Crash Diets Don't Work

How many times have you been on a diet? Do you get excited about the latest diet, follow it for a while and see what happens, only to find that it didn’t live up to expectations, or do you have one favourite diet that you go back to time and again that gets you the results you want to see, except that over the years the results have not quite been as good as the last time you did it?

We are a nation of yoyo dieters, crash dieting from one diet plan to the next, watching the numbers on the bathroom scales go up and down – often, despite our best efforts there’s more up than down over the years.

Whatever your attitude to diet and nutrition, there is no question that we are getting something badly wrong. Over 64% of us are overweight or obese, and we are starting young – over 25% of our children and young people are overweight or obese.

Most of us know at least one or two people on a diet at any given time. From Weightwatchers and Slimming World, to intermittent fasting and meal replacement shakes, we are on a mission to lose weight. But the truth is that most diets don’t work for most people.

Food can be a pain, and food can be a pleasure. It is social, emotional and economic. There is a multitude of influencing factors that determine what we put into our mouths, and ultimately the impact that food has on our physical, mental and emotional health, not to mention our muffin tops and thigh gaps.

Here are some possible reasons why diets have stopped working for you:

  1. Not eating enough. If you have had years of calorie restriction, your body will start to think it is starvation mode. Once this happens, it has the potential to affect your metabolism and make is harder to lose weight. 
  2. Nutrient deficiencies. Plenty of diets promise a fast fix for weight loss, without any concern for a balance of vitamins, minerals, fibre and macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates). When we restrict food groups, calories or rely on shakes and powders instead of real food, it can be more difficult to ensure that we are getting all the vitamins, minerals and micronutrients that our body needs to function. Nutrients like iodine and selenium, magnesium, B vitamins and iron all impact our thyroid function, metabolic rate and fat burning capacity.
  3. Appetite regulation. Protein, fibre and fat help make us feel fuller for longer. Eating a wide variety of nutritious foods will give us a healthy balance of the nutrients and energy our body needs to get through the day. When we start to restrict food, we can end up feeling hungry and ‘hangry’ and  giving in to junk food with empty calories, leaving us hungry for more.
  4. Blood sugar dysregulation. Blood sugar and insulin balance are key for effective weight loss, but if we eat a low fat diet, that is high in refined carbohydrates and sugars, a cycle of dysfunction is set up, which over time can contribute to fat gain, rather than fat loss.  
  5. Thyroid imbalance – even when thyroid test results come back within the normal reference range, a level of sub-clinical hypothyroidism can impact our ability to lose weight, and keep it off.
  6. Poor digestion. We now know that the balance of bacteria in our microbiome has a part to play in our body composition and ability to lose weight.
  7. Stress – evidence suggests that a raised cortisol level increases fat gain.
  8. Sleep – disrupted sleep affects our hunger hormone ghrelin.

What can we do about it? The key is to good nutrition is to get back to eating real food. Next week I will explore some ideas to help you overcome the diet trap and get back to eating for optimum health, not for the number on the bathroom scales.

This blog post first appeared in The Irish News on Saturday 27 July 2019.