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Reasons to skip January ‘diets’ this year

TRIGGER WARNING: This article discusses eating habits, disordered eating and may contain triggering content for those with anxieties around food. Please take care of yourself and make a note of the help and support at the end of this article.

Reasons to skip the January diets this year

Diets promise us a lot, don’t they? They say they will make us thinner, leaner, more attractive, more likeable, and healthier. But do they live up to their promises? I am a Registered Dietitian and today I want to give you science-backed facts on diets. We are coming up to New Year, which is the time of year when diets really get pushed. It’s more important than ever to be aware of all the facts on dieting – and the possible effect on your mental wellbeing.

This blog will explain:

  • What is a diet (you may be dieting without knowing!)
  • Problems with dieting you may not be aware of
  • 5 non-diet tips to improve your health in 2023

What is a diet?

You may think the answer is obvious but diets are sneaky these days! In recent times the weight loss and wellness industries have realised the word “diet” no longer sells. Instead, we hear terms such as “eating clean”, “lifestyle change”, “cleanse”, “detox” or “8-week challenge”. These are diets wrapped up in new, shiny packaging.

The bottom line: if it’s about the pursuit of weight loss, induces rules, guilt or restrictions, then it’s a diet.

Problems with dieting that you may not be aware of

If you’re currently dieting and find that it’s right for you, then it’s important to do what you know is best for you. This is a no-judgment zone.

And, there are many people, who feel stuck and fed up! This article aims to offer some insight into why you may be struggling with diets and what you could do instead.

Because despite what we may hear in the media, or from the diet industry, weight is less in our control than we’re led to believe. Research shows that dieting and restriction for the purposes of weight loss, don’t actually work for the majority. In fact, around 80% of people regain any of the weight lost, (often plus more), within 2-5 years. Diets can also cause physical and psychological harm.

This may seem to be very different to everything society tells us about body weight. And this is due to the set point theory. Set point theory suggests that our bodies have a pre-determined weight. This is a weight that bodies settle at when there is access to enough food without restriction, and when we’re eating in line with hunger, fullness and satisfaction. This might not be the weight that society or the BMI deems to be ‘right’. But it’s the right weight for your body to function at its’ best.

Your metabolism

If the body doesn’t get enough food (through dieting), it works hard to return to that ‘set point’. It does this by adjusting your metabolism to be more or less ‘efficient’ with the energy from your food. It’s not something you can ‘hack’ or control, it’s your body trying to protect itself and you.

Studies show that restrictive eating can:

  • increase disordered eating and risk of eating disorders. 
  • make us gain weight in the long term
  • lead us to binge eat
  • make us preoccupied with food
  • lead to weight cycling (repetitive weight loss and regain). This is associated with worsened cardiometabolic health. Like high blood pressure, high blood glucose levels and blood fats.  Especially in females.
  • lower self–esteem
  • poor body image
  • decrease mental health

Have you experienced some of this yourself or seen it in those you know? Below are some non-diet ways to improve your health if that’s your goal in 2023.

5 non-diet tips to improve your health in 2023

1. Learn about non-diet approaches like Intuitive Eating

Intuitive Eating is an evidence based approach that takes the focus off weight loss and onto health behaviours. It focuses on nourishment, fulfilling hunger and allowing body weight to settle at its set point. You can learn more about Intuitive Eating through the Nude Nutrition article library here.

2. Focus on what you can add

Diets often tell us to restrict things from our eating patterns. But true health comes from nourishment and getting enough of the right types of foods. Try to focus on what you can add.

Some examples:

  • Adding fibre, for gut and heart health. e.g  porridge with tasty toppings. Beans on toast. A grainy bread roll with, your favourite filling. Snacking on oat cakes or pita and hummus. Throwing an extra vegetable, or adding some lentils or beans into a soup stew or curry.
  • Aim to eat oily fish once a week to meet your omega-3 requirements. This could be through fish cakes, fish fingers, salmon, and trout. Non-fish sources include; walnuts, pumpkin or chia seeds, rapeseed or linseed oil, and soya and soya products like beans, tofu and milk.
  • Eating a diverse range of foods to not miss out on any essential vitamins & minerals. Fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables all count.
  • Including something that sounds fun and brings you joy each day (chocolate anyone?). This can help you feel less restricted, more satisfied, and less likely to feel out of control around the fun food.

3. Move. But make it enjoyable

There are so many health benefits to regular physical activity. Like improved mood, sleep, increased bone density, increased strength, and improved concentration. The list goes on.

What if, instead of focusing on fitness goals to burn off the food, or earn food, you focused on enjoyment? It’s more likely to be sustainable if it’s enjoyable. 

Tips for making exercise enjoyable:

  • Choose activities you like! It doesn’t matter what it is. A dance party in your room, a team sport, restorative yoga, a spin class, a walk in nature, a bike ride – it all counts.
  • Mix it up. By completing a variety of activities throughout the week you’re more likely to remain engaged and not get bored.
  • Listen to music, a podcast or an audiobook whilst moving. 
  • Get rid of apps and trackers that can keep your focus on numbers and away from the enjoyment.

4. Don’t forget Vitamin D

Vitamin D is important for bone, teeth and muscle health but in the winter we don’t get as much as we need from the sun. During autumn and winter, consider taking a daily supplement. The recommendation is 10 micrograms per day. You can read more about Vitamin D here.

5. Tune your environment to support healthy choices

Us humans make a lot of unconscious decisions based on our physical surroundings. So it can be helpful to set yours up to support healthy choices. For example, having a variety of nourishing snacks available in the fridge or pantry. Or keeping a fruit bowl on the counter. Or some weekly meal ideas on the fridge door for when you’re busy and stuck for choices.

Further support and Links

If you’re in a crisis, treat it as an emergency. Call 999 immediately or The Samaritans, FREE on 116 123. NHS Dorset’s Helpline ‘Connection’ can be reached on 0800 652 0190. It’s also available 24/7.

Today’s Guest Blogger

A huge thanks to guest blogger, Kat Kimber, an Online Dietitian Nutritionist in Dorset; sharing advice on how to eat better in the new year by avoiding ‘diets’ that may not be so good for your mental or physical health.

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