The obesity epidemic is fast becoming a crisis in the United Kingdom. The term clinically obese is defined as, "a body mass index of 30kg/m squared or greater,". In fact the NHS released statistics in 2009 that claimed 24% of adults in England were clinically obese, an increase of 15% since 1993. The same report shows there is a 14% increase in raised waist circumference in adults across the same time scale.
More alarming figures were released in 2010 by top market researchers Mintel, showing that almost a quarter of women in the UK are wearing size 18 clothes or over, that equates to approximately 6.2 million people.
So with obesity problems like this it is no surprise that the diet industry is big business. There are no official statistics for the amount of money spent on the UK diet industry, but estimates in the US quote figures of between $40-$100 billion. So for the industry to be making this kind of revenue they expect one thing, your failure. If every person who put themselves on the (place generic diet brand here) diet actually kept the weight off, there would be no need to sell the memberships, promote the books or champion the potions and powders that bring this miraculous weight loss.
Speaking as someone who has worked in the fitness industry for over ten years I can honestly say the clients of mine who have successfully lost weight and kept it off do two things; first they work hard in raising their exercise levels, not only in the gym or in personal training sessions, but overall in their lifestyle. This could be exercising outside of the gym by taking up a sport, or just walking more often or cycling with the kids.
Secondly, and most importantly they adopt a sensible balanced diet, which provides adequate nutrition and calorie intake to sustain their daily activities, but a regime they can stick to without falling off the wagon due to treat deprived binges. So, if the solution is so simple, why do most dieters fail? I am going to answer this question from a psychological perspective rather than in the more traditional (regulate your blood sugar) sense.
It would be common sense to assume that if a persons attitude towards a behaviour, lets say their attitude towards eating healthier, was positive, then they are likely to participate in that behaviour. However, it was shown many years ago that the correlation between attitude and behaviour was as low as 0.30 (1 being a perfect correlation). Over the years there have been many academic studies into attitude and behaviour change, one of the most significant was proposed by Ajzen & Fishbein; The theory of planned behaviour. This model has shown empirically that a persons actions can be predicted accurately using knowledge of their attitudes towards the behaviour, subjective norms about the behaviour and perceived behavioural control. What this means when related to a person wishing to diet, is their behaviour can be predicted more accurately by knowing their attitude towards dieting in general, what they believe other people will think of them if they do or do not diet, do they believe they can succeed if they diet and most importantly do they show real intention to change.
Another theory has grown out of this model, mainly focusing on peoples intention to change. Gollwitzer has proposed the idea of implementation intentions, and has good empirical support to back it up. The concept can be summed up as planning how to participate in a behaviour that will result in a achieving a desired goal. The implementation intention requires the person to specify when, where and how the behaviours will be achieved, this will not just provide the person time to evaluate their goals and think practically how to achieve them but also provides an emotional and psychological contract that they have signed.
So, my advice to those who are thinking of dieting, is to look at the situation from a psychological prospective. Make sure before you go ahead with the latest fad diet in a glossy magazine that you choose an eating regime you believe you can stick to. Then take time to write down when you are going to start, where it is going to happen (such as eating at home rather than restaurants and spending more time in the gym) and most importantly, how are you going to achieve this. It is important to prepare meal plans and give yourself three or four small goals each week, such as drink more water, cut out chocolate, reduce salt intake etc.
It is also important to have this implementation intention on paper, if it is sitting as a document on your PC or lap top you are not going to see it. Print it out, put it up on the fridge or somewhat where you and those around you will see it regularly, and make sure you add your signature to it. If you do these small but significant tasks, it will greatly increase your chances of achieving your goals and avoiding the gut wrenching guilt of previous failures.
For more information about the psychological perspective of weight loss and exercise goals, contact me on email@example.com.