I’m sure we’ll all be happy to see 2016 consigned to the compost bin of time but is Jan 1st 2017 the best time to decide to lose weight with the new diet trend you read in a blog? I’m all for making healthier choices but while these popular diets might offer initial success, you’ll find the weight loss tapering off and unhealthy habits creeping back in. Here’s why most fad diets fail.
What happens when you diet?
Generally, you reduce the number of calories you eat and often you eat lots of new healthier foods like vegetables, salads, high protein and high fibre foods and cut out foods with lots of added sugar and salt. You may exclude whole food groups or opt for low fat or low carb, high fat eating plans. Regardless, all diets generally result in you consuming fewer calories than your body is used to.
To lose weight, you must consume fewer calories than your body burns. This is simple physics. Our bodies use the energy we consume via food and drink to fuel 3 things: the resting metabolism (which is the energy needed to keep us alive, keep our lungs breathing and heart beating), digestion (breaking down and absorbing food actually requires energy, with protein requiring the most energy to digest) and activity (exercise, daily movement and fidgeting). So by reducing the number of calories you eat and increasing your activity (and potentially the cost of digestion if you opt for a high protein diet), you should lose weight.
You’ll often see articles that quote the rule that to lose 1lb a week, you have to eat 500 calories less a day. The problem with this conventional wisdom is that, as you lose weight, at least one if not all three of the determinants of energy expenditure change. For example, as you lose weight, you literally have less body to keep alive – less fat, less muscle, so the resting metabolism will fall and you will need fewer calories to stay the same weight. The energy cost of activity will also be less because you have less weight to move. And depending on the diet you are on, you might expend less energy on digestion. The bottom line is, as you lose weight, you have to work harder to either maintain that new weight or lose more. This is the depressing reality of diets and why many fail. For an excellent, in-depth (with maths!) explanation of the above, check out Precision Nutrition’s article on metabolic damage.
Why can’t I stick to a diet?
When you embark upon the latest diet from a magazine, blog or book, you usually have to change pretty much everything you are used to doing. You may be eating lots of new foods, cooking from scratch when you previously haven’t, eating at different times than usual and eating less than you’re used to. You might also be trying to deal with this alongside cooking for a family (who may or may not be participating in said diet), attending work commitments, going on family trips out or social events and doing all the things that generally make up life as you know it. These activities usually make sticking to a rigid set of diet rules more difficult!
At first, the novelty of the new regime, along with the initial water weight loss you tend to see in the first few days, will keep you going for a couple of weeks, after which, it becomes harder to maintain your new lifestyle, particularly if the rest of the family or your friends or partner aren’t doing it too. The really ultra-restrictive plans that cut out grains, carbohydrates or dairy, for example, might deliver initial weight loss but they are crushingly hard to maintain in the long term and can in fact result in deficiencies of vital nutrients. For more on fad diets, check out last year’s New Year, New You blog.
So what should I do?
Instead of radically overhauling your lifestyle in one go, opt for simpler, more sustainable changes and introduce them gradually. Work out what is realistic for your lifestyle and work/family commitments and take it step by step.
Take it slowly, be realistic about what you can sustain and make changes gradually. It’s a lot easier and healthier than a juice cleanse!
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