In their attempts to lose weight and get fit people often turn to the latest “Diets” to solve their problems for them.
From the most recent trends and Instagram gurus to the well-known weight loss clubs that have been around for years. These multi-million pound businesses have a vested interest. While it is in their interest to get people results, the efficacy of their programs is irrelevant once they’ve sold you their product, so clever marketing is their number one concern.
Before your health and successful weight loss, comes your money.
People buy into things based on what they believe from the marketing and word of mouth/popularity.
Before and after pictures bombard every advertisement for these products because they’re convincing and people want the results they see on the ad, but here’s the thing – no one diet works for everyone!
If 1,000 people follow a diet, it WILL work for a proportion of them, maybe 10%; maybe more, maybe less, but it will work for some.
10% of those 1,000 people is 100 success stories and THOSE are the stories/pictures they’ll use for the advertising. The ads wouldn’t be so convincing if under the fantastic transformations it said “you have a 10% chance of achieving these results”.
I’m not saying that all of the diet plans out there are bad, in fact most of them are very good… for some people.
But how do you figure out which plan is right for you?
The key here is not to follow a specific plan.
While this may sound illogical, let me explain…
A “Diet plan” is set, minimal room for variation or flexibility. Since everybody is different, and what works for you won’t necessarily work for the next person, any plan set out in writing will fail the majority of people.
Instead, you need to look for the common factors in all of the successful diet plans. Trends and patterns, guidelines and rules of thumb.
The most successful diets (and I don’t mean for short-term results, but for lasting, “keep the weight off” results) have a few things in common, they:
● get people preparing their own meals
● get people eating fresh, whole foods as opposed to pre-packed ready meals
● help people build healthy habits into their lifestyle rather than tell them “you can’t have this”
● help people establish their own eating rules and guidelines suited to them specifically
● help people determine how much they should be eating, how often, and when
● look at exercise as a form of calorie reduction rather than just cutting down food intake
● improve the HEALTH of the person, instead of simply looking at their weight
If the main focus is purely on weight loss, you’ll likely do your body harm and end up, long-term, with a failed attempt.
If you make HEALTH the main goal, weight loss will follow and you’ll feel fantastic for it. Long-term success is much more likely.
In order to have success in dieting, you need to look at many factors and create your very own diet plan that works for YOU (and no-one else).
No-one looks the same, no-one acts the same, no-one has the exact same problems; everyone is individual. Your diet needs to be too.
The above listed rules and guidelines do apply across the board, but to tailor a diet to suit YOU, you need to figure out exactly how to integrate all of these things into YOUR lifestyle; kind of like your very own “Owner’s Manual”.
The bare bones of weight loss (or weight gain if that’s your goal) is energy balance, or calories if you will.
While I hate the whole process of counting calories (or allocating points to calories), there’s no escaping the fact that you cannot create energy from nothing.
…meaning you cannot gain weight without eating more than your body needs, and you cannot lose weight if you’re eating more than your body needs.
What your body needs is unique to you and there is no equation or formula that can tell you specifically what you need. There are formulas that will give you a ballpark figure of what someone your height, weight, size needs, but it doesn’t take into account the myriad other factors, like stress, diet history, hormones etc., therefore it needs refining to suit you.
If you’ve slowed your metabolism by following a low-calorie diet for a long period of time, your daily calorie goal according to the calculations will likely be much higher than your actual need (since your body has become more efficient and shut down anything that requires energy that it deems non-essential to survival).
So following a diet that uses these calculations will mean you’ll gain weight.
As an example,
A 35-year old female, weighing 80kg (176lb, or 12 ½ stone), and 162cm (5’4”) tall, who exercises 3 times a week would require 2,030 calories per day to maintain that weight, and any reduction in that number should see her lose weight.
But if our example has been following a low-calorie diet, say 1,200 calories per day for a long period, chances are weight loss has stopped despite being 800 calories below her daily maintenance level.
What’s happened? Her body has stopped all non-essential energy consuming activities and slowed things down to survive on 1,200 calories per day (which is far too low for this individual anyway).
So if, having “failed” at her current weight loss attempts (now it’s stopped working) she started a new diet that used the standard formulas and said that to lose weight she needs to eat 1,800 calories per day (a reasonable assumption given that her maintenance level is 2,030 calories), she would gain weight; because her body has adjusted to burn only 1,200 calories per day. So we now have a 600 calorie surplus!
This is why the standard calculations don’t work. They do not take into account diet history and current eating habits.
For long term success, you need to start your nutrition plan right where you are. Assess your current eating habits and make adjustments from there.
Anyone who is overweight due to over-eating will have success using these formulas because their body is burning as much energy as the calculations would suggest (maybe even a bit more if they’ve been over-eating for a long time). So for them, a simple cut in calories will result in weight loss.
But for anyone who’s been dieting, not over-eating, and has cut calories already, the equation will fail you every time.
As a coach, I rarely see food diaries with excessive amounts of food on them, but regularly see food diaries where people are under-eating yet still not losing weight.
In order to achieve successful and healthy weight loss (or gain), you need to establish what you’re eating now and what results it brings i.e. if you’re gaining, losing, or maintaining your weight.
Once you’ve established your current calorie intake and its results, you can make adjustments from there to get the required outcome.
Be aware though that if you’re already below your daily calorie intake (i.e. maintaining weight at a calorie count below your BMR as in our example before), further reducing calories is NOT the way to go.
You’ll need to find a way to increase calories without gaining weight to get back to a healthy calorie intake and to increase your metabolism to burn more.
This is the real basics of weight loss/gain, and it can’t be cheated. There is no shortcut and there are no supplements that enable you to bypass this simple fact. Energy cannot be created out of nothing, or burned without the required effort – a pill will not burn fat!
The pyramid below shows the order of importance for weight loss (or gain).
There is a hierarchy here, and trying to utilise any of the sections before you’ve mastered the section below will result in failure.
This, if you read between the lines, tells you exactly what you need to do.
Anyone, be they a trainer in the gym or on the internet, a fitness “guru”, or a huge trusted company, selling you supplements for weight loss without first covering all of the other factors involved are either after your money, or lacking the knowledge to help you. Be VERY cautious who you listen to.
I’ve mentioned in previous articles to be careful who you listen to, and if something doesn’t make sense, it’s probably not right. Find someone who speaks sense and you trust, and follow their advice over hearsay.
There are many “Diets” out there to choose from, but finding your own will be the best move you ever make. It won’t be one you can find online or buy in a book, or one you can share with someone else once you’ve found it, because it will be YOUR diet, and yours alone.
It will also never be static and will change as you do. As your body changes, so will your dietary needs. If you change your exercise habits, lifestyle habits, or even your job, your nutritional requirements will change too.
So before you choose your next ‘Diet’, think about these things and look over the proposed Diet. Does it tick all the right boxes and does it make sense? Or does it sound easy and too good to be true?
And perhaps most importantly, does it start with you establishing your baseline and work from there (most likely through either a food diary or a number of questionnaires, or both)? Or just ask for your basic details (gender/age/height/weight/goal weight) so it can punch them into an online calculator and generate a program from that.
Or even worse, does it not even ask for any of those and simply give you healthy recipes to eat?! (Which is great – but is just a cook book, not a diet)
Tread carefully and think through your decisions when making dietary choices as they will affect not only your weight, but your health and your sanity too!