Don't Start Dieting Just YetPublished: Thursday, January 3, 2013
- Timi Gustafson, RD
- 0 Comments
In fact, no. I don't recommend dieting after the holidays. Going on a diet right after putting on more weight may be the worst thing you can do. Why?
Numerous studies have shown that starving yourself after periods of overindulging can be highly counterproductive. One study from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) found that people who diet not only regain the weight they lost but actually tend to add more.
"We found that the average percentage of people who gained back more weight than they lost on diets was 41 percent," says Dr. Traci Mann, a professor at the University of Minnesota who specializes in psychology of eating disorders, in an interview with WebMD. She believes these numbers are conservative and the statistics may be even bleaker because the study's data are based on self-reporting, which notoriously skews the results.
One of the reasons why diets don't work, especially after a time of overeating, is that it's hard for most people to change even recently acquired habits. If you can't continue with something that provides you with so much gratification, it feels like cruel deprivation. It can be difficult to overcome that sudden void.
And even if you initially succeed at losing some weight, the returns inevitably diminish over time, says Dr. Mann. "When you keep to a reduced-calorie diet, your body makes metabolic adjustments that make it harder and harder for you to lose weight. Your body becomes very efficient, and you have to eat less and less to continue to lose weight. If you had the will to go on a diet, the fact that it steadily becomes less and less effective makes it even harder to stick to it," she says.
People often underestimate how difficult it is to change their lifestyle, says Dr. Robert M. van Dam, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who specializes in obesity studies. "People think diets are something you do for a little while before going back to your old lifestyle. But if you do a crash diet, you will only regain the weight," he warns.
So what is the right way to get us out of the holiday spirit and let us down gently?
"People who want to achieve and maintain a healthy weight should start working at lifestyle changes they can maintain, even if it means not losing weight but just staying at the same weight," says Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom, a professor for psychiatry and epidemiology and director the Weight Management Center at the University of Pittsburgh. In other words, instead of jumping on another fad diet that promises quick results, it is better to gradually ease back into your regular routine and go from there if additional weight loss measures are needed.
This is not just a physical exercise but a mental one as well. If the holidays caused you to engage in some bouts of emotional eating – meaning you ate for reasons other than hunger – you must find ways to cope with those issues as well. Just because the season is over doesn't mean those needs go away.
Lifestyle changes that produce lasting results include a number of different elements, says Dr. Fernstrom, including moderation of food intake, increasing physical activity, managing stress and, if necessary, getting counseling and treatment for depression and other illnesses that may get in the way.
Timi Gustafson, RD, is a clinical dietitian and author of the book, The Healthy Diner: How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun, which is available on her blog, Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D. Follow Timi on Twitter and Facebook.