Sustained and effective weight loss this New Year; where you may be going wrong!!
If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve probably had a glut of food over the festive period and having some real issues getting your head around which way to tackle the “new year new you” conundrum. Whilst we’re at it lets add in the copious amounts of alcohol that seem to accompany this time of year and everything you eat like mince pies with brandy butter and hot chocolate with whipped cream. The truth is, this conundrum doesn’t come as entirely alien to you does it? You do after all undertake this perilous mission at least once a year, but maybe, if you really are unlucky, several times a year.
I don’t actually mean to scoff (no pun intended) at the many who fail to adhere to a new year’s resolution in getting “fit”, “eating clean” and becoming “healthy” again. On the contrary, I sympathise entirely with your frustrations and good faith in trying the new fad diet or whatever is being touted as truly “life changing”. It’s certainly not your fault for believing everything you are marketed or sold is true, as much as my 20 month and 4-year-old sons believe in Father Christmas (a lesson learned here perhaps). What counts though, in the case of dieting and exercise at least (I can’t speak for Santa Claus) is the accompanying research and data from Health Psychology compiled over decades, that shows an overwhelming bulk of just how ineffective these fads are. It is something that we unfortunately have been sucked into by huge marketing companies and of course, my old arch enemy, Social Media. Joe public doesn’t know which way is up or down when it comes to health anymore, even when standing upright. It is a minefield and we are the unfortunate victims who sometimes end up stepping on one, only for it to blow up in our face (a bit like a chestnut roasting on an open fire without a cross on it… okay I’ll stop the puns for now).
The truth is, that health and wellness has become such a focal point over the last few decades (and for good reason) thanks to the WHO declaring obesity a pandemic that needs immediate intervention. Unfortunately, this has also given the health industry a license to print money and create very dubious “plans” aimed at finding the Holy Grail of Health and Wellness through a map of dubious research to back up the spurious claims. Sometimes there is no research to back it up at all, it’s simply an “innovative” idea. Nothing highlights this point more than the documentary “Diet Fiction”.
So, let’s look at what the research actually shows. Ogden  argues health interventions have inadvertently become harmful in part due to positive research bias and various risks that could accompany each one. From a behavioural change perspective, risk compensation (e.g. smoking more to eat less) and rebound (e.g. eating more when trying to eat less) can occur. If we take dieting as the example, the dieter loses faith and their mood negatively declines after one slip up, then the “What the hell effect” takes over, and they end up eating more unhealthily than they would have pre diet . Weight becomes increasingly hard to lose with every failed attempt and the vicious cycle begins again. Cue the term yo-yo dieting. Why does this happen? Because when someone just doesn’t care anymore and are fed up of continually failing, the easiest thing is to revert back to old behaviour in the hope that “next time it will be different” . This disinhibition effect opposes what most research regarding behavioural change suggests; the intention to change a behaviour is what usually leads to behavioural change . However, with deeper facets of health, for example, weight management, the intention to eat less e.g. restrictive low-calorie dieting to lose weight actually leads to eating more. Therefore, with such challenges as dry January, drinking less usually leads to drinking twice the amount in February or at least, several noteworthy binges!
A plethora of models accompany explicable accounts as to why this happens, but in short, the more you deny and restrict yourself, the more likely you will relapse, and when you do, boy do you really go for it! Would a heroin addict be expected to go cold turkey that day? Is a heavy smoker expected to quit immediately with no gradual reduction? Then how do you think you will cut out sugar, calorie laden junk food and alcohol immediately!?
This isn’t limited to only weight management interventions. The findings extend to physical activity with research demonstrating similar results . There is a reason why according to the Transtheoretical Model and Stages of Change, the termination of a negative health behaviour is 5 years, NOT 5 months, 1 month, 1 day or 3 years . Therefore, with interventions aimed at “quick fixes” or “rapid results”, please take deeper consideration and ask whether the results you may achieve are truly long term and what the majority of research is telling you.
In the research I conducted amongst the many other components to my Psychology MSC, I found the best route to long term and sustained health interventions were gradual, educative and less aggressive in approach, instead requiring a basic level of commitment offset by realism and accountability. This changed my outlook on the fitness industry to the point I questioned everything I knew before, nurturing and developing my own approach in what I hope will lead to sustained health. There is no quick fix and of course, what we all define as healthy is up for debate. However, in my line of work, personal training is precisely that, personal to the individual under my guidance. Therefore, the morbidly obese individual will hold a different metric of what healthy is compared to a competitive runner. Both require elements of performance, physical activity and diet, yet both are at totally different ends of the spectrum. Whilst one outcome makes a difference to quality of life, reduction of stigma and low self-esteem associated with obesity, the other makes a positive impact to competitive performance. Both however, will most likely elevate mood. This point is particularly pertinent in choosing your “new year new you” method. Choose something that makes you happy throughout and after its duration. I am not saying all diets and fitness fads are pointless or short lived, however, they must take into account what is suited to the individual and above all, research based. One size does not fit all and for this reason, most interventions, especially those concerning weight management or physical activity fail. What counts most is that the education you receive in the desired plan you choose is explained in detail by the practitioner guiding you. This, in my opinion is the approach that will sustain your health for the coming year .
- Ogden, J., Do no harm: Balancing the costs and benefits of patient outcomes in health psychology research and practice. Journal Of Health Psychology, 2016: p. 1359105316648760-1359105316648760
- Soetens, B, Braet, C, Dejonckheere, P. (2006) When suppression backfires: The ironic effects of suppressing eating-related thoughts. Journal of Health Psychology 11(5): 655–668.
- Byrne, S., Cooper, Z., & Fairburn, C. (2003). Weight maintenance and relapse in obesity: a qualitative study. International journal of obesity, 27(8), 955.
- Conner, M, Norman, P (2015) Predicting Health Behaviour: Research and Practice with Social Cognition Models (3rd edn). Buckingham: Open University Press.
- .Hobbs, N, Godfrey, A, Lara, J. (2013) Are behavioral interventions effective in increasing physical activity at 12 to 36 months in adults aged 55 to 70 years? A systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Medicine 11: 75.
- Prochaska, J.O. and W.F. Velicer, The Transtheoretical Model of Health Behavior Change. American Journal of Health Promotion, 1997. 12(1): p. 38-48.
- Melemis S. M. (2015). Relapse Prevention and the Five Rules of Recovery. The Yale journal of biology and medicine, 88(3), 325–332.