So, two weeks into your New Year resolutions and how’s it going? Are you still getting up at 6am every day to snatch an hour (if you’re lucky) to work on your professional goals? And how many times have you been to the gym or jogged around the park?
According to a poll by Cancer Research, just under 50% of us will break our New Year resolutions within a fortnight, blaming lack of will power. And for an estimated 25 million of us, those resolutions will have involved losing weight.
So what can you do? Resign yourself to failure? According to Sandra Roycroft-Davis from Thinking Slimmer, what you need is not better willpower (or a more extreme diet), but a change of approach.
Five reasons your New Year diet won’t work
Losing weight is as much about your mindset as your waistline. So to help you get into the right frame of mind to reach your target weight (and stick to at least one New Year resolution!) here are five reasons why traditional diets don’t work.
1) Your brain can’t resist temptation when you’re hungry
All the research shows that no matter what size you are, diets make you hungry and create powerful cravings for the very things you’re trying to avoid.
They also make you feel deprived, and when we deprive ourselves of food – and many diets are nothing more than temporary starvation – our brains crave nice things to eat.
Research at Imperial College London proves that people on diets find it harder to control and resist the temptation of food. By using MRI scans, scientists discovered that part of the brain thought to be involved in ‘food appeal’ (the orbitofrontal cortex) became more active on an empty stomach.
They found that your brain is more attracted to food if you skip breakfast, causing you to eat more food at lunch, and be more attracted to high-calorific food.
Dr Tony Goldstone says: “We found ample evidence that fasting made people hungrier and increased the appeal of high calorie foods and the amount people ate. One reason it is so difficult to lose weight is because the appeal of high calorie food goes up.”
2) Your body starts hoarding fat when you come off it
Our weight yo-yos up and down when we diet because our brain treats diets like famine. As soon as you come off a diet, your body goes into overdrive, hoarding fat in readiness for the next time.
So that’s why so many people find they put on weight again after coming off a diet. Depressing I know!
In fact, the medical journal American Psychologist reported on a study that shows that people who start habitually dieting from a young age tend to be significantly heavier after five years, than teenagers who have never dieted.
Scientists say that although slimmers can lose significant amounts of weight in the first few months of a diet, research shows that 95% return to their starting weight or end up WEIGHING MORE. This is because when you force yourself to go hungry your brain magnifies food cravings into over-powering obsessions that take over.
Professor Traci Mann, a psychologist at the University of California in Los Angeles, says: “Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people. You can initially lose five to 10 per cent of your weight on any number of diets, but then the weight comes back.”
3) Depriving yourself puts a huge strain on your body
Losing weight and putting it back again puts a huge strain on your body, causing unnecessary wear and tear. Professor Mann analysed long-term studies of 31 diet regimes and concluded that most people would have been better off not dieting at all.
Dr Michelle May, who teaches mindful eating, warns that unless medically supervised you shouldn’t cut calories below 1,200 per day or struggle to get enough nutrients to fuel your activities and satisfy your hunger.
Protein is an essential nutrients that helps make muscle tissue and keep us active, healthy and strong. It also makes enzymes and antibodies to help us fight infection. We get protein in milk, yogurt, meat, eggs, fish, beans and nuts – but when we’re dieting these can be the kind of foods we tend to cut out.
4) Dieting without exercise won’t produce lasting weight loss
Our bodies are meant to move – they actually long for exercise. Regular exercise to burn off calories reduces the risk of heart problems, cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes and other diseases. It can also delay the ageing process.
Dieting will cause you to lose not just the harmful fat but also useful muscle. The more muscle you have, the more calories you burn so when you start to lose muscle you need less food. The trouble is that eventually you’ll reach the point where you stop losing weight even though you’re taking in less food. So dieting without taking exercise won’t produce lasting weight loss.
Other benefits of exercise includes reducing stress, lifting moods, helping you sleep better, keeping you looking younger and improving your sex life. Right, where are those trainers…!
5) Dieting plays havoc with your metabolism
Dieting affects our metabolic rate – the rate at which our bodies break down and use energy. By eating less, we ultimately delay this process.
If we look at how our bodies are designed when it comes to food, we’re still programmed to deal with food shortages and times of starvation. Professor Jane Ogden, author of Fat Chance!, says:
“In evolutionary terms, it’s far more damaging and more likely for the body to starve to death than it is to overeat and our bodies know just what to do when we go through the periods of starvation that happen when we diet, it stores the excess food as fat and then uses it to produce the energy we need to keep going. As a result, the metabolic rate decreases so that the body can function as efficiently as possible and therefore use as little energy as possible and as little stored fat.”
So it doesn’t make sense to restrict food altogether. Dieting decreases our metabolic rate so in order to lose weight and maintain it, “dieters have to eat less consistently, and to compensate for a decreasing metabolic rate, they have to eat less and less over time”.
You need to change your lifestyle for a lasting difference
Humans truly are creatures of habit because that makes our complex lives a little simpler. So just as we can easily slip into bad habits, we can easily slip into good ones. It’s remarkable how just a week or two of eating smaller portions and choosing healthier food can become ingrained as the norm.
Dieting may lose you a few pounds in the short-term, but is it addressing the underlying causes of being overweight? Is a diet changing your lifestyle for good or just suppressing the problem for a little while?
So how CAN you lose weight?
Nearly every day I speak to people who have been dieting for many years and have lost the same two stones over and over again.
They tell me this diet worked and that diet worked. But when I ask them what they mean by ‘it worked’, I get silence… and then ‘well I lost weight, but put it all back on again and more’!
Surely if diets worked in the long term there wouldn’t be another 25 million or so people going back on one in the UK on 1st January next year. So here’s a thought – if you do what you’ve always done then you get what you’ve always got, so how about doing something different for a change?
Maybe this year it’s time to ditch the diets and adopt a different approach to weight loss? And instead of dieting, get your head around a more long term, healthier approach to the food and drink you consume, and the exercise you do – and get rid of any excess weight for good!
Sandra is the founder of Thinking Slimmer. She uses various neuroscience techniques in her Slimpod weight loss products to alter the brain’s reward system so that the pleasure no longer comes from burgers, chocolate or sugar but from making healthier choices.Sandra Roycroft-Davis