It happens every year -- January 1 comes, lots of people commit themselves to losing weight -- finally, once and for all. The media is filled with stories and diets and tips on how to stick to it -- and by now, a few weeks into the month and not very far into the year at all, few are still following their well-intentioned diet plans.
We recently had U.S. News & World Report "weighing in" (sorry) with its evaluation of the "Best Diets for 2014." Theirs is a better effort than most I've seen because they have some excellent disclaimers ("Most diets don't work," for instance) to inject a dose of reality into their recommendations.
The list also breaks down their recommendations into eight different categories, which encourages people to think about their individual goals and lifestyles. I commend them for being thorough (they evaluated 38 different dietary plans and ranked 32 of them) and for having used some good criteria (including a nutritional evaluation, ease of following, etc.).
Here are their categories:
• Best Diets Overall
• Best Diets for Weight Loss
• Best Diabetes Diet
• Best Heart Healthy Diets
• Best Commercial Diet Plans
• Best Diets for Healthy Eating
• Easiest Diets to Follow
• Best Plant-Based Diets
But we still have a problem here. Why? Quite simply, diets don't work. And the reason why diets don't work is that they are designed for short-term, immediate gratification. They're eating plans that, by and large, don't provide any training that helps people to make thoughtful and consistent choices for the rest of their lives -- which is what's required to succeed at sustaining weight loss.
Just noting that "most diets don't work" is a start but it's not enough. Many people will try one of these diets and stick with it for a few days -- maybe even a week or two -- and then, for one reason or another (mostly a sense of deprivation), they'll wander back to their old eating habits. Even if they've lost a few pounds in the effort, if they regain it then they've not only wasted their time and effort, they've done themselves emotional harm (self-blaming) and physical harm (fluctuations).
Weight fluctuations -- so-called "yo-yo dieting" when people gain weight, lose it, then regain it (and often a bit more) -- are damaging. They can cause dangerous shifts in your blood sugar (which can lead to diabetes) and blood pressure (which is bad for your heart). Not only that, but these ups and downs can hurt the psyche, too, bringing feelings of disappointment, failure, shame and even hopelessness.
What does work? If you have a significant amount of weight to lose, it's really important to work with professionals who can provide the support you'll need to make it work. The idea is not to just rack up a list of "how-to" strategies, but to also get to the "why" of the matter? This is vital since, all too often, people who are otherwise quite successful in so many other areas of their lives simply cannot manage this particular aspect in a consistent way.
If you really want to lose weight healthfully and in a sustained way this year, the best two things you can do for yourself are these:
1. Work with a nutritionist who can help you create a targeted or individualized meal plan. A professional will evaluate the many variables that go into what you eat -- such as allergies, food accessibility and schedule; whether you live alone or are married or have a family; your ability and willingness to cook and prepare food: your economic limitations, etc. It's better than any diet -- because it's an approach that works.
2. Seek out a therapist who has knowledge of disordered eating and can help get to the heart of the matter by helping you gain insight about what drives these seemingly helpless habits and also providing strategies to change them.
A truly effective weight-loss program is not only individualized, it helps people shed emotional baggage along with excess weight. Dieting alone is almost never enough.