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Why diet food won’t do

By Angela Hutton 31 July 2014 7


Diets don’t work. We’ve heard that before, often from someone trying to flog a new healthy eating regime (ie a diet). But I recently read a startling article in the Australian Women’s Weekly (almost as startling as the fact that I’m now old enough to be reading said magazine) that concluded that some diet food is actually bad for you, and by bad for you, I mean it has very poor nutrition.

I actually know a bit about this. I was a chubby kid, a fat adolescent and an obese adult. Which means I tried many diets, was bribed by family to try to lose weight, was told ‘but you’ve got such a pretty face’ more than enough times. Nearly ten years ago I gave myself a mental shake-down – I knew that being overweight was not what I wanted and that it was within my control to change it. So I went on a strict diet: I weighed food, ate to a timetable, cut out sugar. It made me think about food all the time – not because I was hungry, but because I had to stay a step ahead of myself to make sure I’d organised the right meals using the right combinations of foods at the right times. It was exhausting, and there wasn’t even any exercise going on. It worked mind you – I lost nine kilos in six weeks, by which time I had come to the conclusion that I couldn’t live like that and I needed to find a healthy lifestyle that I could live with forever. Which I did, losing a total of 35 kilos (told you I was fat).

But enough about me – back to the low-nutrition diet food. The Australian Women’s Weekly article in question (available at or in the July 2014 issue) looked mainly at Jenny Craig food, as well as some other leading brands. I don’t want to plagiarise or even attempt to summarise the good folk there but basically what they did was apply a range of scientific tests, in an academic setting, to examine what’s in these diet foods – and it was nothing good. It’s worth reading and the results are likely to surprise you.

Now, the thing about food is it’s everywhere. Information about food and nutrition is also everywhere, and it can be overwhelming to try to filter the good from the not so good and the just plain crazy (hello facebook ad claiming to know ‘the number one food for reducing tummy fat’ or ‘you won’t believe how she lost 20kg!’) Call me naïve, but I had thought that the well-established names in the game would offer products higher on the good scale than the bad (not that I like the concept of describing food as good or bad). Then again, the ‘weight-loss industry’ is worth probably billions and there are enough of us out there hoping for a quick fix and willing to shell out on the promise, however faint, of success, so the industry as such can probably do whatever they like.

So what’s my point, you’re probably asking by now. Have you ever noticed how often people who have successfully slimmed down become all evangelical about eating right, and health and fitness? Some of them even become personal trainers to share the good word. I don’t want to do that (hell, I ate six pieces of red licorice right before firing up the PC to write this, and I might do the same tomorrow). There are lots of good things about being a healthy weight with a good level of fitness, and I wish those things for anyone reading who wants to lose a lot or a little weight. But I’m not going to pretend I know the answer. I know what worked for me though. Here’s an interesting thing: any time I have shared my tale of how I used to be fat and lethargic and now I’m not, every single person I’ve told – whether slim supermodel type or someone well beyond their healthy weight – every single one of them has asked me the same thing: how did I do it?

That’s too involved a subject for this piece, maybe another time I’ll get into it. Instead, I thought I’d leave you with a couple of tips that worked for me:

Make the commitment. Oh I know you really want it, but it’s not going to work unless you’re willing to do what it takes. I didn’t have lasting success until I really had worked it out in my head that what I wanted was worth it, or more to the point, that I was worth it. You are worth it too.

Eat a decent breakfast. For me this is a fibre-licious breakfast cereal with light milk (for the skim fans – did you know it has negligible calcium?). Yes, eating a healthy breakfast will probably make you hungry for a mid-morning snack, but you know what? That’s how bodies are supposed to work – it’s that metabolism thing you should already know about. Eating nothing all morning then waiting until 2pm and eating a massive stodgy lunch because you’re starving will do you no favours. I really think that a good brekky is the key to getting on track. I’m breakfast’s biggest fan (unless it’s porridge).

