You've tried them all, the Atkins diet, the Zone diet, the soup diet....the list goes on. Some have worked, at least for a little while, but the weight always manages to creep back.
"I lost 18 kg on the Atkins diet. It took a while but I felt amazing. It was like I had finally found the right formula for me. Because I could see and feel the weight coming off, I felt motivated to exercise for the first time in my life. My husband said he loved my new found confidence. I even started to enjoy shopping for clothes! When the global financial crisis hit, our business really suffered. I began spending more time at work, and less time exercising. I didn't gain any weight at first, but then I started using food to deal with my stress..........".
Is this a familiar story to you? The science behind weight loss is really quite simple: if you use more energy than you take in, you will lose weight. Conversely if you take in more energy than you use, you will gain weight. The key to maintaining a healthy weight – is about maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
First of all, the term "diet" is problematic. An accurate definition of the word takes into account a vast array of eating practices. In today's society however, it has become synonymous with strict rules associated with dietary restriction.
Generally, diet programs advocate restrictive eating. The type of restriction falls into three general categories;
Restricting the overall amount of food eaten (reduced calories)
Not eating at all for long periods
Restricting/eliminating certain food groups (like carbohydrates or fats)
These diets are a problem for a number of reasons. We know that food restriction of any type is strongly associated with over-eating and/or binge eating. A recent Australian study of teenage school girls revealed that young girls who "diet" are up to 8 times more likely to develop an eating disorder!
Depriving yourself of food only sets you up to overeat, resulting in an inefficient and sluggish metabolism. Furthermore, when your body is deprived of food, it then absorbs every nutrient in every morsel of food you eat storing any excess as fat. After all, your body has no idea when it will get it's next feed! This is often why people gain "extra" weight after falling off the wagon; their metabolism has slowed, and so their body is hanging on to every calorie consumed.
Restrictive diets also make you focus way too much on what you are eating (and not eating!). It can create an obsessional focus, making food your foe rather than your friend. Meal times can create anxiety and the thought of eating out can send you into a panic. A recent problem is the proliferation of iphone applications which help you "count calories", by recording everything you eat, including lettuce leaves! When eating becomes associated with high levels of stress, a number of physical problems can then result – such as heartburn, indigestion and intestinal bloating.
So what's the alternative?
Experts agree that the key to maintaining a healthy weight is to keep it simple. Following complicated "diets" advocating food restriction will help you lose weight, but for how long? Research shows that up to 95% of people who lose weight by dieting re-gain this weight within 5 years. Many end up gaining even more. So the jury is out on this one: diets do NOT work, at least in the long term.
If you have been yo-yo dieting you need to re-establish a healthy regular eating plan to "fix" your metabolism. This means 5-6 small meals a day.
- Morning tea
- Afternoon tea
- After dinner snack (optional)
To maintain a healthy metabolism, it is important to eat every 3 hours. It also means consuming between 1500-2500 calories per day, 45-55% from carbohydrates, 20-25% from protein and 25-30% from fat.
Sound simple? Well it is and it isn't. In addition to restrictive eating, another significant trigger to overeating and binge eating is negative mood. One way to test just how much your mood determines what you eat is to try monitoring both in real time.
"By monitoring my eating and mood together, I have realized how what I eat (and how much) is influenced by how I am feeling. This tells me that it's not my bingeing I need to control....it's my mood!".
Negative mood states, such as; sadness, loneliness, anxiety, guilt, shame and anger can be tough to deal with. For some, they are intolerable. For these people, food can be a way of avoiding the distress associated with these mood states. Much like alcohol and drugs, overeating or bingeing can serve as a form of avoidance. Instead of dealing with the feeling, the feelings are "stuffed down" by overeating. The only way to overcome this is to learn strategies to help tolerate and manage the distress. By learning to co-exist with these unpleasant mood states and manage them more effectively, the food-mood connection can be severed.
In a nut shell, we need to get rid of the "diet" mentality, and instead work towards developing a healthy eating plan which fits into our lifestyle. Food should be our friend, as there is no such thing as "bad" food. Try experimenting with different flavours and recipies and look forward to eating out with friends. Imagine feeling anxious at the thought of spending time with your partner, feeling that they are un-attractive & feeling sick when you are with them! Well this is the relationship some of us have with food. Dysfunctional much?
Finally, the role of exercise should not be under-estimated either. Exercising for half an hour a day actually cuts your odds of developing heart disease by an impressive 40%. This should be of moderate intensity, such as brisk walking. Of course anything more than this and you cut this risk even more, plus reduce the risk of bowel cancer, breast cancer, diabetes and stroke.