For decades, it was believed that the best approach to weight loss was to eschew fat intake in particular, and eat less in general. Thus, calorie counting became the foundation of a series of dietary plans that were popularised in the early 20th century and expanded in the ’30s following a trend of Hollywood starlets embracing dieting to lose weight. These have now become what we now know as ‘fad diets’.
The public appetite for diets that promise a quick, easy path to long-term weight loss with minimal effort has not abated. The truth of the matter, though, is that these are commonly restrictive eating plans that discard one or multiple food groups in favour of another, sometimes resulting in more health concerns caused by eschewing diets in the first place. Fashionable diets like the Grapefruit Diet, Cabbage Soup Diet, Subway Diet and a slew of celebrity diets that come and go essentially reach the same unhappy – and hungry – conclusion: an unbalanced and unsatisfying meal plan that is simply unsustainable. As the old adage goes, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
Do they actually work?
Fad diets claim to provide quick fixes to shedding the stones from the scales – simplifying complex scientific studies that extend beyond caloric intake. More often than not, eating patterns that claim to have the solution to rapid weight-loss result in loss of water and muscle rather than adipose tissue, or body fat. Submitting to them long term can be dangerous. There are many testimonies of excessive weight gain following periods of strict dieting, and serious health issues from diabetes to cancer alongside side effects like constipation, nutrient deficiency and a weakened immune system. Calorie counting is also a known trigger of eating disorders.
This is not to say that all diet plans are detrimental to health. As Hayley Chan, an in-house nutritionist at premium meal and delivery company Eatology, explains, a healthy diet constitutes a balanced variety of different food groups and nutritional sources that complement an individual’s fitness and wellness goals, such as muscle building and clean eating. According to the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, replacing ‘low-quality food’ containing refined grains, sugars and high levels of starch, trans and saturated fats – think white bread, potato and sweetened beverages – with ‘high-quality food’ – raw vegetables and fruit, whole grains, healthy fats and protein – can lead to dramatic health improvements and increased satiation.
The Mediterranean Diet and the Keto Diet, if followed correctly, are two examples of eating plans that have been scientifically proven to benefit health and provide effective weight loss. The former offers a nutritional and flexible eating pattern, while the latter highlights the importance of macronutrients and metabolic changes in the body.
A holistic approach to weight loss
Beyond nutrition, scientific studies have detailed the association of behavioural psychology and self-esteem with weight loss. In recent years, nutrition experts and dietitians have veered towards more holistic practices that highlight the genetics, lifestyle and mindset of each individual.
Although it uses the guidelines of BMI (Body Mass Index) and BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate), Eatology strongly emphases the enjoyment, as well as the convenience, of eating healthily. Its goal is to offer flavourful and nutritional dishes without the tedious process of counting calories or macros, or shopping and cooking. Similarly, Sally Poon, a registered dietitian and founder of Hong Kong-based Personal Dietitian, says that although reducing total calorific intake with some form of exercise can realistically lead to 2 to 4kg of fat loss per month, lifestyle plays an important role in achieving long-term weight loss. Adjusting one’s environment and being aware of personal triggers can help to avoid cues to overeating.
“Caloric counting was the foundation of dietary plans and birthed what we now call fad diets”
Likewise, Mayuri Punjabi, a Hong Kong-based certified health coach and founder of MyEurekaLife, believes that the education of your body, health conditions, lifestyle and behavioural habits are fundamental to changing your relationship with food for a sustainable weight-loss plan. She explains that one of the key pillars of her coaching is ‘bio-individuality’, which focuses on “internal and external circumstances that look at all aspects of her client’s life, from underlying health conditions to habitual behaviours to shifting mindsets”. She adds, “Deconstructing each craving down to its roots usually reveals a deeper level of psychological trigger that influences the way you think, feel and act towards food” – a stage in the process she calls a “eureka moment”.
Research published by the Canadian Centre of Science and Education in the Journal of Food Research states that environmental and psychological factors play a significant role in the longevity of weight loss. External influences like peer pressure from friends and family, and social media portrayal of beauty can lead to feelings of discomfort about one’s appearance, a low level of self-esteem and feelings of guilt. These associations that affect how individuals eat can be altered by cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), as stated in a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine. CBT that involves specific goal setting, consistent self-monitoring, feedback and positive reinforcement from a social support system has been proven to increase the longevity of an individual’s weight-loss progress and maintenance. The research found that “the more group counselling sessions participants attended, the more weight they lost and the less weight they regained”.
How to decide which plan suits you?
As any professional health expert will tell you, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss. An eating pattern for one person may be more or less effective for another person depending on their genes, lifestyle and underlying health conditions. Structuring a meal plan that works for each person’s unique body and lifestyle should be based on individual biological, behavioural and lifestyle characteristics. But ultimately, consistency, discipline, stress management and sleep all contribute to how and what we eat. One can start by consulting a certified and registered nutritionist or dietitian to determine the best strategy for healthier eating habits and lifestyle. These Hong Kong-based nutrition and meal-plan services offer consultations and tailor-made programmes that suit each individual’s lifestyle and health goals.
Sally, Shi-Po Poon, Personal Dietitian
Registered dietician at the Health and Care Professions Council, UK and accredited Practising Dietician at Dietitians Association of Australia with more than 13 years of experience in dietetics, specialising in cancer and weight management.
Contact: +852 3596 6468 / @sallypoondietitian
Mayuri Punjabi of MyEurekaLife
Certified health coach by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York with an educational background in genetics and biochemistry.
Contact: +852 6343 2910 / @myeurekalife
A leading food delivery service that provide science-backed and chef-crafter gourmet meal plans that offer practical, sustainable and convenient eating in tandem with customers’ lifestyles and health goals.
Contact: +852 2368 6331 / @eatologyhk