Dr Daniel McCartney: The 10 rules of dieting

IF THERE’S a season for dieting then it has to be summer.

Warmer days mean it’s much easier to opt for lighter foods and to exercise in the evenings after work. While some of us stick to the simple mantra of “eat less, exercise more”, others adopt unorthodox diets and products to achieve weight loss.

With the multitude of weight-loss plans, it can be difficult to assess which (if any) will enable us to lose the weight and to keep it off.

My top ten rules are designed to set you on the right course as you navigate the weird, bewildering world of dieting.

1. Avoid diets that rely heavily on emotive terms like ‘detox’ or ‘cleansing’ — these are designed to induce panic and to disempower you from making sensible, rational decisions about how to lose weight in a healthy, sustainable way.

2. Avoid diets whose ‘inventors’ use complicated terminology and jargon to explain the mechanisms by which they work — dieting for weight loss is straightforward, so if you’re being bamboozled with intricate biochemical explanations then it’s over-complicated.

A good dietitian, with full professional training, should be able to give you a readily understandable rationale for the advice they’re offering — the ‘experts’ who over-elaborate may be trying to distract you from the unproven or absent scientific ‘evidence’ on which their regimens are based.

3. Avoid diets that advocate an elaborate array of pills, potions and tonics — they’re usually trying to sell you something of dubious effectiveness, often at high cost.

4. Check the professional credentials of the person or people who have developed the dietary plan — are they professionally qualified dietitians or nutritionists? Ask about their training to ensure they have the qualifications to provide you with safe, good quality dietary advice. This means examining credentials of even those who use the title ‘Dr’ — while some may be medically qualified, or have a PhD in nutrition or dietetics, others have PhDs in areas that are only tenuously linked — if at all — to nutrition.

5. Practicality is important — the foods being recommended should be readily available at your local supermarket.

Few, if any, foods are so ‘nutritionally special’ that there’s no suitable alternative that can be picked up at your local shop. Single, specific foods that are identified as a panacea for all ills are almost always too good to be true.

6. Cost is also critical — after all, there’s not much point in having the most effective diet in the world if it’s one that’s prohibitively expensive to follow.

Remember, too, that the practitioners who charge the most may do this to enhance their perceived credibility with you, the consumer.

7. The terms ‘clinically proven’ or ‘scientifically proven’ are often abused. ‘Outlier’ findings are frequently presented as a consensus view from ‘the experts’, without any reference to conflicting study findings in the area.

So, do your homework, especially if the diet recommends weird and wacky pills, potions or foods.

8. Never, ever buy dieting pills online — this is potentially extremely dangerous, as you have no way of knowing their content, dosage or origin.

9. Remember, just because a diet causes weight loss doesn’t mean it’s healthy. For example, some that exclude meat or dairy products can inadvertently cause iron, calcium or other nutrient deficiencies, so do not exclude whole food groups from your diet.

10. Finally, get the obvious stuff right. Most of us know where the extra calories are coming from — sweet foods and drinks, fatty foods and alcohol. So, maybe the most important rule of all is not to cod ourselves, and to put our faith in a plan of our own that prioritises the restriction of these old reliables.

* Dr Daniel McCartney is a lecturer in human nutrition and dietetics at DIT


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