Does dieting really work?

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Annabel Caulfield

Does dieting really work?

Posted by Annabel Caulfield 1819 Days Ago

In my practice I have come across many serial dieters.  The answer to shedding any extra weight being carried around always seems to be in the latest new diet, whether it be counting calories or points, intermittent fasting, or cutting out food groups (and many others!)  And the thing is, these diets do lead to weight loss – maybe for a few weeks, or even months.  But what happens then? Old habits return, and so does the weight lost (and even worse – sometimes more!)  I think we just have to accept the reality – as a long term strategy, dieting doesn’t work.  The answer lies in changing your eating habits, and developing a greater understanding of your body’s nutritional needs, and how different types of foods influence your hormones and your metabolism can help you make those changes. 

When you eat carbohydrates, things like bread, pasta, rice, vegetables and fruit (this is not an exhaustive list!), they are broken down into glucose in your body.  Your pancreas then releases insulin to move the glucose into your cells for fuel.  However, any excess glucose is then converted into either glycogen or body fat.  What you might not realise is that insulin just loves to add to the fat around your abdomen, and abdominal fat is the sort of fat that is thought to increase the risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. Another effect of insulin, particularly if large quantities of simple (i.e. sugary) carbohydrates are eaten, is potentially rumbling tummies, cravings for more sugary foods, and energy slumps. 

What about fat though?  I often find that dieters like to avoid fat, mistakenly thinking dietary fat leads to higher body fat.  Fatty acids (those found in food) are vital to many systems in the body, including the production of hormones, brain health, and skin.  Some fats are called ‘essential’ and can only be found in the diet (e.g. in oily fish, nuts and seeds).  Some vitamins are ‘fat soluble’, which means that dietary fat is needed for your body to be able to absorb them (e.g. vitamins A, D and E).  Also, every cell in the body has a membrane comprised of fats, and in order for the membrane to let nutrients into and waste out of cells it must remain supple and healthy: dietary fats need to be eaten to make this possible.  Some fats are even thought to help support the metabolism – useful if trying to lose weight.

Eating ‘low fat’ foods can be detrimental to losing weight.  Naturally low fat foods, like vegetables, are great, but combining them with healthy fats is even better (look back to fat-soluble vitamins, and how fat is needed to absorb them). Low fat processed foods (i.e. anything sold in packaging) is very probably filled with sugar (carbohydrates) or chemicals to improve taste.  So if you think about it, replacing fat with sugar may actually lead to cravings for more sugar and potentially weight gain.

Fat takes longer for the body to break down, so is more, and its digestion doesn’t require insulin (remember, insulin likes to convert carbohydrates to belly fat.  A meal with good levels of healthy fats, a portion of protein (meat, fish, eggs etc), and a helping of slow release carbohydrates (e.g. vegetables) is likely to sustain you for longer, meaning you eat less in the long run than if you eat a meal consisting of ‘low fat’ diet foods (which are likely to be high in carbohydrates). 

Of course diet isn’t the only factor that affects weight loss: stress and lack of sleep are both contributors. A nutritional therapist can help you identify what your issues are and what changes you can make to your eating to help maintain both a healthy weight, but also overall health in general.