The festive season is upon us: tips for dieters

WelcomChristmas tree chocolatese to the first Common Sense Nutrition blog. On this blog I aim to bring you practical eating advice based on good science. This week I am looking at difficulties for dieters during the festive period.

The cupboards are stacking up with Christmas ‘treats’: chocolates for the tree, biscuits, nuts, snacks for when people pop in unexpectedly. The shops are crammed with high-energy ‘snacks’: new ‘ranges’ of chocolate bought out ‘exclusively’ for Christmas, boxes of ‘luxury’ biscuits, little tiny chocolate snowman or Christmas trees (found near the tills) that are so small, you may as well try one, as they are nearly not there. The food marketers know how to pull our strings.

Many of these treats also end up around us at work, when well meaning-people bring them in for us to try. We start heading to Christmas parties where we are offered party food, sausage rolls, vol-au-vents, samosas and other little bite-sized deep-fried foods, or we go for a three-course Christmas dinner with all the trimmings plus copious alcohol. For some who are trying to lose weight it seems there are a lot of obstacles to negotiate on the road to weight loss. But perhaps if we make small changes to our outlook, this time of year need not be so testing, but okay or even enjoyable.

First of all, we need to always listen to our bodies. If we are hungry then we need to eat, if not we don’t. It sounds simple but some of us find it hard to resist temptation. There is a caveat to that in that if we don’t eat regular meals we will not be hungry at mealtimes. I am talking more about snacks here. In order to be healthy we need to eat regular meals.

Some of us respond more readily to the cue of being offered food and rarely say ‘no’. There is something that may help you if this is the case. It may seem a bit alarming, if you have been dieting off and on for a long while, but the answer may be to not diet. Dieting, in terms of restricting the number of calories you have, is not an effective way to lose weight and keep it off. Research carried out by psychologist Traci Mann  and colleagues1, at the University of Minnesota, looked at the long-term effectiveness of calorie-restricting diets. They reviewed studies on dieting and found that one third to two thirds of dieters regained more weight than they lost on their diets. Traci and colleagues also concluded that this may have been an underestimate due to bias towards dieting in the studies they looked at.  What may be a better approach, is to eat well and not worry about the number of calories you consume. Dieting during the festive period may be an even worse idea as you will feel deprived and hungry and your body will make up for it at some point.

Stop dieting you say? Stop counting calories? Stop worrying about what I eat? It sounds like madness. How am I going to lose weight? It may sound like madness, but as the paper above shows dieting does not seem to help people to lose weight and keep it off. Ask yourself, since you have been dieting, how much weight have you lost? And how much have you put back on? Roughly the same? More? Try shifting your focus off calories and onto eating balanced regular meals and have snacks only when you are hungry.

Another tip is to enjoy what you eat. That may sound obvious but if you are feeling guilty or distracted you do not enjoy what you eat. So focus on what you are eating, eat sitting down if possible, and enjoy it fully. Don’t feel guilty, feel you deserve to eat nice, delicious food. If it isn’t delicious, don’t eat it.

Try these tips:

  • Don’t diet over Christmas.
  • Eat only when you are hungry.
  • Concentrate on eating (eat sitting down, enjoy what you eat, only eat food that you like).

Try it and see what happens. You may even lose weight. I will discuss this more in upcoming blogs. Good luck.

1Mann T, Tomiyama AJ, Westling E, Lew Am, Samuels B, Chatman J 2007 Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer. Am Psychol Apr,62 (3): 220-33

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