Eat Better

We don’t like diets (and we don’t care who knows it)

The fact that we don’t like diets might come as a surprise to our readers and followers. The problem is that diets are often counter productive and can cause more harm than good.

This apple is not just your lunch

by Jennifer Green

The fact that we don’t like diets might come as a surprise to our readers and followers. Most people associate good health with being thinner (or just plain ‘thin).

It is our job in public health, to raise awareness of the health benefits of maintaining a healthy weight, help people figure out how to do it, and prompt them to make that change and to start doing it.

We recommend that people maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI). We know that on the whole, obesity is associated with increased likelihood type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke and even some cancers.

As well as reducing your risk of  these illnesses, many people who become a healthy weight also report increased energy levels, less joint pain, less breathlessness and even sleeping better.

But, we would never recommend that you lose weight through dieting. Here’s why:

1. You need to fuel your body

To function at its best and minimise your risk of getting ill, our bodies need the nutrients and vitamins that come from a balanced diet. Unless you have a medically diagnosed allergy or intolerance your body needs carbohydrates, proteins and fats. We would never recommend that you cut out any food group.

Despite the attractive claims that some celebrities and journalists make about cutting out carbs, gluten or dairy to lose weight, you CAN be overweight and unhappy on an all-raw vegan low-carb diet and you CAN also lose weight healthily still eating all of the foods that you love. Which sounds better?

2. Restriction leads to overeating

Don’t think about pink elephants.

What are you thinking about?

If you spend your time telling yourself ‘don’t eat the cake/crisps/chocolate’ you will struggle to think of much else. Chances are after a little while you might get a bit obsessive about how amazing pizza is, or how fantastic your nans apple crumble is. Then, when you eventually ‘allow’ yourself to have some you are likely to binge and eat the whole extra large pizza plus the kids leftovers, plus sides because its been so long since you ate a potato wedge, and an entire pint of icecream because who knows when you will get to eat it again? Better make the most of it, back on the diet tomorrow!

The best way to avoid this restrict – binge – restrict again – binge again cycle is to not restrict yourself in the first place. Eat the cake. Don’t eat it for breakfast every day perhaps but definitely eat it when you really want it.

An illustration of the restrict binge cycle

3. Crash diets are unsustainable

You know the ones we mean. The ones where you drink ‘shakes’ instead of meals, rehydrated sachets of space-food, the ones where you eat sausages and eggs by the bucket but never any bread, the ones that cut out food groups, and the skipping meals or eating tiny portions ‘diets’.

These are not sustainable for the very vast majority of people. We are genetically hardwired to not allow ourselves to starve if we can help it. Restricting leads to binging and your crash diet is really hard to stick to (because you are restricted, hungry, tired and sad all the time) so eventually you will give up and go back to whatever ‘normal’ is for you.

Have you ever noticed that the people who follow these fad diets are the same ones doing them time and time again?

4. Emphasis on calories is not helpful for everyone

Some people like to count calories and some people don’t. Do whatever works for you. Notice that the official government diet guidelines, the Eatwell plate, don’t encourage people to count calories. Most people who want to lose weight can use simple principles of small changes, food swaps and portion control without having to count calories.

5. Dieting is associated with wanting to ‘get skinny’ and ‘look better’

Skinny does not equal healthy. Being thinner does not mean you will necessarily look better. Looking better is subjective and does not impact upon your value as a person.

It’s a hard line to tread but one we are always aware of – we want to advise people that there are health benefits associated with maintaining a healthy weight but we absolutely do not want to body shame anyone.

Healthy comes in all shapes and sizes. One person’s healthy might look like a size 8, someone else’s healthy might look like a size 14. Neither is better than the other.

What do we recommend?

We recommend small, simple changes. We advise looking at portion sizes, eating more fruit and vegetables and eating a varied balanced diet. A healthy weight loss diet should feel simple, intuitive, and like a lifestyle change that you can enjoy for a long time.

NHS Choices have a safe and free 12 week healthy weight loss plan, or you can also contact our Healthy Lifestyles team to find out more about healthy eating and how to get started making these changes. Call 01952382582.

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