Choose actual food. I know a trainer whose food philosophy is ‘if it grew in the ground or had a Mum, it’s okay’. This is contrary to the meal replacement or protein bars and shakes school of thought – those things are everywhere these days. I prefer the first option – it’s cheaper for a start, and you know what’s in it. It’s also pretty versatile. One trap I learned to avoid only after throwing away wasted vegies from my crisper one too many times was not to buy the things I think I’ll eat, or should eat even though I don’t much like (I’m looking at you sweet potato). If you’re not comfortable cooking it, either learn or leave it alone.

Okay, so this has turned out to be my longest post ever, and I could go on – perhaps I am one of those evangelical ex-fat people? My apologies, but if you’re bored by this you’ll have stopped reading it already. Next time I’ll go back to sharing my experiences of one of Canberra’s fitness offerings – I’m thinking martial arts but am a bit unsure about all the shouting…

What’s Your opinion?

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7 Responses to
Why diet food won’t do
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zllauh 11:15 am 14 May 15

I took a diet schedule from an online website by a certified trainer. it involved mostly of fruits and vegetables while i would just stack up pizzas once a week because i cannot resist them just like kim kardashian 😛
Although i used to workout really hard and i lost 12kg in a couple months.

Leon 2:03 pm 03 Aug 14

My diet of choice is the Sugar Busters diet, which was created by some people from New Orleans who love their food. The basic premise is to avoid added sugar. I haven’t lost much weight, but my weight is more stable. I’ve also rediscovered the flavours of foods whose flavours I used to mask with sugar.

Probably its greatest benefit is that it avoids the major cause of type 2 diabetes.

The carbohydrate-versus-protein debate is yet to be resolved.

A “healthy” breakfast doesnt have to make you hungry for a mid-morning snack. I’ve found that a 3 big spoons of oats and 1 of muesli is satisfying enough to stave off hunger until lunchtime. I usually soak it overnight in water or milk and then microwave it. Oats contain satisfying oat bran, fat and protein.

chewy14 9:02 pm 31 Jul 14

Lots of lean meat, lots of vegetables a little bit of fruit, a little bit of grains. Nothing processed or refined. Throw in a few cheat meals occasionally, that’s the way I’d go.

astrojax 5:28 pm 31 Jul 14

great article – sad about you not liking porridge or sweet potatoes though… 🙂 [and +1 to red liquorice, or any liquorice. mmmm]

thanks for the reminders about sensible and positive approaches to eating well (i use that phrase instead of ‘dieting’) – something we all need more of, and something needs to be incorporated into schools curricula…

VYBerlinaV8_is_back 12:17 pm 31 Jul 14

I went on a simple diet about 10 years ago and lost 22 kgs. Fill up on vegetables, eat some lean meat, avoid processed carbs (like bread), drink plenty of water and go for a walk each day.

Took me about 8 months.

Forget the fads.

Maya123 11:15 am 31 Jul 14

If you were a chubby kid, that’s sad. That was not your fault. Your parents were irresponsible by not giving you a good start in life by keeping your weight to healthy levels by feeding you the right food in the correct quantity.
I wonder if overweight people grew a good sized vegetable garden it would help. First there’s the exercise, but if there are lots of vegetables maybe they would eat better, thinking proudly I grew that, and would be less likely to go and buy an unhealthy takeaway, because then their wonderful home gown vegetables would be wasted.
It would also save a lot of money.

JessicaGlitter 10:46 am 31 Jul 14

It would probably help if people were better educated in nutrition. The current recommendation is equal parts of the four groups: fruit, veggies, grains and “proteins” which is a little bit of meat if you must and lots of legumes. And if in doubt you need to err on the side of eating more fruit and vegetables.

Then the second step is to eat from the entire rainbow of food colours.

People who are still in the “healthy eating pyramid” mindset, wolfing down meat and milk in great quantities are going to have trouble getting enough phytonutrients without overeating.

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