You diet hard to lose weight. You severely restrict your calorie intake, avoid carbs, fats or sugars, eat like a caveman, or maybe eat just one colour.

You deprive yourself, only to find the weight creep back on again, often with a few extra kilos to boot. Then again you start a new diet. Lose weight again, gain weight again, lose again, gain again. Sound familiar?

We’ve all heard the experts telling us that dieting doesn’t work. Fad diets, yo-yo dieting, restricting calories…the evidence (and our own scales) tell us it usually leads to weight gain rather than loss in the long run.

But we also know that carrying those extra kilos is bad for our health. So if dieting really doesn’t work, what should we do instead?

Northern Australia Primary Health Limited (NAPHL) Dietitian Amanda Frier (pictured) tells us the evidence-based method for healthy eating and shedding the kilos contributing to poor health.

Ms Frier says fad diets can mess with your mind and body, ultimately leading to weight gain.  

“There really are a lot of ‘bad fad diets’ out there, so it’s hard to pinpoint specific ones that shock me.  In fact, pretty much all of them do,” she says.

“They target people’s lack of confidence and self-worth, and they promise the world and don’t deliver much at all, at least not for very long.

“They contribute to a lot of despair and frustration for people, and sometimes are even harmful, both physiologically and psychologically.”

Ms Frier says fad diets typically limit the intake of one or even a number of food groups, which in turn limits important nutrients for our bodies to function properly, which can cause serious health problems.

“Even if they are successful in helping with weight loss at first, the ‘quick fix’ nature of fad diets means that as soon as the diet is stopped, the weight comes back on, along with some extra kilograms.

“Following different fad diets over and over again (yo-yo dieting) leads to a reduced metabolic rate. This means that when these diets are stopped, the body regains fat easier than before.

“Finally the psychology of being on a ‘diet’ means you are being restrictive, and then that just makes you want what the diet says you shouldn’t have, even more.”

But don’t be fooled into thinking that Ms Frier recommends eating only “healthy” foods all the time.

The Townsville dietitian admits to enjoying chocolate most days, and says treating yourself occasionally is fine.

“I don’t do anything special, I just follow the recommendations in the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating.

“This means I eat whole-grain breads and cereals, lots of vegetables, fruit, some dairy foods or alternatives like almond or soy milk, and some meat or alternatives like legumes, eggs and tofu.

“Leading a balanced life also means enjoying some treat foods. My favourite food is pizza, closely followed by chocolate.

“I actually eat a small amount of chocolate most days. And when I have pizza, I go all out!

How often do I have treat foods? That’s hard to answer. When I’m on holidays I have been known to have treat foods every day.

“On the weekends I sometimes eat a bit more than usual. I could go for a couple of months without pizza or something tasty like that. But then sometimes I have it every couple of weeks.

“I guess the real message here is, if you follow a healthy eating approach most of the time, what you do some of the time doesn’t matter so much.

“I have to admit though, I do eat vegetables pretty much every day...after all I am a dietitian.”

The Townsville dietitian’s top tips for weight loss and healthy eating are:

  • Follow a balanced diet in line with the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating
  • Watch your portion sizes
  • Read food labels so you know what you’re eating and how much
  • Get some physical activity
  • Avoid highly processed foods
  • Avoid soft drink
  • Avoid drinks and food with too much added sugar, salt and fat
  • Drink plenty of water

“If you start with those things, it is the first step to having a healthy balanced diet,” Ms Frier says.

“Then you add small changes by thinking of ‘health’ rather than being on a diet.

“Healthy eating is just one part of being healthy overall. You’ve also got to be physically active and take care of your mind, body and soul. In whatever way works best for you.”

If you are still having trouble losing weight, talk to a dietitian. They will be able to help you move towards a more healthy lifestyle, with weight loss being just one bonus.

Sometimes it is necessary for people to be on special diets. If this is the case, you should do so in conjunction with your doctor and dietitian.