5 Reasons New Diets Fail (And How to Avoid Them)
December 31, 2013 | By Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD
The start of the new year is the ultimate opportunity to undo the holiday damage, make a fresh start, and resolve to avoid the indulgences that have left you feeling less-than-confident about your body. To get results that won’t fizzle out before February, check out my previous post 5 Questions to Ask Before Trying Any Diet, as well as the tips below for coping with the challenges that often go along with a new quest to shed pounds.
Confusion over which approach is best
The top question I’m asked these days is, “What should I do?!” Nearly everyone I talk to feels overwhelmed about the myriad of popular approaches others swear by, many of which are drastically different from each other, including detoxes and cleanses, ditching carbs and eating like a caveman, going gluten free, and becoming vegan. I don’t think there is a one-size-fits-all, but in my 15+ years counseling clients, I do know this – if a particular approach doesn’t feel right for you, it will surely backfire. For example, I recently had a client who, before working with me, had cut out all carbs, including whole grains, fruit, and most veggies. Despite struggling with fatigue, headaches, mood swings, intense cravings, and trouble concentrating at work, she tried to stick with it, because an ultra low carb diet seemed to be the trendy way to lose weight. After breaking down and bingeing on bread, then sweets, and realizing that her body and brain “just didn’t work right” without any carbs, she was ready for a different approach. Before you begin your chosen weight loss tactic, do a gut check to be sure it feels sane and sustainable. And if a structured plan isn’t right for you, focus on committing to a few changes you know you can stick with, like trading fast food for quick homemade meals, ditching diet products, or consistently making simple swaps, like eating spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti.
Not losing weight fast enough
I know that seeing quick results is key for staying motivated, and feeling confident and inspired to stay on track, but it’s important to put numbers in perspective. If you don’t hit a double digit loss within a week, don’t assume that your approach isn’t working. Shedding just a single pound of body fat is like melting 16 ounces of shortening (one of those short, round tubs) off of your frame, which can make a huge difference in how you feel and how your clothes fit. On the flip side, losing water weight, which is far easier and faster, does nothing to change your body composition, and you can regain it all within a matter of hours. So rather than getting hung up on numbers, focus on how you feel, whether your jeans fit looser, and how your body is changing, like clearer skin, less facial puffiness, etc. And if you really aren’t seeing results, it may be time to get honest about your habits – check out my previous post 5 Little White Lies You Tell Yourself That Derail Weight Loss.
One of the side effects of adopting a cleaner, healthier eating plan you may not expect is an increase in bloating. Upping your intake of fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, lentils, and nuts, can mean a considerable increase in your daily fiber intake. Because fiber doesn’t get broken down and absorbed from your GI tract into your blood stream, it has to work its way through your system, which can take a few days. Eating fiber is also kind of like strength training to your digestive tract, because your GI muscles have to contract to push the fiber through, to be eliminated. Continuing to eat this way consistently, and drinking plenty of water, helps to lessen the effects, but your belly may balk initially. Just remember that bloating has nothing to do with your weight or body composition. In other words, trading a muffin or scone for oatmeal topped with fresh fruit and nuts may make your belly a bit rounder after breakfast, but if you’re losing body fat and upgrading your nutrition game, it’s worth a little temporary expansion – and in time, your body will adjust. For more info, and other pitfalls to be aware of, check out my post 7 Reasons Most Diet Fail Within 7 Days.
Lack of support
This is probably the top barrier my clients face when trying to stick with a new lifestyle approach. Often significant others, friends, family members, and coworkers sanction skipping the gym, offer tempting treats, or suggest social activities that revolve around unhealthy patterns, like pizza and Redbox, or going out to dinner. “I feel like everyone is out to sabotage me!” is a phrase I hear a lot. If you find yourself in the same boat, seek out support where you can. Recruit another health conscious coworker to eat lunch with, connect with like-minded friends via email, text, or online, and celebrate your own successes by giving yourself regular pats on the back or healthy rewards for getting through challenging situations. Even something small, like a song download, new app, a 10-minute chair massage, or a single fresh flower for your desk can help you stay in an empowered frame of mind that makes it easier to cope when you lack support from others. And if you need to have a heart-to-heart with the people closest to you (to ask for help, or at the very least to not be hindered), check out my previous post DOs and DON’Ts for Dealing With Food Pushers.
Slipping up on difficult days
Regardless of how great you feel after revamping your eating habits and regularly hitting the gym, there are going to be days when you’ll want to give up. The truth is it does take more time, energy, and awareness to live healthfully. So after a stressful day, when you’re already tired and you still have to cook dinner, you may feel like throwing in the towel. Plus, we’re practically programmed from birth to turn to food as a way to soothe, escape, reward, and comfortourselves – so when you’re mad at your boss or boyfriend, foregoing a healthy home-cooked meal and ordering a pizza instead kind of go hand in hand. When you feel that urge, reach out to your support systems, focus on the rewards of staying on track that go far beyond weight loss, like improvements in your mood, sleep, and self-confidence, and try to remember how great you feel when you’re taking care of yourself. And if you still wind up falling off the wagon, start fresh the next day. Losing weight is about consistency, not perfection, so don’t let one “off” meal or day derail you completely – steadily eating healthfully and being active, with a few slip ups here and there, will produce far better results than streaks of strict days followed by an equal or greater number of indulgent ones.
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.