There will be a whole host of differing responses but, amongst those will usually be weight loss, rapid weight loss, cutting out food groups, fads, weight regain, overeating, and cravings will also figure somewhere along the line.
Why? Largely because as a nation we love a ‘quick fix’. Something exciting, faddy, extreme and where big results are all but guaranteed for the short term (more on this last point in a bit!).
First of all, lets go back to the basics of weight loss.
Weight loss (of body fat) relies on burning off more energy than you consume. If we burn off more energy than we consume, we lose weight. This is a bit oversimplified and it isn’t all about calories BUT it can be a helpful place to start.
Lets now move on to look at the classic weight loss / weight regain cycle that many people get themselves trapped within and to illustrate this we will use a fairly standard example; a 12 stone female trying to lose weight.
To maintain her current body weight she needs a certain amount of calories per day, for example 2000. She wants to lose weight so starts a crash diet where she is consuming 800kcal / day. The weight comes off rapidly. This weight is likely to be fat but also some fluid and some muscle. This takes her down to a new lower body weight which (and this is a crucial point) requires fewer calories to maintain.
The hunger and boredom of a crash diet will almost inevitably mean that there is some degree of rebound after finishing it. Most commonly, people will diet for an occasion, be it a holiday, a wedding, a party etc and once the weight goal is reached and the new outfit zipped up, the eating and drinking starts and by the end of the holiday most or all of the weight has often returned (and sometimes more). This, as we all know, is soul destroying. It sends us into this spiral of extreme dieting, weight loss, hunger/ boredom/ unsustainability, inevitably leading to overeating / weight regain, then feelings of frustration / failure, and then the cycle starts once more.
So what is the solution?
A balanced approach where the focus is on the long-term solution, together with an awareness of the most important (but so often overlooked) phase; the transition phase.
Any effective weight loss plan needs to be:
Sustainable – it has to fit around YOUR life, not the other way around. It must work for you.
Achievable – It has to be in line with your abilities / interests as far as cooking and food prep is concerned.
Affordable –Find a plan that uses foods that are comfortably within your budget and don’t be lulled into the belief that in order to be really healthy you have to use coconut oil, acai powder and grains that we aren’t even sure how to pronounce!
Enjoyable – This is SO important but often so overlooked. Food and eating are some of life’s great pleasures and trying to lose weight does not automatically mean feeling hungry and eating dry lentil dishes with a side of lettuce leaves. Find foods that you love and meals that you enjoy cooking and eating and then get creative on how you can keep enjoying these whilst losing weight.
TIP : You often don’t need to change as much as you might think.
Apply these 3 principles to your existing diet and you might be surprised at the results:
Portion Size – keep the meals the same and just shrink your portions. Carbohydrates the size of a fist | meat the size of the palm of your hand | salad and veggies – load up at least &12; of your plate.
Picking – Become more aware of any picking that you do and either avoid it or find healthy alternatives to nibble like some crudités.
Planning – Yes we bang on about this a lot as dietitians but planning your weeks meals works. Take 20 mins weekly to plan your meals. This will also save money.
Last of all is the transition phase. Whenever you diet to lose weight and then reach your target goal (well done!), consider your ‘transition’ out of the losing weight mentality towards a maintenance phase. At a lower body weight (unless you have packed on muscle tissue), chances are that your calorie requirement day to day will be lower than at your higher weight so take this into account. Fill up with lean protein and plenty of fibre, both of which keep up feeling fuller for longer on less food.
So next time you are tempted by crash diets in the run up to holiday season try to think back on this article. Be brave, resist the temptation and decide to do it this time for the last time and lose weight healthily and …. Keep it off.
By Faith Toogood, Nutritionist at Make Your Switch