Why is it so hard to maintain weight-loss diets? Fasting is a time-honoured practice that brings more awareness to eating and helps us shift long-standing habits

Weekend Word, Good Morning Wales, 25th January, 2013

May I ask an awkward question: how are your New Year resolutions going? If you’re like me, three weeks in to 2013, the impetus to make a fresh start is already fading. We make resolutions about saving money and reading more books, but according to one consumer magazine the most popular this year were: (1) Do more exercise; (2) Lose weight; (3) Eat more healthily.

It’s natural that we want to look good and stay fit; but, looking around, we aren’t doing very well. Last year’s Welsh Health Survey found that 57 percent of adults are overweight or obese, and childhood obesity is being described as an epidemic. This week, Shadow Health Secretary Diane Abbott added her name to those calling for legislation to curb sugar levels and regulate food marketing.

That might help, but we still need to change our behaviour individually. We try to do that with diets and resolutions; but shifting our eating habits seems to be especially difficult. Snacking is enjoyable. Eating convenience food is cheap and, funnily enough, it’s convenient. Unhealthy eating is pleasurable, comforting, and at the time it seems so harmless.

I’ve been trying the fasting diet that’s all the rage at the moment. It’s too soon to say if I’m losing weight, but eating just 600 calories two days a week has given me an insight into my food habits. I still see my hand reaching for the fridge door, even on fast days; but I know I have to stop it. The effect is that I keep on noticing, even on days when I’m not fasting.

It’s significant that fasting is a practice in all the major religions. Buddhist monks, for example, don’t eat after midday, and some eat just one meal a day. It’s not that fasting makes us think less about food – feeling hungry may actually make us think about it even more. But it shows me that I don’t have to act on the impulse to eat. I feel more in control of my actions and that frees me to focus on other things.

I wonder if the reason we don’t keep resolutions is that we think too much about what we want to achieve, and not enough about the subtle forces, like habits and impulses, that influence us without our even noticing. In the end, changing the way our bodies look really means changing our minds.

Weekend Word, broadcast on Good Morning Wales @ 7.25 am, 25th January, 2013