It might be your aunt, maybe a friend, or even you. We all have someone in our life on some new healthy eating endeavour.
It’s not long before the first social media post goes up. It usually features a plate without carbohydrates (because carbohydrates are the devil’s food), and heavily filled with some sort of salad and protein.
To most people this seems great, I mean, they’re healthy foods?
There is a common misconception by people who are trying to improve their diet that always eating less, and being restrictive, is good for your wellbeing and health. In some instances, this may be true, but for most, probably not.
To understand this, we must define a healthy diet. The Australian Guide to Healthy Eating is a good place to start. Even more important to this is choosing something that is most sustainable to you.
My goal in this blog is to discourage you from choosing another unrealistic health endeavour.
Reason one – Most diets fail
Up to 80% of people fail in sticking to overly restrictive food patterns (diets), independent of the method used.
For many people, the changes that they are trying to make are too drastic. To go from eating without any restrictions, to a strict eating pattern is not a realistic goal. At the time of making the goal, motivation is at an all-time high. However, it’s worth thinking about later down the track. Are you going to be able to sustain these changes for a long period of time? What about when you aren’t so motivated?
Reason two – Most people go back to what they were eating before
Overly restrictive diets mean relapse. What would be the first thing you would do if you were unable to stick to something? Go back to what you were doing before.
Being overly restrictive and undereating doesn’t teach you much about how you should eat. Learning essential skills such as understanding your preferences and hunger cues are key to creating a sustainable healthy eating pattern. Gradually changing your eating behaviour overtime, without completely altering what you are used to, is likely going to be more effective.
Compared to large changes, The Small-Changes Approach in eating patterns has been demonstrated to be more realistic, practicable to achieve and maintain. Reducing sweetened beverage consumption, understanding portion size and moderately increasing vegetable consumption are all practical changes an individual can achieve.
Reason three – They are not actually “healthy”
As mentioned previously, sustainability is key to a healthy diet. Also, being restrictive and eating too little excludes an opportunity to eat nutritious foods. Avoiding major carbohydrates and fat-based foods may be a good way to decrease caloric intake. However, developing a fear towards these foods, and completely excluding them from your diet is not healthy. Many carbohydrate and fat-based foods are full of fibre and several essential nutrients. Additionally, contrary to what many believe, they don’t inherently make you fat either.
Setting strict food rules may impact on an individual’s relationship with food. In response, many people overindulge in those restricted foods when they feel that they have failed to follow the diet.
To make things worse, those dieting to lose weight that relapse to their previous weight may be even more susceptible to future weight-gain. As a result, individuals may go on even “stricter” diets to lose the unwanted weight and create a yo-yo dieting cycle.
What Should You Do?
If your goal is to be healthier, you should not listen to anyone that tells you that their method is the absolute best (e.g. certain Instagram gurus).
You should aim for realistic changes, eat more plants, still include not so nutritious foods (the “bad” foods), and not be devastated by any “stuff-ups”.
Reaching out to a credible health professional, such as a dietitian, will be able to provide objective guidance.
Matthew Benetti is a Masters of Nutrition and Dietetics student at Flinders University. He has previously completed a Bachelor of Nutrition and Food Sciences.
Matthew is interested in most things’ nutrition and food. Having grown up in an Italian family, food has always been more than just something you shove in your mouth, but also a way of bringing people together.
With experience as a competitive amateur boxer, Matthew is also interested in combat sports and providing long lost evidence-based practices to these sports.