SMALL TWEAKS: Focus on "substitution” instead of "elimination”. It might mean switching your crisps for nuts, soft drink for water or adding one more colourful veg to every meal. iStock

Throw away the rulebook

DIETS don't work for everyone. They're often restrictive - denying yourself foods you love - which means you'll inevitably fail.

But being determined to improve your health is a goal that we can aim towards.

Here are the reasons we should ban the word "diet”, and try improving our overall health instead.

Deprivation equals binge

Imagine you tell yourself that you're not allowed to eat any chocolate. Ever.

These kinds of "diet rules” are never sustainable long-term. And when you inevitably cave in and have one piece, "failure” sets in. Then, what the heck, you've devoured the entire block.

For many, "diet” means a set amount of time during which you exercise superhuman willpower to resist temptation. After enduring this overwhelming hunger period, you reward yourself with a junk food splurge. Not only does this "restrict-binge cycle” have a negative effect on your relationship with food, it also means you end up achieving the exact opposite of a what you set out to do in the first place - a balanced approach to eating with the occasional treat thrown in.

Try this: Focus on "substitution” instead of "elimination”. It might mean switching your crisps for nuts, soft drink for water or adding one more colourful veg to every meal. Small tweaks have big pay-offs long-term, not to mention they're less taxing on your willpower. Once you have mastered one, try another.

You're always grumpy

Labelling foods "good”, "bad”, "clean” or "dirty” is placing judgment on eating, which you should never feel guilty about. Food is not the enemy and shouldn't be thought of in terms of kilojoules and macros. Not only is it tiring, it's also mentally exhausting. As you know, being hangry is never a good state of mind.

Try this: Call a truce and stop the food fight! Make food choices that honour your health and tastebuds and leave you satisfied. A recent scientific review showed that mindful eating works because it strengthens the weakest link in most diets: the compliance problem. The researchers conclude that increased mindful eating helps participants gain awareness of their bodies, be more in tune to hunger and satiety and decrease reward-driven eating.

Hunger is off the charts

If you've ditched an entire food group and find yourself battling an insatiable hunger, then it's time to reassess. Hunger is a primal physiological function that signals you're not eating enough, so it shouldn't be ignored.

Research shows a large percentage of dieters regain all the weight they lose within just one year. Why? Weight regain is partially due to your body's appetite. In fact, the influence of hunger on weight regain is three times stronger than a slowing metabolism. In other words, the more weight you lose, the more you eventually compensate by eating more.

Try this: The more you focus on nutrition and building better habits, the more you'll improve your whole-body wellness, staving off weight regain later. Eating nutrient-rich foods extends into your sleep patterns, energy, vitality and ability to fight off illness. So, stop being hungry and start eating happy.

It's impossible to stick to

Sure, diets can help you drop weight pronto, but results are generally short-lived. If your eyes are on the short-term prize, what happens once you stop obeying the rules? Chances are, once you've hit your goal, you're likely to return to your old habits, which never really die - they just remain dormant.

Try this: It's okay to track meals or keep a food diary, but be careful not to go overboard. Eating healthily should be about making positive changes -not changes that you begrudge. And the best way to approach this is to focus on health, not kilos. In other words, enjoy the process at your own individual pace and make sure it stems from a place of body respect and acceptance.

Kathleen Alleaume is a nutrition and exercise scientist. Follow her @therightbalance