Monday – start diet. Tuesday – break diet! Wednesday – plan to start again next Monday.
If this is you, it’s probably time to get off the diet roller coaster and make some bigger changes to the way you eat, drink and think about food.
Here are six tips to help you get started.
1. Improve your diet quality score
When trying to lose weight, it might be tempting to quit carbs, dairy or another food group altogether.
But to stay healthy, you need to meet your requirements for important nutrients like iron, zinc, calcium, vitamins B and C, folate and fibre. These nutrients are essential for metabolism, growth, repair and fighting disease.
Improving your diet quality means eating more fruit and vegetables, lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, legumes, dried beans, wholegrains and dairy (mostly reduced fat).
Rate your diet quality and get brief feedback using our online Healthy Eating Quiz www.healthyeatingquiz.com.au.
2. Mum was right – eat your veggies
Fruit and veg are high in fibre, vitamins and phytonutrients, but low in total kilojoules. So eating more can help you manage your weight.
A study of more than 130,000 adults found that those who increased their intake of fruit and vegetables over four years lost weight. For each extra daily serve of vegetables, there was a weight loss of 110 grams over the four years. It was 240 grams for fruit. Small, but it all adds up.
Drilling down to specific fruit and veg gets interesting. Increasing cauliflower intake was associated with a four-year weight reduction of about 620 grams, with smaller reductions for capsicum (350g), green leafy vegetables (230g) and carrots (180g). The reduction was 620g for blueberries and 500g for apple or pears.
It was not good news all round, though. Corn was associated with a weight gain of 920g, peas 510g and mashed, baked or boiled potatoes 330g.
3. Limit your portion size
If you are served larger portions of food and drinks, you eat more and consume more kilojoules. That sounds obvious, yet everybody gets caught out when offered big portions – even when you’re determined to stop when you’re full.
Research shows offering larger portions leads adults and children to consume an extra 600 to 950 kilojoules (150-230 calories). This is enough to account for a weight gain of more than seven kilograms a year, if the kilojoules aren’t compensated for by doing more exercise or eating less later.
4. Watch what you drink
A can of softdrink contains about 600 kilojoules (150 calories). It takes 30-45 minutes to walk those kilojoules off, depending on your size and speed.
Children and adolescents who usually drink a lot sugary drinks are 55 per cent more likely to be overweight.
Switch to lower sugar versions, water or diet drinks. A meta-analysis of intervention studies (ranging from ten weeks to eight months) found that adults who switched had a weight reduction of about 800 grams.
5. Cue food
Our world constantly cues us to eat and drink. Think food ads, vending machines and chocolate bars when trying to pay for petrol or groceries. Food cues trigger cravings, prompt eating, predict weight gain and are hard to resist. They can make you feel hungry even if you are not.
Try to minimise the time you spend in highly cued food environments. Avoid food courts, take a list when you go to the supermarket and take your own snacks to places where highly palatable food is advertised, like the movies.
This will reduce autopilot eating, which sabotages your willpower.
Food trends in 2016
Food trends in 2016
1/11 Celeriac root
We had a kale obsession in 2015, but 2016’s vegetable sine qua non is predicted to be the knobbly celeriac root. Celeriac milk (Tom Hunt at Poco in Bristol serves it with winter mussels and wild water celery), celeriac cooked in Galician beef fat (from Adam Rawson of Pachamama, hot new chef in the capital) and salt-baked celeriac (to be found in Matthew and Iain Pennington’s kitchens at The Ethicurean in the West Country) are just a few examples.
