Do you feel like you’ve been in a calorie deficit but not losing weight?
Are you trying to restrict yourself too much and then bingeing on foods that have been 'banned'? While fad diets might lead to fast and dramatic weight loss, they're often unsustainable in the long term. Instead, it's healthier to make small, healthy changes to the way you eat to create positive, long-lasting habits.
Fad and extreme diets do not work in the longer term. They may make you lose weight to begin with, but then the weight goes back on as soon as you start to eat normally again.
They also are often low in a lot of essential nutrients and will leave you feeling drained and exhausted, and often will cause your metabolic rate to fall, meaning you will burn less energy. This is why yo-yo dieters can go through periods of chronic undereating and still not lose weight.
Extreme dietary restriction means that you have to switch off from listening to your body - our bodies are really good at telling us what we need. And no, they don't always say we need chocolate; often they will crave vegetables as well. We all need to relearn to tune in and listen to ourselves.
So what can you do to make long-lasting changes to the way you eat without resorting to fad diets?
Inclusive not restrictive
For many of us, our default is to cut back on things we consider to be bad, such as chocolate or crisps. However, thinking about what you can add to your diet - and not what you need to take away - can be a more positive change.
At this time of year it's easy to think 'I won't allow myself anything that's not good for me', but that puts you in a deprivation mindset and you are likely to crave the very foods that you are not allowing yourself.
If you can think about what healthy additions you can make to your diet, most people find they then naturally eat more healthily and can have the less healthy foods in moderation.
Drink more water
Make small changes that you think you could stick to. For example, trying to drink more water during the day to try to reach eight glasses a day, or eating an extra piece of fruit a day. The important thing is that you are making the changes realistic and sustainable.
Increasing the amount of water you drink is a simple way to improve your diet and health. Not only will staying properly hydrated reduce the risk of headaches, it can also help reduce sugar cravings and aid weight maintenance.
Staying hydrated is also good for our mental well-being too, with research suggesting that even mild dehydration can impair memory and mood.
Try healthy alternatives
If you tend to reach for chocolate or sweets, try more nutritious alternatives instead. You can make your own sweets using foods like oats and dried fruit, or switch to dark chocolate. Eating well doesn't mean cutting out snacks - far from it. In fact, it's better to snack when you need to throughout the day, but with more balanced options to even out your energy levels.
Try snacks that contain protein that may keep you fuller for longer and stop you reaching for another snack. Eating a variety of nutrient-rich snacks such as nuts further increases the chance of getting all the vitamins, minerals and micro-nutrients you need. For instance, almonds are higher fibre than any other nut and most dense in vitamin E; Brazil nuts (in moderation) are an excellent source of selenium; cashews are high in zinc, magnesium and iron, and walnuts are a great source of manganese, as well as inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids.
Make sure you eat regular, balanced meals throughout the day too. No skipping meals, as this will often cause you to overeat the next time you allow yourself to.
Make high-fibre swaps
We hear a lot about the health risks of high-carb foods - but for most people, it's refined carbs (both sugary and starchy) which should be avoided or minimised. White versions of sugar and flour, often found in nutrient-poor ultra-processed foods, have been linked with a host of negative health outcomes.
If you have diabetes, this is particularly important. Both starchy and sugary carbohydrates are converted into sugar, raising your blood sugar. Refined carbs are low in fibre, so absorb quickly into your system, causing spikes in blood sugar.
Swapping your usual foods for higher-fibre alternatives is an easy change with big benefits. There is strong evidence that eating plenty of fibre is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and bowel cancer. It also makes us feel fuller, helps digestion and prevents constipation.
High-fibre foods include wholegrain bread, wholegrain pasta and wholegrain cereals, as well as oats, barley and rye, fruit, vegetables, peas, beans, pulses, nuts, seeds and potatoes with skin.
Increase the fibre in your diet by switching to brown pasta and rice and wholegrain breads. Increase your portions of fruit and veg in a day, aiming for two more than you would normally have to begin with and increase to five portions a day, or more.
It can help to increase the variety of fruits and veg you choose too, which can also make meals more interesting. Try to aim to have 30 different types in a week if you can, as it's great for gut health to keep your fruit and veg varied.
Find tasty recipes
Everyone has days when they just can't muster the energy to cook and end up ordering a takeaway. And while there's nothing wrong with ordering in every so often, getting into a routine of home cooking is one of the best ways to eat a more balanced diet. And now is the perfect time!
Or make it easy and get all your meals delivered to your door. Our programmes are designed to make healthy eating simple.
If you’d like to chat more about nutrition-related issues or queries, please do not hesitate to contact nutritionist Hannah Cartwright at firstname.lastname@example.org. We always love hearing from you💚