Oh, diets. So often they plague even the most devout of healthy eaters. People can make themselves miserable, eating as healthy as they believe they can, but the pounds still don’t come off.
Have you been there before? You’ve tried and tried all different types of diets with little to no success. You maybe lose a few pounds here and there, but never any more, and they usually come back once you give up on the diet anyway. Even when you feel like you’re following the diet exactly, you still find yourself not reaping the rewards.
And then comes the inevitable doubt that creeps in after weeks of ineffective dieting. And you quit.
So what went wrong? What can you change to make this diet stick, and to make it count?
Here are 10 of the most common reasons why diets never work. Are you making any of these mistakes? Try altering your diet by taking these 10 points into consideration and see how much more successful you might be with your diet this time around.
You Don’t Personalize Your Diet Plan
Different methods work for different people. Your friend or family member might rave about this all-protein diet or that plant-only diet, but even if it interests you at first, this might not be the best place to start when figuring out your new diet plan. You could end up eating the exact same foods that your friend or family member did and not see the same results, which could cause you to give up the diet—and possibly dieting altogether.
For one, you might not like the same foods as your friend or family member—foods that are perhaps crucial to the diet itself. For example, if you’re a devout meat-eater, a plant-based diet may not keep your interest or appetite as long as one that included at least some meat or certain types of diet-friendly meats. Or you may flat out not like certain food alternatives, such as almond milk or coconut flour, so trying to use those ingredients in your meals becomes difficult to stick with.
Think about the healthy foods you like and the diet goals you have, and research which diets will integrate both as much as possible. Find a diet you like and can stick with for a long time.
Sometimes you can even pick and choose different parts of a diet if that will actually work for you. For example, you may try the Paleo diet, but still allow yourself to have dairy that is not grass-fed or from plants, which is technically not permissible.
This is called going 80-20 or 90-10—as long as you are following the diet as closely as possible while not making it impossible to stick with, you will find yourself sticking with it for much longer.
You Don’t Exercise
Face it. Regardless of what anyone has told you, diets simply do not work—or at least do not work as well—without an exercise regimen mixed in with the diet. If you don’t exercise, you may not see results quickly, or at all, which could ultimately keep you from maintaining the diet.
While cardio is important and most people think of walking, running, biking or the elliptical when they picture exercising, weight lifting is key to a successful diet too. Lifting weights may not burn as many calories as cardio workouts, but it does stimulate your body to retain lean body mass during your diet. The best exercise regimen to go along with a diet is then a combination of both cardio and weight lifting.
It’s more important to stick with a regimen that works for your time, energy and preferences, so don’t force any type of exercise into your plan that you think you won’t stick with.
You Reward Yourself Too Much When You Do Exercise
Just because you ran a mile during your exercise session doesn’t mean that you should reward your efforts by gorging on brownies or pizza after. Your exercise regimen needs to complement your diet, not supplement your ability to eat non-diet foods once you’re done. Often, people overestimate the amount of calories they burn during exercise and then overdo it with the food rewards after.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat at all after you work out, as being hungry after is natural. Instead of non-diet foods, go for protein, particularly lean proteins like chicken, fish, and buffalo, or healthy complex carbs, such as green vegetables, whole grains, starchy vegetables and legumes, including beans, lentils and peas. Try not to go for simple carbs, such as sugar and non-wheat grains, or any other foods that you know deep down are not part of your diet.
You Don’t Eat A Full Breakfast, If Any At All
Studies show that eating a good breakfast can be a huge deciding factor in helping you lose weight.
Not only do you need to eat a healthy, hearty breakfast, but it needs to be substantial enough to allow you to eat more modestly the rest of the day, particularly at midday. Snacking throughout the day and eating too much for lunch contribute to an unsuccessful diet, so having a good breakfast in the morning ensures that you start your body and appetite off on the right foot.
Experts suggest a 350 to 500-calorie breakfast complete with 10 to 15 grams of protein and fiber to ramp up your metabolism in the morning. Try a hearty omelet with plenty of veggies or yogurt packed with fruit and a piece of whole grain toast.
If you don’t often eat or eat much in the morning because you’re not hungry, you could be eating too much at night. Try eating dinner—and desserts, if applicable—earlier, and cut out the midnight snacks to ensure that you are hungry enough for your substantial breakfast in the morning.
You Skip Meals
In addition to having a full breakfast, you still need to be eating throughout the day. If you wait too long between meals, you are more likely to overeat, especially if you wait four or more hours. Try to eat your meals no more than four hours apart from each other. Healthy snacking during the day will also help you to not overeat – just make sure it is not something with too many carbs or sugar, particularly if you won’t be working out anytime soon.
Also keep in mind that when you eat less than 1,200 calories a day, you are not only not consuming all of the nutrients your body needs, but your body will also slow down your metabolism to hold onto the few calories you did put into your body.
This could mean that your body thinks that you are unable to access food, so it stores everything you put in it and even stops feeling full, all of which are functions evolutionarily designed to keep your body going throughout the day even when you can’t eat a lot of food. However, that can also thwart a successful diet.
