It’s hard not to greet January 1st with a long list of things that you’ll do differently this year – from spending less time watching Netflix, to being nicer to your weird cousin, to finally getting around to losing that pesky 10 pounds.
But if going on a diet is on your list of resolutions this year, it’s time to think again.
Research shows that although they may be effective in the short term, diets generally fail in the long term. In fact, most people aren’t able to maintain a 10% loss over one year – more than a third of the lost weight is back within a year, and in three to five years, most of it is back again. And the more you lose, the worse the rebound can be.
In fact, one meta-study, in which psychology professors at UCLA analyzed the results of 31 long-term weight-loss studies, concluded that most dieters would have been better off never to have dieted at all.
Evolution has ensured that our bodies do their best to conserve energy when food is scarce. It’s not a coincidence that when you diet, you find yourself spending more time thinking about “forbidden” foods, that your feelings of hunger increase, or that your metabolism slows down, making it harder for you to burn calories, even as you consume fewer of them. Your body, sensing that food is scarce, is going into starvation mode, and doing its best to ensure that you survive.
So….what’s a better approach?
For starters, focus on eating well, rather than eating less. That doesn’t mean you can just eat whatever you want: eat sensible amounts of healthy food, without food restrictions. That’s right – unless you have a health issue that prevents you from eating something that would give you an adverse reaction, adopt a “moderation in all things” approach that allows the occasional treat.
Next, retrain yourself to eat only when you’re hungry. That means listening to your body and learning to listen your hunger cues – making sure you’re eating because you’re actually hungry, not frustrated, or bored, or sad, or lonely. Mindful eating also means not eating past the point of fullness – you don’t need to clean your plate at every meal, no matter what you learned when you were growing up.
Finally: get moving! Studies show that physical inactivity is a growing public health problem – and that even 20 minutes of movement a day can make a big difference in your fitness levels and in your mood. If you move more, you feel better, both physically and mentally.
If you’re going to make one resolution this year, make it that you’re not going to diet.
Note: If you have a health condition such as heart disease or diabetes, your doctor may recommend a weight-loss plan to help you better manage your condition. Consult your family physician before embarking on any diet, weight-loss or exercise plan. Always follow your physician’s advice.