Over 80% of us might have attempted a diet at some point or another, but three quarters of us were too embarrassed to admit that we’re dieting to our friends. While there was a time when following the latest fad diet and surviving on nothing but cabbage soup for weeks on end was deemed entirely logical if you want to shift the extra pounds you put on in December, these days we’re cutting out food groups under the guise of ‘mindful eating’ or ‘clean eating’. The ‘D’ word has become a dirty term that no one wants to use.
Despite the change in terminology, most of us fall off the healthy eating bandwagon within a few weeks and blame the allure of junk food, hunger pangs and comfort eating. ‘Regardless of how it is dressed up, the UK is currently filled with diets, and they can be effective in helping us achieve our weight goals,’ says Rob Rona, director of new markets, products and services at LighterLife Fast. ‘However, fad diets which cut out full food groups or significantly deplete key nutrients are unsustainable and can be unsafe.’
The idea of clean eating might seem appealing in the first few days of January, following a gluttonous festive season, but radical changes tend to lose steam as February nears – in fact, some research says it’s as quick as just 12 days. So, how can you improve your diet and stick to it? We’ve outlined the latest research and some straightforward advice to help you make an informed plan for 2019:
Start off small
Making dramatic changes can often leave you craving what you cut out within a couple of weeks. Instead, be practical and make small, achievable tweaks that are easy to implement. Take sugar for example. Recent headlines have highlighted that most of us are consuming far too much sugar, but going cold turkey straight away will leave you craving chocolate when the mid-afternoon slump hits. Look for low-sugar or no added sugar on food labels, swap white bread for wholemeal or granary, try eating two biscuits rather than three, and opt for fresh fruit rather than dried varieties.
When it comes to cutting back on sugar, it’s also worth considering taking a chromium supplement such as Optimized Chromium with Crominex 3+ from Life Extension, as this helps to maintain low blood sugar levels. Essentially, eating sugar causes a spike in your blood sugar levels, which eventually crashes and leaves you craving more sugar. Chromium helps to maintain a healthy glucose metabolism.
Do your research
Not every dietary decision is based the health benefits. It’s been reported that more of us are exploring veganism than ever before this January and the leafy diet is as beneficial for the environment as it is our health. That said, it is essential that you do your research. Cutting out animal by-products can leave you deficient in essential vitamins and minerals if you don’t ensure that you’re eating a balanced diet or incorporate supplements into your regimen.
Vitamin B12 isn’t available from plant-based foods, but it is essential for healthy digestion, circulation and energy levels. You’ll need to look for fortified foods, embrace Marmite, or opt for a supplement such as Methyl B-12 by Jarrow Formulas.
It’s about your mindset
MyFitnessPal has been championing this approach to food for years, but a recent study has called into question whether seeing the calorie content on food is beneficial. Measuring the brain response of both dieters and non-dieters when they looked at a range of food images, researchers found that both groups found food less appetising when they could see the calorie content. However, the study, which was published in Plos One, also revealed that seasoned dieters were more likely to engage the orbitofrontal cortex (decision-making section of their brain) when looking at food labels, regardless of whether the calorie content was shown, and tend to make healthier eating choices overall.
‘In order to motivate people to make healthier food choices, policy changes are needed that incorporate not only nutritional information, including calorie content, but also a public education component, which reinforces the long-term benefits of a healthy diet,’ says senior author of the study Kristina Rapuano.
And if you really want to follow a particular diet…
Make sure it’s the Mediterranean diet. Yet again it was ranked the best diet of the year by U.S News’ panel of judges. With foods rich in omega 3 oils, healthy fats and anti-inflammatory ingredients, the Mediterranean diet offers a multitude of health benefits and you can even enjoy a glass of red wine with it. The judging panel stressed that it’s not a diet per-say, but rather an eating pattern and it’s up to you to determine how big your portions are.
The DASH diet was a close second in the ranking, but again the diet that was originally developed to help lower blood pressure, is more of a pattern rather than a diet. It’s focused on the healthy foods that we all know we should be eating more of. including fruit, vegetables, low-fat dairy and lean protein. It also encourages exercise.