Scale back on the fad diets and find nutritional balance

Conflicting information on what we should eat bombards us says consultant nutritionist Gaye Godkin. The secret is not to allow appetite to dictate your waistline.

Mid February tends to be that time of year when life goes back to normal again. Many of the New Year’s resolutions have gone out the window and the resumption of old ingrained behaviours resurface. Falling off the dieting bandwagon is a typical occurrence this week.

The dieting books purchased in January espousing how to lose weight, how to re programme the body and offer advice on how to miraculously shift those newly gained pounds have fallen down behind the bed.

These books attempt to act as a lens to understand the prevailing popular dieting trend that are the panacea of everlasting trimness. For many, diets are inspirational and offer the promise of a transformed body. In reality the outcomes are somewhat different.

We live in a world of total confusion when it comes to accessing evidence-based nutritional information. We are bombarded with a daily tsunami of conflicting information about food groups and food choices. Many unreliable prophets take to social media streams to offer minute by minute visuals on food consumption which then become accepted and endorsed as healthy foods.

There are those who demonise all carbohydrates including fruit, cohorts who have cut out all animal produce including eggs, protein powering people who think it is OK to eat meat three times daily, calorie counting addicts, the low-fat, no-fat, and sin-counting brigade. Many of these are extremists views that may have a small gem of science behind their provocations but do little to tighten the belt of the nation.

In fact, despite all of these prophets and saviours touting their wares the net result continues to be weight gain. Research has shown that over 85% of people who lose weight regain it all with interest over a two-year period.

Yo-yo dieting is not sustainable, people who go on and off extreme diets have lost large portions of their total body weight over the years multiple times and gained it all back with interest. Once we embark on restriction and deprivation, the mind becomes focused on what we cannot have.

Many people have told me that this aspect of dieting drives them crazy. Their entire life is taken over by a dreadful roller-coaster ride of weight loss and gain. Extreme diets result in rapid weight loss but they are not sustainable, they interfere with an individual’s metabolic rate, disrupt hunger and satiety hormones and can be detrimental to our future relationship with food.

The secret is to become aware of your appetite and not allow it to dictate your waistline. Appetite is controlled by the brain. There is an internal body clock in the brain which regulates hunger and satiety hormones. This system is very delicate and requires routine to maintain optimal functioning.

It can easily be disrupted by physical and emotional stress and lack of sleep. Rest and good quality sleep support a healthy metabolism. If you leave a 12-hour gap between dinner and breakfast, you are allowing the body to rest and support its natural rhythm. If you can adopt this behaviour, it has the most profound effect on weight maintenance in the long term.

Gaye Godkin says that many diets have little, if any, science behind them.

Food is ubiquitous. Most people are putting something in their mouths essentially every waking hour, constant snacking piles on the pounds. Snacking is addictive and a very difficult habit to break.

Throughout human history calories were scarce and hard to get at and physical activity was unavoidable and necessary for survival. Food was not always available and restriction formed part of human existence. Snacking is the single biggest issue when it comes to weight gain. Regulation of meal times is the first place to start a healthy eating regime.

Three meals per day is what the body requires. Prioritise breakfast. Choose protein and a slow release complex carbohydrate food which contains lots of fibre. A small bowl of overnight oats with some berries and full fat natural yogurt is a great choice.

Porridge is also a good option but better if you add protein to it in the form of nuts, seed, and yogurt. Alternatively, eggs with avocado and a slice of wholemeal bread or oatcakes are a super option. Aim to make breakfast interesting by adding variety.

Protein keeps you fuller for a longer period of time than carbohydrates. Protein is broken down in the stomach. The trick is to fill the stomach with proteins that are bulky, dense, and slower to digest. As the stomach empties, glucose is slowly released into the bloodstream.

Plant proteins are your best choice when it comes to protein. Beans, peas, lentils, vegetables, nuts, seeds, eggs, fish and fermented dairy products are all healthy proteins. It is not a good idea to eat meat twice daily as it is not a source of fibre and can cause digestive difficulties.

It is important to drink plenty when you increase your fibre intake. Always hydrate, especially upon wakening. I see many people who forget to drink fluids. It is important to have a warm drink in the morning. It kick-starts your metabolism and sets up the digestive system for the day.

Tea, green tea, herbal tea, or hot water with lemon or lime are great choices. Warming drinks during the winter months help to heat the body and conserve energy. Try to have the coffee after breakfast. Coffee tends to dehydrate so aim to drink a glass of water after it.

Bathroom scales should not be the measure of a human being’s worth; for many serial dieters, they feel that the number that appears on the scales represents their worth. This is not true and is not helpful to motivate you to start a healthy eating regime. Physical activity is crucial to human well-being. Maintaining muscle mass is a good plan as muscle burns more calories than fat. The good news is that this can be achieved by moving more on a daily basis.

  • Gaye Godkin is a consultant nutritionist with a practice in Dublin
  • www.gayegodkin.ie

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