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Why Fad Diets Don’t Work – The Importance Of Creating Sustainable Habitual Changes To Your Lifestyle

Have you ever done a diet in the past? Keto? Paleo? Grapefruit & Egg?

I could go on but if you’ve been on the “diet circuit” these terms will no doubt be familiar.

Let me start by saying that all diets have one goal in mind:

They eliminate something from your current diet which ultimately will put you in a calorie deficit – allow me to explain…

In very basic terms, we consume energy through our food and drink and we expend it in 4 different ways: through our basal metabolic rate (our basic bodily functions like breathing, that keep us alive), the thermic effect of food (digesting and absorbing what we eat), the thermic effect of exercise and non-exercise activity thermogenesis (walking around, doing the housework, getting up and down off your sofa etc)

If we consume more energy than we expend, we are in a calorie surplus and over time, we gain weight (think Lockdown as a prime example for so many people). If we expend roughly the same amount of energy as we consume, we are likely to maintain our weight, and if we consume less than we expend, we are in a calorie deficit which, over time, leads to weight loss (or should I say fat loss).

So, back to these diets. Whichever way they are framed and marketed, they all have the same underlying feature. Calories are cut to put you in a deficit.

Now, back to my original question about previous diets you may have done. Did it work? If you answered yes (which I suspect you will), my next question is “so you kept the weight off?” If you answered yes, congratulations.

But the data is out there. Around 84% of people who go on a diet, not only regain the weight they lost, but they gain even more! Now, I don’t know about you, but that’s hardly a recipe for success is it?

Without getting too geeky, let’s look at some facts. Have you ever been ill for a day or two and not managed to eat? Have you weighed yourself once you’re back on your feet and thought, “wow, I lost 2 pounds?”. Yes? And what happened when you regained your appetite? Allow me to answer for you; the weight would have gone back on.

You see, what happened during that time is that you lost a load of water and glycogen (energy we store in our muscles). Your muscles were also working to super hard (like they do every night) to repair themselves, but without any decent protein source being put into your body whilst you were unwell, your body had to break down your existing muscle to use. And all that reduces your bodyweight. But it isn’t fat!

It’s the same when you “crash diet” or severely reduce your calorie intake. Initially, you’ll see a decent amount of weight loss – I’ve had people tell me they lost 7 pounds in a week. But, just like the scenario when you’re ill, you won’t have lost 7 pounds of fat, you’d have lost some water, glycogen, muscle and maybe a little fat.

Now, it’s not all bad, as seeing this reduction on the scales will no doubt keep you highly motivated. But a huge restriction of calories is not sustainable. After a couple of weeks, you’re likely to feel lethargic. And then the cravings start as you’ve been depriving yourself of some much-needed energy, and no doubt restricted the kind of food you enjoy (which you’ve probably been told is “bad or a “sin”). And the scales will stop moving so quickly (and may even fluctuate a bit, which makes you unmotivated and a bit lost).   So what happens next? Well, a huge amount of people will reach for the food they’ve missed, consume more than they’d like to, realise what they were missing and (in their words) “fall off the wagon”.

And the sad thing is, that in a few weeks, when they see the scales back where they were, or higher, they’ll repeat the process. And voila, a yo-yo dieter has been created!

Let’s consider a more sustainable approach. Have a chat with an expert, and look at your current situation. How many calories are you currently consuming? How many can be realistically cut to keep your hunger pangs at bay. And most importantly, what kinds of foods should you be eating?

By making some basic changes to your diet, you don’t need to be starving all the time. You can eat decent amounts of food that keep you full as they aren’t calorie dense, ie they don’t contain that many calories. And as long as you’re eating fewer calories that you’d need to eat to maintain your weight, your body will be using your fat stores as energy and you’ll genuinely be losing fat.

Now, that all sounds very simple doesn’t it. It’s a great start but there is of course more to it than that. We don’t always eat because we are hungry. We eat out of habit, we eat because we are bored, we eat because we are stressed, we eat the wrong food because we are tired.

You see, most of us know what constitutes a good diet, but it’s not always that easy. We need to look at why we eat when we’re not hungry. Why do we have a chocolate bar at 11am? Why does the wine come out at 5pm on the dot? Why are we stressed? Why are we tired?

These answers aren’t going to come to us overnight.  We need to take time to recognise them and learn ways where we can make small changes.

My best advice to anyone looking to start a diet is to get the basics right. Work with a coach to get your habits ironed out.  Starting with better food choices is an awesome place to start, but learning about yourself can bring about the most fantastic results. So, although we all want results like yesterday, try and understand that these things take time. But when you do relearn some of your behaviours and create good habits, you’re much more likely to maintain them. And with that comes fat loss and more importantly, a better you.

So, try and look past the fads (and it’s hard to, as they’re all over social media) and look at an approach that is sustainable that will ultimately get results.