How many of us at some stage in our lives have said, “I am going on a diet so that I look my best for that event, holiday etc.?” The diet culture is ingrained in our daily life, and comments such as the “COVID curve; I need to fit into those jeans, that swimsuit or dress; I’ll burn that off at the gym or it’s my treat day!” feed into this culture, which is then supported by social media seeking for us all to fit into an ideal aesthetic.
In this month’s blog we look at fad diets, their sustainability, the mindset they create and how using a slow and steady approach, in adopting health promoting behaviours is better for our wellbeing and health outcomes.
Our relationship with food
This cultural pressure to look a certain way, drives many to seek unrealistic weight loss programs and plans. These programs often mean focusing on impractical calorie intake, restricting particular food groups or eating at certain times. The challenge with these approaches, is that, we do not all respond in the same way and as we often say, there is no one size fits all in nutrition.
As humans’ our relationship with food is complex, these programs frequently do not take this into account.
Our physiology is such that we have a sophisticated system of internal signals of hunger and satiety, which are often overridden by rules, habits, routines and cues in our daily lives (1).
Restriction of certain foods in the short-term often leads to us craving them even more and consequently increases the risk of overeating these when available (2).
Removing a whole food group can often reduce the much-needed energy intake, which can in the longer-term have a significant impact on health (3).
Labelling foods as “good or bad” can also be a challenge, fueling guilt and failure.
The complexity of this relationship with food, can lead to a yo-yo dieting cycle, which ultimately can be harmful to our overall health.
Sustainability of Diets
So, are diets sustainable and if so, which one is best? In some cases, weight loss reduces the risk factors of cardiovascular disease and type II diabetes through improvements in blood glucose, triacylglycerols and blood pressure levels (4). The task is sustaining weight loss over the longer-term. Results have shown that individuals on average, regain between 30% to 40% of their lost weight within 1 year, and in the longer-term follow-up show a gradual return to original weight levels or above (5).
It’s important to understand that sustained weight loss is difficult to achieve. This is because behavioural, psychological, and environmental factors influence weight regain and that weight loss and weight maintenance are inherently different and require different approaches (6).
Part of the discussion must also recognise that health is possible at all body sizes and as we celebrate body diversity, we understand that all bodies have the capacity to be fit and healthy. Part of the process now, becomes engaging with ways that we can embrace accepting ourselves as individuals, regardless of our body shape and size. Body shape and size are complex and influenced by numerous factors most of which are outside our control, therefore body size is not an individual choice or indeed an issue of willpower.
What is our best approach?
There appears to be no optimal diet, that is effective for all individuals to lose weight. Dieting can create other health implications, as recognised with many who have yo-yo dieted for years, then struggle with disordered eating behaviours that are harmful to both mental and physical well being. A better approach is adhering to eating enough, of the right food quality and getting physically active are more beneficial to promote health over the longer-term (7).
Therefore, we invite you to consider exploring some of these changes, rather than embarking on yet another fad diet, which most probably will be unsuccessful based on what research tells us.
Consider these ways of eating, to help support your needs as you live now:
1. Eat enough – aim for three meals every day. It sounds simple but committing to that will be really powerful for your body. When you consume enough food, you are fuelling your body for the activities that you want to do. This will support you to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger.
2. Increase variety – eating a greater variety of foods supports a greater variety of nutrient intake. We all become bored eating the same thing, try different meals and vegetables to bring that variety of nutrients to your diet.
3. Listen to your body – listen to your body for the cues on how the food you are eating tastes, is it filling and is it providing what my body needs. This means that we are more aware of what we’re eating, that we eat to more comfortable levels, that we’ll stop when our body feels at its most comfortable, rather than maybe pushing past this or not eating enough.
4. Create more calm – don’t underestimate the impact of stress. During times of stress our levels of the hormone cortisol are increased. This in turn lowers blood sugar levels and increases food cravings. So, be intentional with creating more calming activities in your day. They don’t have to be grand – they just need to be plentiful.
5. Show yourself compassion – emotional eating is normal at times. Overeating is normal at times. What’s not normal is the guilt, shame and stress that we put our bodies through afterwards, by not forgiving ourselves these minor indiscretions. Remember the reality of indulging over a couple of days is not going to harm your health, however the feelings of failure and guilt can have a far more significant impact on your mind and body.
As we mentioned, there is no one size fits all in nutrition, it’s about finding a way of eating well that works for your needs, to sustain your health. It’s also important to seek help from qualified and registered dieticians or nutritionists, so that you can get evidence-based advice that supports you in how you live now.
(1) Els Bilman, Ellen van Kleef & Hans van Trijp (2017) External cues challenging the internal appetite control system—Overview and practical implications, Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 57:13, 2825-2834.
(2) Meule, A (2020). The Psychology of Food Cravings: the Role of Food Deprivation. Curr Nutr Rep 9, 251–257.
(3) Oh R, Gilani B, Uppaluri KR (2021). Low Carbohydrate Diet. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing, Treasure Island (FL).
(4) M.D. Jensen, D.H. Ryan, C.M. Apovian, J.D. Ard, A.G. Comuzzie, K.A. Donato, et al. (2013), AHA/ACC/TOS guideline for the management of overweight and obesity in adults: a report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines and The Obesity Society, J Am Coll Cardiol, 63 (2014), pp. 2985-3023.
(5) Perri MG. The maintenance of treatment effects in the long-term management of obesity (1998). Clin Psychol Sci Pract;5:526–543.
(6) Vadiveloo M, Sacks FM, Champagne CM, Bray GA, Mattei J (2016). Greater Healthful Dietary Variety Is Associated with Greater 2-Year Changes in Weight and Adiposity in the Preventing Overweight Using Novel Dietary Strategies (POUNDS Lost) Trial. J Nutr. Aug;146(8):1552-9.
(7) Rachel Freire (2020), Scientific evidence of diets for weight loss: Different macronutrient composition, intermittent fasting, and popular diets, Nutrition, Volume 69.