Whether it is the various social media platforms, news feeds or YouTube channels, propogators of fool-proof way to weightloss, diet and getting fitter are every where. If they are not sharing their miraculous before-after pictures, they are telling you of their secret ways to achieve the desired result in the shortest time.
What is making these "experts" even more popular is the fact that we’re particularly vulnerable to silver-tongued promises after two years of the stress of pandemic.
But now it is time for a change. Not a knee jerk, extreme reaction where we adopt a diet plan that our favourite film star is following – we don’t need punishment after the two years we’ve had. Instead, simple, mindful swaps that will help return us to a healthy path.
"A lot of the diet advice is designed to play on our guilt and insecurities – there’s a huge focus on losing weight quickly and extreme restriction, especially after an indulgent holiday season," registered nutritionist Rhian Stephenson, founder of Artah (artah.co), says.
She wants to decouple nutrition advice from weight loss, to focus on the health benefits that a sensible, long-term eating plan can deliver. But she admits that some weight loss – even if it is a "quick fix" – can be motivating. "It can be really empowering to see how quickly your energy, mood and weight can change through targeted nutrition – but it’s important that you can then move onto something sustainable and consistent. If not, it’s extremely emotional, exhausting and you’re rarely happy with where you are."
Instead, she advises focussing on the power of nutrition to prevent long-term disease. "We’ve been conditioned to equate diet with weight, so we forget that good nutrition is actually required for a whole host of other (really important) things."
She gives the example of how eating too much sugar can play havoc with our insulin levels. "In the short term, dysregulated insulin can cause weight gain, anxiety, low immunity, mood fluctuations, inflammation and fatigue. But in the long term this issue is much more problematic."
Experts predict that with the changes in our eating habits and weight gain since the pandemic, this figure is set to rise.
Stephenson warns that hyperinsulinemia – higher than normal insulin levels – doesn’t just affect diabetes. "It’s also a risk factor for most of the other chronic diseases – CVD, Alzheimer’s, certain types of cancers and dysfunctional immunity. There needs to be far more focus on how we can try to prevent these diseases developing through good nutrition and fitness practices."
But Stephenson is positive about the changes we can make to our diet and health outcomes. "It can take up to 10 years to progress to full blown disease, which means we have the power to intervene and take control of our health long before it gets out of control," she says.
But how do we turn around our eating habits? "My advice to people looking to improve their health is to start with small, incremental changes that fit into your daily life," Dr Andreas Michaelides, chief of psychology at Noom (noom.com), an app that uses a psychology-based approach to change your eating habits, says. "Realistic, achievable goals are more likely to help you build long-term, sustainable habits."
He says that identifying your cravings is the first place to start. "Cravings for food can be triggered or activated by something external (people, places, events, experiences or objects) or internal (feelings, thoughts or memories). For example, an external trigger might be attending a birthday party. An internal trigger may be feelings of boredom or sadness. Becoming mindful of your triggers can help you determine how to cope when they show up."
He also wants to transform the way we categorise food. "We take the stance that foods are not ‘good’ or ‘bad’ - they just are," he says. The reason is that it can lead to "all-or-nothing thinking and we then may think of ourselves or our progress as either all good or all bad". Stephenson agrees that all-or-nothing can lead to blowing the diet, with promises to start again on Monday. "In my experience, this is one of the most sabotaging ways to approach nutrition," she says.
I’ve found that for any chance of success with a healthier approach to eating, you also need a well-stocked cupboard and to decide what to eat before hunger strikes. "Try planning your meals a few days in advance in order to avoid making food decisions in the moment," Dr Michaelides agrees.
For those looking to cook more - but want it made easy - meal boxes, where all your ingredients (portioned out and ready to cook with) are on the rise, especially those that cater for specific diets including keto, vegan or lower carb.
Another tool for the nutritional kit that Stephenson recommends is introducing intermittent fasting – which can lead to improvements in conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancers as well as weight loss, according to a review of the research published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2020.
"One of the most impactful effects of intermittent fasting is its effect on insulin levels and the body’s ability to regain metabolic flexibility, which is beneficial for fat loss, as well as influencing mood, energy, immunity, and being beneficial for chronic disease prevention," Stephenson says. She says there are lots of ways to fast, but an easy starting point is to fast overnight for 14 hours. "This means that you’re leaving a 14-hour window between dinner and breakfast, which surprisingly, not a lot of people do. The next step would be to try pushing the first meal of the day to 12pm, two to three days per week. This usually results in a reduction in calories on those days simply because we have less time to eat, but you don’t necessarily need to reduce calories to get the benefit."
Just as our metabolism needs a break overnight, so it needs meaningful gaps between meals, which means an end to snacking. Research by the ZOE Covid Study, led by Professor Tim Spector, found that during lockdowns 18 per cent of us started snacking more, leading to up to half a stone of weight gain.
"Every time you snack, you experience a small insulin surge, which puts the body into fat storing mode and that is the thing that contributes towards fat around the belly," nutritionist and trainer Zana Morris (zanamorris.com) says. "Your body needs time to reset."
A lot of the advice is back to basics, but that, it seems, is what we need. "I’m not sure we’re ever really taught this," Stephenson says, "we are just expected to pick it up." This knowledge, she believes, is "essential for our long-term health" – not just a January health kick.
The Daily Telegraph