04/10/2011 08:10 BST | Updated 03/12/2011 05:12 GMT

Do You Have to Starve Yourself to Be Slim?

Our society, to its detriment, is obsessed with the diet as a solution to being overweight. But even people who accept that dieting is not the way to lose weight are still affected by the underlying principle behind a diet:

"No pain, no gain"

Diets are based on limitation and self-denial. You are supposed to severely restrict your intake for a short period of time with the end result that you (hopefully) lose weight.

When I speak to women who are two or three stone overweight, they tell me that what has put them off trying to lose weight in the past, is that they couldn't bear the thought of going on a diet. Of course they said this because they associated losing weight with suffering and deprivation.

The deprivation delusion - that you need to severely deny yourself food in order to lose weight - drives many people's weight loss efforts. And this is a dangerous belief. If you believe that losing weight requires suffering, you will necessarily look at short term methods to accomplish your goal. This is why the default option for someone looking to lose weight in our society is to go on a diet.

But to last on a deprivation diet for even a short time requires immense self-control and determination. Indeed, whenever I ask a group of people what they believe to be the single biggest predictor of success in losing weight, the most common response is "willpower". And there are many people out there who believe the reason that they have not been able to lose weight is that they lack willpower.

But willpower is not the solution. Willpower is a short term strategy. You might be able to knuckle down and tolerate a few weeks on a particularly brutal diet, but then what? What will you do once you're off the diet? Will you go back to your old ways? If so, you are going to gain your weight back pretty soon. Losing weight and then gaining it back is of course yoyo dieting.

The answer to the question "do you have to starve yourself to be slim?" is therefore a resounding "No!" (And when I talk about slim, I mean being your ideal healthy weight.)

This should be good news to you. You don't have to suffer to lose weight. The fact is, if you don't like your diet, you won't stick to it. Put another way, the more pleasant your method of losing weight is, the more likely you will stick with it.

So how do you make weight loss pleasant? The main thing is you don't make any drastic changes to what you eat. Switching suddenly to a fruit, lettuce and boiled vegetables diet might make you feel like you are doing something proactive, but most people will not be able to last on it for very long. Leave the drastic changes for others who are less enlightened. You are better off planning for the long term, making small changes to what you eat each week. This way, instead of trying too much and failing, you can have small successes that you build on. You can learn from your mistakes and get better and better.

And really, there is no other way to lose weight. For long term change, you need to be making changes that you are sure you can stick with for the rest of your life. Most of us can't starve ourselves for the rest of our lives but we can make small changes each week that eventually lead us to our ideal weight.