You Eat Too Fast
When you’re starving, it may be in your nature to devour your food as quickly as possible. However, if you don’t already have the right portion sizes laid out, you could end up overeating before you start to feel full. Eating too fast means that your body doesn’t have the time to feel full as soon as it starts to. By the time your body tells your mind that it is full, you’re already on your second dinner plate and getting ready for dessert.
When you eat slowly, you allow your mind and body to better sync up during the digestion process. This gives your body time to fully process your food and signal to your brain that it has everything it needs so that you realize it’s time to stop eating. Your body has had enough. This is crucial because overeating is not good if you want your diet to be successful.
You Eat More When You’re Stressed
A lot of people stress-eat—it’s a well-known, established comfort. Emotional eating is practically wired into humans since birth, and it’s probably happened to most people at some point in their lives.
But when you stress-eat, you don’t always eat the healthy foods you should be eating. Instead, you grab the chocolate, ice cream, pizza, you name it. And why? Because those foods typically release endorphins that make you feel better when you’re in a bad mood or stressed about something.
When we’re stressed out, strong emotions can triumph over rational thoughts—the thoughts that tell us not to eat those unhealthy foods or not to eat as much as we are. Consequences are drowned out by the immediate satisfaction that overrides them. When you’re not stressed, you know that you shouldn’t eat half a pizza or an entire pint of ice cream, but when you are, all those rational thoughts can float away, as all you can focus on is what you’re stressed about and what can make you feel better fastest.
Part of the problem too is that it can make you even more stressed to fight the urge than to just give in. So the best solution is to indulge—a little bit. Have a reasonable amount of something sweet or fried or whatever it is that you like to splurge on. Then try to figure out another positive outlet for that stress, such as scheduling an impromptu workout to muscle some of that stress out of your body and burn off some steam.
Even if you can cut out emotional eating just half the time, you’ll likely start to notice a significant difference in the success of your diet.
You Don’t Sleep Enough
Research shows that sleep loss can be a direct contributor to weight gain and the inability to shed pounds even when you’re on a diet. This is because sleep deprivation:
- Makes you feel hungry even when you’re full
- Affects your metabolism by increasing fat storage
Sleep loss can affect your hunger pangs because it affects the secretion of cortisol, which is a hormone that regulates appetite. With this secretion thrown off by sleep deprivation, even when you’ve eaten enough food for your body, your mind tells you that you are still hungry.
Not getting enough sleep can also affect your body’s ability to metabolize carbohydrates, which means that your blood sugar levels will rise. Too much blood sugar means that your body overproduces insulin, and this leads to an increased storage of body fat.
Not sleeping enough can also mean an increase in metabolic syndrome, which can cause insulin resistance, hypertension and obesity, and sleep deprivation is inversely related to body fat, which means that the less sleep you get, the more fat your body retains. Plus, when you’re on a diet, even when you do lose weight, sleep deprivation causes your body to lose lean body mass instead of fat mass.
Having a good nighttime routine that gets you to bed on time, every time, is crucial for an effective diet. Allow your body to rest and recuperate to prepare for absorbing and putting to work all of the nutrients you’ll be eating the next day.
You Give In To Social Pressure
You may have heard it before while you were trying to lose weight, “You’re thin. You don’t need to be on a diet.”
Plus, you have dinner parties, BBQs, going out with friends, Thanksgiving dinner—social pressures abound when it comes to food and diets. Sure, it may be easier to go with the flow and eat what everyone else is eating, but when you’re on a diet, you still need to be mindful about the foods you’re eating, even if everyone else is eating something different.
This is especially important on the weekends. A diet shouldn’t only be followed five days a week. Just because you might be off work doesn’t mean that your whole eating schedule should be changed too. Whatever you’ve been doing for the week, keep it going for the weekend or risk cancelling out all of your week’s work with all the non-diet foods you let yourself eat over the weekend.
Sure, you can let yourself slide a little bit here and there when it comes to the weekends or social outings, but make it as planned out, rather than spontaneous, as much as you can so you always know what you’ll be eating. Take a look at the menus of the places you’re going out to eat to weigh your healthiest options, or ask your host what you’ll be eating ahead of time so you can plan what foods to pick out or the right portion sizes based on your current diet.
You Down Diet Soda
“But it’s diet soda,” you’re probably thinking. Sure, the phrase “diet soda” may seem like that type of soda is made for people on diets, but the fact is that soda is soda, and diet soda is no better. In fact, drinking it can even backfire.
In a 2011 study, people who drank diet soda had a 178 percent greater increase in waist circumference over 10 years as compared to those who did not drink diet soda. So why does this happen?
For starters, diet soda is still sweet, right? It may not have sugar or high fructose corn syrup in it, but it does contain a sugar alternative that can be just as bad for you, if not worse.
Artificial sweeteners can take a toll on your body in a number of ways. Instead of satiating your need for something sweet and caffeinated, they can actually make you feel hungrier by raising your insulin levels and lowering your blood sugar. This also means that calories will be moved into storage in your fat cells, which is a big no-no for a successful diet.
And even if you were trying to fulfill a sugar craving, diet soda may not help, or at least not for long enough, as traditional sugar triggers a longer dopamine release than artificial sweeteners. You’ll end up wanting more sweetness that much sooner, causing you to guzzle diet soda until you’ve satisfied your craving—and effectively turned your body against you in terms of hunger and maintaining your diet.