2/11 Middle Eastern food
The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook (£24.95, Phaidon) by grand-dame Salma Hage, author of the bestseller The Lebanese Kitchen (whose halva is pictured here), is out in April
© Liz & Max Haarala Hamilton
3/11 Non-alcoholic cocktails
Grain Store mixologist Tony Conigliaro has created Roman Redhead, a riot of red grape juice, beetroot, pale ale and verjus, and Rose Iced Tea (black tea, rose petals, anise essence, pictured here)
The discerning will be slurping Hepple gin – from chef Valentine Warner and cocktail guru Nick Strangeway – which is punctuated with bog-myrtle nuances
5/11 Argyll and Bute
Restaurant followers are getting in a froth about Pam Brunton in Scotland, who opened the Inver restaurant in Argyll and Bute to acclaim last year
6/11 Andy Oliver’s Som Saa
One of the most eagerly awaited restaurants of 2016 will be the permanent incarnation of Andy Oliver’s remarkable pop-up Som Saa opening very soon in east London. Oliver, who worked at Thai god David Thompson’s Nahm in Bangkok, raised a whopping £700,000 through crowdfunding, and is renowned for his piquant Thai flavours and obsessive attention to detail, including in his home ferments and DIY coconut cream
© Adam Weatherley
Another ruminant in vogue is venison, with Sainsbury’s doubling its line for 2016. It provides a protein-packed punch, with B vitamins and iron, and it’s low in fat. Its entry into the mainstream is in part thanks to the Scottish restaurant Mac and Wild, just opened in London, whose Celtic head chef Andy Waugh (who also runs the Wild Game Co) has been touting it as street food for years (his venison burger pictured here)
From Brett Graham’s The Ledbury to Angela Hartnett’s kitchens at Lime Wood Hotel in the New Forest, Cabrito is the go-to goat supplier among the chef cognoscenti (roasted loin of kid pictured here) – but this year, domestic cooks can get in on the action, as Sushila Moles and James Whetlor of Cabrito offer their meat through Ocado
Mike Lusmore / mikelusmore.com
Coffee sage George Crawford is launching the much-anticipated Cupsmith with his partner, Emma. Crawford believes that 2016 is the year purist coffee will finally meet the masses; Cupsmith’s mission will be to make craft coffee as popular as craft beer on the high street. The company roasts Arabica beans in small batches, improving its quality – but sells it online, at cupsmith.com, in an approachable way: expect cheerful packaging and names such as Afternoon Reviver Coffee (designed for drinking with milk – no matter how uncouth, most of us want milk) and Glorious Espresso
10/11 120-day-old steak
Hanging meat for extremely long lengths of time has become an art. In Cumbria, Lake Road Kitchen’s James Cross is plating up 120-day-old steak (pictured here). The beef is from influential “ager” Dan Austin of Lake District Farmers, who is currently investigating the individual bacterial cultures that go into this maturing process
11/11 Lotus root
Diners can expect root-to-stem dining - cue the full lotus deployed by the Michelin-starred Indian Benares in its kamal kakdi aur paneer korma
6. Resist temptation
A treatment for food cue reactivity is called exposure therapy. With the help of a psychologist or health professional, you expose yourself to the sight and smell of favourite foods in locations that commonly trigger overeating, like eating chocolate when watching TV. But, rather than eat the chocolate, you only have a taste without eating it.
Over time, and with persistence, cravings for chocolate reduce, even when cues such as TV ads or people eating chocolate in front of you are present.
You can also draw on your brain’s own self-management skills to resist temptation, but it takes conscious practice. Try this food cue acronym, RROAR (remind, resist, organised alternative, remember and/or reward), to train your brain to resist temptation on autopilot.
When you feel yourself pulled by cues to eat or drink:
Remind yourself that you are the boss of you, not a food cue.
Resist the tempting food or drink initially by turning your back on the cue. (This gives you time to think about next steps.)
Have a pre-Organised Alternative behaviour to use against food cues. Grab a drink of water, walk around the block, check your phone messages, read, take a walk in the opposite direction. Diversion works.
Remember what your big-picture goal is. Do you want to eat better to help you feel better, reduce medications, lower blood pressure, improve diabetes control or manage your weight?
You can add another R for Reward. Financial incentives help change behaviour. Each time you complete your organised alternative behaviour put $1 in a jar. When it builds up, spend it on something you really want.
You need a plan
The journey off the diet roller coaster needs a cunning plan. Here’s how you can put it all together.
Start by assessing your diet quality using the Healthy Eating Quiz.
Next, plan weekly meals, drinks and snacks. Write a grocery list and buy extra fruit and vegetables.
Swap to small plates, cups and serving utensils. You’ll serve and eat less without thinking.
Aim for half your plate covered with vegetables and salad, one-quarter lean protein (trimmed meat, chicken, fish, legumes) and one-quarter grains or starchy vegetables (potato, peas, corn).
Change your food environment to avoid constant prompts to eat.
Minimise the places you allow yourself to eat and drink to reduce food cue exposure (not in front of TV or computer, at a desk, or in the car).
Keep food out of sight (unless it is fruit and vegetables). Store in opaque containers.
Remove workplace food displays, such as food fundraisers.
Plan driving and walking routes that do not take you past fast-food outlets or vending machines.
Prerecord TV shows and fast-forward food ads.