It doesn’t matter what kind of diet you follow – dieting is hard.
While it’s not necessarily true that 95% of dieters give up and fail on their diets, it’s certainly true that it’s maintaining consistent, significant weight loss can be very difficult.
There are lots of reasons that your diet might fail. But if you do some work ahead of time and know what you’re getting in to, it’s much easier to avoid the common pitfalls and traps!
Reasons your diet might fail
You’ve failed to plan
For most of us, dieting is rarely as simple as “just eat a little bit less!” Unless you have an amazing metabolism and only a few pounds to lose anyway, you have to make a plan. Maybe this means going into full meal-prep mode, or just actually making out a grocery list for once. Regardless, it’s important to know what you’re going to eat, and have those healthy foods on hand.
Imagine that you come home from work, and you’re starving. You go to grab a healthy snack, only to realize that you forgot to go grocery shopping. The only thing left for you to snack on? That big, air-filled bag of greasy Lay’s potato chips. Would you be able to turn them down? I know I wouldn’t!
Planning also helps out with the hanger strikes. You know about hanger – when you’re hungry and angry. Hanger usually results from low blood sugar, which means you need to eat. When you get in that “I just need food, give me something NOW” mode, you’re not making rational decisions, and you’ll probably end up blowing your diet.
(It’s a good idea to keep quick, non-perishable snacks in your car or in your work desk. Check out our article on the best jerky for keto and low carb dieters!)
Indulging a little here and there
I believe that it’s absolutely okay to treat yourself every now and then! Dieting shouldn’t be about a quick or temporary fix; it should be a lifestyle change, and in order for that to be the case, it has to be sustainable. If you swear off chocolate chips cookies for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, you probably won’t be successful.
However, you’ve got to be reasonable about the amount and the frequency of those treats; they have to actually be treats, and not be the norm. If you’re eating those complimentary cookies at the office every day, it’s no longer a treat; it’s part of your normal food intake, and it might be sabotaging your diet.
(By the way, if you find that you just cannot give up certain treats like cookies or bagels, you might consider looking into IIFYM – if it fits your macros. This type of dieting focuses on macros, rather than specific types of foods. Basically, once you get your macro limits, if a food fits your macros for the day, you can eat it. In this way, if you really just need one chocolate chip cookie a day, you can most likely fit it into your macros [of course, by replacing something else with those cookies].)
Restricting your calories too much
“Eat less and exercise more” has long been a mantra for the weight-loss community. However, not all calories are equal. Dr. Mark Hyman explains the difference between a thousand calories of Coke and a thousand calories of broccoli. The difference, he says, is in the metabolic processes that these foods trigger in your body. For example, Coke “will spike blood sugar and insulin and disrupt neurotransmitters, leading to increased hunger and fat storage, while the thousand calories of broccoli will balance blood sugar and make you feel full, cut your appetite and increase fat burning.”
So it’s not entirely true that “eat less and exercise more” is the key to weight loss. Some folks still believe this theory, though, and when cutting down to 1200 calories a day doesn’t work, they decrease their caloric intake even more. In addition to the havoc this wreaks on your body, this sort of restriction often leads to shoveling an entire large order of McDonald’s fries down your throat because YOU’RE SO HUNGRY.
Celebrations cause you to fall off the wagon
My father-in-law’s birthday is tomorrow, and the family is discussing what kind of ice cream cake to buy. In the past, I’ve fallen into the “it’s only once a year” trap, and I’ve played the “I have to be able to enjoy my life!” game. I mean, everybody knows that calories don’t count on birthdays, right?
Ha! The fact of the matter is, if you let your diet slide during this celebration, you’re likely to let it slide on the next one, too. And think about it – how many birthdays do you celebrate a year? Your kids, your spouse, your parents, your siblings; then there are the random celebrations at work, and the back-to-school parties, and the end-of-school parties, and the bachelor/bachelorette parties; plus weddings, funerals, and other random holiday gatherings.
Take it from me; it’s best not to fall into the trap. Love yourself, your body, and your goals enough to say no. (Here’s a handy guide on getting through the holidays without destroying your diet!)
Focusing on the wrong foods
For a while, low-fat foods were all the rage. If you bought full-fat yogurt, you were well on your way to a heart attack. But new research is showing that it’s not fat that is causing heart complications, but carbs. It’s entirely possible that your diet has been eliminating things that your body needs (like good fats) and taking in way too much of things you don’t need (even that whole wheat bread could be causing problems if you’re having too much of it).
It’s important to know the different types of fats – I’m not suggesting that you run out and eat an entire bucket of fried chicken on your own. But still, it’s hard to ignore evidence like this, from Harvard Health Publications:
“Eating polyunsaturated fats in place of saturated fats or highly refined carbohydrates reduces harmful LDL cholesterol and improves the cholesterol profile. It also lowers triglycerides.”
