I read a stat today that BLEW. My MIND. A survey of 2000 British adults released last week suggests that the average adult will try 126 different diets during their life. ONE-HUNDRED AND TWENTY-SIX! If you’re someone who jumps from diet plan to diet plan, it’s time to cut that out.
Yo-yo dieting is one of the worst things you can do for your physical and mental health. Large studies have linked big fluctuations in weight, blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure (y’know, like you’d see in a yo-yo dieter) with increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and early death.
What’s more, yo-yo dieting is an emotional roller coaster. In my work as a dietitian, I encounter so many people who describe feelings of failure because they can’t seem to keep the weight off and stay accountable to a diet plan.
I’ll tell you what I tell them: It’s not your fault. Most popular diets won’t set you up for long-term success. This post will explain some of the reasons why we turn to fad diets and share some tips for changing your mindset toward them.
Mindset Flaw: Chasing Quick Results
Want to lose 10 pounds in 2 weeks? Who doesn’t?!? Unfortunately, quick fixes rarely lead to long-term success.
With some diets, like keto, the quick early weight loss is mostly due to water weight. Our bodies store 2-3 grams of water for every gram of carbohydrate, and we shed that water as we use up our carb stores on very low-carb diets. Guess what happens when you eat a high-carb meal on keto? You put some weight back on.
Water weight aside, any diet plan that causes rapid early fat loss likely calls for drastic measures. Fat loss occurs when you consistently take in fewer calories than you burn.
There’s been some debate recently about how much of a deficit is needed to lose one pound, but the conventional wisdom is around 3500 calories. This would require most people to cut 500 calories per day to lose 1 pound per week, or 1000 calories to lose 2 pounds per week (here’s an article I wrote about that a while back).
To lose more than 2 pounds per week would require some pretty harsh restriction, which is difficult and unhealthy long-term.
Mindset Fix: It’s probably best to take a hard pass on any diet plan that promises fast results. A more sustainable goal is to aim for 1/2 pound to 1 pound per week—2 pounds may be okay if you have a bit more to lose.
Mindset Flaw: Having Unrealistic Goals for your Diet Plan
Are you on social media? Do you read magazines or watch TV? None of the above? How about grocery shopping—do you ever stand in a check-out aisle?
If you do any of these things, you are exposed to subtle messages about “ideal” bodies. The more exposure you have to mass media, the more messages you receive. And studies suggest that these messages very much shape our attitudes toward our bodies, and toward diet and exercise.
Friend, these images aren’t real. Magazine pictures are airbrushed, and the celebrities in them have lots of resources to help them look good (chefs, trainers, assistants, plastic surgeons, etc.). Even Instagram fitness influencers know posing secrets to make their bodies look their very best.
It can be tempting to hop on the fad diet train when you aspire to look like a celebrity or influencer, but it’s really not a good idea.
Mindset Fix: It’s not always the worst thing to aspire to look a certain way. However, take some time to reflect on what else you’d gain by eating healthier. Maybe you’d have more energy, or be able to crush some PRs at the gym. Maybe your cholesterol would improve, or you’d sleep better. At the end of the day, these will improve your quality of life more than looking like a fitness model.
Mindset Flaw: Fitting a Square Peg in a Round Hole
Do you like carbs? Yes? Then why would you ever want to try keto? Are you the world’s biggest fan of peanut butter? Maybe low-fat isn’t the way for you, then.
When it comes to weight loss, there is more than one way to skin a cat, so to speak. The primary predictor of lasting weight success is the ability to stay in a calorie deficit consistently over time. One of the best ways to do this is to incorporate your favorite foods in proper portions.
It may seem counterproductive to eat, say, tacos and pizza into a weight loss diet plan. However, making room for your favorite foods can actually help you stick with a plan for longer, even if you go over your calorie goals every now and again.
Mindset Fix: Be leery of any diet plan that makes all of your favorite foods off-limits. The best diet plan is the one that you can stick with long-term, and including foods you like will make that easier. Do you live for pasta dinners with your family? You might do better on a lower-fat plan. Big fan of avocado, nuts, and cheese? A slightly lower carb, higher fat approach may be better for you. Don’t try to fit a square peg in a round hole.
Mindset Flaw: Perfection Over Progress
There are some popular short-term diets out there that have long lists of “compliant” and forbidden foods. Some of the scariest places on the internet, in my opinion, are message boards for followers of these diets.
Sure, there are some helpful and well-meaning people. Others are savage and, dare I say, hangry? I’ve seen many threads on boards like these that suggest that people who eat even one meal off-plan foods need to start back from scratch.
I’m here to tell you: Pffffffft. That’s crazy talk.
If you’re looking for long-term weight loss success, you’re going to have some setbacks. The answer to those setbacks is not to berate yourself and go right back into an overly restrictive mindset. The answer is to honor the hard work you’ve been putting in and come up with simple strategies to overcome those setbacks.
Friend, your goal is just to do a little better than yesterday, as many days as possible. You’re aiming for progress, not perfection.
Mindset Fix: Don’t worry so much about forbidden and compliant foods. Try to shift your focus more toward process goals. A process goal is a specific goal that you work on every single day, like eating 1/2 plate of veggies at lunch and dinner or drinking 1 soda per day instead of 5.
It can be tempting to look for a quick fix, but what good does that do if your success is only fleeting? If you’re prone to hopping from diet plan to diet plan, see if one of these mindset shifts changes your approach.
Still need a little help? We’d love to chat! Click here to schedule a free nutrition intro.