The tradition of making promises to lead a better life in a new year goes back many centuries. The change to a clean new calendar or diary makes many of us re-think and resolve to look after ourselves. With so many diet ideas about, which resolutions are a good idea?
‘New year, new you’ – this well-worn phrase for the front covers of magazines is a guaranteed way to increase the sales in January. After festive over-indulgence, many of us decide that things have to change. The media is quick to catch on to this and there are new diets and fitness plans available everywhere.
The problem is that most of these diets are not sustainable. Hunger and irritability are common side effects of extreme diets. When combined with the dark days and cold weather of this time of year, it doesn’t usually take long for the dieter to slip back into their old ways. Once that happens, the weight will go back on and the whole thing will be another demoralising failure.
So what are the reasonable eating plans to make for a new year, and beyond? Perhaps more importantly, what are the diet plans that should be treated with caution?
We hear so much about low-carbing. What is the sensible approach?
Low-carbohydrate diets have been around for many years. The theory is that reducing carbohydrate intake means that the body will start using up fat stores instead, as a side-effect of reduced insulin production. The added attraction of low-carb diets is that many of them promise to allow limitless consumption of foods such as meat, cheese and fats. As most people enjoy this food, the idea that eating like this will also produce weight loss is very attractive.
Low-carb diets do indeed produce a quick initial weight-loss. This is partly due to reduced portion sizes – meat and fatty foods fill us up quickly and people consume less, hence taking in fewer calories. Extreme low-carbing which forces the body to use muscle tissue will also show on the scales, as muscle is heavy.
The bad news is that this is a destructive way to eat. Healthy muscle tissue is essential for strength and fitness, and muscle also needs calories to function. So a body with less muscle will need fewer calories. Low-carb dieters will almost certainly find that the weight comes back on with interest as soon as they return to a normal eating pattern.
Simple carbohydrates (sugars, sweets, biscuits, cakes) should certainly be regarded as treats and their consumption should indeed be limited. However complex carbohydrates (bread, pasta, rice and some vegetables) are an essential part of a healthy diet. While portion control is always essential, low-carbing is not a healthy way to eat. So resolve to cut out the sweets and cakes, and to maintain your intake of good carbohydrates.
Should I try one of the latest new diets?
There is money to be made from publishing a new diet at this time of year, which is why there are so many about. 5:2 has become 4:3, there are magazine features showing delicious low calorie meals (carefully photographed to hide the tiny portions!) and there is the usual plethora of celebrity miracle diets.
Unfortunately, many of these supposed miracle diets simply do not work – the weight goes back on as soon as the diet ends. Some of the ideas behind the diets are also very questionable.
For example, part of the philosophy of the ‘every other day diet’ is to allow one snack a day, to be eaten ‘when the need is greatest’. This need, says the diet, can even be met in the middle of the night. Anyone waking up hungry in the middle of the night needs to take a serious look at how they are eating and why they are not sleeping properly.
For all those without an underlying health problem affecting their weight, the answer to weight control is the same as it has always been. Eating properly, with balanced nutrition and controlled portions and getting some exercise several times a week are all that works.
Should I resolve to take a vitamin supplement?
If you are in normal health, the answer to this question is a simple ‘no’. Recent research has greatly discredited the use of supplements for healthy adults.
There are some situations where supplements are medically advised. For example, pregnant women should take folic acid, and vitamin D supplements are also recommended for them as well as for children under five and people aged over 65.
Generally no-one in normal health should take supplements. The money is far better spent on good food – which also tastes much better!
Food is nutrition for a healthy body, and should also be a pleasure as we experience good tastes and textures. Food should not be the centre of our lives, and our thoughts should not constantly revolve around our next meal. The concepts of dieting, ‘diet days’ and special diet foods encourage unhealthy attitudes and obsessions. Perhaps the most important healthy eating resolution is to put food in its rightful place, as a part of a balanced and normal life.
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