Why diets don’t work and 6 ways to fix them

Diets don’t work – except in the short term

You’ve probably heard an overweight person telling you that diets don’t work.  Maybe you are that overweight person and you’ve found that diets don’t work for you.   Well, you’re right!  Diets don’t work, at least not in anything but the very short term.

Why don’t diets work?

Think about it like this:  if you can only lose weight by dieting, what is going to happen once you stop dieting?  You’ll go back to your old ways and gain it all back again.

If you’ve tried a diet before you already know this is true.  You might lose weight when you’re on the diet and being very careful to eat only the things you are ‘allowed’, but usually you start to gain it back as soon as the diet is finished and you go back to your old way of eating.

Diets are supposed to work by creating an energy deficit (also called a calorie deficit), meaning that you are burning more energy (calories) than you are consuming as food and drinks.

That’s fine in principle, but the problem is that most diets are restrictive by nature (some even have lists of foods that you aren’t allowed to eat).  Not only that; everyone hates being ‘on a diet’ so we all look forward to the day we can be off our diet and back on the pizza and burgers.

If all that wasn’t enough, many people find that by eating less, their body uses less energy and they even feel as though they have less get up and go, so they sit down more and move around less.  That makes it even harder to be in an energy deficit.

If diets don’t work, how do people lose weight?

If you decide that you want to lose weight then what you really need to choose is to be healthy rather than thinking “I must go on a diet”.

‘Diets’ are usually an attempted quick fix, designed for people who are unhappy with themselves and desperate to lose weight quickly with very little thought given to an actual long term solution.  They aren’t designed to be sustainable and they don’t take into account the fact that people are not perfect.  In many ways, diets can set you up to fail, even if you have the best possible intentions.

What actually helps people lose weight and keep it off forever are the small everyday changes that become habits; things like going for a 10 minute walk after lunch, making their own lunch rather than grabbing fast food or even eating more vegetables with their meals.  (It might seem counterintuitive to ADD food rather than take it away, but by eating more vegetables you will feel fuller and less likely to snack on less healthy alternatives).

These 6 easy tips will help you eat more healthily:

  1. Get the idea of a diet out of your head.
    Improving your weight and health comes from making permanent changes, not short-term fixes. If you can, try to start out with the understanding that this is forever, not for a few weeks.
  2. Start to cook for yourself.

    …or at least eat home-cooked food. If you are cooking for yourself you know exactly what you are putting in your body, right down to the last 5ml of oil (which you can measure out in a teaspoon).

    Have you ever watched a tv chef pouring out ‘a tablespoon of olive oil’ into a pan and compared it with an actual measured tablespoon? There is a substantial difference which can equate to hundreds of calories you don’t even realise you are consuming. You’d be surprised just how little your favourite restaurant cares about your weight loss goals, even those who market themselves as the ‘healthy’ choice. All they really care about is that you enjoy your food, and that usually means more calories.

    It’s very easy to convince yourself that a tasty restaurant steak with mashed potatoes is healthy, but although it sounds like a good choice it is almost certainly laden with extra oil and butter, and far more calories than you need.
  3. Learn about the energy density of food

    Some foods contain a lot more energy than others – and that’s usually a bad thing. A good way to understand energy density is to look at the volume of food, or how much room it takes up on your plate. None of us wants to sit down to a meal with only a quarter of the plate full; we want a good-sized meal so that we can expect to feel satisfied when we have finished it.

    Let’s take an example of 100 calories. That’s about one and a half cucumbers. Or just 6 macadamia nuts! The macadamias might be delicious, but you could easily fit all 6 in your mouth and they’d be gone in seconds. The cucumber has a far lower energy density and much greater volume – how long would it take you to eat that much cucumber? Realistically your meals should sit somewhere between these 2 extremes, but understanding a little bit about volume and energy density can help you make better choices to feel fuller and snack less.
  4. Start eating vegetables!

    Vegetables provide nutrients and fibre, and also help keep you full without adding many calories to your meal. Some vegetables are even linked to better brain health as we age too so there really is no excuse not to add more to your meals.

    By vegetables we don’t mean potatoes! Ideally we mean leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower, but even sweet potatoes have a fraction of the energy density compared to bread and pasta. Try and eat a wide variety of different vegetables in all the colours you can find. It can be fun to go to a local market and try some varieties you have never eaten before – try them raw, steamed, even gently sauteed in a little oil with garlic – however you prefer them, as long as it isn’t swimming in butter or drowned in a cheesy sauce, just eat your vegetables!
  5. Stop and think before eating
    It’s very easy to fall into the trap of just popping something in your mouth. But the 20 seconds of pleasure you get from eating a piece of chocolate might be the difference between eating the number of calories your body needs for the day and having too much energy which converts to fat! Is it worth it? When you stop and think, you’ll probably think not.
  6. Make small or gradual changes
    This doesn’t apply to everyone, but if you’re like most people you will get the best results by making progressive changes to your diet instead of trying to make a complete change overnight. Consistency trumps almost everything else, so a small change like swapping your daily venti size frappucino for a small size one twice a week forever will yield better long term results than giving up all sugar/ dairy/ alcohol for 1 month and then going off the rails when you return to ‘normal’.

How does ATP Personal Training help clients with this?

We will work with you to audit your current lifestyle, and make recommendations that enable you to make informed choices.  By doing this we are able to ensure that you can achieve the result you want without completely compromising on the lifestyle you enjoy.  You’ll be able to use our knowledge and advice to build sustainable, healthy habits for your long-term health and you’ll find that these become effortless over time.

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