Successful Dieting- It Can Be Easy!


Emma Maitland-Carew, BSc, Nutritional Therapist

Year of publication: 

Dieting is all about portion control and reducing daily calories whilst increasing exercise. But how is this possible if you have a tendency to overeat? Overeating is a complex issue which may go back as far as childhood when bad food habits were innocently encouraged. How many of us had parents that said, “if you are good, you can have a treat”? If unhealthy “treats” are given to children as a reward they may begin to gain an emotional preference towards these foods which nicely sets the scene for comfort eating later on in life. Using sweet foods as a reward instils a mindset that food is a great reward for hard work or a comfort to feel better. How many times have you heard - “if you finish your plate, you can have pudding”? Consequently, most children have learnt to ignore their natural signals of fullness, continuing to eat when they are not hungry, learning to overeat at an early age. Even if ‘treat rewarding’ parents tell their children that healthy foods are important, the subconscious message is – these foods are important but they are not fun and ‘sweet treats’ are exciting! Can you see why people choose sweet foods when they are bored?

According to Maria Montessori, one of the leading authorities of her time in children’s education, most children who have not already been influenced by processed sweet foods, will orientate towards colourful attractive fruits and vegetables if given a choice. Many studies suggest that comfort eating begins in early years. A study by Darling and Wright showed that children who were frustrated by their situation gained more weight in later years. Other studies associate childhood depression and low self-esteem with later obesity, particularly amongst women. It is common for people with depression to consume high amounts of carbohydrate and fatty foods to alter their mood and relieve boredom. Studies show that carbohydrates increase serotonin synthesis in the brain and a craving for fatty foods can be associated with an essential fatty acid deficiency, a factor that’s been linked to depression. Researchers from Denmark found that neglected children and children from poorly-educated families compared to ‘well brought up’ children had a much higher risk of obesity in later years. Comfort eating instils a feeling that food will fill an emotional void. Instead, we know that it leaves feelings of shame and guilt. Regular binge eaters find it difficult to break this cycle and will overeat until the root of the emotional problem is sorted out. For long-term sustained weight loss, the common triggers that activate comfort eating or overeating need to be addressed. The relationship between the type of dieter you are and the emotional triggers that make you susceptible to stepping off the diet also need to be looked at.

Common triggers

At the beginning of a diet, many people go to the extreme and at first may experience delight and pride at their achievements of initial weight loss. However, when emotional triggers such as depression, fatigue, stress, boredom or loneliest strike, many dieters quickly ‘fall off the wagon’ and indulge in ‘treat’ foods. Resulting weight gain is undoubtedly demoralising. Therefore, before embarking on a diet it’s important to identify and address the emotional triggers that may make you vulnerable to failure. Other triggers are excuses. Lack of time or money and a dislike for healthy foods are the main culprits here. You have to ask yourself, what are you prioritising?

Know your personality

Some interesting work carried out by Zest4life looked at the strengths and pitfalls of four different personality types. Matching your personality type with a suitable diet and appropriate support is the cornerstone of achieving dieting success.


The Enthusiast starts full of excitement and hopefulness mentally picturing how they will look and feel once they have realised their goal. However, these enthusiasts initially take their dieting to the extreme which makes it difficult to sustain the changes. They can become easily disappointed if initial weight loss is slower than they hoped for and quickly lose motivation. Setting realistic goals, getting support when natural enthusiasm wanes and celebrating even the smallest successes are helpful tools for this diet personality.


The Rebel may be suspicious of information and find it difficult to follow instructions. When they start following a diet, they may become pre-occupied with food. The rebel needs to be confident with the diet they have chosen. They need to take on the advice given, but adapt it to work for them. This personality benefits from support with setting achievable goals. Rebels can often be very creative once motivated.


The Perfectionist needs to completely understand the diet they are following and have everything carefully in place before they start. If they feel overwhelmed at the start they become de-motivated and can feel like giving up if they don’t or can’t follow the programme 100%. The secret to success as a perfectionist is to go through things thoroughly and ask for extra support until they feel the diet is completely achievable. The perfectionist needs to carefully set realistic goals and will benefit from embracing the 80:20 rule (be good 80% of the time and allow 20% slack for special occasions). It is important that they recognise all progress, improvements and achievements.


The Realist is likely to have successfully dieted in the past and has a realistic view of what is achievable. Their pitfalls may occur on holiday or at Christmas when they’re not following the diet so carefully. The challenge for the realist is finding the motivation to get back on track. This personality would benefit from teaming up with a friend for support and thinking of the changes they make as permanent.

Weight loss groups

The success of diets such as those created by Weight Watchers, Slimming World and Rosemary Conley depend on the accountability of going each week to be weighed in, by the support received from sharing with other group members and being encouraged to plan ahead. The pitfalls of these diets are the focus on hypo caloric dieting resulting in reduced metabolism and re-bound weight gain. Zest4life incorporates all the positive aspects mentioned above but uses a low-GL diet. Participants are under the supervision of a Nutritional Therapist who has been trained in weight-loss coaching. The low-GL diet encourages a healthy balance of macronutrients and regular meals aiming at balancing blood sugar. A meta-analysis by Nordmann, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, concluded that a low-GL diet was as effective as a lowfat diet in losing weight, plus triglyceride and cholesterol measurements were significantly improved.

One to one therapy

 One-to-one nutritional therapy consultations offer support with a personalised programme of diet, lifestyle and supplement suggestions. Psychotherapy and counselling encourages an increase in a sense of wellbeing through an interpersonal relationship. This form of therapy also opens up the opportunity to explore deep seated emotional patterns, food issues, confidence and body image issues and motivation. Cracking the code of emotional triggers linked to comfort, binge or overeating is a step in the right direction for successful dieting. Hypnotherapy helps to modify behaviour, emotions, attitudes, bad habits, anxiety and can help break the association between certain foods and certain emotions.

Having faith

 The New ID Course is a six-week course based on Christian principles for anyone struggling with an eating disorder. Their message is that “complete freedom is possible!” Each evening includes teaching, discussion, prayer and testimonies from people who are free from their disorder. An interesting randomised double-blind trial showed that people with heart disease who were randomly prayed for by Christians had a significantly lower severity score than people who were not prayed for. One New ID course member wrote after a month of finishing the course, “I went to the mince pie tin and thought, ‘actually, I’m not hungry so I don’t know why I’m here’ and very easily walked away without any guilt or anger or stress inside my head! I actually had to stop and question where such a simple clear decision had come from! “And a couple of times over the holidays, stressful or emotional things happened that would have previously warranted the situation being taken out on food, albeit overeating or not eating. I realised that during those times, not once had I even switched the anger or upset to food, in fact it never even came into my head!” Losing weight isn’t just about looking good and feeling good, it’s about protecting and preserving your health for the future, reducing your risk of developing degenerative diseases such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis and diabetes later on in life. Selecting the right diet is crucial, getting support is essential and working through emotional triggers and getting to know your personality type is highly advisable. Embrace these factors and dieting can become easier.

DIET, overeating, personality, weight loss
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