Why do we fail to stick to diets?

This week, Sally delves into the latest research confirming just why traditional diets simply don’t work. Also this week, how perseverance is key when it comes to getting your kids eating healthily, and the latest gadget helping us to stay sun safe.

I’ve seen it time and time again. Women, come into to my surgery, desperate to lose weight, after struggling for years with diet after diet. Every time they fail at yet another crash diet or quick fix weight loss plan, they end up feeling depressed and disappointed in themselves, as if it is their fault… their own willpower that has let them down again.

But if diets actually work, then why do so many women fail on them time after time?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… diets simply don’t work.

weight loss scales helpI can think of at least 6 reasons why diets are doomed to failure for the vast majority of us… but a recent study published in the Journal of Health Psychology confirmed my views on some of them. The researchers from the USA (though the stats are pretty similar this side of the pond too!) highlighted that around 1/3 of the adult population claim to be dieting at any given time, with the majority of adults having tried to lose weight at some point in their lives. Why, then, are around 2/3ds of the population still overweight or obese? Clearly, there is a disconnect between the desire to lose weight and the ability. In other words, deciding to lose weight is a very different matter to actually resisting that slice of cake or plate of chips.

Aside from the chemical changes, which take place in our bodies when we starve ourselves on a fad diet, or the self-esteem issues that arise from constant yo-yo dieting, this study highlighted three of my other top reasons for diet failure….

1. Deprivation doesn’t work

As the lead researcher, Kiviniemi, pointed out, “the deprivation experience is miserable. If you didn’t associate negative feelings with it to start, you will after a few days.” No wonder most diets fail after a week or so when life becomes so miserable that only chocolate will help. Trying to cut out foods you love just leaves you obsessing about them – wanting them even more. Instead, try simply cutting back – allowing yourself a little bit of what you fancy will stop you from feeling as though you’re depriving yourself – or swapping the foods you love for healthier swaps.

2. Willpower is overrated

The researchers also confirmed my view that willpower is doomed to failure. As they said, choosing to deprive yourself of something takes effort… mental energy in spadefuls.

If you have to use that energy every time you make a food choice it is going to run out…willpower is limited. So, my tip for successful weight loss is to make small healthier changes into subconscious habits that you make without having to think about them….saving your willpower for occasional use!

omega 3 the key to health and weight-loss3. You need to enjoy it to do it

If you don’t want to make those healthier changes, you won’t stick to them
….so find some healthier choices you actually think are tasty. “It’s not just about eating healthy foods. It’s about eating the healthy foods you like the most.”. Healthy foods doesn’t have to be boring – there are plenty of healthy, yet delicious recipes out there ready for you to try.

So how can you lose weight?
Losing weight doesn’t have to be all about finding a quick-fix diet to drop the pounds overnight – that simply doesn’t work! Instead, it is about making small, sustainable healthy habit changes that you can enjoy…and not about depriving yourself of everything you love. A further bit of good news is that you can train your brain to enjoy healthier foods more… so it becomes even easier to make those healthy habit changes. And remember, habits can take anything from 18-254 days to become entrenched…so a bit of persistence may be required but will reap numerous benefits in the long-run!

Planning versus action: Different decision-making processes predict plans to change one’s diet versus actual dietary behavior. M Kiviniemi, C Brown-Kramer. Journal Health Psychology 2015.

How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. P Lally, C van Jaarsveld, H Potts, J Wardle. European Journal of Social Psychology 2009.


kids food choices newsletterAny of us with kids will know how tricky it can be trying to get them to enjoy eating healthier foods – particularly when we seem to be in a constant battle against big food corporations trying to push high-fat, high-sugar junk foods at them everywhere we turn. It’s a fact that children just don’t eat enough vegetables – in fact, it’s been suggested that more than 90% of our children aren’t eating the amount of veg that is recommended! Instead they just push them round the plate, and complain until they get something else. But the sad truth is that many of these kids who scream and shout over a few florets of nutrient-dense broccoli would happily munch through a bowl full of fat and calorie laden chicken nuggets and chips. Which explains why so many children are now overweight or obese.

Many of us will try out almost any way to get vegetables into our kids – sneaking them into meals, or disguising them in various ways. So when I read a recent article on children’s eating habits, I thought it would be useful to share some of it with you all! The report looked at vegetable consumption in infants, and how behaviours around eating can affect their consumption, suggesting that a child needs to try a food 8 – 12 times before they can learn to enjoy it. The truth is that most of us will end up trying a few times before giving up – but all we need to do is persist and eventually our child will enjoy those veggies. It may well be frustrating trying time and time again, only to have the same foods rejected, but knowing that we are more likely to succeed if we keep on going will help us to push on – and, as a result, help our kids to learn to love those veggies!

Krebs-Smith S, Guenther P, Subar A, Kirkpatrick S, Dodd K. Americans do not meet federal dietary recommendations. J Nutr. 2010