Norwich nutritional therapist questions whether dieting like Kate Middleton actually works

Research from Birmingham University has found that commercial diet plans are a cost-effective way to lose weight, but with so many available which should you choose if you want to lose the pounds this year? Emma Harrowing talks to Norwich nutritional therapist Catherine Jeans to find out.

New Year is the time many of us decide to embark on a weight loss campaign. If your New Year resolution was to shed a few pounds or battle the bulge, healthy eating and a good exercise regime are key to losing weight and keeping it off.

However, many of us need a little inspiration; the knowledge of what and how much we should be eating and the motivation to succeed not only in losing the weight, but in making sure we don't pile the pounds back on as soon as we reach our goal and ditch the diet.

And there are many weight loss programmes out there. From celebrity ones such as the Dukan diet which was made famous by the Middletons last year, to tried and trusted ones such as the Weight Watchers plan, to ones that you may not have heard of yet such as the DASH diet.

With so many diet plans on the menu, which one do you choose?

To help with distinguishing which diets are right for you, Life Matters has called upon the help of Norwich nutritional therapist Catherine Jeans from the Orange Grove Clinic on St John Maddermarket.

Says Catherine: 'There are hundreds of weight loss options, some with very tempting promises of vast amounts of weight loss with very little effort at all.

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'But do they work? And are they healthy?

'The problem with weight loss is that different people struggle to lose weight for different reasons. This is why some people will have great success with one plan, and for another it just won't work. As a nutritional therapist, I clinically assess each individual and help them achieve their target weight loss by giving them an individual, tailor-made weight loss programme that uses many different strategies, some of which current diet plans use.'

Catherine has reviewed the top five diet plans for 2012 to help you decide the best way to get in shape this year.

The Dukan Diet

What is it?

Made famous by the Middletons at last year's Royal wedding, the Dukan Diet has sold more than 1.5 million copies and is popular with A-Listers like J-Lo and Gisele Bundchen. This French diet is a high protein diet based on four phases. Phase 1 – nothing but protein for up to 10 days, except plenty of water and a small amount of oat bran. Phase 2 and 3 – a combination of protein and low-carb vegetables (so no potatoes or sweetcorn), and phase 4 you eat normally again, but with one day per week nothing but protein.

How does the Dukan Diet work?

The theory behind this diet is that proteins are harder to digest and require more calories to do so. They also help you to feel fuller for longer, and do not require the release of insulin, a hormone which can encourage fat storage.

Catherine says: 'The Dukan diet can be very successful for some people. It's also much healthier than other high protein diets such as Atkins, because it restricts foods high in saturated fat and the protein-only section is just a few days long. There's no calorie counting or food to weigh and many unhealthy foods are removed, such as salt, alcohol and sweet foods.

'The downside is that this kind of diet can cause constipation, bad breath and low energy during phase 1. It also relies on you drinking plenty of water, to support your kidneys to deal with such high levels of protein. Critics say this diet could leave some people low in antioxidants and essential nutrients, and such high amounts of protein are not healthy long term. This is true. Yet you have to weigh this criticism up alongside the long term health implications of being obese – people do seem to find this diet quite successful and it tends to avoid the yo-yo effect of piling all the weight back on.

'If you do want to try this diet, get a health check with your GP first and even better, get professional nutritional support to help you achieve your weight loss goals.'

The DASH Diet

What is it?

This diet was recently voted the Best Diet of 2012 by the US News and World Report, judged by a panel of 22 nutrition experts. Originally not created as a weight loss plan, DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and is high in fibre, has low to moderate fat levels, and plenty of calcium, potassium and magnesium.

How does the DASH diet work?

There are many books you can buy about the DASH diet, but the basic principles tend to be the same – between 1,200 and 2,000 calories per day, depending on how much weight you want to lose and your activity levels, with plenty of veg, fruit, wholegrains, lean protein, some low fat or non-fat dairy and some nuts and seeds.

Catherine says: 'This is an easy plan to fit into your daily life and is certainly a healthy and balanced way to eat. It recognises the importance of omega 3 essential fats (from fish, nuts and seeds) and provides plenty of antioxidants, essential vitamins and minerals.

'The only problem is for people looking to lose a lot of weight or for those with a slow metabolism (which often happens after years of yo-yo dieting) – the levels of carbohydrates and fruits could hinder weight loss for some people. Although the plan only gives you healthy carbohydrates, in my experience for some it can be difficult to lose weight without reducing these.'

