However, for most people, the word diet more commonly indicates a short term plan to change their eating habits. “I’m starting my diet on Monday” or “I need to go on a diet before swimsuit season” or “I need to go back on my diet to lose these 5 pounds.” The problem with this use of diet is that it (almost) always implies that the diet is a temporary new way of eating. As such, at some point there will always be an end to that “diet” and a return to your previous habits – which means whatever success that occurred will likely reverse itself once you return to those old habits.
I have a handout that I give to many of my clients that I love. It says “You did not fail on these diets. The diets failed you.” Here’s why many diets will fail you:
They have a list “bad” or “off-limit” foods.
Are there foods that are not healthy for the body? Of course. That doesn’t mean you have to completely eliminate them for life. By creating a list of off-limit foods, it often makes them more tempting and desirable. This can lead to binges, and subsequent “shame-spiral” inducing guilt that leads to more eating.
Healthy eating over life is about balance and moderation, within your own known limits. If you’re someone that knows you’ll overeat cookies if they’re in the house, then keep them out of the house. Does that mean you can never have a cookie? Of course not. Maybe you indulge in a fresh-baked one while at a friend’s house occasionally. If you love chocolate and know you can stick to a portion controlled serving, then maybe you treat yourself to a small square of dark chocolate most days, which helps prevent you from indulging in other treats. Figure out the right balance for your life.
[Note that in this section, I’m referring to diets that unnecessarily cut out foods. If you need to eliminate foods for a medical reason, that’s a totally different story.]
They tell you to ignore your body’s hunger.
Many diets have specific meal structures that may not be ideal for you, or set you up to have way too few calories. The result is that you feel hungry often, which can lead to a constant obsession with food.
It’s funny sometimes to watch young children eat, because many are very in touch with their body’s sense of hunger and fullness. They eat when they’re hungry, and stop when they’re full. Somewhere over the years, we’ve learned – not to our advantage – to override these signals. Diets are just one of the reasons for that.
Instead of starting a diet where you feel hungry all the time, consider paying more attention to your body’s signals. When you sit down to eat, get rid of distractions like television or the computer. Focus on the smells, tastes, and textures of your food. Eat slowly and enjoy each bite. And reassess your hunger/fullness level periodically throughout the meal. When you are satisfied – yet not “full” or stuffed – that’s a good time to stop. This is a skill that takes time to perfect, but will serve you well over the course of your life.
They have an all-or-nothing mentality.
Many times if the day starts out with a not-so-healthy choice, dieters will throw in the towel for the day due to that all-or-nothing mentality. “I’ll start again tomorrow,” they might say.
Try to break that all-or-nothing mentality associated with dieting, and instead think of overall balance that comes with lifestyle change. Your weight and your health are not the result of one choice. They are the result of many choices that you make each day, both related to food and related to other behaviors. If you make a not-so-healthy food choice, think about a positive action step you can take to balance it out. For example, if you caved and had a donut for a snack, think about what healthy dinner option you could make or decide to go take a walk. The goal is to have mostly positive actions, knowing of course there will be a few glitches along the way.
They don’t set you up for long term success.
Again, most fad diets out there are only sustainable for a short period of time. Even if you are successful on it, you won’t experience lasting success if you can’t keep up the habits over your entire life.
Weight maintenance is a common example of this. When people lose weight, their body needs fewer calories than when they were a heavier weight. If you go on a diet to lose weight, but then stop the diet because you reached your goal, you will no doubt gain the weight back when you return to old habits.
Instead of focusing on short term success, consider looking at your current eating habits and finding a few small changes that you know are sustainable long term. Focus on those first, and then add in a few more changes. This long-term approach will set you up for the best success!
The bottom line: You developed your eating habits over 30, 40, 50, or however many years old you are now. It will take more than a few weeks to create new habits – and that’s ok! Skip the fad diets, and commit to changing your eating habits little by little to ensure success for life.
Share with us: What’s the worst “diet” you’ve ever been on?