Whether you follow them or not, fad diets are unmistakably on the rise around the world. Whilst longstanding weight loss companies like Weight Watchers are still turning an excellent profit, many of us looking to shed the pounds are turning to the diets that are so regularly splashed across the covers of magazines, endorsed by celebrities and promoted by friend-of-a-friend anecdotes. In fact, as the media and word-of-mouth is such an important factor in the spread of these diets, oftentimes the science behind them falls into insignificance.
With this in mind, online doctor and pharmacist Chemist Direct consulted dieting professionals from a range of disciplines to ascertain their views on the fad diets du jour and see if their popularity is justified.
Texan dietitian Megan Ware’s biggest gripe with fad diets is that they give dieters the impression that they will be able to maintain their weight loss:
“Fad diets only work in the short term, not for long term loss. Most people go back to their old eating habits once they get tired of dieting. Of course you are going to lose weight following that plan when you’re probably taking in less than 1000 calories per day.”
Registered Bariatric Dietitian Lori Rosenthal supported Megan’s viewpoint, stressing that stark changes to one’s diet are inevitably unsustainable in the long run:
“The best way to go about losing weight and keeping it off is to make one or two healthy changes at a time, only adding another once the first has become part of your routine and you enjoy it. If you feel restricted or deprived the change won’t last”.
But changing one’s routine, that is, one’s day to day behaviour is easily talked about but less easily put into action. Luckily, Lou Ryan, a behavioural therapist, was at hand to give some perspective to why dieting doesn’t work on a psychological level:
“Diets are not an effective long-term solution because they target the symptoms (i.e. unwanted eating behaviours) using willpower instead of dealing with the root cause of those unwanted behaviours (i.e. the subconscious thought process that creates food cravings).”
So, it would appear that the most important aspect of successful weight loss is targeting unwanted eating behaviours in a slow, methodical process, rather than simply depriving your body of nutrients and waiting for it to reduce in mass.
Whilst many dieticians and therapists will have their own plans for achieving this, I personally found Joseph Grenny, author of New York Times bestseller Change Anything, to have the most easily digestible approach. He proposes a five part plan for changing unwanted eating behaviours:
1. Change your impulses: Change the way you think about what you currently consider to be unpleasant behaviours. Create a Personal Motivation Statement on a 3×5 card that connects to your values, and read the card when you feel tempted to quit.
2. Learn the weight loss skills you lack: Losing weight requires skills, not just will. For example, when facing temptation our research shows people who learn a couple of simple skills are 50% better at resisting their urges.
3. Turn accomplices into friends: Don’t underestimate the power of your peers. For example, Harvard sociologist Nicholas Christakis discovered that obesity is partly infectious. Having obese friends increases your chances of following suit by a whopping 75%.
4. Get a coach or mentor: Coaches are crucial to behaviour change success. People with half a dozen active friends who play the role of coach or mentor are almost 40% more likely to succeed than those with less than a half dozen friends.
5. Reward small successes: Give yourself a small reward for reaching short-term goals. For example, if you give up fizzy dinks, set aside the £2 per day you save and do something meaningful when you reach £100.
The problem, however, is that the majority of dieters are still fixated on quick results for little or no effort. This may pay dividends if you just plan to lose weight for a particular special occasion like a holiday, but the path to true wellness unfortunately is going to take a lot more effort.