For many January is not just the start of the a new year but also the start of new diet. However, it is important to not get tempted by fad diets promising quick weight loss. Fad diets are restrictive eating plans which often cut out certain food groups or advise that you eat certain foods or food combinations.
Why should we avoid fad diets?
Unfortunately many fad diets are based on poor scientific evidence and they may make you unwell. Cutting out whole food groups might make your diet nutritionally unbalanced and lead to poor long term health. For example, removing all carbohydrates from your diet will also remove fibre from your diet which is important for gastrointestinal health. Often fad diets are hard to stick to, so people end up putting the weight back on and begin a cycle of yo-yo dieting which is also bad for your health. You can lose weight without making dramatic changes to your diet and putting your health at risk.
How to spot a fad diet
Not all diets are equal so be wary of misleading weight loss claims and pseudoscience. Watch out for diets that;
- Promise that you will lose more than 1 kg of weight a week. Crash diets may make you feel really unwell and unable to function.
- Recommend that you eat a certain type of food as they have special fat-burning effects such as the grapefruit diet or because they fit best with your blood group. There is no evidence to support these types of diets.
- Encourage the avoidance of a whole food group, such as carbohydrates, dairy products or a staple food such as wheat. Variety and balance are important tenets for good health and key to sticking to a weight loss diet.
- Suggest you should substitute foods for large doses of vitamin and mineral supplements. Supplements are expensive and cannot replace the benefits of real food.
- Recommend raw food on the basis that our body can digest it better. Cooking actually helps make some foods easier to digest and your body is well equipped with different enzymes and cellular processes to assist with the digestion and absorption of all foods.
- Are endorsed by celebrities sharing personal success story. Just because someone is famous, it does not mean she/he understands nutritional science. One personal story does not make them an expert in weight loss and often celebrities use touched up photos and have a support team, such as a personal trainer, behind the scenes.
- Suggest your weight is linked with a food allergy/intolerance or a yeast infection and that you must avoid certain foods. Speak to a doctor if you are worried that you have an allergy so you can get appropriate guidance.
- Are fashionable and promoted by a book. Just because the book has been published does not mean it is supported by good research evidence. Authors often pick and choose the information that they want to include so you get a very subjective view.
- Recommend you only drink fluids or juice to detox. Detox diets are based on the idea that toxins build up in the body and can be removed by eating, or not eating, certain things. However, there’s no evidence that toxins build up in our bodies and our liver deals well with the daily process of clearing the body of harmful by products.
- Promote a ‘secret’ or ‘miracle’ ingredient that doctors do not know about yet. Everyone likes the idea of a magic bullet but if one was discovered, we would not be facing a global obesity crisis.
- Suggest a diet will work for everyone. We are all different and there is no ‘one size fits all’ diet solution.
- Are sensationalist. Claims that sound too good to be true, often are. Diets recommended by health care professionals may sound boring but that is because they are obligated by law to only give advice that is based on evidence and cannot make sensationalist claims.
How to lose weight the healthy way
Weight gain is a slow process caused by us eating more calories than we burn through normal everyday activities and exercise. To lose weight we need to eat less and exercise more. Losing weight does not happen over night and can be challenging as our bodies are well equipped to defend against starvation. Fad diets may work in the beginning as they impose strict rules on how you eat or force you to rethink what you eat. However, they are hard to stick to for a long time and may adversely affect your health. The only way lose weight healthily for good is to make permanent changes to the way you eat and exercise. Below are some suggestions to guide you on how to change your diet for the better.
Aim for 5-10% weight loss as your initial goal
This amount of weight loss has been shown to improve your blood pressure, cholesterol and reduce your risk of developing diabetes. A healthy weight loss of 0.5 to 1kg a week translates into eating 500kcal less a day.
Re-evaluate what is on your plate.
Fill half of your plate with vegetables and reduce the carbohydrates to ¼ of your plate. Ensure any carbohydrates you are eating are wholegrains as these contain fibre and keep you fuller for longer. Also aim for 1 portion of lean protein and 1 portion of low fat dairy per meal to ensure you are getting all the nutrients your body need for good health. Remember you can still eat too much of a good thing. Eating healthy is one thing but we still need to keep an eye on those portion sizes.
Have regular small meals through the day and don’t skip breakfast
Regular meals help you stave off hunger and resist those cravings when you tend to reach for unhealthy foods like biscuits and chips. Breakfast is a key meal of the day so please don’t miss it. When we sleep we fast for 8 to12 hours so our blood sugar is low first thing in the morning. This can leave you feeling tired, lethargic and more likely to choose unhealthy foods later in the day. Eating in the morning after a night’s sleep provides much needed glucose to your starved brain and should make you feel happier and more alert. Eating breakfast may also help you control your weight.
Think about how and where you eat
Eating behaviour can also determine how much you eat. Sit at a table, turn the TV off and try to eat slowly, dragging out your mealtime to 20 minutes. Savouring each mouthful, focusing on what you are eating can help you look out for the signs of satisfaction. Pause in the middle of the meal, think about how the food tastes and what is your current fullness level is. Aim to be satisfied and not full!
Eating healthier is much easier if you do it with help. This could be family, friends or even joining a weight loss group. If you would like some individualized weight loss advice, dietitians are well placed with their nutrition experience and training to help you.