Is your diet setting you up for failure?

Recently I met a nice man who was trying to lose weight. To do this he was taking part in a ‘six-week challenge’ run by a fitness trainer. As well as increasing his exercise and cutting out alcohol, he was following what sounded like an extremely low-carb, no-sugar diet.

I’ve thought of this man a few times in recent weeks. I felt sad for him for several reasons. First, he was on such a restrictive eating regimen that it was stressing him out (he was worrying about whether or not he should eat the glazed strawberry on his raw, vegan dessert at our lunch). Secondly, he admitted that he did not think he’d be able to keep up with the diet part of his challenge once it was over. And also, he mentioned that he’d gained, lost and regained significant amounts of weight before in the past.

These things all really bugged me. Here was someone with very genuine motivation and desire to make a change to a healthier life; someone who’d tried and succeeded in the past to lose weight, but then had slipped back into old habits and gained weight back again. But despite what I can only assume were good intentions on the part of his trainer, he was falling straight back into the old trap. He was being offered only a temporary solution. He wasn’t going to be able to make the diet changes permanent – they were too extreme. He wasn’t learning anything about how to eat well for life – he was just following the list of ‘allowed’ and ‘forbidden’ foods from his trainer. The chances were very high, it seemed to me, that the weight he had lost on his ‘challenge’ was going to go back on once he went off the diet.

Research shows that there are lots of different diets that will work for weight loss. Whether you want to go low-carb, sugar-free, vegan, raw, Mediterranean or paleo, chances are you will lose weight if you’re strict about it. But research also shows that the only diet which will work to keep weight off permanently is the one that you can stick to. It’s important to understand what that means. It means never going ‘off’ the diet. It means keeping up that way of eating for the rest of your life. If your chosen diet is so strict that you can’t see yourself doing that – in other words, if it doesn’t fit in with your life – then you’re destined to fail. And this is why we have a multi-billion dollar global diet industry, whose whole mode of operation is to exploit that cycle of gain/lose/regain for profit. That's also why we see a constant stream of 'revolutionary' diet theories evangelised by people telling us that they – unlike all the diet gurus before – are the ones with the real answers. If it wasn't so cruel, it would be comical.

So if we reject the idea of diets, how do we lose weight?

To me it starts with changing our thinking. How much better is it to think not of weight loss, but of health gain? To think not of denial and ‘banned’ foods, but of eating a little bit of a wide variety of nourishing foods, and not banning anything? The aim of any true change in our way of eating should be to get to a place where the foods you want to eat are also the foods that nourish you and make you feel amazing. Or as Dr David Katz would put it, to “love the food that loves you back”. At Healthy Food Guide that's what we work to create. We want you to feel good about food, not guilty or fearful or worried. Because really, shouldn't the only emotions we feel about food be happiness and joy?

First published: Dec 2014

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