Do you consider yourself an average woman? Well, then chances are you will spend 17 years of your life on a diet. Yes, a total of 17 years across a lifetime spent counting calories, restricting your food intake, cutting carbs, or buying low-fat only.
Depressing isn’t it? Especially when you consider that of the 75 per cent of women who want to lose weight, more than two thirds are of a healthy weight.
This sad state of affairs was something that prompted personal trainer Tiffiny Hall and her co-host clinical psychologist Cass Dunn to examine why we diet and why diets don’t work on their podcast Crappy to Happy.
Listen: Tiff Hall tells Mia Freedman why she decided to upload those pictures to Instagram. (Post continues…)
As Tiff puts it, “People are worried about how they look, feeling blah, feeling crappy and they’re going for these quick fixes, magic potions and pills and thinking change will happen overnight and being depressed when it doesn’t.”
Yep, that sums it up.
We live in a society that bombards us with (mostly photoshopped) images of thin, smiling women and tells us that this is the only acceptable body shape to have in order to be healthy, happy and worthy of love and praise.
What’s ironic is that, for most of us, trying to attain that kind of body will only lead to health problems, misery and a lack of self-worth.
In Australia, dieting is a $6.6 billion industry. A mind-blowing amount, considering studies and research prove restrictive dieting just does not work in the long-term.
So why are diets so damaging and why don’t they work?
“[Dieting] really encourages you to adopt an all or nothing attitude,” Tiff told Mamamia. “In my many years training people, many seem to be all or nothing. They’re either on a diet or they’re eating fast food. They’re either doing a 5km run or absolutely nothing.”
“I see this mentality where they go hard and then they fall off the wagon.”
On the podcast, Cass expanded on how most deprivation diets mess with you mentally – we’re talking detoxes, fast diets and low-carb diets like Dukan or Paleo.
“You create this deprivation effect which results in a bounce-back, so binge-eating,” she says.
“We live in a microwave society and we all just want the instant overnight results… but what that does to our brain actually is when we start restricting our food intake is we start becoming obsessed with food.”
What’s more, Cass explained that we have a finite amount of willpower and by saying “no” to food all day, you use it up, also contributing to the late-night binge many dieters will be all-too-familiar with.
Tiff adds that extreme diets wreak havoc on your metabolism. This is in part because muscles burn calories and many restrictive diets result in you losing muscle, therefore lowering the number of calories you burn resting, meaning you have to eat less to compensate.
And that’s why so many people put the weight they lost on a diet, as soon as they resume eating normally.
If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because you’ve heard this advice before. And possibly ignored it. So why do we keep going after the quick fix?
Dietician and author Susie Burrell told Mamamia it’s because we get sucked in by the initial weight loss – which is normally just water weight – and are tricked into thing rapid fat loss is possible and safe.
“There’s a better way to do it, but it’s a slower way to do it, so people don’t like it. Generally speaking, a sustainable, safe diet will drop half a kilo a week – maybe 2kg if you’re very overweight,” Susie said.
“But people want to lose 5kg a week, which is not real fat loss, it just looks good on the scales.”
“The way lose weight safely is control your calories, eat less frequently and eat more salad and vegetables – that’s a sustainable model for weight control.
“But it’s not sexy, it’s boring, people want a quick fix. They want to be on the latest craze.”
The only diet that works
Even Tiff confessed that she isn’t immune from external pressures to look a certain way, and has over the course of her life tried all kinds of diets.
“I’ve been on every diet because I wanted to experiment for my contestants,” she said on the podcast. “And also, I work in the media, so there’s been times when I’ve had to go on TV in white lycra in front on two million people. So don’t think I’m having a huge bowl of pasta the night before the cameras roll. I’ve also cut things out and been a victim of being self-conscious and trying quick fixes.”
“In my teens and in my 20s… I wasted so much money. There was a thing called a fat zapper… it was like $700 a session. It didn’t work.”
The mum-of-one told Mamamia that her time on The Gladiator and The Biggest Loser convinced her diets don’t work, and she hasn’t been on one since her late 20s.
She says while developing and following her own health and wellbeing program, Tiffxo, last year she felt she was in the best shape and mindset of her life. And now is taking it easy after the birth of her son Arnold.
“You go into the fourth trimester after pregnancy where you really have to, I reckon for the first 12 weeks, really focus on self-care,” she said.
“You won’t find “me-time”, but you’ll find “me minutes”, moments in the day when you can make yourself feel good, whether it’s deep breaths, a cup of tea or a five-minute walk, these minutes count in helping you to feel well and happy.”
The only diet that works? No restrictive diet at all.
Ladies, it’s time to be kind to ourselves.
How do you lose weight safely?
We know what doesn’t work, so what can we do to create a healthy lifestyle?
Well, first you’re going to have to shift your mindset from one of deprivation and punishment to one of self-care and kindness, as cheesy as that may sound.
“As a personal trainer, I hear people telling me foods are either good or they’re bad and then that leaks into people feeling ‘well I’m good or bad’. Like ‘I’ve been good today’ or ‘I’ve been bad today’,” Tiff said.
The 33-year-old said to counter this, you need to stop having an all-or-nothing approach, and stop thinking that if you eat a Tim Tam with your coffee, you might as well have takeaway for lunch and mud cake for dinner.
“Diets are often about deprivation and exercise as punishment. Then you hate yourself thin. And what we want to do is to love yourself healthy.
“You don’t want to feel deprived. My biggest tip is to be balanced, to have the food you want, like fish and chips on a Saturday night – and don’t feel guilty about it – but then the next day return to your healthy eating and maybe go for a walk or do some activity.”
Practically, Susie said if your goal is to lose weight for health reasons, in that you are overweight and want to lower your risk of associated diseases – a certain approach may work for you and not for others.
“Everyone’s different and there’s no one size fits all model,” she told Mamamia.
“For men, counting calories can often work well because they’re often not aware of what’s in food. Whereas for some women it can be very detrimental to be so focused on their diet and it’s much more about balance.”
Susie said that while calories are an inevitable and important part of the weight loss equation – to lose weight you don’t have to count calories.
“You just have to eat a better balance of foods, you need to have a good idea of portion sizes for your size, you need to you know what is roughly a normal amount to eat.
“We eat all the time, we’re snacking constantly and then we’re eating late in the day – and that is why weight loss is such a big issue for so many people, we don’t know what our body needs to control our weight.”
For Tiff, another important step in being happy about your body, is changing the way you measure success. If you’re someone who is prone to becoming obsessed with your weight on the scales, it’s a good idea to bin them.
“The best way to log your progress is through before and after photos and measuring yourself. You will put on lean muscle mass and muscle weighs more than fat,” she said.
She said she encouraged people in her program Tiffxo to celebrate ‘non-scale victories’, like climbing mountains or going for a job you previously didn’t have the confidence to try.
“One woman took her first full-length selfie because she felt fantastic. Others celebrate because they can do a push up on their toes or they wear shorts for the first time.”
So to recap: fancy, celebrity-spruiked diets don’t work in the long term – and often, not even in the short term.
Instead, it’s the “boring” slow and steady approach – exercising and eating more vegetables, lean protein and complex carbs and cutting back on processed sugar – but not completely cutting it out – that is the only diet that works.