'Dieting' - it doesn't work long term

This post is all about 'dieting' – I'm going to put it in quotes so you know I mean fad 'diets' which are designed for the quickest (and usually easiest) weight loss possible in a certain time frame. When I say diet to a client, it means a way of eating for good not a short-term fix. Your diet is what you put into your body routinely. I want to explain why 'dieting' is so bad for you, and some of the common myths and pitfalls.

I expect that most people  have tried 'dieting' in some form of another during their lives and I am still waiting to hear from a single person that they have been able to maintain their chosen 'diet' long term.

What is long term? For me it is a time period spanning years, not weeks or months, whereby new lifestyle changes have taken place and new habits have been developed.

Does this sound familiar – you go on a 'diet' for a few weeks, you start losing weight over the first week, you feel great- this diet really works you think. The next week you lose some more weight but not as much- no matter it's still a step in the right direction! However your energy levels have gone down slightly, you find it harder to concentrate maybe. The next week your rate of weight loss decreases even more and you start to feel sick with the 'diet' because it's boring you.

I imagine most of you have at least felt some of the feelings mentioned above. If not let me argue my next point-

Even if you managed to get to your goal 'weight' or 'size' what now? Your 'diet' has finished and now you can eat 'normally' again. What usually happens next? I'd bet the weight comes back on or you find it's unrealistic to keep going with the eating patterns used on the 'diet'. You slot back into your normal lifestyle and get on with life. Sometime in the future there is a catalyst to lose more weight or change your body type again- maybe a holiday to lose weight or get ripped, maybe a photoshoot or the need/desire to fit into old clothing for a party, wedding etc. You repeat the process. Again you finish the 'diet' and then resort back to old lifestyle patterns.

This is called yo-yo dieting. The result of this cycle is ever decreasing confidence and self esteem.  Generally due to the extent of calorie reduction in many popular 'diets' and their methodologies most of the weight lost is glycogen (stored carbohydrates) and water. When the weight is put back on it isn't all water and glycogen however. Guess what is put on. That's right - Fat.

So to recap- stored carbohydrate and water usually makes up most of the weight loss and fat usually makes up most of the weight regained. This means you get fatter and fatter as the result of repeated failed 'dieting'. This is also known as weight creep.

Get thin quick solutions are plastered over health and fitness magazines and often the advice one month vastly differs from the previous month. There are loads of 'quick' fixes and products that will do the 'business'. There are slimming shakes, snacks, drinks and even thinning chewing gum.

To achieve long term weight loss your current lifestyle habits need to change. Simple. No short term 'diet' however extreme will help you lose weight and realistically keep it off.

Now let me explain what is happening scientifically!

Strawberries - fresh fruit is always a healthy choiceMany 'diets' claim you can lose, let's say, 10lbs in a week! What are you losing though? For moderately overweight people the maximum rate of fat loss is 1kg (2lbs) a week. Even after extreme calorie energy restrictions fat loss will remain slow. Why is this? Well aside from many others benefits (which will be discussed at a later date) fat's primary purpose is to act as an energy store to prevent us from dying from starvation. Fat wouldn't be very effective at keeping us alive if it quickly disappeared if we stop eating would it?

1kg of fat will provide 1000 kcal a day for a week (there are 3500kcal per lb). When you lose weight the only favourable reduction should be in fat mass. If you lose more than 1kg a week of weight you will also be losing lean muscle tissue.

This is where it gets interesting. Lean muscle tissue is very metabolically active - it burns a lot of calories just to do its functions such as allow us to move in fact it is the most energy demanding thing in the body. If we lose too much weight too quickly we therefore lose the very thing allowing us to burn off more calories in the first place! You will lose the most powerful weapon against fat. Some studies argue that for every lb of fat lost in crash dieting there will be a similar loss of muscle tissue!

When a crash 'diet'/ low calorie 'diet'/ very low calorie 'diet' is undertaken whereby a person's normal calorie intake is reduced by more than 20% then the body will kick into survival mode. This is a big deal. The body will desperately and stubbornly try to preserve fat stores and will burn glycogen and muscle instead!

Furthermore water locked up in your body's water and urine stores can account for up to 1lt or 1kg per day which leads to the belief during rapid short term weight loss that crash dieting is the way to lose weight.

BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate, is cited as the amount of energy required to lie still and awake all day and survive. Your body will slow your BMR down when it thinks your starving as a survivial mechanism. Your body can't tell the difference between actual starvation and starvation conditions when someone is on a crash 'diet'. Now here come the big guns.

Hormonally when your body reduces your BMR, lipolytic enzymes (enzymes that break down fats) will be reduced to slow fat burning - not exactly what you want to happen when you're trying to lose weight right? So again try to lose weight to quickly and your body will respond and make you weight loss goal even harder to achieve.

Now when the 'diet' comes to an end. Which it will. The dieter will start eating 'normally'. Their calorie requirement will be less than before as they have less weight and lean, metabolically active muscle tissue. Now something called Rebound Binge Eating occurs whereby people binge usually on things they normally eat but haven't during the 'diet'. This is the bodies attempt to get the weight back to where it was before. This is the result of things called adipokines in fat cells. Now often the weight gained after a 'diet' is actually more than the weight loss on the diet! As stated earlier there is a good chance also that the weight gained is more fat than glycogen and water which is likely most of what was lost in the first place! Simply put you end up fatter than before the 'diet'!

This is where the 'dieting makes you fat' idea comes from.

If your original calorie intake is cut by more than 20% when you 'diet' the body will kick into survival mode through a range of biochemical, physiological and psychological methods. This will cause your body to lose lean tissue as well as fat. This slows down your metabolism- the very thing helping you to burn fat off in the first place. Furthermore, a significant amount of the weight lost will be water and stored Carbohydrate. Once the 'diet' finishes hormones are secreted to make you want to eat more and more snacky high energy dense foods. This is because the body has a form of 'weight-thermostat' that wants the body to return to its original weight. You are more likely to eat snacky, unhealthier foods during this time often resulting in fat being put on. The end result is a heavier weight than before the diet and/or a higher fat percentage.

So, what's the point of me telling you all of this? There are a few key rules to losing weight effectively, in a way you can maintain for ever and not feel like you're always missing out or starving yourself.

1) I cannot emphasise enough how intricate and powerful the body's systems are at preserving fat. To lose it effectively and in a way you can maintain (this is the key) the trick is building new habits in a way your body can work with and not register them as going into starvation mode. It isn't necessarily about speed, although you will find you lose weight quicker than you thought if you're creating the right lifestyle habits.

2) Starving yourself is NEVER a solution. If you feel hungry all the time then you're just sending your body alarm signals which won't help anything in the long term. Low-calorie 'diets' are not only ineffective they are also highly dangerous and I urge anyone to seek advice from a professional before considering putting your body under that much stress. Yes, stress.

3) Eating healthily and properly isn't boring, more effort or even more expensive if you do it right. What's more, if you're eating the right things then you can eat AS MUCH as you like! Doesn't sound much like a 'diet' now does it?