Many of us will have kick-started the year on a diet, determined to lose weight for good this time. But how many of us will still be on that diet by the end of the month? UK research shows that the average time a woman can stick to a diet is 5 weeks and 2 days. After that, it’s back to old eating habits again…
The skinny on dieting
New research in the UK shows that 2 out of 3 women and 44% of men embarked on a diet in 2017. The average woman spends 31 years of her life on a diet. In the US, 80% of girls have been on a diet by the age of 10. These statistics are especially depressing, given that we know that diets don’t work. 95% of people on a diet will regain the weight they lost and more within a year i.e. the typical (and expected) outcome of a diet is that you will gain weight in the long run!
Apart from the fact that it rarely works, dieting can have several negative psychological effects including stress, anxiety, lower self-esteem and irritability. It also creates an unhealthy relationship with food. A slice of pizza becomes a symbol of self-control, deprivation or reward.
Why diets don’t work
A diet is usually a strict eating regime that is significantly different from your normal eating habits. It is doomed to failure for several reasons:
- It relies on will power. Will power is limited, so any strategy that relies solely on willpower is doomed to failure in most cases
- The overwhelming feeling for most of us on a diet is deprivation and we focus on what we can’t eat. At some point, we will rebel, give in to our cravings (most common are chocolate, crisps, bread, wine and cheese) and revert to our usual eating habits
- It can be difficult to manage a strict diet when you are shopping and cooking for others or eating out regularly
- From a metabolic perspective, if you dramatically reduce your calorie intake, your metabolism will gradually adapt and require less. This is an issue when you fall off the wagon
- The real reason diets fail is that they don’t address the reasons you have put on weight in the first place – your eating habits, the small things that you do every day
Bear in mind
There is a difference between a diet and long term healthy eating. For more about ditching the diet’ read Ciara’s article here.
There are no quick fixes or magic pills. For most of us, it has taken some time to gain weight and will take some time to lose it for good. Lose the ‘all or nothing’ mentality and instead set yourself up for success by adopting a ‘slow and steady’ focus.
So, what can we do….
The key is to change our unconscious long-term behaviour by focusing on one or two healthy changes at a time and applying them consistently until we don’t need to think about them. They simply become habits, taking willpower out of the picture.
Set yourself only one or two healthy habits and implement them straight away. Then practice them consistently for 2 – 4 weeks, until they ‘stick’, before adding another. By the end of a year, you will have made at least 12 changes that are now part of your normal routine.
The habits to focus on will vary from person to person. Take an honest look at your eating, drinking and lifestyle habits and try to identify one or two you should change that will make the biggest difference. Then write down the new positive habit or habits you are adopting and get to work. They should be as specific as possible i.e. not drink more water, but drink 7 glasses of water every day.
Remember that small changes make a big difference in the long term. If your habit is to eat a chocolate bar every day and you limit this to a chocolate bar on a Saturday and Sunday, you are saving yourself c. 65,000 calories and more than 6 kg of sugar per year. The same as not eating anything at all for more than a month!
If you break your new habit, don’t panic or beat yourself up. Just put it behind you, start again and keep going until it becomes second nature.
5 long term healthy eating habits to try that make a real difference
- Drink 1.5 L water daily
- Limit treats to the weekend (or whenever works for you)
- Eat 5 portions of vegetables every day
- Use a smaller dinner plate
- Get 12,000 steps per day
How to make your healthy habits ‘stick’
- Decide on how you are going to track progress but step away from the scales – or at least don’t obsessively measure progress by weighing yourself daily. Weighing yourself keeps the focus off health and promotes unhealthy body image. A measure like waist circumference is more important to your health.
- Make it easier for yourself to succeed. If your goal is to avoid treats during the week, don’t have them in the house. If your goal is to eat more vegetables, have prepared veg ready to eat in the fridge….
- Eat mindfully. Don’t eat when you are not hungry e.g. in the evening after dinner. Don’t feel like you need to finish your plate if you have eaten enough already. For some people, this is the habit that makes the biggest difference
- Look at your portion size. Most of us are simply eating too much. Pay attention to portion size information on food packets and read more about correct portion size. An easy way to reduce portion size is to switch to a smaller plate at dinner time. The exception to this is veg, where more is better
- Buddy up. While one of the most cited reasons for diets failing is sabotage by partners or female friends, teaming up with someone to implement healthier habits can make it easier to stick to them. If you need help, join our new Slimplicity course starting at the end of January.
It’s not all about food
Exercise plays a huge role in long term weight management and in health. We should all be incorporating some into our day, every day. In terms of weight management, exercise helps us to build muscle, which means our bodies burn more calories. What we need and can manage is very different for everyone. National guidelines are 30 minutes of exercise 5 days per week, but this is an absolute minimum for health.
It’s also important to get enough sleep. Lack of sleep (consistently getting less than 6 or 7 hours a night) affects our glucose management and food choices and can lead to steady weight gain and other health issues in the longer term.
Here’s to small changes adding up to a big difference to your health in 2018.