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Monday, April 20, 2009

Diets - Positive Programs Or Humbug Hype?

The topic of dieting is discussed endlessly on TV and in magazines and books, almost everywhere we turn someone somewhere is talking about the latest diet or how we can achieve a longer, healthier and happier life. So I’ve decided to try and bust some of the myths! I know there will be some who disagree with me, however I want to present some the facts and I leave the rest up to you, decide for yourself!

‘Dieting’ has become so popular over the last number of years and it’s estimated over 70 percent of the adult female population and 30 percent of the male population have been on a diet at some stage in their lifetime. These diets range from the Atkins, Weight Watchers, and the GI diet, to the Blood Group diet and the F Plan to name but a few. Some diets have become increasingly popular due to their ‘claim to fame’ with many celebrities jumping on the bandwagon and reporting “unprecedented success”. However I can’t help but think that if the celebrities who claim to have followed these plans didn’t have their Personal Trainers on hand, would they really have achieved such phenomenal success? I’m not sure!

Unfortunately with many of these plans the results are usually always the same and although many dieters achieve some weight loss success in the short term, few are able to maintain their weight loss longer term. It is sadly often the case that many will end up heavier than when they began.

I really believe the problem that many dieters have is that they are looking for a ‘quick fix’. Therefore their whole thinking is wrong even before they begin their journey to loose weight, and that’s exactly what it is, it’s a journey. In many cases a very slow one! However please don’t get disheartened! There are many steps you can take which will help you on this journey and really will lead to success. But more on that in the future days!

So Why Don’t Diets Work?

1) They don’t teach good habits

People who try to live by diet lists and rules learn nothing or at least very little about proper nutrition and how to enjoy their meals, physical activity, and a healthy lifestyle. The basis of putting a healthy eating plan into action is knowledge! What do I mean by that? Well, we ought to know why we should do something and how to do it; otherwise we won’t learn the necessary skills to maintain this new behaviour. This is a basic principle! What’s the use of knowing the exact number of points contained within any food mentioned if you can’t tell me how to control the portion size of my meals?

A healthy eating plan should teach us what a balanced diet is, including low fat shopping tips, how to read labels, healthy cooking techniques and portion control. However most plans rarely teach these basic principles, never mind how to exercise or deal with our food cravings. The result? We find it impossible to stick with the new plan and often lack the needed energy to carry out basic duties, as our food intake is so restrictive. Long term, most plans are impossible to stick to, as we’ve failed to learn the difference between willpower and commitment to long-term behaviour change.

2) We are not in control

The attitudes and practices acquired through years of dieting can often result in body weight and size obsession, low self-esteem and poor nutrition. In the various jobs that I’ve worked throughout my life there are a few topics of conversation that come up again and again. These are food, dieting, relationships and TV! We are a nation obsessed with these things! Maybe it’s because I’m a Dietitian but I seem to attract ‘food’ related topics, however I’ve found that over and over again, especially among women, this is one of their main obsessions. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people getting healthy but we need to ask ourselves the question, “Are we obsessed about our weight?”

I really do feel that diets have the potential to control us rather than it being we, ourselves who are in control. I believe that no one can realistically live in the diet mode for the rest of their life, depriving themselves of the true pleasures of healthy eating, activity and simply life itself!

3) They fail to address the emotional aspect of overeating

How many times have you binged as an emotional response to a certain situation? Many people eat to help deal with emotional problems such as stress, rather than because they're hungry. This is normal, however it becomes a major problem when people continually turn to food for emotional comfort or to cope with negative feelings like anger or loss. Dieting can never solve the problem of 'emotional' eating. If anything, it will often make you feel even more depressed due to the guilt associated with overindulging. If there are emotional aspects going on in our lives we need to address these before we even consider going on a ‘diet’! Ask yourself “Am I really ready to change my behaviour”?

Writing down our thoughts is the first step to changing them, therefore you may want to try keeping a food and thoughts diary; this will help you find out if you were eating in response to hunger or to an emotional situation.

4) They fail to cause change in core eating habits

Those who have successfully made permanent changes to their eating and exercise habits are those who will be successful in losing weight, keeping it off permanently and ultimately being healthier as a result.

The support of our family is key! It will be difficult to continue if our family members maintain an unhealthy lifestyle, as there will be many temptations to eating unhealthy foods. Success is determined by those around us, therefore surround yourself with healthy, happy, positive people and you will be ten times more likely to succeed!

So what am I really saying? Well, I merely wanted to give you some ‘food for thought’ (excuse the pun) in the meantime and cause you to think about some of the issues I’ve raised! For many individuals a dietary plan is the way forward and I don’t wish to tar all healthy eating plans with the same brush, however I feel we ought to be very careful in our choice and be sure that we are actually learning about healthy eating and exercise and are not being cheated by some ‘quick fix’ plan!

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