Sticking to a diet day in and day out can be quite a challenge. But being aware of potential pitfalls upfront can actually help you stay on track by knowing what to avoid. Here are the five of the top reasons why diets are unsuccessful and how you can make little tweaks here and there to make sure yours has a happy ending.
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1. You go for the newest “fad.” Registered dietician and senior nutritionist at Rainbow Light, Marci Clow, MS, says that Americans are typically looking for a quick fix and tend to turn to whatever fad diet is being touted by celebrities, in the news or on social media. “What works for one person might not necessarily work for others, and given the lack of long-lasting results and ridiculous amount of money spent on some of these fads, eventually most trendy approaches fall out of favor and a new one surfaces.”
2. Your diet is “unsustainable.” Many experts agree that one of the most common reasons diets fail is because they are not sustainable for the long-term. “Many diets will yield results in the short-term because they cut calories, but people commonly revert back to old habits if they reach a plateau or if the diet is impossible to stick with,” says Clow. “Diets that are super complicated or restrictive, or that you get bored with because you eat the same foods every day, are certainly not sustainable.”
3. You don’t exercise. According to Dr. Michael Hall, director of the Hall Longevity Clinic, exercise is crucial to reaching many of the goals we associate with dieting. “Taking the stairs can cause you to lose three pounds a year. Park your car as far away from the store or shopping complex entrance as possible to create ‘insensible weight loss.’ Try to exercise each day, doing something for 20–30 minutes. Swimming is the best, and bike riding or jogging on soft surfaces are great, too.” Clow says it might be easier to add regular exercise into your day if you get someone to do it with you. “Especially with classes or activities, it really does help to partner up! You’re less likely to roll over and hit snooze if a friend is waiting for you at the gym, pool or yoga studio.”
4. You set unrealistic expectations. “Many people expect to see their weight decrease in about a week or two, but that’s just not reasonable,” says Dr. Hall. “In fact, there’s a period of time that the human body has to recalibrate its ‘weight set point,’ which means the brain has to calibrate how much bodyweight can reasonably be lost. It varies from person to person and is predicated on storing calories to prevent famine. The weight set point can be reset, but slowly over a period of three to four weeks. More often, people target five to 10 pounds within a short period of time and then yo-yo or even gain weight because their weight set point can’t reset that quickly. Their diets fail because extreme and radical fluctuations are not good for weight loss. The best approach is a strategic one calibrated over a month—expect to see about a 10-pound decrease every three weeks.”
Clow says it takes more than 20 days for a new activity to become a habit, and oftentimes up to six months for it to become part of your routine/personality. “There are no quick fixes, miracle pills or fad diets that will help you achieve weight loss overnight, so be persistent and patient, and if you fall off the bandwagon don’t worry about it, just hop back on!”
5. You don’t cut out sugar. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines show that cutting your sugar intake to about 10 percent of your total calories could improve the health of all Americans and reduce obesity rates. “Based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet, that is about 50 grams of sugar per day,” says Clow. “Given that a can of Coke contains 39 grams of sugar, you’d be wise to eliminate soda if you’re a regular user. To keep your body functioning optimally, it’s important to stay hydrated, and the best beverage is plain old water regularly consumed throughout the day.”
At the end of the day, we understand it’s not easy to diet. If it was, we’d all look like Gisele. But, Clow makes a good point. If you let your diet fail because you say you don’t have enough time to exercise or prepare healthy meals, think about how you find time to watch TV, surf the Internet, etc. “It’s just a matter of making healthy lifestyle choices a priority,” she says. And we agree.