How many times have you heard the phrase diets don’t work?
I’ll be honest I’ve said this myself so many times.
Then last year I went to Martin MacDonald’s Nutrition Tour and he said something that turned my thinking on this totally on it’s head. I’ll have to paraphrase because I don’t have the exact quote.
Diets do work, weight maintenance is what people fail at.
When we say diets don’t work, as fitness professionals we are saying it from a good place ,as a way of trying to protect clients, but it isn’t actually what we mean. It’s a simplified statement to generalise what we mean.
Because the fact is diets do work. Or at least they can if you follow them.
Firstly let me clarify here when we talk diet we generally mean a way of losing weight. I’ve said previously in it’s most accurate term your diet is whatever you happen to eat, but as a society we hear diet and we think weigh loss effort. That is how I’m going to use the word today.
I’ve also said before all diets, no matter how they are dressed up, work by creating a calories deficit in some way. If you create a calorie deficit you will lose weight. Some ways are healthier than others. Some ways are more likely to promote unhealthy relationships with food than others. Some ways provide more education as to how you are losing weight than others and some pedal myths that you are in fact losing weight because of a pill or a shake or your food combinations instead of calorie control. But, the fact remains you burn more calories than you consume you create weight loss.
Therefore diets do work.
I can say oohhh don’t do Herbal Life, Weight Watchers, Slimming World or whatever diet you want to put in place of that, but fundamentally if you do them and follow them you will lose weight. It would be wrong of me to lie and say that is not the case.
So why do I and so many people say you shouldn’t follow a diet when they do work?
Because what we really mean when we say that diets don’t work is that diets, as opposed to educated lifestyle changes, work whilst you follow them. When you stop following them and go back to previous eating habits they will stop working, and the issue with diets is that they are very often not sustainable in the long term or if they are sustainable they tie you into contracts with that brand.
Some diets are restrictive. Anything very low calorie or which cuts out certain foods for no other reason than weight loss is hard to maintain forever. Especially once you have lost the weight and the scale coming down every week no longer exists as motivation. I’ll tell you from experience no matter how much you believe staying at your ideal weight will be motivation enough it really isn’t. Therefore very restrictive diets are difficult to maintain long term and so if you don’t have the knowledge and acquired skills on how to maintain weight once you reach your goal it is the maintenance part you may struggle with, and this is often why we see people yoyo diet.
Other diets are certainly less restrictive and I do see that there is honestly no reason why once ready to maintain weight you could not continue with them. The issue with these is they very often tie you into a product. Weigh in groups for instance (Slimming World, Weight Watchers and so on). You could continue to attend these and eat in this way quite comfortably to maintain but you must continue to buy into the method because there is a lack of education included to allow you to go alone.
Equally things like Herbal Life, these can be promoted by PTs who also provide education around nutrition. But they integrate their products into that education, so you believe you not only need a protein shake and a herbal tea and a pre workout and a meal replacement shake to lose then maintain weight, but you need that particular brand. I believe that psychologically if we have succeeded in losing weight on those products we will believe even more so that they are important to remaining on track. This essentially means to maintain weight loss you are tied into a product for however long you maintain. If you suddenly can’t afford that product, mentally it is a lot easier to then lose that maintenance.
So when a PT says diets don’t work what we really mean is the diet phase is really not that important in the grand scheme of things.
You want to lose 3 stone. You think that that is the hard part and then keeping it off will be easy. Nope, at 1lb a week allowing a few weeks where you lose nothing you can comfortably lose 3 stone in a year (less if you are very focused but actually you don’t want to be obsessed with losing weight). Say you are 25 and live to 98, that is 1 year of weight loss and then another 72 keeping that weight off. If you are successful at this the majority of your life is in the maintenance phase not the diet phase (obviously not taking into account life changes etc).
So when we say don’t diet, we mean diet if you wish to lose weight, but don’t follow a fad. Learn about calories, get a coach, not a diet plan (PTs can provide advice and education not diet plans unless they are qualified nutritionists), get an idea of how much energy you need to eat. Then eat that food in a way that suits your lifestyle (by the way that could be paleo, via fasting or another method if you are also aware of your calorie consumption). If you do that once you hit your goal you adjust your calories slightly and just continue as you were. The key here is all the time you have eaten normally, in a way that really suits you – not in a special magical way that has helped you lose weight but requires a lot of thought every day / week or a lot of money. The key is you’ll know why you lost weight and don’t attribute it to magical speed foods (yes Slimming World I’m looking at you) or a magical pill (there might well be a product out there you love that makes you feel great and that’s cool, use it, feel great but all the while know that product is not the reason for your weight loss).
A decent PT knows if they do their job well you won’t need them forever – if they try and make you reliant on them forever they pretty much just want your money. We might retain clients for a long time because they feel the benefit of our support or thrive from the accountability, valid reasons to see a coach, but we want clients to understand where their results come from – not to mystify them so they remained chained to us. Whether you chose to continue working with a coach or not you should be given the skills that if you went it alone you have knowledge and are empowered to do so.
Diets do work. We struggle with maintenance. That’s why dieting in a sustainable and suitable way paves the way to a greater chance of success with maintenance, and if you are currently dieting or thinking about starting a weight loss journey know both that and this. Weight loss isn’t what you want. What you want is to be able to maintain that once you reach the goal. You don’t want it to be a short term thing so don’t look at short term options.