Meal Delivery Diets

What is it?

Previously only accessible by celebrities and the super rich, home delivery diets are becoming increasingly popular. Dozens of local and national companies now offer weight loss meals and snacks direct to your door, from Diet Chef to Jenny Craig, Nutrichef to Go Lower.

How do meal delivery diets work?

Most focus on calorie controlled meals, with small portion sizes, to encourage weight loss. The theory is that if you take in less calories than you burn, you will lose weight. Often you get to choose from various meal options and some also offer counselling and phone support as part of the service.

Catherine says: 'If you don't like to cook or have a very busy lifestyle, living on take-aways and junk food, short term this could be a good weight loss option. Bad food choices and tempting treats are taken away because you only eat what's delivered. Also the phone support can be highly motivating and help to address any emotional issues with food.

'On the downside, it's vital you carefully choose your brand, as some are much better quality than others and some meals are high in salt. I also question the nutrient levels that remain, after being pre-cooked and then put in a microwave when you re-heat. Research also shows that low calorie or low fat diets are not the most effective for long-term weight loss, and the balance of meals has to be addressed – ensuring you have enough protein and very limited sugar or carbohydrate. Some of these plans do not address this fact. Also eating out and entertaining can be tricky and you are not educated on what makes a healthy meal or how much is a portion. Not to mention the price tag of this kind of plan, ranging from �5 to �60 per day.'

Meal Replacement Diets

What is it?

Many people who want to lose weight very quickly turn to meal replacement diets, such as SlimFast, Lighter Life, Special K or even the Cabbage Soup diet.

How do meal replacements work?

The idea is that you replace a meal, or two, or in some cases all your meals and snacks, with a shake, soup, bowl of cereal or a specially made bar. The theory is that your calorie intake is controlled, meaning you lose weight by burning more energy than you take in.

Catherine says: 'In theory, these kind of diets sound very simple, if you can handle the hunger pangs! But as so many of my clients who have tried this kind of diet in the past report they either give up because they're hungry or as soon as they start eating normally again they pile the weight back on and often even more. This yo-yo diet effect happens because when you starve your body with very low calories or skip meals, you'll lose muscle and cause your body to reset your metabolism so that you burn fewer calories and conserve energy stores. When you eat normally again, your metabolism takes a while to reset itself, which is why the weight tends to pile back on twice as quick. Also if you're living on shakes for a period of time, some people find their digestive system becomes sluggish when they introduce normal food again.

'The other major problem with meal replacements is that some of the formulas available do not provide optimum levels of vitamins and minerals, as well as being high in artificial ingredients, sugar, sweeteners or carbs, and too low in protein for effective weight loss. As a nutritional therapist, there are certain circumstances when I use meal replacement shakes, but I only use protein rich, professionally formulated metabolic food powders. I would always recommend that this kind of diet be done with professional nutritional guidance, alongside re-education about how to eat healthily for long-term weight loss.'

Weight Watchers ProPoints

What is it?

This new diet plan from Weight Watchers was launched at the end of last year and takes into account the fact that different types of food are processed differently by the body – so 100 calories of carbs has a different effect to 100 calories of protein.

How does the plan work?

You get an allowance of ProPoints for the week, with a daily quota and a few extras you can save up for a special occasion or event. With this new system, you're much more likely to eat a better balance of protein, fibre, fat and carbs, which may help to make the plan more effective and help you to feel fuller for longer.

Catherine says: 'This is one of the UK's most popular slimming groups, and finally it is listening to research and recognising the importance of balance, rather than just cutting calories. If you are going to try their new plan, I would recommend you also go to group meetings as this can have a very positive effect on your chances of diet success, keeping up your motivation.

'The downside is that this diet doesn't re-educate people about healthy weight loss and how to make the right choices for themselves, instead relying on points. In fact I've seen many of my clients fall into bad habits on this programme, storing up points to binge on all their favourites at the weekend, or using up their limit on high sugar or sweet treats and nothing else. Their mentality being, as long as they don't go over their points limit they'll be fine.'

Catherine Jeans, nutritional therapist and The Family Nutrition Expert, is based at The Orange Grove Clinic, Maddermarket, Norwich. Catherine is offering Life Matters readers �10 off their first consultation, so if you would like an individual, weight loss programme designed for you by Catherine call 01603 631900 to book an appointment, quoting reference EN2012.