Tonight: To Diet, or Not to Diet?

Over half the UK’s adult population has tried to lose weight in the past twelve months and the average woman will spend £25,000 over the course of her lifetime trying to get thin.

Britain’s diet industry is big business – worth an estimated £2 billion pounds a year – yet as a nation we just keep getting fatter. So, what’s going wrong?

Woman on rowing machine
Lisa Dearne hitting the gym Credit: ITV / Tonight

This year over 20 million of us will embark on a new diet, but typically we’ll give up after just 19 days. Charity worker Lisa Dearne has been on and off diets for two decades now. But instead of losing weight over the long term she steadily piles it on.

I am fed up because I am fat, and then because you’re fat you eat more because you’re fed up and it’s just, you just go round and round, and I don’t want to be in that loop any more.”

– LISA DEARNE, CHARITY WORKER

Lisa’s a so-called “Yo-Yo” dieter - she’ll use a diet for a while and may shed some weight but always ends up piling it back on. Tonight introduces Lisa to consultant dietician Sian Porter, who provides a balanced eating plan that Lisa can stick to for the rest of her life.

One of the things you’ve got to do before you are going to embark on a diet is think can I eat like this for the rest of my life. And I think that probably is one of the answers why they are not working most of them are unsustainable in the long term.”

– SIAN PORTER, SPOKESMAN FOR BRITISH DIETETIC ASSOCIATION
man talking to woman
Tonight reporter Jonathan Maitland with Sian Porter Credit: ITV / Tonight

Sian told the Tonight programme, on ITV tonight at 7.30pm, the five top diets the British Dietetic Association (BDA) says we should avoid in 2014.

  • The Dukan Diet, a low-fat, high protein diet
  • The Alcorexia Diet, where alcohol replaces food
  • The Gluten free diet, when not required on medical grounds
  • Biotyping or “spot fat reduction diets” that claim to target fat in particular areas of the body
  • Breath-airian diet where you eat nothing at all

The BDA believes that while these diets may help you lose weight in the short term, they don’t offer a healthy weight control solution in the long term.

Despite the seemingly unusual nature of some of these diets there are people who do believe they can work. In response to the BDA’s criticism, the Dukan Diet told Tonight:

“The Dukan Diet is an easy to follow health plan which does not involve starvation or a cutting of any food groups. Depending on the amount of weight to be lost, the Attack phase where the diet is mainly protein, only lasts one day to five days maximum. Usually on day two or three vegetables can be added to the diet and any amount of those can be enjoyed. Once followers of Dukan have reached the final phase of Stabilisation they can eat any and all foods each day provided that one day a week is a protein day. Dukan help people with their weight loss programmes via books, on-line coaching, recipes, meal suggestions, lists of foods for each stage and also products to make it as easy to follow and stick to as possible. Given the ease of the system there are millions of success stories and lots of healthier people around the world as a result."

slimming group posing
Waistwatchers, South Staffordshire Credit: ITV / Tonight

The programme also looks at whether dieting with a group of people can be a more beneficial way to stick to a diet plan. Each year the NHS prescribes group diet sessions to tens of thousands of us. Some are organised by private companies, but Tonight visited one being run by the NHS itself - Waistwatchers, in South Staffordshire.

woman being interviewed
Wendy Anderson Credit: ITV / Tonight

86% of our patients at twelve months, lose weight, and 35% of those sustain 5% weight loss after twelve months. And on the longer term we are seeing that patients get significantly more weight loss the longer that they are post the programme as well.”

– WENDY ANDERSON, SENIOR DIETICIAN AT WAISTWATCHERS

But for every group that’s done well there are stories of individuals who haven’t. Jackie Cross feels the diet industry has wasted an awful lot of her time and money – around £40,000 is her guess. Once 14.5 stone and 5’5” tall, Jackie was classed medically as obese.

woman on bicycle on country lane
Jackie Cross has benefitted from regular exercise Credit: ITV / Tonight

After 20 years of trying to lose weight by stop-start dieting and constantly failing, Jackie has now cut out diet plans altogether. Instead, by simply being careful about what she eats and taking regular exercise she’s lost four stone.

I just changed mindset completely. It's about the lifestyle changes rather than a diet - diets don't work. I just wish that I’d done the lifestyle changes that I have done now because I have actually lost four stone and am really, really pleased and it’s staying off.”

– JACKIE CROSS
Office workers stretching
You don't need to go to the gym to exercise, as Laura Williams demonstrates Credit: ITV / Tonight

Tonight also highlights the problem of “distraction snacking” within the programme, which can lead to weight gain. That’s when we sit at desks all day and constantly nibble, and nibble …and nibble. Personal trainer Laura Williams meets the staff of Wall to Wall Radio Communications in Sutton who are all regularly on and off diets. Laura shows them some easy exercises that can be done around to office to help burn the calories. But the ultimate conclusion is that they need to cut back on deskbound snacking, big-time!

To Diet, or not to Diet? is on ITV this evening at 7.30pm