Non-Diet approaches have been catching the attention of the media in recent years and more and more frustrated dieters are interested in a different approach to weight loss. However, as they gain more support and anti-diet campaigns become more vocal, the burning question on so many people’s mind is do these approaches actually work?
Answering this is a bit like asking how long is a piece of string? It really comes down to what ‘working’ actually means to the individual person. Is it just about Weight Loss, or does a reduction in binge eating constitute effectiveness? Does success mean that you have a perfect relationship with food (where you never overeat and have the perfect diet), or is simply feeling more free and in control around food enough? Whilst I may not be able to generate a specific answer to please every reader, my interest in the current status of the non-diet evidence base has led me to try find some of the current research out there and to summarize some of the conclusions for you (because some of it is written in quite technical research jargon and it can get a bit boring….)
So what does the evidence suggest?
Well. For a start, people who engage in non-diet approaches report a positive improvement in their physical health and biomedical markers – such as diabetes control and high blood pressure. That in itself is a huge success given that the current stats show that in the UK, more than 1 in 20 people are thought to have either diagnosed or undiagnosed diabetes and 28% of women suffer with high blood pressure
But it’s not just the physical health outcomes that improve. Of particular note are the positive impacts on mental health outcomes. Reports of an overall improvement in global wellbeing; a reduction in anxiety around eating; and a sense of freedom enjoyed around food have all been noted. For people who have struggled with dieting for years and are left miserable, obsessed and completely out of control around food, I’d say those are pretty important outcomes.
And what about body shape and weight? Well as we at Beyond Chocolate always say, we never know how and at what rate the body will change for each person. Our own anecdotal evidence suggests that many do lose weight loss and more importantly state that this weight loss is MAINTAINED. But unlike diets these changes can take time to occur and often by the time it’s achieved, the person is so focused on all the other benefits they have obtained, weight loss is no longer such a big deal.
Unsurprisingly, much of the research supports what we have seen with our own community members. Evidence does suggest a reduction in yo-yo dieting or weight cycling with no diet approaches and often a lower BMI being reached as the body adapts and finds its natural weight [note that’s natural weight not our desired or target weight which is diet talk]. Many of our members report staying the same weight for years whereas they had been gaining steadily year after year when dieting.
But does it last?
Well, the research suggests that compared to programs based on dietary restriction and exercise, a non-diet approach saw a longer-term maintenance of behavioural change; an increase in size acceptance and a sharper awareness/response to body signals. I’d say that’s a pretty good start ☺
In spite of these very promising findings, it is important to keep hold of our own critical minds. This area is developing and unfortunately still does not get the recognition, funding or support that the diet industry gets. There is still a need for more research to be done, especially looking at longer-term outcomes and more clinically rigorous comparisons to diet and other weight management programmes. I hope we are finally entering an era where enough interest is generated for researchers and academics to wake up and get involved!
Anyone who is interested in reading some of the studies themselves, I have added references below. Please note this is not an exhaustive list of all the evidence out there and if anyone would like me to add some, please get in touch and I would happily do so.
Hawley, G., Horwath, C., Gray, A., Bradshaw, A., Katzer, L., Joyce, J., & O’Brien, S. (2008). Sustainability of health and lifestyle improvements following a non-dieting randomised trial in overweight women. Preventive Medicine, 47, 593–599.