Dieting is often used in combination with physical exercise to lose weight, commonly in those who are overweight or obese. Some people, however, follow a diet to gain weight (usually in the form of muscle). Diets can also be used to maintain a stable body weight.
Diets to promote weight loss are generally divided into four categories: low-fat, low-carbohydrate, low-calorie, and very low calorie. A meta-analysis of six randomized controlled trials found no difference between the main diet types (low calorie, low carbohydrate, and low fat), with a 2–4 kilogram weight loss in all studies. At two years, all calorie-reduced diet types cause equal weight loss irrespective of the macronutrients emphasized. In general, the best diet is one where you find a way to eat fewer calories in any way that you can.
A study published in the APA‘s journal American Psychologist found that dieting ‘do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people. However, other studies have found that the average individual maintains some weight loss after dieting.
The No. 1 thing most diets have in common is the lack of stick-with-it-ness. Many of us equate the word diet with short-term deprivation, something you go “on” and ultimately go “off.”
In a survey a UK food company found that of those who diet regularly, two out of five quit within the first seven days, one out of five last a month, and the same number–just 20%–make it to the three-month mark.
As a medical doctor I’ve seen this pattern often. Before working with me, most of my patients / clients have dieted repeatedly, and while each attempt “worked” for weight loss, it wasn’t doable long-term. The solution: pinpoint the pitfalls, and implement savvy strategies to fine-tune your approaches. The five real-life tweaks below can keep you from throwing in the towel, so you can succeed at sane, sustainable weight loss.
Drastic or too-strict diets can trigger mood swings, headaches, physical and mental fatigue, irritability, digestive upset, and brain fog; feelings some of my clients have referred to as withdrawal, and others have deemed zombie-like. Nobody wants to feel this way, and the truth is, changing your diet for the better should leave you feeling energized, light, clear-headed, and happy.
Revisit your history, and vow not to repeat previous missteps. You know your body better than anyone, which means you probably know exactly what’s made you feel miserable in the past. When I ask my clients about this, I tend to hear the same responses over and over – too few calories and too little carbs seem to be the biggest culprits. And when I ask, “If you could go back in time, what would you do differently that may have helped you feel more balanced?” most people have an intuitive response that’s right on target, such as building in an extra snack, increasing portions, or adding back some fruit.
While it may seem illogical to eat more when trying to lose weight, trust your body. Yes, you need to cut back to shed pounds, but undercutting your body’s basic needs can compromise your metabolism and your health, which is why you get such strong “stop it already” signals. To succeed, take a Goldilocks approach – not too little, not too much, just right.
Feeling hungry five minutes, or even an hour after you eat is not necessary for shrinking your shape. In fact, chronic hunger generally indicates that your diet is imbalanced or inadequate, which can cause your body to conserve energy, and resist weight loss.
To lose pounds and inches without perpetual hunger pangs, include healthy foods that boost satiety and keep you fuller longer, namely those high in lean protein (organic eggs, poultry, fish, beans and lentils), fiber (fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans, lentils), and good fat (avocado, nuts, seeds, and extra virgin olive and coconut oils). A 350 calorie meal of one cup of vegan black bean soup, topped with a quarter of a chopped avocado, two cups of grilled asparagus, and a half cup of cooked quinoa, will leave you feeling a whole lot fuller than a 350 calorie frozen diet dinner.
Another smart strategy is to choose foods that allow you to eat more volume without racking up excess calories, including water-rich fresh fruits and veggies, and airy starches, like organic popcorn and puffed whole grains. One half cup of organic corn provides about 15 grams of carbohydrate, about the same amount in three cups of organic popcorn, and one half cup of brown rice packs about 22 grams of carbs, roughly 8 more than one cup of puffed brown rice.
I often ask my clients to list which splurge foods they could happily go through the rest of their lives without, and which they know in their guts they simply cannot or don’t want to swear off forever. It’s a critical question, because long-term weight control is a lifetime commitment. Not finding a way to build-in indulgences is the primary reason many people ride the weight rollercoaster–lose 20 pounds, gain back 25, lose 30, gain back 40…
Trying to be “perfect” week after week typically leads to feelings of deprivation, resentment, even anger or depression, and culminates in either binge eating, or diet abandonment.
Ditch the “all or nothing” mentality. In that mindset, one small diet deviation triggers thoughts like, “Well, I blew it, I might as well go all out!” which keeps you stuck. If you’re worried about overdoing it, allow yourself small splurges in ways that reduce the chance of overeating.
For example, once a week, split a dessert at a restaurant, or buy one cookie from a bakery rather than bringing home a box. Also, be sure to include nutrient-rich weight loss friendly foods that feel like splurges, such as almond butter, avocado, and dark chocolate. Not being able to look forward to and savor your food is a surefire recipe for disaster.
Numerous clients have told me that when they turn down food or drinks because they’re trying to eat healthier, friends and family members respond with comments like, “You don’t need to lose weight, you look fine.”
Many report feeling guilted or enticed into eating foods they’re trying to avoid, and research confirms it. One recent study found that friends who eat together consume more food than those paired with strangers, and friends give each other “permission” to overeat.
Break the eating-as-entertainment pattern. Rather than scheduling social time around happy hour and dinners out, mix things up. Go to a play rather than a movie (where munching on popcorn and candy isn’t allowed), or go out dancing and volunteer to be the designated driver, so you can sip on H2O all evening.
If you get push back, concretely explain why your goals are important to you (e.g. eating better helps you sleep, so you’re more productive at work, makes your heartburn go away, keeps your migraines at bay…), and ask for support. Your friends may feel like they’ve lost a partner in crime, but if they care about you, they’ll make peace with adjusting the way you spend time together.
We’re practically programmed from birth to use food emotionally. We bond and celebrate over meals, use food to show our affection, bring others food in times of crisis, and use food as a means of comfort. A terrible day at work, or a long-awaited promotion may both trigger you to eat. In my 10+ years counselling clients, I’m certain that overcoming emotional eating is the greatest weight loss hurdle.
Strong emotions tend to drown out rational thoughts, and distance us from the consequences of immediate actions. In other words, when you’re really sad, angry, or scared, and you know that eating ice cream is going to make you feel better right now, it’s easy to push away thoughts about how you’ll feel tomorrow, or detach from goals that aren’t relevant in that moment. It’s not easy, and it doesn’t happen overnight, but you can change that pattern.
Even if you did not eat emotionally 50, 60 or 70 percent of the time, this shift can have a dramatic impact on your weight.
If you’re feeling pulled towards the pantry, hop online to check out success stories, read up on meditation, or do a little yoga– each of these things can help dial back the intensity of your feelings, and reconnect you with your broader objectives.
- ABC NEWS
- Diet: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dieting
- Wolpert, Stuart. “Dieting Does Not Work, UCLA Researchers Report”. UCLA Newsroom. UCLA. Retrieved 22 December 2013.
- Jump up Anderson, James; Elizabeth C Konz; Robert C Frederich; Constance L Wood (November 2001). “Long-term weight-loss maintenance: a meta-analysis of US studies”. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 74 (5): 579–584. PMID 11684524. Retrieved22 December 2013.