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A rant on why diets don’t work and what to do about it… Dr Trevor Simper BMI: 27

First be cynical about anyone offering to tell you what to do about it… isn’t this what got us into the mess in the first place? Whatever you do, don’t eat fat, and when that didn’t work oops sorry, we meant carbs, don’t eat carbs, stop that and you’ll be fine. We are obsessed with dieting and diets, we are obsessed with the way we physically look, in a time when bodyweight appears to continue to soar and positive lifestyle related behaviours continue to dip, there is obviously a horrible irony in all this. We just can’t help ourselves, nutritionists, dietitians, psychologists, and a whole panoply of physical trainers telling us: how much, what, when and how much we need to consume/do. And don’t get me started on the ubiquitous balanced f***ing diet, let’s just stop! Take all the diet books you own, put them in your car, take them to a second-hand shop or put them in the recycling bank. It’s time to take control…

That is one of the biggest reasons regimens fail in the long-term, the fact that we, generally are not in control, there is a psychological ‘reactance’ because we are being told what to do, let’s say I am thinking about quitting smoking, you tell me (however gently) ‘you really should you know, it would be good for your health…’ and I immediately think of all the reasons I need to keep on smoking. To some extent it is the same for dieting, if we explained this to a Martian, it would sound like this: ‘someone else tells you how much and what to eat because you can’t possibly work this out for yourself…’

The antidote then might be to plan/experiment and eat your own diet. You might want some of the scientific facts ( e.g.: fibre makes us feel fuller and passes through the dietary system without you absorbing all the calories, protein makes us feel fuller for longer and you lose a lot of the calories protein contains during the process of breaking it down). Aside from the basics: veg is good for you, water is good for you, lots of sugar/alcohol is not good for you or your weight… there is not so much to learn. So, set your own rules, naturally they need to be rules that upset the energy balance if you are going to lose weight. So, what are your current rules?

A) there are no rules I eat whatever I want when I’m hungry and really don’t concern myself with it.

B) I beat myself up repeatedly for ‘failing’ to not be a fat slob?

C) I go on and off various regimes which sometimes work for a short period, until the strain becomes too much, the banks burst and I can no longer keep it up and so i return to sqaure one.

D) I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, a wide variety of foods with plenty of veg, lean proteins, fish and only occasionally snack, and I save feasts/alcohol for the weekend/feast days…

There is a strong and reasonable suspicion, of course, that this global problem of being overweight is not an issue of knowledge at all, the fibre, protein hypotheses etc fall by the wayside in the light of us eating our own feelings ( and using food as an alternative to booze, meth, ciggies etc: ’I feel bad, and this changes my mind set/makes me feel better for a short while…’

So where does that leave us? Maybe we are good enough as we are? Fat as we are, imperfect as we are, embrace imperfection, you are not perfect, I am not perfect, yo-yoing up and down with weight, being blasted with images of Facebook abs we all know in our logical mind is kind of crazy (but we are not dealing all day with our logical mind as we have the other, non-logical one to deal with!). So take the dog for a walk, meet some friends for a swim, or a pint, or play golf, make a meal of meat (or veggie alternative) and two veg, that’s health, isn’t it?...

Now, let’s fix the control part- what can I not control? Winning a race is one thing that serves as a good example (but you could substitute any broad dream, buying a dream house, writing a book etc) because winning a race is dependent upon more than the things you control. You can control training each morning, warming up thoroughly, employing the right coach, who knows how you perform and helps you set/achieve goals, eating a great diet and getting enough sleep, all of this you can control. Learning race tactics you can also control and these things you can tick off one by one i.e. did I eat a great diet which contributes to my health/immunity and recovery from training? Tick, did I sleep well? Train well etc. At the race, however, you can trip, slip get injured, meet someone who is just simply faster than you are, so there are factors in your dream, you are not in control of- winning a race is a good dream, it is shooting for the stars, i.e., winning the gold medal, it’s a great dream and would be fantastic to realise as a culmination of all your dedication to the factors mentioned above- but all you can do is: the best you can do. It’s a great mantra for any goal, write down all the behaviours you can control which might contribute to achieving the goal and then tick these off and relax because you will be able to say proudly I am doing the best I can…

This is perhaps, the real trick to success, i.e. focussing on all the controllable ( elements which underpin your goal. When you are picking goals though, it is important to focus on what you actually want… ‘I want to be rich’ for example usually underpins something else. E.g. 'I would be able to relax', provide for my family, travel, will be attractive to prosepctive romantic partners' and so on. When we look at these in turn, however, they also are things that may happen without becoming rich (they just seem to be connected) i.e., can you relax without being rich? (I’ve tried it and it turns out you can) you can also travel the world, attract a mate and be a good ‘provider’ with far less material resource than qualifies as ‘rich’. That being said abject poverty is the cause of misery and is no good… but here a level of material income is needed not actual richness. The idea being I should really focus in on what I actually want, and don't let yourself off the hook, if you say: 'to be rich/famous/ fit'- keep asking 'why?' and: 'what for?' as follow up questions... so you can be sure you've broken the goal down to what you really want.

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