New weight loss guidelines for the NHS in England will advise people to "lose a little and keep it off" for life. But how easy is it?
Watching friends and acquaintances attempt to lose weight by doing the exact opposite of what they should be doing, is enough to make me want to tear my hair out. Their prime mistake is going on a faddy diet or juice detox. Strangely, dieting is probably one of the only skills that has a poorer outcome the more you practise it. Can you imagine learning to play tennis only to find that the more often you play the more likely it is that your ball ends up in the net?
Going on a diet implies that sooner or later you come off your diet. The human body being what it is, the second you succumb to your favourite snack the weight goes straight back on. This would be annoying enough if you simply regain what you lose, but there is a nasty sting in the tale. Upset your hunger hormones by dieting and they fight back.
Even when you reach the weight you were before you began dieting, your body continues to tell you that you are starving and need to eat more. Hey presto! You end up just a little fatter than when you started dieting. Yo-yo diet and you have little hope of ever achieving the slim body you desire. But it seemingly doesn't put us off following the latest faddy diet.
We somehow either convince ourselves that this time we have cracked it or we take a short term view and don't actually care, as long as we lose a few pounds before we go on holiday and binge on pizza and beer.
But there is a solution; stop thinking that the next new diet fad is the Holy Grail and start making small lifestyle changes. Boring and sensible, perhaps, but it works and you can stop obsessing about food and get on with your life.
For the vast majority of overweight people without hormonal or medical issues, significant and sustainable weight loss can be achieved by eating less. Taking more exercise helps but it is not as important as cutting back on what you eat. Whilst certain types of food contribute more to obesity than others, all foods make you fat if you overeat. If your diet consists of nothing but celery that might be extremely difficult as it is little more than water and fibre, but the principle still holds true.
The simple strategy of cutting out snacks and sweetened drinks is the most effective way to create the energy deficit you need to burn fat. Snacks are high in energy-rich sugar and fat, even the ones you buy in health food shops. Just because your muesli bar or gluten free muffin contains dates and coconut oil, it doesn't mean they are not fattening. Dried dates are almost 100% sugar and coconut oil is pure fat.
Biscuits, cakes, sweetened yoghurt, confectionary or ice cream are energy dense and highly palatable making it hard to stop eating them. Cut these out and see your energy intake plummet. Sugary tea and coffee, juice or fizzy drinks provide a lot of calories and minimal nutrition. The poorer the quality of your diet, the more you need to eat and the fatter you become.
Like all new habits, make a small change and stick to until it becomes second nature. Don't be tempted to exchange your snack for a healthier alternative. Munch on an apple one day and the next day it can easily morph into a chocolate biscuit (or two).
It is easier to resist snacking if you eat three filling meals a day. Protein suppresses your appetite the most and it is the lowest in calories. Make sure you eat breakfast, and include some protein like eggs, cheese or ham. At lunch and dinner have some meat, fish or tofu. Add a mugs worth of cooked starchy food like potato, rice or pasta and eat as many vegetables as you like. For dessert, try a piece of fresh fruit with a spoon of unsweetened natural yoghurt.
If you find you are hungry between meals. Learn to welcome it, it means that you are burning up those pesky fat stores.
For further information on how to lose weight sustainably and permanently, see my lifestyle diet book CAN I HAVE CHIPS? Fill Up, Lose Weight, Feel Great.