Happy New Year!
The blank slate of a new year often seems like the perfect time to try and become healthier. This can feel especially compelling after the excesses of December’s many celebrations.
In this article we’ll explore the alternative ways to make healthier choices and ditch those diets for good.
The Diet Trap
Now 2019 is here, many of us will resolve to overhaul the way we eat or lose weight.
It’s a familiar tale repeated every January, yet time and time again we see that restricting the food that we eat when we ‘go on a diet’ isn’t sustainable. We’re successful for a few days, weeks, maybe even months, but eventually the cravings get too much and we slip back into our old ways.
There’s no doubt that this can be really disheartening, but it doesn’t mean that we should give up on our good intentions to make positive changes.
Scientific examination of dieting for weight loss shows that almost all diets result in failure, with up to two-thirds of dieters regaining more weight than they initially lost, and very few reaping any other health benefits. The evidence demonstrates very clearly: the problem isn’t with us – it’s with the diets! (1).
The problem with ‘traditional’ dieting
There's a big difference between the terms 'dieting' and 'diet', although the terms are often used intermittently.
The term ‘dieting’ is used to describe a restrictive way of eating for the purpose of weight loss, whereas ‘diet’ refers to the food that a person habitually eats. Dieting can involve a very broad spectrum of behaviours. This might involve removing whole food groups (such as cutting out carbohydrates or dairy), excessive calorie restriction, using expensive supplements that have no or very little effect, and/or many other practices that are not backed up by scientific evidence.
Every December, the British Dietetic Association releases a list of fad diets to avoid in the forthcoming year. The list for 2019 (see below) is full of examples of diets that follow these patterns. Some are familiar – despite being debunked many times over, detoxes just don’t seem to be going away. Some are less so – drinking your own pee, anyone?
BDA Top 5 Celeb Diets to Avoid in 2019:
1. Blood Type Diet
2. Drinking your own Urine
3. Detox Teas/Skinny Coffee
4. Slimming Sachets
5. Alkaline Water
The bizarre rules of dieting can be at best questionable, and at worst dangerous.
What does a healthy diet look like?
There is no one correct way to eat.
The foundations of a healthy diet are ones most of us are familiar with. Our diets should be balanced and inclusive of all of the food groups, contain lots of fruit and vegetables, and minimal added sugars and alcohol. Eating a variety of foods is important in order to get a wide range of nutrients, and meals should be built around wholegrain starchy carbohydrates to ensure we get enough fibre.
The Mediterranean diet is one way of eating that follows these principles. Rather than a prescriptive diet plan, it is based on the eating patterns of people from the Mediterranean region and tends to be high in fruits and vegetables, legumes and beans, nuts, cereals and grains, fish, and unsaturated fats (3).
The Mediterranean diet is associated with longevity, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and general good health, and is definitely a good template to follow (4).
However, nutrition is not one-size-fits-all, and it's so important to appreciate and embrace your individuality. Think about what you really enjoy eating and seek to build your diet around that.
Adding in, not taking away
So many diets are built around the restriction of particular foods or food groups.
It's really important to not demonise any one food group, as each one contributes meaningfully to our health.
Rather than trying to restrict ‘unhealthy’ foods, a more useful approach is to focus on making healthy additions to your diet. For example, having more plant-based meals, drinking more water, or trying new flavours. Using this approach has the advantage of creating a positive mindset around food rather than negative feelings associated with food restriction.
In addition to reaping the nutritional benefits of including these healthier elements, you may also find that they naturally displace the unhealthier elements without you having to make an effort to do so.
Removing the focus from weight loss
Contrary to popular belief, making changes to your diet and eating healthily doesn't have to be synonymous with weight loss!
Maintaining a healthy body weight is of course important, but having a healthy diet is about much more than that – ensuring your body and mind are sufficiently nourished to enable you to live and enjoy your life. It's also worth remembering that being slim is not an accurate indicator of health, and that healthy bodies come in many wonderful shapes and sizes.
It’s not all about the diet
It's important to consider factors outside of diet, which can all impact on our health.
Being physically active, getting enough sleep, avoiding stress, and having good social relationships are all crucial to our health. Rather than putting all the pressure on creating a 'perfect' diet, try to focus on moving towards a healthier lifestyle that embraces all of these elements.
Small steps lead to big success - for example, try taking a quick walk on your lunch break, or committing to going to bed half an hour earlier. These small changes can make a big difference and pave the way for more to follow.
Finding reliable information
There's so much information surrounding nutrition out there in the media and online.
It's hard to know who to turn to for trustworthy nutrition advice. You can find out more about accessing reliable nutrition information here.
The many diets promoted to us each New Year can be tempting, but remember that the billion dollar wellness industry is designed to profit from your body insecurities at this time of year.
If you are looking to change the way you eat or even lose weight, you're much better off directing your time and energy into making small, sustainable changes backed up by healthy behaviours in other areas of your life.
Written by Heather Deering, ANutr. Edited by Harriet Smith, RD.