It isn’t hard to shift the pounds in the short term, but keeping them off requires a long-term approach. Here’s how to make it work

 

Faddy and crash diets do seem to work – at first. But as most of us can’t live on juices or starve ourselves two days a week for ever, we put the weight we’ve lost (and often more) back on as soon as we start eating normally again. That’s why it’s important to follow an eating plan that’s sustainable for life, and that means looking at the reasons we want to go on a diet in the first place.

‘Research shows successful weight loss is all about creating a healthy relationship with food and your body,’ says Healthy Food Guide expert Dr Dawn Harper. It may not be as quick or as dramatic as going on a diet, but making small, sustainable changes to what you eat and in how active you are is a far better approach to weight management*.

Take anxiety out of the mix
Every time you fall off the diet wagon, then vow to diet again, you’re entering into a war with food and your body. To break the cycle, you’ll need a new, more straightforward attitude to food.

‘The most effective way to lose weight is to develop life-long healthy habits, rather than focusing on immediate weight loss,’ says HFG nutrition consultant Juliette Kellow. ‘If you can develop a healthy relationship with your body, food and exercise that doesn’t involve guilt and anxiety, you’ll be much more likely to achieve and maintain a healthy weight*.’

Spell out your goals
‘If saying no to dieting sounds hard, a useful tool is to draw what’s called an ambivalence grid,’ says dietitian Lucy Jones. ‘Take an A4 piece of paper and divide it into four squares. Think about how your life might be in five years if you start a new way of life today – one that’s stable, maintainable and involves no more diets. In the top two boxes, write down the good and bad things about that (there’ll always be bad things, too, such as fear of the unknown or that it could all go wrong). Next, think of how life might be in five years’ time if you don’t break the diet cycle. Then, in the bottom two squares, write down the good and bad things about that.

Sometimes it can be hard to sort our thoughts out into a meaningful thread, so writing them down, evaluating the pros and cons and thinking about how you want your life to be can help you focus and get on to the path to a healthier way of life.

3 tips to get you started

1. Be food literate No more subscribing to faddy diets or dubious advice from unqualified sources. If you want to separate what’s healthy from what’s not, look to government-approved websites, such as nhs.uk/livewell/goodfood, advice from the British Nutrition Foundation and the features and recipes in Healthy Food Guide every month.

2. Set achievable targets ‘Lose weight’ and ‘get fit’ are non-specific targets– who decides when you’ve achieved them? Instead, set short-term goals that are realistic, such as ‘exercise for 10 minutes every morning’ or ‘try one new vegetable a week’.

3. Write it down Studies have shown that people who log what they eat tend to lose more weight*. Use Facebook and Twitter to record your habits, try apps such as MyFitnessPal (free on iTunes) to record your food intake and energy expenditure – or grab an old-fashioned pen and paper.

*Weight-loss results will vary and are down to your individual circumstances and the amount of weight you have to lose.