Why not to diet this New Year

From January 1, the running paths are full and salads sell quickly from the shelves. But going on a diet might actually be counterproductive.

As the New Year rolls around there is no shortage of diets claiming to transform your body. But in some cases depriving yourself and then falling off the wagon can leave you worse off.

Bupa dietitian Gemma Cosgriff says it’s more important to focus on what you’re putting in your body, than what you’re cutting out.

Do diets work?

Research has shown that the act of ‘going on a diet’ can actually lead to a person gaining weight, particularly if they’ve made drastic changes.

Cosgriff says often when we focus on what we’re giving up, it becomes the thing we can’t stop thinking about.

“Try instead to focus on the positives; to increase intake of healthier food choices, and naturally some of the less healthy options will move out of your usual intake, while also providing positive self-talk,” she says.

Cosgriff says many diets cut out entire food groups, which can leave people with limited options and may mean they’re missing out on valuable nutrients which are essential for our bodies to run efficiently.

“If you’re worried about a certain food group or type of food, just reduce the portions or shift to healthier alternatives.”

For example if you’re trying to cut down on carbs , Cosgriff says  it’s better to eat nutrient-dense, low-GI (slow releasing) carbohydrates like legumes, chickpeas or lentils which provide protein as well as other nutrients.

How bad is binging?

Have you ever gone on a strict diet, only to undo all your hard work with a family block of chocolate or a jumbo bag of chips? 

Cosgriff says rather than eliminating all treats, just try to watch your portion size and how often you have it.

“If you acknowledge that it’s ok to include all foods, then try to move toward having a small amount, infrequently,” she says. “That way you don’t feel deprived, you don’t feel guilty if you do have a treat and you don’t feel like throwing your hands up in the air and overeating after tripping up on your own rule.”

If not dieting, then what?

Instead of making dramatic overnight changes, Cosgriff recommends making small, sustainable changes that you can make a part of your life forever, not just for now.

Cosgriff recommends making one or two small improvements to your diet each week or fortnight.

“Try to think about food as fuel for your body, if you had a valuable car, would you put cheap fuel in it? Probably not…so treat your body like that valuable car,” says Cosgriff.

“It’s the only one you have so feed it the best fuel it deserves.”

An easy guide to help you eat a healthy, balanced meal is the ‘healthy plate’ model. That means dividing your plate into four quarters; one quarter carbohydrates, a quarter made up of lean proteins (chicken, fish,  tofu etc.) and half the plate devoted to a colourful range of low-kilojoule vegetables.
Remember healthy food doesn’t have to be bland and boring. 

“Spice up your meals with herbs, spices, zest, and natural flavours to keep your enjoyment up.”
Healthy plate
Healthy Plate Guide

Adopting a healthier lifestyle?

Cosgriff says adopting a healthy lifestyle means something different to everyone, but at the centre of it all it’s about enjoying food that good for you, being social, and leading an active lifestyle.

“For one person it might mean walking to the train station in the morning and night and around your workplace at lunchtime, for others it might mean going to the gym 6 times a week,” says Cosgriff. 

She recommends going for nutrient-dense food like fresh vegetables and fruit and limiting energy-dense foods that are nutritionally ‘empty’ (think packaged snack food and sugary drinks). 

Cutting back on alcoholic drinks is a great way to cut the kilojoules /calories as it is low in nutrients, doesn’t fill you up and it’s packed with energy or empty carbs. Drink water instead – it’s 100% kilojoule free. 

And importantly, don’t forget to make time to laugh and have a bit of fun!

Bupa Health Insurance

Need help making long term healthy food choices? A dietitian can provide personalised advice. Depending on your cover, costs towards some visits may be included under your private health insurance.

Find out more
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