Why fad diets do not work

Plate empty and unhappy lady

It’s an unpopular opinion to say, but there are no quick fixes when it comes to weight loss – that stays off.  For some people, it is easy enough to lose weight, but it eventually drifts back on over time as they return to old habits, and then they have to start again, this is called yoyo dieting.

Quick fixes, fads and extreme restriction.

Short-term weight loss options or fad diets, like the cabbage soup diet, meal replacement drinks or extremely low calorie diets are very different to a longer-term weight loss approach.  Yoyo dieting can start to affect our insulin resistance and it becomes harder and harder to lose weight so is not a successful outcome.

It really isn’t a huge surprise that this pattern occurs after a quick fix because we haven’t made any fundamental behavioural changes that we are willing to continue with. Eventually, our old eating and exercise patterns return because we feel deprived in the short term, this is also not sustainable. 

Our motivation behind a fast-paced weight loss approach can often be linked to how we look and feel about ourselves rather than for longer-term health benefits.   We make short-term sacrifices, perhaps for an event or occasion.  We see positive results of these sacrifices – we lose weight, our event comes and goes, and for the most part, life then returns to normal. Maintaining that reduction on the scales requires long-term commitment, and many of us honestly ask ourselves is it worth the sacrifice. 

Change that sticks

So what is the answer? Long-term habits need to change to see weight loss that is sustainable.  I am sure we can all think of one person we know that has successfully lost weight and kept it off, but that will have come at a price.   That price is a shift in lifestyle. If you are serious about losing weight, finding a buddy to support you can help.   To make a change in lifestyle, you need to start by defining what that looks like, then agree with those closest to you to support you.  If for example, you wish to increase your protein intake and the amount of vegetables per meal your partner can support you with that, will make it easier to sustain.

Taking small steps is a good place to start and build from.  We are often so focused on cutting things out of our diet, such as cakes, biscuits, crisps, ice cream, bread and other treats, to see a quick change that we may feel deprived.  If we start by taking small steps, perhaps one or two changes at a time, we might be able to move in the right direction of a more varied, higher nutrient-dense diet. Things like adding in a portion of veg at mealtime, drinking more water, or replacing one snack in the day with nuts and seeds will all help. These smallish shifts help to nudge us into a more varied diet, and our taste buds adapt to less sugary treats. Research shows that small tweaks to portion sizes can also have positive impacts on our weight in the longer term but don’t necessarily lead to us feeling deprived.

Adding movement

The same approach to your diet applies to increasing physical activity.  By adding in one workout session at a time might be more manageable rather than trying to find the time to add three sessions a week. Once the first session is established in your weekly schedule after 3 months or so, adding another starts to feel more doable, rather than spontaneously trying to find three extra hours. Giving ourselves room to change and create new habits is an investment in time and energy, but a long-term view is more likely to stick. This is a 3 to 6-month commitment to change a habit.

Sanity Check

The other side of extreme weight loss plans that are very rarely raised at the beginning of a new regime is a check-in as to whether we need to diet in the first place. If you are trying to fit into an old dress for one day or a swimsuit for a holiday, is that really a valid reason to put yourself through a period of restriction that is, at best temporary? Is carrying a few extra pounds the be-all-and-end-all and if so, why is that? Is it because the media tell us that we need to get “Beach Ready” and that smaller is better?  If so then maybe it might be worth considering our motivation.  

My passion is really about trying to help everyone, regardless of size, move more and lead a healthier life.  If you are keen to make some changes, I would be happy to chat with you about how I might be able to support you in making lasting changes that improve your health and well-being.

Sara McDonnell

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