I can't believe I am writing this again, but here it is: diets don't work.

We know this, don't we? We all know that yes, when you follow a restrictive way of eating — aka a diet — you may lose weight. But we also know that the only way we can keep weight off is by sticking to that diet for life. As anyone who's ever been on a diet knows, that is next to impossible.

So it's disheartening to see we still seem to be keen on dieting.

This is one of the out-takes from a recent survey of Kiwis' eating habits and food choices. The Bayer Food Focus Survey (disclosure: I worked on this project) gives us an interesting snapshot of what's going on in New Zealanders' kitchens and shopping trolleys.


It's important because we haven't had an official National Nutrition Survey in more than 10 years.

This is a huge frustration for everyone involved in food and/or health. With the pace of change in modern life, doing anything based on decade-old data is at best risky and at worst, a waste of time.

This survey is not the same as a big government survey, but it is a current look at some specific questions around food and eating.

The survey revealed some interesting dieting behaviour.

Almost one in four (23 per cent) of respondents said they had followed a weight loss diet in the past year. That included roughly twice as many women (30 per cent) as men. There were also 20 per cent who said they'd tried a low-carb diet, 17 per cent intermittent fasting, and 11 per cent the keto diet.

It's disheartening to see that young people seem to be the most attracted to dieting. The numbers jump to one in three on weight-loss diets among those aged 15-34. A quarter of this group had also tried low-carb and fasting diets.

I'm not sure why younger Kiwis are into diets. But I know the effects can be bad. There's evidence to show the younger a woman is when she starts her first diet, the more likely she is to use extreme weight control behaviours by the time she hits her 30s. Dieting young also makes women more likely to misuse alcohol, and, ironically, they're more likely to be overweight or obese as they get older.

Restrictive eating can mess with our heads. It changes our relationship with food from simple — about hunger, satisfaction and pleasure — to complex: about deprivation, denial and self-judgment. For some that can mean a descent into disordered eating.


Interestingly, 37 per cent of 15-34-year-olds in the survey said they felt they should eat more vegetables. Wouldn't it be so much more positive if people focused on adding something into their diets rather than restricting them?

Niki Bezzant is a food and nutrition writer and speaker. Follow Niki on social media @nikibezzant.