A fat loss phase is by its very nature temporary – you can’t lose weight indefinitely, or you’d die. You just need to get to a place where you are healthier and/or happier, then maintain the status quo.

This means that whichever fat loss approach you choose, it only has to be sustainable for the duration of that phase, not for the rest of your life. But given that a fat loss phase could last anywhere from, say, 8 weeks to 3 years depending on your goal, that’s still a decent stretch of time to keep up your chosen diet.

And this is where most commercial diet plans or programmes really let you down. They aren’t fit for purpose, if that purpose is to see you right through to your goal weight. What they will do is let you make progress for a few weeks until you can’t take the restriction / boredom / rules / complicated systems any more. Then you stop, feel like a failure (please note: you’re not) and go back to eating normally – which presumably wasn’t working too well before or you wouldn’t have started the diet in the first place.

So the weight goes back on, probably with a few extra pounds, attributable to comfort eating your way out of feeling useless and weak-willed (please note: you are neither of those things).

Then it’s back to the diet, because “it worked last time”, and the cycle begins again.

All this time (and money) spent following a plan, counting points, drinking shakes, buying the books, focusing on the scales, missing out on social events, denying yourself the biscuit because you’ve no “syns” (yuck) left – pretty much all for you to end up back where you started, at best.

Of course this is great news for the diet industry. The success of these businesses depends on you going back again and again, hoping that this time you’ll “get it right”. Or maybe you move from one diet to the next, always looking for that magical regime that you’ll be able to stick to for long enough to lose the weight you want. In the meantime, the eating habits, the misinformation, the ingrained behaviours, your lifestyle, your circumstances, your environment – none of these have been properly addressed, despite being the foundations upon which a healthy diet is built.

By the way, absolute hats off to anyone who has found these diets to be helpful for them, that’s fantastic, and different things work for different people. And if you have a health condition that means rapid, one-off fat loss is essential, it definitely has a place. But if these schemes worked for most people, the companies would go bust, and yet somehow it’s a multi-million pound industry.

Let’s take a look at a few popular diets that have boomed over the years, to see why they are so hard to do long-term (or even medium-term):

  • Special K diet – an old-school classic that has thankfully died out. Problematic because eating cereal for lunch isn’t normal; Special K is yummy so no chance of sticking to two small bowls a day; calories are too low meaning a higher chance of overeating later, and us being tired and grumpy so moving less overall (this is a common theme)
  • Weight Watchers – counting points is similar to counting calories, only harder because you have to find out the points value, therefore extra admin; we don’t eat points, we eat food; it’s easier to buy WW food = clever up-selling; obsessing over points (or indeed calories) is potentially harmful; your points allowance may be set too low for your needs – see above
  • Slimming World – even the terminology is ridiculous: “syns”, ffs? As if most of us don’t feel bad enough about what we eat. (I know they say it’s short for “synergy” but that is absolute bollocks); the demonisation of certain foods in this way perpetuates associations of guilt and shame with something that is, to be honest, just a biscuit; the focus on weight loss means changes in body composition (eg increased muscle from exercise) can look like “failure”; the focus on weight loss also means that non-scale victories (energy levels, happiness, improved fitness or health markers) are irrelevant (please note: they are more relevant than the number on the scales); the focus on weight loss can be demoralising and make it easier to give up
  • Fast 800 / 5:2 – very low calorie diets are hard to stick to and can make us feel awful (tired, hangry, irritable, thinking about food all of the time); what happens when you go back to eating a decent amount? Do you have a framework in place to manage what was going wrong for you before? Also Michael Mosely is making a lot of money out of all of this, which just feels a bit unnecessary
  • Slim Fast – hard to do for more than a couple of weeks because the shakes and bars are expensive, boring and not a way to eat in the real world; humans like to chew food: drinking it isn’t the same and it is unsatisfying (and over too soon); this might be just me, but I found constipation to be an unwanted side effect, and after a few days was just longing for some veg. Don’t get me started on their new advertising campaign, aimed at young people with the rapper Big Narstie on board, promoting the shake for its protein content. Oh good, another generation of messed-up dieters

We’ve been encouraged to believe that for fat loss to work, it has to be outsourced to a corporation, or at least should be miserable and difficult.

What’s the alternative? Is it possible to lose weight without complex diet plans, weekly public weigh-ins, the calorie intake of an average toddler or using an app?

YES! For anyone who has struggled with their weight over time, understanding the reasons behind it is key. It might even be as simple as cutting back on the takeaway habit, or swapping the after-dinner ice cream for fat-free yoghurt. You won’t lose weight without a calorie deficit, but that doesn’t have to be accompanied by restriction, hunger and worries about willpower (please note: it’s absolutely not about that).

Take things slowly, be kinder to yourself, remember that it took a while for the weight to go on and to develop the behaviours that put it there, so it’ll take a while for it to come off too.

It’s time to break up with diets that make us feel bad. It’s not you, it’s them.