Diet blog: Why diets fail

Judith Wills / 14 July 2016

Diet expert Judith Wills on the weight loss tips that work and those that don’t.

Recent research by analysts Mintel found that just under two-thirds of UK women have tried to lose weight in the past year.  The only comfort I can take from this depressing statistic is that the percentage – 57% - is lower than it was last time a similar survey was carried out in 2014, when it was 65%.

Post-menopause diet mistakes

The sadness is that the more of us who regularly try to shed pounds, the more of us there are getting fatter, year on year.  No, it’s not just a female thing – but many fewer men seem compelled to be on an almost permanent diet which doesn’t work.  Mintel found that 39% of men had tried to diet in the past twelve months.

I have no easy answer to the question of why we diet all the time and why we so often fail. 

I can only say that, as has been the case for decades, the following tips may help:

1.  Regular short bouts of trying and failing to diet and lose weight will leave most of us depressed and feeling worse about ourselves each time we repeat the pattern.

2.  Most research has repeatedly found that crash diets – where food intake is severely reduced to a few hundred calories a day or less, and fad diets – those where you are required to give up a whole swathe of food types or whole food groups are not the long-term answer to weight control and can lead to full blown eating disorders.

3.  Adopting dieting methods that you don’t enjoy and/or that involve extra time, bother and/or expense are unlikely to work other than in the very short-term either. 

4.  Simple, commonsense measures that work slowly but surely, such as eating smaller portions, not eating if you aren’t hungry, and adding more low-density foods such as salad stuffs, vegetables and fruit to your plate or bowl at each meal, are some of the best ways to achieve weight loss that will last. 

And talking of time, bother and expense – did you read about the new gadget you wear on your wrist which counts how many mouthfuls you have when you eat a meal and how long they take you?  The makers say it helps discourage us from overeating, mainly by slowing us down.  But testers have, apparently, already found a way round this if their results label them a bit too greedy or inclined to shovel the food in too fast?  The gadget isn’t clever enough to spot the difference between a small bite and a huge one, so all they did was put more food on each forkful.

A much better way to eat more slowly is to ignore the old advice that you must concentrate at mealtimes and never read a book or the latest Facebook posts while you eat.  I’ve found I eat much more slowly if I’m reading so that often, well before I’ve finished what’s on the plate, I’m full.   

One more thing about gadgets – many of us rely on various types to help us track our exercise/activity levels.  If you have one to tell you how many calories you’re burning up, be aware that new research finds that popular fitness trackers can overestimate energy use by up to 40%.  And on this subject, I’ll add another statement to the four above to end on:

5.  Don’t sit if you can stand up.  Don’t stand if you can walk.  And don’t dawdle if you can hurry.  Get slightly out of breath as often as you can during each day.  Keep your body as active as your mind.  And then you won’t need a gadget to tell you you’re burning up plenty of calories.

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