plate, and to interpret your body’s signals, cravings and hunger so that you can respond in a positive way.
Crucial to a successful eating plan is a regular exercise regime. Glen Matten says: “We have to get away from the ‘quick win’ fad diet mentality and make sustainable changes to our diets, changes we can actually live with. Just as importantly, we need to make changes to our lifestyle, and that means physical activity.
“Most research shows that we’re not actually eating more now than we did 30 years ago, but it’s in that time that obesity rates have sky-rocketed. We may not be eating more, but we are doing less and, on the whole, becoming dangerously sedentary.
“All that adds up to a recipe for disaster and can only be tackled by a genuine attempt to both change the way we eat and our physical activity levels, long-term.”
The average crash diet lasts 15 days. So, this year, instead of feeling fat, fed up and a failure on January 16, you could ditch the fad diet and follow a well-balanced eating plan instead.
Michael Pollan, journalist and author of Food Rules, adds a simple but effective rule: “Eat food – not too much. Mostly plants. That is the short answer to the supposedly complicated and confusing question of what we humans should eat in order to be maximally healthy.”
Combine this with daily exercise (a brisk walk can be just as effective as a visit to the gym) and by this time next year, dieting could be a thing of the past.