Before You Start Your Next Diet: Know the Facts

Offered By The Nutrition Activist

Losing weight? Know the facts first!

  1. Beware the fad diet
  2. The dangers of weight-cycling (yo-yo dieting)
  3. The diet cycle
  4. How to spot a fad diet
  5. How to lose weight
  6. What does a balanced diet look like?

Beware the fad diet:

According to the British Heart Foundation the UK diet industry is worth an estimated £2billion per year. More than 65% of women and 44% of men try to lose weight each year, sticking to each new diet for an average of 19 days. The simple truth is that, if you want to lose weight there is no magic diet!

Whether you are trying the 5:2 diet, dukan diet, paleo diet, keto, alkaline diet, south beach diet, slimming world, slimfast, ligherlife or weight watchers I’m sorry to tell you but there are negative consequences associated with all of them. Not least the dangers of weight-cycling, more commonly known as yo-yo dieting.

 The dangers of weight-cycling:

Weight-cycling, or yo-yo dieting is a by-product of repetitive dieting. It is the cycle whereby you lose weight and regain it. Not only is this frustrating, it can trigger disordered eating behaviours and it can also have serious consequences for your health.

Repetitive weight loss and gain has been associated with increased mortality and morbidity, some forms of cancer, loss of muscle tissues, chronic inflammation and osteoporotic fractures. In the long-term weight-cycling can have negative consequences for your body’s physiology. Not only that it can impact your mental health having an effect on your mood and making an individual more prone to low mood, depression, anxiety, irritability and fear of failure.

The diet cycle:

cycle of dieting habits

If you’ve ever been on a diet before you will know that there are often rules. These rules often involve restriction and/or avoidance of food. Restricting food or following strict food rules can lead to fatigue, irritation and low mood as well as hunger. Both of these will trigger us to eat and because our body is clever it knows that the easiest way to obtain energy quickly is by consuming carbohydrates. Carbohydrates also have an impact on our mood as they stimulate neurotransmitters in our brain that release dopamine and serotonin. If you are hungry your mood and energy levels will be affected and after a while this will lead to you eating to feel better.

When you are on a diet, with rules, your goal is to stick to these rules, if you don’t it is likely that you will feel that you have failed and the good feeling that you achieved by eating to feel better will be replaced by negative emotions. These negative emotions lead to you starting the cycle all over again, and so it goes on. Diet companies rely on this cycle to keep you coming back.

How to spot a fad diet:

The main message here is that fad diets will not work. If you want to lose weight make sure you follow good, evidence-based nutritional advice. A good rule of thumb is, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

What do look out for:

  • The promise of rapid weight loss, more than 2lbs per week
  • Eliminating or restricting whole food groups  
  • Eating foods only in combination with other foods
  • Promotion of one type of food only (cabbage soup anyone?)
  • Magic fat burning effects (grapefruit, celery juice!)
  • Celebrity endorsement without any scientific evidence to support it
  • Juicing/ Detoxing

How to lose weight

If you think about your body’s main objective, it is to keep you alive and safe. Weight loss is achievable but will only come when you create a healthy internal and external environment and consistently provide the body with the nourishment it needs. Being consistent with your lifestyle choices will encourage this, dieting and restriction will not.

The honest truth is that weight loss is underpinned by consistency and lifestyle. I am a health first nutritionist and I believe 100% that weight loss will only be achieved when you are living a balanced life, eating whole food and using motivations that aren’t solely focussed on external motivations, such as the way you look.

Before you start a diet, it is important to identify your why. What is your motivation for losing weight? Losing weight is a goal and you can work towards it but if you want to lose weight successfully you should assess what it is about being a smaller size that you value.

What will being smaller, thinner, a different jean size going to do for your quality of life? Are you prepared to adjust your lifestyle and your habits to accommodate this value? If the answer is yes then you are starting from a good point.

healthy bowl of porridge and fruit

What does a balanced diet look like?

A balanced diet is a diet that allows you to nourish, not punish your body. It is an eating plan that will maintain your mood and your physical health. I firmly believe that a balanced diet should be based on whole food, not processed food. I also believe that working on building a balanced plate at every meal is a great place to start.

My basic guidelines for a diet that will nourish and support your physical and mental health are as follows:

  • Opt for whole foods, not processed foods, if a food has more than 5 ingredients on the list, some of which you can’t pronounce, find an alternative.
  • Build a balanced plate at every meal, protein, carbohydrate and veggies plus a serving of fat.
  • Focus on adding in rather than taking away. How many different vegetables can you eat in one week?
  • Eat 5 portions of fruit and veg a day.
  • Eat 2 portions of oily fish a week.
  • Drink at least 2L of water per day.
  • Keep your caffeine to before midday, this will help your sleep quality.
  • Eat mindfully, sit down at every meal and enjoy your food. Savour every mouthful, chew your food properly, this is the start of the digestion process and it’s an important part.

If you eat whole food consistently you’ll not only be able to enjoy your food but you will achieve your health goals at a sustainable rate.

Some simple scientific truths:

Excess calories will lead to weight gain.

The quality of the calorie is, in my opinion more important than the calorie itself but this is only once you have learnt how to fuel your body. The science is that if you put more energy into your body than your body uses, on a consistent basis then you will put on weight.

Too much sugar is bad for you.

Our brains love sugar and we need it to fuel our muscles but aim to get no more than 5% of your daily calories from free sugars, those are any added sugars plus sugars in honey, syrups and fruit juice. Too much free sugar can seriously affect your health.

You need carbs!

Carbohydrates fuel our glycogen stores, if your stores are low your body will break down protein from your muscles instead. Having said this, we often don’t need as much carbohydrate as we think we need so be mindful and opt for foods that release slowly into the bloodstream, low GI foods. This will help balance your blood sugar, which will in turn balance your mood and your energy levels.

Lifestyle is the major influencer in weight loss:

It is a fact that your lifestyle and the way you feel will impact your weight, for example stress and sleep are both known to have a marked impact on an individual’s ability to lose weight. Rather than just focussing on the food, perhaps take a moment to focus on your lifestyle?

Remember to take your time, be grateful, meditate, stay hydrated, get some sleep, be mindful of alcohol and caffeine, laugh, have fun and learn to spot and avoid the lure of the fad diet. You can lose weight if you really want to but consistency is key and before you jump into your next weight loss mission remember that you can be healthy at every size, so consider your motivations for losing weight first.


Want to keep learning? Find more articles from Olivia Palmer - The Nutrition Activist:

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