Preventing weight gain better than dieting

Judith Wills / 31 October 2014

Diet and wellbeing blogger Judith Wills considers some recent research into the most successful ways to lose weight and has some ideas about why children today have such a problem with obesity.

Did you notice the headlines last week shouting that crash dieting is a more successful way to lose weight than 'slow and steady' dieting? And then, a couple of days later, there was Lord Falconer, having lost five stones on a diet of cola and apples, as if to endorse the fact.

The Australian trial behind the headlines – in which 200 overweight people were monitored while they tried the rapid dieting or the slower weight loss – did indeed find that 81% of the rapids reached target weight in their allotted time while only 50% of the slower dieters did the same. Impressive figures!

However, both the crash dieters and the slow and steady dieters were not so successful when it came to keeping the weight off. Over three-quarters of the people in both groups put the weight back on in a similar length of time – approximately 2 yrs 9 months, at which time the trial and its follow-up ended.

What this shows is that, in truth – diet any way you like, but get used to the idea that it rarely works for more than a short while. The exception being, if you are one of the 25% of people who do regular exercise – several long and large trials over the years have found this really is THE way to maintain your weight after slimming.

The best one can say about losing weight on a diet is that, if you hadn't gone on the diet in the first place, you'd probably be even fatter than you are right now. i.e., if the Australian dieters had not taken part in this trial three years or so ago, they'd probably have continued to gain weight steadily in the intervening time so would be heavier than they are now.

Which I suppose is a result, of sorts. And the trial does mirror my own story of recent years. It was four years ago that I did all the right things, achieved a 22lb loss in around 10 months and kept it – or most of it – off for a couple of years, but last month found me almost back where I started. And that's me, an 'expert'. I can see just how much harder it would be for a 'civilian' to lose weight and keep it off.

What's the answer?

So is there any answer or should we all just give up, keep eating the biscuits and stay fat?

It seems obvious that the answer is to ensure we never get fat in the first place. We need to be helped, cajoled, bullied, rallied, whatever it takes, to prevent the surplus pounds and stones arriving. And as our children are getting fatter, younger than ever, it really needs to start from the cradle.

The two things that would help most would be 1) for there to be laws in place to eliminate the sale of low-nutrient, high-calorie foods and drinks – anything that didn't meet certain nutritional criteria would simply be banned, and 2) for proper food and cooking education to begin again in all our schools. Not for children to learn about food packaging and design (what on earth has ever been the point of a 10-year-old learning to invent a suitable box for a beefburger? But that is honestly what our schools have been teaching our kids and grandkids instead of proper basic cooking skills and nutrition).

Indeed, much of the reason that our children are fatter than they have ever been is that their parents come from the first wave of children who were NOT taught to cook at school. Now they can't cook, so (as anyone who watched the interesting Kitchen series on TV which finished last week will have seen) the children get plate after plate of chips, battered unidentifiable things, no veg, and precious few nutrients except large, large numbers of calories.

Oh, and there's a third thing – ban iphones, tablets, video games and so on, and get the children into the great outdoors, moving their actual bodies. Of course, that's never going to happen. We live in a lovely free society where we can buy what we like for our children, even if it may contribute to killing them via chronic indolence.

True conversation, related to me by horrified friend recently:

“Oh what's THAT, Grandad, on your feet?”

“It's a pair of walking shoes – we're going for a walk!”

“What do you mean, a walk, Grandad? What's that?”

PS: I kind of promised you a photo of fat self this week but I had my first-ever flu jab last Thursday and - huh! - it seems to have given me flu, or at least annoying symptoms similar to flu. Next week, then. Plus an update on my anti-inflammatory diet.

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