Going On A Diet In The New Year? I Have One Word For You: Don’t
I was a bit of a fat boy at high school. An active and sporty young lad, but with more rolls than a bakery.
I had a body shaped like an hourglass, but the food didn’t flow down my gob like sand. Nor was I particularly fond of junk food. In fact, I was almost always on a diet.
Sometimes I’d lose a few kilos and gain some confidence. Mostly I failed. And when I did, I’d beat myself up about it.
In the last year of high school, I showed great restraint to skip as many meals as possible, and the weight melted off me like butter in a hot pan. But it didn’t last.
A couple of years later, while at uni, I started to slip. I stopped playing rugby league and continued drinking like a footy player. Before I knew it, I was back to feeling fat again.
I went through the same cycle of losing and putting on weight for a decade. I tried many different diets -- low-fat and low-carb, juice cleanses and fasting -- and worked out that almost any diet plan will work for a while if you stick to it.
The thing is, you hardly ever do. Science tells us that 95 percent of all diets fail within the first five years. In my case I usually faltered within a few months.
I was sick of failing. I was tired of being my own punching bag. So I gave up dieting for good.
In a few short months, I lost 18 kilograms. That was 10 years ago. In that time my weight has fluctuated (a few kilos here, a few kilos there) but I’ve stayed slim for a decade.
When I say I stopped dieting, I mean that nothing was off limits. I started eating foods I’d avoided for years. I even did the unthinkable and had a kebab -- that wholesome parcel of greasy goodness reserved for the tail end of a boozy bender -- for lunch on a weekday.
Whatever I ate, I would do it slowly, savouring every last bite. I responded to my body’s cues and ate when I was hungry.
Soon these so-called “forbidden foods” lost their attraction. My diet was healthier than ever, but I never denied myself a “treat” if I felt like one. And I never felt guilty about it.
More importantly, I stopped being so hard on myself.
I didn’t focus on how fat or skinny I was. Instead, I nurtured a positive relationship with food and with my own body.
If I felt good, that was good enough, and I’ve never turned back.
Over the last few years, anti-diet movements of many different guises have gained momentum.
Whether they’re advocating "intuitive eating", "health at every size" or "eating competence", those spreading the anti-diet message point to the evidence showing that not only do diets not work, they’re often damaging.
Take Harriet Brown, author of the book Body of Truth, who points out that “yo-yo dieting is linked to heart disease, insulin resistance, higher blood pressure, inflammation, and, ironically, long-term weight gain”.
Or neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt, who cites research showing that dieting is “rarely effective, doesn’t reliably improve health and does more harm than good”.
But alongside this anti-diet movement, the latest fad diet is consistently stuffed in our faces like a slice of greasy pizza on movie night.
The mammoth weight loss industry pulls in $600 million a year in Australia and aggressively pushes the idea that it has the solution to your weight woes.
However annoying you may find paleo crusader Pete Evans, you have to admit he does look good in a pair of budgie smugglers. And who wouldn’t want abs like Aussie actress Ada Nicodemou, who credits her “body transformation” to the high-fat ketogenic diet?
When bombarded with these images of the “ideal body” it can be very hard to ditch the dieting mentality. But research has consistently shown that comparing yourself to celebrities or even friends on social media will just put you in a bad mood.
I’m no psychologist, nor am I a dietician, but I do know what it’s like to be stuck in the cycle of yo-yo dieting. It’s no fun and it doesn’t work.
By all means, eat healthy food in sensible amounts and exercise more.
But forget about the diet.
It’s a one-way ticket to failure, self-loathing and most probably the thing you want least: a bigger waistline.