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The very advertisers, supermarkets and magazines that encouraged us to eat, eat and then eat some more the entire month of December are now show casing their own interpretation of what you now need to do to stop eating and lose weight. Although this approach provokes a rather bitter taste in my mouth, we can’t get away from diet and weight loss at this time of year. In Britain, we are in the grip of a diet frenzy. It’s on the T.V, in magazines, in books, in the papers, on the web, and can make up a good part of our general conversations day to day. But given that almost a quarter of adults in the UK are considered obese, it seems this ‘in your face’ approach by the media is having a rather adverse affect. Between the 1980’s and 2000 obesity rates doubled in adults. We are now considered one of the most obese nations in Europe!

Why did we start putting on weight in these years? I believe there are two explanations. First and foremost: food got tasty. Really tasty. We stopped eating to live and started living to eat, given that the food was so tasty and all that. Second: conceptions of body image completely changed. There became a huge emphasis on what the ‘perfect body’ was, and what measures you had to take to achieve this. And thus we entered the cruel and calculating world of Dieting. And what happens when we go on a diet? We lose a shed load of weight; eat some tasty food to celebrate, and put the whole lot back on again, and then some! If you are reading this and disagreeing, having lost weight on a diet and successfully kept the weight off, I utterly commend you; in my experience, and so many others I’ve spoken to, DIETS DO NOT WORK!

I am very much a tried and tested victim that has fallen into the grips of diets, to no avail. I’ve gone for 6 weeks without carbs, only to binge on potatoes and bread for the next 6 months. I’ve drunk only aloe vera juice for 48 hours, lost four pounds, and almost lost my mind. I’ve spent a small fortune on ready-made meals that are delivered to your door, which resemble plane food; or cat food; or worse. I’ve counted points. I’ve ‘fasted’ for two days of the week. I’ve drunk shakes instead of meals. At one point, I even invented my own diet. And what do you know? NONE of them worked! Technically, if the diet is stuck to, of course it works. But that requires a decent measure of deprivation and immense willpower, neither of which I much like. You name it, I’ve tried it.

What is considered a ‘fad diet’?

A fad diet is typically a quick-fix diet that promises for you to lose weight quickly, often with no concern for long-term weight loss, or any health implications for that matter. And although the term ‘fad’ by definition suggests a brief spike in popularity, it can be used to describe diet’s such as ‘the cabbage soup diet’ and ‘Atkins’, given that they have been used for years. If a diet is show cased in a magazine, or paper, claiming miracles will happen if you follow their interpretation of what a ‘diet’ is – you can safely call it a fad diet. This year has seen the introduction of a very popular diet, the 5:2 diet, or if it was more appropriately named: Starving yourself on 500 calories for 104 days of the year diet. Thanks, but no thanks!

Why fad diets do not work

Technically, these diets do work, but only in the short term. More often than not, they fail you in the long term, and can often leave you with more weight than you initially started with. They work typically by restricting or eliminating certain food groups (i.e. carbohydrates), or by radically reducing your calorie intake every day, or on certain days. When this happens, the body is often deprived of essential nutrients, as well as leaving you with feelings of severe deprivation, which can result in our poor eating habits returning with a vengeance. It is said that over two thirds of dieters put any weight lost on a diet straight back on once the honeymoon period is over! Put it this way, if they worked, we’d all be thin!

Why fad diets are bad for you

The list of health implications relating to diets are relatively endless: constipation, tiredness, no energy, headaches, depression, damage to the immune system, high or low blood pressure as well as an increase in risk of heart disease, diabetes or stroke in some cases. A study in the University of California concluded that, after a four-year study on 19,000 men who were put on diet’s, that the majority would have been better not going on a diet in the first place – as their weight would have stayed more or less the same, and that their bodies would not have suffered the wear and tear from losing weight and gaining it all back.

Abandon the ‘quick fixes’

They say, in order to lose 1 pound a week, you should reduce your calorie intake by 500 calories a day. This could be the garlic bread with your pasta; the chocolate and coffee on your break; or your 2 glasses of wine at night. Add a bit of exercise into the mix and you would soon lose the weight. A healthy amount of weight to lose is 1-2 lbs per week. Patience is a virtue you should exercise when trying to lose weight (pardon the pun) – it won’t happen overnight – so abandon the quick fixes, the fad diets, the depravation, and do it the sensible (and sane) way.

The most important principle in weight loss, to put it simply, is this:

Follow a healthy eating plan that allows all foods in moderation and includes regular exercise.

Combine this with an understanding of what your triggers for over-eating are, knowing your bad habits and breaking them; and you will be soon be well on your way to achieving your goals.

The E word

The dreaded exercise! It is possible to lose weight without exercising, but it will take a lot longer, you will not tone up, and you will be unlikely to keep the weight off without it! The key to success with exercise is finding something that you enjoy, so that it doesn’t feel like a chore. I have long since abandoned exercise that leaves me near enough crippled for days. I enjoy the gym, walking, yoga and cycling, which gives me plenty of variety so I don’t get bored. You should aim to do exercise that will get your heart rate up at least 3 times a week, as well as some form of gentle exercise every other day.

Know your triggers

Many of us have triggers that cause us to overeat and/or drink. Do you reach for the chocolate when you’re stressed? Happy? Sad? Bored? It’s helpful to keep a diary of your food, making notes when you’ve eaten excessively; explaining why you think you ate so much. Once you have identified your trigger then it’s important to put in place positive strategies to cope with the emotion instead of eating. I like to go for a walk, clean the house or jump in the bath when I’m in that situation – it distracts me from eating!

Other triggers can be your environment. Do you over eat when you visit relatives, friends or when you go out for dinner? Try to change the environment you are in to avoid this from happening – or just make sure you fill up on a bowl of soup beforehand so you don’t have the temptation to eat to excess!

Put. Down. The magazine.

Every time I read in a glossy magazine that some celebrity or other has slimmed down from 9 stone 2 pounds to something ridiculous like 8 stone 1 pound I feel like writing the editor a letter, and not a very nice one at that. It’s implying that to be of a similar starting weight is simply unacceptable in today’s society. Magazines sell image dissatisfaction to their readers through unrealistic, photo shopped pictures of models and celebrities. Isn’t it funny how our streets aren’t filled with women who look like this? It’s because they are the minority, and are consequently being paid to look the way they do! The everyday woman, who works, runs a house and juggles family life does not look like this, it is simply unattainable. Put down the magazine. Now.

My conclusion is best summarised by a quote from Dr Beckie Lang, of the Association for the Study of Obesity, who said: “Maintaining a healthy weight isn’t about going on a diet and coming off a diet when you’ve reached your target weight. It is about adopting skills that change your eating habits for life.”

I don’t about you, but that’s going to be my approach for 2014 – after all, fad diets are so 2013!


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