Losing weight has to be the single most common resolution of them all. And we all start with motivation high and the best of intentions that this will be the year we stick to it and sashay through the summer months in little more than a bikini and a wisp of chiffon.
Yet two weeks before our holiday, we're on a crash diet and the week before, we're conceding defeat and adding a sarong large enough to cover a small continent to our suitcase.
Nine times out of ten, this is because we've looked for the 'quick fix' and turned to faddy diets that promise exceptional results in the shortest possible time. These diets can actually work if you have the willpower of an elephant (not entirely sure why I'm assuming elephants have exceptional willpower, but they sort of give off that vibe!). The problem is most of us don't – we need to live normal lives and eat normal foods. And if you DO manage to lose a couple of stone via these methods, the minute you take your foot off the pedal, you start making up for lost time and the pounds pile back on – we've all been there.
Many diets advocate some form of 'food elimination', with carbohydrates being by far the most common. But is cutting out a whole food group really the answer?
Lower in calories and higher in protein, which can give a satisfying feeling of fullness. However, cut out too much carbohydrate and your energy levels will sink through the floor, your cholesterol levels may rise (many low carb plans do not restrict fats at all) and too much protein can put a strain on your kidneys.
Get the balance - Reduce your carb portions, make them wholegrain rather than refined, and be sure to include fruit and vegetables in your plan.
Around 10% of the population suffer from some level of wheat intolerance, which can cause bloating, stomach cramps, wind and a variety of other symptoms. However, it is not the easiest allergy to conclusively diagnose and generally involves a structured programme of elimination and re-introduction to establish its presence. Despite this, more and more 'diets' are being offered, claiming wheat to be the cause of our issues and advocating avoidance of wheat based foods.
However, wholegrain foods, bread and pasta etc are among the best sources of fibre available. Cut them out unncessarily and you will find yourself feeling sluggish and constipated.
Get the balance - If you think wheat or gluten may be a genuine problem for you try cutting it out for a week or so. If you feel a lot better in yourself having done so, then it would be worth seeing a dietician to investigate more fully. It is possible to replace wheat with other nutritious grains such as rice, quinoa or buckwheat.
Fat has a higher calorie content than any other food group, so it would seemingly make sense to cut out fats altogether to lose the maximum amount of weight in the shortest possible time.
However, virtually fat free diets have been linked to depression, dry skin and even fertility problems, fat being needed for the production of sex hormones. Some vitamins (A, D, E and K) depend on fats in the diet in order to be absorbed, so you could also end up with vitamin deficiency.
Get the balance - As with most things, cut down. And know your good fats from your bad ones. There are benefits to be had from unsaturated fats found in olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocado and oily fish. Limit saturated fats found in butter, cheese and meat and be vigilant about the real bad boys, trans fats, still found in many processed and manufactured food products.
If you don't eat, you're going to lose weight right? Absolutely. And if moderation is not something you can cope with, then you might think total abstinence could be the way forward. So a liquid meal replacement diet may seem to be the solution. Indeed, witness the transformation of Pauline Quirke (Birds of a Feather and more recently Emmerdale) and it is clear there is a lot of weight to be lost on these plans.
However, do not expect to have a social life or the odd 'night off.' Its all or nothing, as a large part of their success is dependent upon eliminating hunger by keeping the body in a state of permanent ketosis (fat-burning mode to you and me). And what on earth happens when you stop these programmes?
Get the balance - If you have a large amount of weight to lose, if you've tried everything else going and failed, then a meal replacement programme may work in the short term. But this will not re-educate you or teach you anything about nutrition and healthy eating. There is a very real danger of piling all the weight back on in a very short space of time when you 'come off' the plan.
By all means, use meal replacements to kick start your diet, give you a good weight loss in a short space of time and therefore the motivation to continue. But realistically, you should be looking to continue a diet plan with the introduction of real foods, balanced meals and preferably a support group behind you.
The Croydon Community Weight Loss Challenge offers weekly support from your own personal coach, education on nutrition and eating well. Every week over the 12 week programme, you can meet up with people in the same situation as you, pick up tips in a fun environment and finally conquer your weight problem once and for all.
And what's more, there are cash prizes to be won for the three Biggest Losers! So really, all you do have to lose is that excess weight.
The Community Weight Loss Challenge is held at the United Reformed Church East Croydon; further details be found on thebestof Croydon's Events Page.