Weight loss is a challenge for many of us. Between 50% and 70% of adults are actually medically-overweight today. The impact on wellness, health, health risk, and quality of life is extremely serious. So, and excuse the pun, it’s a big problem and one we are asked about all the time. Many people who want to lose weight ask us for diets and or meal plans – we reply with a gentle “sorry, no”. Why? Well it’s not that we don’t want to help. In fact it is the opposite. We are convinced that diets and meal plans are generally unhelpful and often counter-productive. For clarity: we are referring to structured diets and meal plans that prescribe specific foods and quantities for each meal and each day. Let’s try to explain what is wrong with structured diets and meal plans…
NOT PRACTICAL – Very few diets are genuinely suitable for all of us. Typically they struggle to cater for dietary preferences whether social, religious, ethical, or simply a matter of personal taste. They do not allow for varying work & travel regimes. They assume the availability of foods and produce that is often not available or convenient or affordable.
NOT FLEXIBLE – Diets and meal plans are pretty rigid. Life is not. Sometimes we need to eat on-the-go. Sometimes we are travelling and not at home. Often we eat out or entertain at home. All of these are challenges for diets.
NOT THE SOLUTION – Some diets and meal plans, the above notwithstanding, may still offer reasonable nutrition that supports weight control. But we all know what healthy food and unhealthy food looks like, anyway. More or less. And when we want more details we know where to look. So the entire notion that giving us food-advice and lots of information will help, is flawed. The reason we get overweight is not because we do not understand that cream cakes cause weight gain, it’s because we still eat too many. Despite knowing what will happen. Weight control is much more a behavioural and psychological issue than it is a pure-nutritional issue.
EXTERNAL – This is a subtle but crucial point. How many times have you heard a failed dieter say “my diet did not work”. Can you see the problem in that phrase? Diets and meal plans often get blamed for our weight loss failures – they sometimes get the credit for success too of course. But the reason for weight gain (or loss) is US, not any external thing like a diet (or a job or a spouse or a hormone or a bone-type or or or). Failing to recognize and fully-accept this reality is a problem. It’s a bit like the child who says “the milk spilled” rather than “I spilled the milk”. Oh, it’s certainly understandable (and we all do it at times) but it’s a problem. Until we really accept that we are responsible for ourselves (including our wellness and our size) we struggle to take charge and really change. Diets encourage us to stay in the fantasy-world where the control of our weight is external (“the diet”). Sometimes this operates at a semi- or sub-conscious level but it’s not less real as a result. As we say, subtle, but really important.
CONTROVERSIAL – Science changes. We are learning exponentially. This applies to nutrition too. So approaches evolve and controversies appear. Banting is a good example (we are not going into that here). What was good advice 5 years ago may not be now. Often it’s best to stick to widely-accepted general principles rather than bleeding edge “latest research”.
COMMERCIAL – Some diets and meals plans are associated with, linked to, or integrated within, commercial models (you’ll notice when they ask for your credit card). Nearly all of these should be avoided because there is no need to impoverish yourself in the pursuit of a waistline. Most of these commercial models are controversial or unproven too. It’s a sad reality that the world is getting fatter and fatter and lots of smart businesses have identified the desperate cry of millions of people. A few have offered worthwhile ethical services but most have done what they do best: made profit without regard for actually delivering value.
INEFFECTIVE – there have been decades of research onto weight control. Many diets have been researched. The findings are not encouraging: no structured diets have really shown consistent large-scale long-term success. Think of 10 people you know. 5 slim and 5 overweight. Now, how many of the slim people are on a structured prescribed diet? Thought not! People who manage their weight over the long-term rarely use structured diets to do so.
So we think there is quite a lot wrong with diets and meal plans. We think they are, on balance, unhelpful for most people. What we do suggest is a balanced healthy lifestyle that includes simple things like eating less (fewer calories, smaller portions), eating small frequent meals, eating plenty of fresh fruit & veg, eating limited carbohydrates, eating high-fiber low-GI carbs, minimising high-fat foods, avoiding most fast-foods, drinking about 2000 ml water each day, and being active every day. We discourage making any change that you do not think you can sustain life-long. We strongly discourage any form of fad diet or crash diet.
It’s not so much that diets are bad or unhealthy (even though some are) – it’s more a case of diets confusing the situation: weight control is a serious and deeply-personal challenge that takes a level of personal insight, honesty, and real determination over the long-term. It does require healthy eating of course, but you really do not need a meal-by-meal, bite-by-bite, day-by-day diet for that – such diets and meal plans may actually prove counter-productive.
We encourage you to understand that while weight loss is hard it is not impossible – only you can make it happen and you do not really need a diet or meal plan to do so.