What's the Right Diet for You?
By Lyndel Costain B.Sc. Registered Dietitian
The BBC’s Horizon series ‘What’s the Right Diet for You?’ (12-14 January) has got everybody talking. It’s certainly good to see a weight management TV programme using highly qualified experts and giving enough air time to clearly challenge myths, as well as test and explain some of the many and varied factors that make weight loss so challenging.
Why am I Overweight?
Having more knowledge about why we behave and eat in certain ways can build confidence in developing the skills needed to better manage our weight – and not beat ourselves up so much in the process. Which in itself, is one of the most unhelpful things we can do.
Why Can’t I Lose Weight?
Research definitely suggests that different dietary approaches suit different people, and ‘personalising’ approaches to match an individual’s biology and behaviour is a sizzlingly hot topic. Horizon facilitated one of the first studies of its kind to explore three significant factors that can make it not impossible, but harder for people to manage their eating and weight. Blood tests and validated questionnaires on eating behaviour were used on all the programme participants.
Why Do I Eat Too Much?
- Genes – over 70 different genes with an influence on body weight have been identified so far. These genes can influence appetite and body fat storage. The people in the ‘Constant Cravers’ group were identified as having the FTO gene, and there is good evidence to show that it increases the risk of being overweight by increasing the drive to eat. For more information see: Does Fat Run in Families?
- Lower levels of gut hormones such as GLP1. A number of different nerve and chemical messengers in the body help regulate appetite and feelings of hunger and fullness. GLP-1 is a hormone that helps to tell us when we feel full. The people in the ‘Feasters’ group were found to have lower levels of this hormone. For more information see: Why Do I feel Hungry?
- Emotional or stress eating. Eating in response to emotions such as stress, anxiety, boredom or low mood can lead to overeating (typically on high fat and sugar foods) as a way of coping. This was particularly true for people in the ‘Emotional Eating’ group. Discovering more about this emotional attachment to food and learning other ways to cope can help people to keep to a weight loss plan. For more information see: What's the Right Diet for You?
What is the Best Weight Loss Diet?
The most effective dietary approaches are those we can best keep to
Studies comparing the many different dietary approaches for weight loss find that the most helpful ones are those that people can best keep to – and as a result consume fewer calories than they burn. So there is no best ‘diet’ for successful weight loss. No surprise really - and these findings support the logic behind the Horizon studies.
By asking the participants to follow dietary and behavioural approaches that research suggests will best help them with specific issues such as constant urges to eat, often feeling hungry, or eating in response to emotions, it is hoped that they will feel more equipped for success.
Of course, most of us often eat in response to emotions, have cravings and feel frequent hunger – no one neatly fits into just one category. Also the studies were not as rigorous as they could have been, for example, there was no control group (e.g. a group who participated in all the tests and weigh ins for the 3 months but not following any sort of diet).
Even when we try to personalise dietary approaches, we eat for very many and varied reasons - specific dietary approaches can only give us a helping hand. Changing our mindset/attitudes and habits is what works best in the long term. As you will know, this takes ongoing care, attention and commitment (with a lot of bumps along the way) and the belief that is all worth it – a bit like a good marriage!
Is My Diet the Best?
You may have developed a dietary approach that you know works best for you – which is great. Whatever approach is used, the WLR tools will help as keeping a diary or record of some type, planning ahead, having structure for your meal and activity pattern, learning what’s in food and getting support are key elements for success. As is developing the skills to stay on top of unhelpful thoughts or triggers such as ‘all or nothing’ thinking or stress/comfort eating.
An ebook has been developed to go with the BBC Horizon series and can be accessed via their website and has more information about changing habits. For more information, take a look at the BBC Horizon ebook.
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