For decades, we’ve been following nutritional advice telling us that fat was bad for us. At the very least, it’s important to stay up to date on current health news and research, so you can make informed decisions about what goes into your body.
Your diet is too strict
Your diet sounds great, in theory: lots of grilled chicken and steamed broccoli, green smoothies, and salads for lunch every day. But when you start following that diet and realize what you’re restricting (everything that you love!) it may be more difficult to follow than you’d realized.
I believe that all diets start the same way – “I can do this!” said with conviction and one fist raised in the air in determination. We’re ready to make a change, we’re feeling strong (or we wouldn’t have started a diet in the first place), and more importantly, our bellies are full of whatever we just indulged in. We’re not feeling deprived in that moment, so it’s easy to commit.
But be honest with yourself. If you know that you have a serious addiction to chocolate, you probably won’t be able to give it up completely, and you’ll most likely end up cheating, and eating it anyway (and eating waaaaay too much of it!). It’s better to fit that chocolate into your diet, rather than try to avoid it completely.
You’re too impatient
Sorry to be harsh, but it may be true. It’s important to remember that no diet is going to work overnight, and you have to make sure that your expectations are realistic. Weight loss is never linear. If you look at the weight loss graph of literally anyone who has ever tracked their loss consistently, you’ll see ups and downs.
The important thing to notice is whether or not you’re trending downward. If your weight is up since the last time you weighed yourself, but overall, the trend is going down, then you’re okay! Weights that are consistently up and show no signs of heading downward? That’s when you need to reevaluate your plan and make some changes.
You engage in all-or-nothing behavior
In a lot of ways, it’s sometimes easier to swear something off completely, rather than eat it in moderation. For example, while lots of folks who follow a ketogenic diet engage in “carb up” days, I know that it doesn’t work for me. If I try a carb up day, it ends up turning into a carb up weekend, then a carb up week, then a “why even diet in the first place? I’m giving up!” kind of disaster. So yes, there are times when it’s important to know yourself, know your body, and know your limits. If you have a particular weakness, you might do best to just avoid it.
However, it’s not healthy to swear that you’re never going to eat another potato chip in your life. The fact is, there’s a really good chance that you will eat it again, and those of us who engage in all-or-nothing thinking tend to look at these slip-ups as total failures. This often leads to bingeing like I mentioned in the last paragraph.
It’s important to develop a healthy relationship with food, and that starts with learning how to eat everything in moderation. For you, moderation might mean eating a handful of potato chips once a week as a treat for sticking to your diet, or it might mean celebrating with ice cream once a year, on your birthday. Figure out what works and stick with it. But don’t expect to give up any food (especially the ones you love) 100%, because it will probably not end well!
Managing at work
Yep. Even though we’re adults, we still have to deal with peer pressure. One of the most common locations for diet failures is the workplace. Having meals together builds relationships and camaraderie, and many workplaces try to take advantage of this to increase morale. Sometimes it’s as simple as doughnuts in the breakroom. Other times, it’s a full catered lunch or dinner. Whatever the situation, it’s usually out of your control.
And when you’re at work, where you’re likely tired, stressed out, or bored, the temptation can be overwhelming.
However, staying strong and avoiding temptation isn’t impossible! Start out by keeping a stash of healthy snacks – whatever that might look like on your particular diet – in your desk drawer or your locker. (Nuts are a quick, filling option that don’t require refrigeration!) Snacking throughout the day keeps you full, so that those dangerous forays into the breakroom are less of a problem. Sip water throughout the day to keep you feeling fuller. Sometimes, you can’t avoid sitting through those meals, but even if you choose not to partake – and remember, you don’t have to! – sipping on water can distract you from the food that you might want, but know you shouldn’t have!
Managing at family gatherings
Another time that we’re faced with pressure to eat is during family gatherings. Imagine a huge Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings. Extended families often don’t understand why we’re dieting (“You’re perfect just the way you are,” says Nana, as she squeezes your chubby cheeks). They don’t realize that for some of us, it’s not something we can give up just for today (“Just one little splurge! I made this pecan pie because I know how much you love it!” Nana.)
And unless you’re bringing your own meals to the dinner, there’s no guarantee that the food there will fit your diet in the first place.
However, it’s possible to attend family gatherings, stick to your diet, and not offend your entire family!
Ultimately, it’s safe to assume that your family wants what’s best for you, and just wants you to be happy. Filling you up with pumpkin pie just happens to be their preferred way of getting you there. Even if Nana thinks you’re perfect just the way you are, most people probably won’t argue with a simple, “I’d like to be healthier.” If you follow it up with something like, “Besides, the food isn’t important; it’s the company that matters!” they’ll most likely be flattered and change the subject anyway.
You can also snack beforehand, eat lightly during the meal, and have a plan for afterwards. Just remember – while it’s not okay to indulge every single day, sometimes it’s important to remember that it’s just a diet, and one day isn’t going to ruin all of your progress. Sometimes, you just have to eat the pie for Nana’s sake.