Lies, damn lies, and statistics: Why diets will let you down
Social pressure in relation to body image, the quest for the perfect body, and the fear of gaining weight, has led people to drastic diets without considering their health.
People engage in repeated cycles of weight loss/regain, as they fall victim to the myriad of myths and fallacies surrounding weight loss.
Some of the common myths are: sugar makes you fat, carbs make you fat, gluten makes you fat, eating after 6pm makes you fat.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have: Paleo makes you lose weight, clean eating makes you lose weight, meal replacer shakes makes you lose weight, detox teas make you lose weight.
It's all lies. An excess intake of calories, be it in the form of protein, fats, carbs, or a combination of, makes you gain weight. And your ability to adhere to a calorie deficit makes you lose weight.
"Diets" that encourage conscious restriction of food have been proven to be unsuccessful in the long-term, and ironically, have been shown to be a strong predictor of future weight gain.
Not only are faddish extreme diets ineffective, they're physically damaging and promote psychological distress and unhealthy eating behaviours. Eventually persistent thoughts of deprivation and restriction kick in and the body starts to think it's being starved.
This can lead to an irregular menstrual cycle, affect your chances of becoming pregnant, lead to higher levels of stress, which has been linked to decreased bone density and higher blood pressure, and put you at a higher risk of poor health in general.
Finding Our Set Point
Our bodyweight is regulated. We are a control system, in much the same way as our central heating. We set the temperature to a certain degree and a feedback loop senses and controls it to maintain the set temperature.
Our body does the same and has an internal set point for bodyweight - a point at which it prefers to be. When bodyweight starts to deviate from this point, it does weird and wonderful things to reset it.
Our unconscious brain kicks in and we release different hormones depending on which side of the set point we have swayed.
If we've fallen below, then hormones kick in to increase hunger and to decrease physical activity. These hormones responsible for causing hunger and weight gain can remain elevated up to one year later even after some weight has been gained. This goes to show what a hard battle we're fighting as our body vigorously resists.
The same goes when we eat enough food that sends us over our set point - our metabolic rate goes up, activity levels increase, appetite decreases - in an attempt to return to our set point.
If we can retrain and tap into our internal hunger and satiety cues, then for the majority of people, our set point will take care of bodyweight all by itself and we can ditch the diet forever.
Ditch the Diet
"Dieting" is as much about psychology as it is physiology. With the right mindset and approach we may never need to be concerned about dieting again.
The first step is to stop worrying so much about what you eat. Shift the focus away from bodyweight outcomes and instead focus on improving health, psychological well-being, and building a healthy relationship with food.
Learn how to eat intuitively. Retrain your brain and listen to its internal cues. Eat when hungry, stop when full. Eat slowly and mindfully, in a relaxed state away from computers and TVs. Pay attention to how food tastes, smells and makes you feel. Learn how to make food choices based on your body's response to it.
Choose to eat nutrient dense foods such as meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, potatoes, whole grains, legumes, and some dairy. Also allow yourself fun foods from time to time. Food should never be associated with guilt, so when you choose to have a treat, make sure to enjoy it.
Be who you are and learn to accept the body that you have. Rid yourself of unnecessary expectations. If you slip up from time to time regarding food choices then that's ok - strive for progress, not perfection.
Finally, find a physical activity that you enjoy. Exercise should never be seen just as a means to burn calories, or it'll shortly turn into something you see as punishment. Go for a walk with the dog, roll around in the grass, lift something heavy up and down, just do something to move the body in a way that you enjoy. To sum it up, chase your health. The body will follow.
Dr Karen Coghlan is a nutrition coach and personal trainer, visit her website www.thenutcoach.com or email Karen@thenutcoach.com