If you Google how many people who attempt diets maintain weight loss over a 1, 2 or 5 year period, you will be presented with many studies and statistics - age cohorts, male or female, diet categories, with or without exercise, type of exercise, dieting history and so on. One thing that is consistent in every study; long-term weight loss by following a diet is achieved only by a very small percentage of people. Following most diets, in the first 6 months you may lose 5-10% of your body weight, but the weight will return. Most people will regain the lost weight plus more. So it is accurate to state in most cases diets have no health benefits and can actually result in weight gain.
And how accurate are the dieting statistics? The big picture is more than likely much worse as participants in these studies self-report. They may also be going on and off diets and dropping out of studies.
When you start a diet, you are much more likely to notice food. You focus on tempting and tasty foods even more than usual, and consequently are hungrier. It’s our inbuilt need for pleasure. So the food you are trying to reduce or resist becomes even more appealing and harder to give up. The key is stop blaming yourself if you have attempted to decrease body fat through the practice of dieting. When you are told exactly what to eat and what not to eat, this is a form of ‘external change’. You are not creating long term change because a controlling factor is at play that isn’t addressing your intrinsic beliefs, engrained habits or current behaviour. Long lasting change will result from being aware of your internal and external triggers and current habits & behaviour. Be realistic in your expectations and develop the strategies that will work for you at a reasonable & doable pace.
Total energy expenditure is important in relation to controlling body weight or reducing body fat. The sometimes difficult but simplistic answer is to combine regular exercise with a healthy food intake. What are your goals? While it is important to include mostly ‘low processed’ sugar ‘low fat’ foods, it is also important to be aware that the total amount you are consuming in relation to your activity level will determine whether you gradually increase, decrease or maintain your body weight. Eating only low fat foods will not guarantee weight loss. You can still increase body weight if you consume too much low fat food. Whether you food intake is mostly low fat, high fat, high sugar, low sugar or any combination, you still need to be aware of total amount consumed. However it is much easier to consume excess ‘fat calories’, from high fat foods as fat contains over twice the amount of calories per gram as carbohydrates and protein. When you reduce ‘fat calories’ from high fat food (note: a high sugar content often accompanies foods with a high fat content), for example; sweet pies, cakes, donuts, muffins, ice cream & pizza.
The bottom line is - for the body to draw on stored body fat as a fuel source your intake of calories must be less than the amount of energy (calories) you are burning. Fat is easily stored in fat cells, so it makes sense to follow a nutritious low fat food intake that is mostly vegetables, fruits, wholegrain cereals, lean protein sources, legumes and low fat dairy or dairy alternatives.
Start by making changes in your eating behaviour. Take small steps, the all or nothing approach is not going to work long term. Motivation will increase as you implement behaviour change necessary to achieve better health and fitness. It’s the small steps that will keep you going. View behaviour change as a process and one of the most important and beneficial life decisions you will make.
The amount of information on nutrition, general health, health and fitness tips, diet, workouts, gym info, fitness info, exercise, bodybuilding, weight loss, how to lose weight, what exercise should I do & so on, no wonder the consumer is confused & craves the truth. We either work it out ourselves, hire a personal trainer, book an appointment with a nutritionist or dietician, take advise from a friend or family member or follow guidelines from a best selling book. Some people are sadly on and off the dieting roller coaster all their life. When you consider following diets, has a very low % of success it’s time to reconsider and make the change to, gradual behaviour change.
Start with regular exercise, and then consider what is manageable for you to change in regard to your current eating habits. One change at a time is success. Focus on the process like a journey to a better healthier life. Like anything worthwhile, there is a level of commitment, scheduling and work to be done. One way to start is by keeping an eating diary to identify where you need to make changes. Focus on one achievable eating behaviour change at a time and progress at your own pace. Check out Total Shape’s ‘NO DIET’ Process to Behaviour Change recommendations. This could be the checklist that propels you in the right direction for long-term change!
NO DIET Process to Behaviour Change Checklist
- Schedule weight training & cardio exercise into your week
- Substitute high fat food for low fat foods - gradually
- Increase vegetable intake - this is one of the most vital health initiatives you can implement
- Replace high fat snacks - make a start, even a few times a week
- Reduce the portion size of all high calorie foods - less is more
- Eat slowly and mindfully - try to limit distractions while eating
- Increase high fibre foods - vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and lentils
- Substitute higher fat protein for lower fat protein sources
- Lower your refined sugar intake - highly processed foods
- Reduce & minimise fast foods - a crucial strategy to work towards
- Substitute sugary drinks including fruit juices - another initiative to reduce empty, zero nutrient calories
- Identify what habits and behaviours are barriers to change - eating when stressed for example and implement alternatives
- Drink more water - add a little lemon or lime juice if you are anti water
- Keep high calorie, tempting foods out of sight & try to limit - make a start
- Treat foods are not evil or detrimental to your success - we all need a high fat, high sugar, completely devoid of nutrient snack or meal on occasions!
- Identify and implement distractions for when you have the tendency to snack - think of ways you can counteract this habit
- Look for lower fat meal options when eating out - it does require discipline. Think vegetables, lean proteins, minimal creamy sauces & sugary drinks
- Use smaller serving plates and fill half with vegetables - load up on antioxidants
- Compare & study grocery store products - check the labels and choose items with less fat, less sugar & minimal preservatives
- Avoid snacking while cooking meals - sip on a cup of green or peppermint tea
- Stop eating for a minute or two several times during your meal and place the utensils down - every small step towards behavioural change is a win
- Freeze left-overs or use for lunch the next day to reduce portion sizes & avoid over eating
- Limit alcohol - be aware and make behavioural changes if necessary
- Avoid buffet style restaurant or buffet style home eating - very easy to over eat. But every now & then will not be a problem
- Make exercise a priority and practice scheduling more days per week
- Take opportunities to move - stand at your desk, take a walk break, exercise at home
- In the end your health and fitness really matters & it’s up to you
Pleasure and Pain - We are more drawn to actions including information that justifies us moving away from pain. We make choices to avoid or decrease pain, as pain is more immediate. The early morning alarm to get out of bed to exercise, the reaction of your taste buds when you switch to lower fat foods, changing ingrained habits, it’s all pain. The pleasure is a distant achievement that is far from immediate. The attraction of less pain draws our attention and interferes and disrupts our common sense. Just like fad diets, short-term pleasure, ultimately results in more pain.
Commit to the change process, accept that there will be some pain but you will experience the long-term pleasure of a fit and healthy body.