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Post-Christmas diet dilemmas

Clare Jones weighs up the best and worse New Year diet plans

Published on December 20th 2010.


Post-Christmas diet dilemmas

For anyone who is planning to party until they drop over Christmas and then diet in the New Year, you may have already started to think about which diets may actually be effective and also easy to follow.

As with all things it seems, diet fashions come and go. We’ve had the F-plan, Atkins and the Cabbage Soup diet. But most of these fad diets are unsustainable in the long run and people start to find old bad habits returning and the weight creeping back on.

So why don’t these diets work?

- Not all calories are equal
The main reason that most diets don’t work is that they don’t take into account the way the body actually operates. Different types of food are metabolised differently so, for example, a portion of chocolate calculated to contain 100 calories will not be metabolised in the same way as a portion of carrots containing the same number of calories. What’s more relevant is the proportion of fat, carbohydrate and protein in that food and what vitamins and minerals and other micronutrients come with it.

- We are individuals
A ‘one size fits all’ approach for weight loss doesn’t work. For every ‘miracle’ success story, there will be many others still struggling to lose weight. Factors that can affect an individual’s ability to lose weight include health history, levels of daily activity, genetic make-up, stress and more mundane issues such as budget, cooking experience and availability of varied food choices.

- Boring and anti-social
Fad diets are often very dull, requiring you to eat similar foods all the time – the Cabbage Soup diet pretty much sums this up. Who wants to eat cabbage soup every day? Not only is it dull, but it also limits your social interactions; whether you are eating at home with the family or out for a night with friends, it’s not much fun for anyone if you can’t join in.

- Temporary fix
Probably the thing that bugs me most about any of these diets is the ‘quick fix’ aspect. By its very nature, ‘dieting’ suggests a temporary state – you ‘go on a diet’, lose weight and then go back to the same eating habits that helped you gain the weight in the first place.

So, what’s the alternative? Some more recent plans such as the low glycaemic index (low GI) approach have started to take into account the impact that different types of food have on our metabolism. There was also news last month that Weight Watchers have added a new method of calculating their famous points which takes into account food composition rather than just calories. But are these approaches any better than the old-fashioned diets described above?

- Points mean prizes?
Well it’s certainly useful to get away from calories, which are misleading and can lead to obsession. However, I’m not convinced that replacing it with another scoring system is an improvement. Not only do you have to buy the literature so that you can look up the score for anything you want eat or drink, it’s also highly likely that not every food will be covered. And you can get just as obsessive about points as you can about calories.

- Food composition
This is the bit I do like: there’s plenty of research out there that demonstrates that the way we use food energy varies according to the composition of the food and what else we eat alongside it. So a low GI approach which encourages the consumption of ‘slow-release’ carbohydrates rather than sugary and refined foods is likely to be helpful, particularly for people who tend to gain weight around the middle. The new Weight Watchers ‘Pro Points’ system, although the precise method of calculation is not revealed, states ‘protein and fibre-rich carbohydrates are harder work for the body to process and provide a greater feeling of fullness than fat and carbohydrates without fibre’, which suggests that it is using a similar approach.

- Long-term benefits?
This is harder to quantify. Interestingly, despite two web pages devoted to statistics, Weight Watchers does not provide figures for the percentage of people using their scheme who sustain permanent weight loss. I also struggle to endorse schemes that encourage the regular consumption of highly processed foods: you can buy all manner of processed foods promoting a variety of diet schemes such as low-GI, Atkins, Weight Watchers, etc but while they may meet various ‘points’ targets, this does not make them a nutritious foodstuff. In most cases, it’s also possible to put together a diet of highly processed foods which meet a points target, but offers little in the way of vitamins and minerals. In the long run, it’s better for our health to be choosing natural, unprocessed foods.

The advice given here is not intended to replace medical advice. Always consult your GP if you are concerned about your health.

Clare Jones, BA(Hons), Dip ION, mBANT
Nutritional Therapy 07985 166606.
If you would like to make an appointment for a personal nutrition consultation with Clare, please contact her on the above number or visit Clare’s website: www.clarejones-nutrition.co.uk

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