For many, January brings with it a clean slate brimming with endless self-improvement possibilities. It is a time to start over, put behind our indulgent holiday transgressions and enact the many unfulfilled resolutions of years past. We try desperately to find the “perfect” diet, commit to gym memberships we cannot afford and make promises that this year will be different. The result? A New Year, the same you and countless unsuccessful diets and unused gym memberships. But it’s okay because we’ll start again next year, right?
Wanting to lose weight is the most common New Year’s resolution. Diet tips and quick weight loss fads inundate our social media feeds. Unfortunately, however, many of these diets are unsustainable and less than 5 per cent of dieters are able to keep the weight off in the long-term (Searing, 2018).
But don’t blame yourself, popularised diet culture is doomed from the very beginning. We go from zero to one-hundred overnight, with the hope that a new calendar year will somehow erase all bad habits. Diets often fail because we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves. We try to achieve too much in too little time and end up feeling like a failure when we don’t see results. When it comes to your health this year, focus on being consistent over being extreme. Moderation is the key to success and every little step forward is a step in the right direction.
Why is dieting so unsuccessful for long-term behaviour change?
Diets are unsustainable
Diets require calorie restriction, calorie counting and calorie obsessing. Everyday activities such as eating out can become impossible and you deprive yourself of not only the calories but also quality social interaction. Successful lifestyle changes are those that allow you to enjoy the foods you love (in moderation) without compromising your health goals. For example, when out at brunch, order the avocado and eggs instead of the pancakes/waffles. Or try substituting your full cream latte for skim milk, or even better a long-black. It’s these little switches that add up over time.
Diets deprive your body of essential nutrients
Many diets work because they cut out large food groups such as carbohydrates, or in the case of shake and juice diets, anything in solid form. Forgoing certain foods can lead to the loss of essential nutrients and minerals whilst also promoting unhealthy habits such as over-eating or binge eating. Instead of restrictive dieting, listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Give yourself some credit, you probably know your own self better than a generic Instagram inspired diet.
Diets label food as “good” and “bad”
Food is food. There is no such thing as a “bad” food or “good” food, just some foods that should be eaten more or less frequently than others. Diets are often fads that are constantly changing. Maintaining a diet mindset places immense mental pressure on ourselves and can take away from the enjoyment of eating. We obsess over our food choices and feel like a failure when we give into a craving.
Lifestyle Changes & Healthy Habits
Research has shown that implementing small lifestyle changes are more effective in maintaining weight-loss than crash diets (Duhigg, 2012). Creating fewer, but more achievable health goals is essential for long-term habit creation. These are known as keystone habits – a small change that has multiple flow on effects across your life (Duhigg, 2012). Two proven keystone habits for positive lifestyle change is (1) exercise and; (2) keeping a food diary.
Exercise is a proven keystone habit that initiates widespread change. People that start exercising regularly (even if only once a week), begin to show improvement in other areas of their life unknowingly. They become more productive at work, are less stressed, start eating healthier and even drink less frequently (Duhigg, 2012). Depending on your fitness goals this year, ease yourself into the process. Instead of vowing to attend every single gym class, try to get out for a 30-minute walk thrice weekly. As this becomes habitual and routine, you can start adding in more gym sessions.
Similarly, be realistic with your “diet” expectations. For instance, if your goal is to lose weight, then start by limiting your sugar intake instead of cutting out all carbohydrates (because you read that keto was all the rage). Evidence shows that food journaling can be an effective tool to assist with healthy weight management. Keeping a log of your food intake helps to identify food patterns and behaviour (Kaiser, 2008). For example, if you find yourself snacking around 10am then bring an apple or banana to curb hunger. Doing so allows you to eat more intuitively and better equips you to respond to your body’s individual needs.
Sustainable lifestyle habits start with losing the “perfectionist” mindset. If you are wanting to diet, make sure you are doing this in a manner that is respectful and kind to both your body and mind. Food is there to be consumed and enjoyed and not to shame us for the way we look or feel about ourselves. Eat in moderation, start with a few lifestyle changes and enjoy the variety of food available. Happy No-Dieting 2019!
Duhigg, C. (2012). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. USA: Random House.
Kaiser, P. (2008). Keeping a Food Diary Doubles Diet Weight Loss, Study Suggests. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 9, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/07/080708080738.htm
Searing, L. (2018, January 1). The Big Number: 45 million Americans go on a diet each year. Retrieved from The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/the-big-number-45-million-americans-go-on-a-diet-each-year/2017/12/29/04089aec-ebdd-11e7-b698-91d4e35920a3_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.311137355ef8