Many of us have fallen into the fad diet trap, after gaining weight, only to go back to old habits in a matter of weeks. In fact, research published in The American Journal Of Clinical Nutrition found only 20 per cent of dieters maintain weight-loss long term. So why is it so hard to do?
‘Most diets are too restrictive to stick to,’ says Bridget Benelam, senior nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation. ‘If you’re only allowed very small portions or certain kinds of foods, then hunger and boredom can drive you to give in to temptation.’
According to dietitian Dr Sarah Schenker, strict diets and fitness regimes don’t fit into most people’s lives: ‘They’re not practical when you have to juggle social commitments and eat with others, cook for your family or go on holiday. You can’t stick to the same routine every single day.
‘Diets can be a great way of kick-starting weight loss, but you need to have a follow-on plan.’ Here’s how to break the yo-yo diet cycle with 10 simple ideas you can use every day:
1 Size is everything
Nothing will make you dive for the biscuit tin quicker than feeling deprived. ‘It’s depressing to look at a tiny portion on a plate, so a more positive approach is to have more of foods that won’t contribute loads of calories,’ says Benelam. ‘Have substantial portions of salad, vegetables and fruit and dishes with a high water content such as soups and stews – filling without being high in calories. It won’t feel like you’re depriving yourself.’ Conversely, understand which foods add too many calories. ‘You might be having portions you feel are quite normal, but are actually quite big and adding lots of calories,’ says Benelam. ‘For example, if you have several slices of bread or a huge pile of rice or pasta, that will give you more calories than you need. At first you may have to weigh or measure what you’re eating to see what’s appropriate, but then you’ll have a reference point so it’s easy to judge it by eye, going forward.’
2 Avoid (obvious) sugar
Searching for the ‘hidden’ sugar in foods is a red herring, according to Dr Schenker. ‘Look for the obvious things and avoid those!’ she says. ‘The biggest contributors to daily intakes are biscuits, cakes, confectionery, sugary breakfast cereals, soft drinks and puddings. Cutting down on these will make the biggest difference to your health and weight, rather than worrying about the small amount of sugar in a salad dressing or can of soup.’
3 Eat mindfully
When it comes to keeping your weight in check, mindful eating is important, says Benelam: ‘It’s easy to eat a meal and not remember anything about it apart from the first bite. That’s largely our lifestyles – we’re eating more on the go, or outside the home. ‘But if you sit down to eat your meals and savour each mouthful, you’ll not only enjoy food more, you’ll be more aware of what and how much you’re eating than if you’re mindlessly munching at your desk, or eating on the run,’ she adds.
4 Think small
Rather than making drastic changes to your diet, set smaller goals, but make them specific, says Dr Schenker. If you love pizza, be realistic about what you can achieve. Tell yourself you can have those foods once a week and look forward to them. That’s a specific change you can measure.’
5 Adopt snack control
Grazing on snacks throughout the day is an easy way to rack up the calories without even noticing. ‘If you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight, looking at your snacking behaviour is a key thing,’ says Dr Schenker. ‘People are so used to mindlessly snacking, they’ve forgotten what it’s like to feel hungry. Listen to your appetite and, before you reach for a snack, ask yourself if you really need it. Do you want it because you’re hungry, or is it down to comfort, boredom or habit?
6 Indulge… some of the time
Watching your weight shouldn’t mean you can’t indulge sometimes, says Dr Schenker, who recommends having one day a week where you eat what you want: ‘It’s important to feel you can have a glass of wine or a pizza now and then, or enjoy that blow-out meal at a wedding.’
7 Get a reality check
Keeping a food diary is a good idea, says Dr Schenker. ‘You might realise when you meet friends for coffee, you get through a pack of biscuits. Or, you mindlessly munch in front of the TV every night. You may also identify emotional triggers for overeating.’ If that’s the case, find other ways to feel comforted, such as watching a comedy or booking a massage.
8 Slow down
Taking time to chew each mouthful properly is important for weight regulation, says Benelam. ‘It takes 15 or 20 minutes from when you start eating for the body to digest food and absorb nutrients, sending a signal to your brain you’re full. If you slow down, it’s easier to recognise.’
9 Don’t drink your calories
Sugary drinks are an easy ways to notch up extra calories. If you have a snack that’s 100 calories, you might eat less afterwards, but ‘studies show people don’t compensate properly for calories from drinks,’ says Benelam. Be wary of too many juices, too. ‘They have beneficial nutrients, but a lot of sugar.’
10 Have more veggie protein
If you eat meat daily, swap with vegetable sources of protein for a couple of days instead, says Benelam. For a long-lasting source of energy, try pulses and beans high in protein and fibre: positive things if you want to control your weight.