Picture: Getty Images

Welcome to a new year - and a new diet? If you're embarking on a new diet today, here's some food for thought - there's a very high chance that you'll end up dieting yourself fat.

According to Dietitians Association Australia, 95 per cent of people who lose weight actually regain the weight - and more - within two years.

With depressing stats like this, losing weight may seem like an insurmountable task. But before you throw in the towel, experts say it is very possible to lose weight successfully, the problem has been that most people go about it in the wrong way.

Health professionals stress the importance of focusing on fitness over fatness. Quite often, a person can look slim but actually be "skinny-fat", carrying excess fat and little muscle tissue.

Professor Rob Newton, head of the school of exercise, biomedical and health sciences at Edith Cowan University, said people often misunderstood that fat was not as important as being fit.

"There are a dozen really large and convincing papers demonstrating the key to health is aerobic and strength fitness," he said. "This is more important than anything else."

Laura Kiely, accredited practicing dietitian and Gestalt psychotherapist, stressed the importance of addressing the many complex factors leading to weight gain or unsustained weight loss. Most quick-fix programs do not tackle any of these issues, she warned.

People regain weight when dieting stops because they return to the eating and lifestyle behaviours which led to the weight gain in the first place, she said.

Dieting can also set up a perfect situation for a "starvation paradigm".

"The starvation paradigm recognises food is a basic requirement, regardless of whether someone is overweight or not. So when the body is deprived of food it does everything in its power to get food - such as releasing appetite-stimulating hormones - and often, compensatory overeating is a result," Ms Kiely said.

This then reduces confidence that people can control their eating so they give up, she said. "Often, scarred from the experience of restriction, they crave all the banned foods and eat more of them than they would have before."

Rapid weight loss often happens at the start of a low-calorie diet. But despite feeling motivated by the smaller number on the scales, this is not fat loss.

"The body is losing water and muscle," Ms Kiely said. "It is not possible for the body to burn fat tissue at a fast rate. Crash dieting causes people to lose lean muscle tissue. Muscle is very hungry tissue, so with less hungry tissue to feed, calories are more likely to turn to fat."

Another reason why you should ditch the dieting for good is the fact that dieters often become obsessed with food, such as demonstrated in the landmark 1944-45 so-called "Minnesota Starvation Experiment". Healthy male participants dropped a drastic amount of weight for the wartime study, and during the process became preoccupied with food and eating. Afterwards, many rapidly regained weight and even made themselves sick by binge eating.

Ms Kiely said a readiness for change was the number one predictor for weight loss success. A good approach was to take the focus off weight and put it on self-care. "That is, taking time to eat well, exercise and look after your mental health. Work with an accredited practicing dietitian who has specialised counselling skills, or a dietitian and psychologist team who can support you to gaining full awareness of the factors leading to your weight problems and empower you to leading a healthier lifestyle in the long term," she said.

The West Australian

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