The Real Reason That Your Diet Isn’t Working
– Ian Marber, Expert Nutritionist
All diets work. Whether it’s high fat-high protein, low carb, high carb, high fiber, no fun or just avoiding food groups, they all work. As long as they follow a basic principle of nutrition, which, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition is that ‘body weight change is associated with an imbalance between the energy content of food eaten and energy expended by the body to maintain life and to perform physical work’. By supplying a structure along with an eating plan which reduces appetite, the diet will work.
So what is going on?
Dramatic Early Weight Loss Is Not Sustainable
In the first few days of reducing calorie intake, the human body turns to its stores to make up the shortfall. The first and easiest source to access is glycogen. Glycogen is stored water, which is why so much of any initial weight loss is related to water loss.
A simple way to think about glycogen is that it is akin to a small overdraft – there to help you through the day-to-day fluctuations in your bank account.
Once glycogen stores are depleted, the body will begin to access fat stores as a source of potential energy. This is a slow process and, unlike the first week where weight loss feels easy (clothes feel looser; we experience a feeling of achievement) the second stage is less obvious and can feel more of a slog. The euphoria is replaced by a feeling that this is going to take forever.
Don’t Allow Your Body to ‘Panic’
In my experience, the reality of a diet – that’s the long-term, consistent cut in calories combined with an increase of energy expenditure – gets dull and real by week three.
The majority of weight loss is attributable to the reduction in calories – not too drastic, you want to access fat stores, not force the body to ‘panic’ and break down muscle and tissue in an effort to meet energy requirements. In other words, don’t over-exercise.
Consistency is Key
By week three you can expect to have seen a 5lb weight loss from water then maybe three more pounds thereafter. For many people trying to lose that pesky extra 10lbs, losing 80 percent of that feels like success.
It is possible to feel that we can ease off a little, perhaps sneak in some carbs, or enjoy a couple of nights out without saying no to favoured foods and drinks. Yet this inconsistency puts you back a short time as glycogen replaces stored fat as a source of energy.
Create a Support Network
My first piece of advice is to gen up on some basic nutrition. Understanding a little about how the human body works will allow you to see marked progress more readily rather than seeing small fluctuations in terms of success or failure. Be flexible, allowing for the odd treat here and there as well as putting the right support in place.
This may be via a group or by working with a nutrition professional. Picking the right plan is paramount simply because life often gets in the way of good intentions.
Find a plan you will follow
There is no point in choosing a carb-free plan if you adore bread and pasta because eventually will power will run out and you’ll be back on the gnocchi before you know it. Find a plan that doesn’t require a complete change of life. Set your goals realistically in line with the way your body works, not how you would like it to. After the glycogen weight loss you can expect up to 2lbs a week so understand that time is required.
Remember that once the weight has gone it needs to stay off. Unwelcome though it may be to hear, the basic principle still applies. Should you choose to ignore that, expect to see your weight creep back up.
EXPLAINER | What kind of fat are you?
- Poor diet and exercise regime
- Healthy or low BMI
- Lack of muscle tone
- Poor metabolic health (high-blood lipids, high blood glucose, visceral fat). Visceral fat is normally present when there is a large build-up of fat around the abdominal area.
- In more extreme cases, visceral fat can coat the internal organs, leading to serious cardiovascular health problems and diabetes.
How to tackle it:
- Identify problem areas by measuring body fat using callipers; a DEXA scan can reveal the presence of visceral fat.
- Building muscle is key: an exercise programme should stress cardiovascular and muscle resistance.
- Diet should then support the exercise demands: make sure you are fuelled properly if you’re exercising (carb intake should match exercise demands).
- Constant tiredness
- Interrupted sleep patterns or difficulty dropping off
- Increased appetite and carbohydrate and sugar cravings
- Tiredness can negatively affect metabolism by causing shifts in “hunger hormones”.
How to tackle it:
- Cutting down on alcohol will help to regulate your sleep patterns.
- Add protein to every meal – this will help to control your body’s insulin levels by slowing down your rate of digestion.
- Introduce a sleep-inducing wind-down time to the end of the day: banish distractions, sip a caffeine-free herbal tea. Have a relaxing bath, read a book in bed.
- Supplements that can help with sleep include magnesium, Lactium, taurine and vitamin B.
- Introducing regular cardio and weight-bearing exercises will promote a healthier sleep pattern, as well as help you build muscle.
- Inability to lose weight, even when dieting; weight accumulation around the tummy.
- Stress fat is normally related to burnt-out fat, as they have a knock-on effect to one another – all hormones in the body work together as part of the endocrine system.
How to tackle it:
- Stop dieting: if you deprive yourself, your body will think it’s being starved, which raises stress levels, contributing to fat storage
- Eat little and often to control blood sugar fluctuations and eliminate refined carbohydrates, sugar and alcohol.
- Sip herbal tea instead of caffeine (a stimulant makes you more stressed, causing more release of cortisol, thus more fat around the middle).
- Food also plays an important role in stress relief. Making healthy food choices – balanced protein, fresh fruit such as raspberries, blueberries and cherries, and vegetables – will aid a sense of wellbeing. Avocado, asparagus and nuts are good healthy, stress-relieving foods to include.