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‘New Year, New Me’ diet tips from a nutritionist

News | 19 December 2023

At the start of a New Year, lots of people will be embarking on diets. But the question remains, do strict ‘new year, new diet’ resolutions actually work? Or by jumping on board with extreme, predictable diet traps, are we setting ourselves up for failure?

Ruth Fairchild, Reader in Oral and Public Health Nutrition at Cardiff Metropolitan University, shares her thoughts...

Create your own ‘diet’ for your body

Our diet is what we habitually eat and this is determined by a complex set of variables, including sensory preferences, social norms, cultural traditions and, of course, time, money and the availability and ease of access to food and drinks. So, diets should not be tagged as what we eat to lose weight or gain muscle mass. Diets are something we have to partake in to consume enough nutrients to keep us alive and well and capable of being all that we can be.

Is New Year a good time to start?

January is regarded by most nutritionists and dietitians as exactly the wrong time to be considering a new diet option, whether it be reducing the sugar, upping the fruit and veg, or packing in more protein. Indeed the British Dietetic Association, who know a thing or two about diets, urge you not to fall into the predictable diet trap, simply because experience tells us a ‘new year, new diet’ rarely lasts very long. In some cases, they can result in eating more, gaining weight, feeling less healthy and really reducing our self-esteem at what is traditionally a very low time of year.

“January is regarded by most nutritionists and dietitians as exactly the wrong time to be considering a new diet option.”

Cut down excessive festive food purchases

Let’s get ahead of ourselves then and consider not buying enough food to feed the 5,000 this festive season, thereby reducing our financial outlay and the temptation to keep picking away at those ‘treats’ bought for Christmas that were not eaten, before the Valentine’s Day or Easter indulgences descend.

Plan ahead, how many people are you feeding? For which meals? Does everyone need their favourite food and drink and if that varies across the family why do we buy a multipack of everyone’s favourite treat? No wonder an adult’s Christmas day can rack up around 6,000 kcals which may be fine if you are planning to run up a mountain the next day, but for most of us it is two to three times our normal energy intake. This super feasting may be occurring on more than just the ‘big day’ as we circulate around friends and family – who have also overfilled their cupboards just in case the shops fail to open on Boxing Day.

“Diets work better when they are not diets and are just self-sustained changes in behaviour.”

Diets work better when they are not diets, for example when they are just self-sustained changes in behaviour. And remember this can be a reduction in food and/or drink, or an increase in energy – or a combination of these. Anything that shifts the energy in – energy out to a negative balance for you, will allow weight loss.

Variety is key to a healthy, balanced ‘diet’

Different things work for different people because we all have different energy requirements, outputs and different preferences and attitudes to diet. Naming and following a diet can get problematic.

Weight loss as a focus can also be quite a troublesome and divisive issue, so a ‘healthier diet’ is encouraged. However, if weight loss is the key goal, it is important to eat as much variety of food as you can, but consume less total food – and move around more. When we start tagging it ‘plant based’ or ketogenic diet, then it is likely you are restricting food types to such an extent the result is less nutritious, palatable, achievable and sustainable, than the diet you started with.

Small changes for long-term results

Take a common sense approach to any changes in your eating habits or diet, the NHS’ Eatwell Guide​ has some useful advice on healthy eating. If it is followed, including portion size advice, you will end up eating a healthy diet and if your body requires it this would lead to weight loss – or weight gain as is required by your lifestyle.

So, it’s not about needing a new diet for a new year, it’s a back-to-basics realism and an improvement in health, longevity and happiness.

Dr Ruth Fairchild’s academic profile can be viewed here​.