Why It Can Be Hard To Stick To A Diet
I hear many people say they’re sick and tired of dieting, that they can’t stick to diets for long, and when they lose weight following a diet plan they put most of the weight back on. People approach me seeking support for a fresh approach to help them tackle overeating, lose weight and find a long-term solution. Here are some of the most common reasons why diets don’t work for a lot of people, and tips on how to change your approach to weight loss and long-term weight management.
Dieting To Control Your Eating
Many people feel that in order to control their food intake they need to put themselves on a diet. The belief is that by embarking on a diet with rules that tell them what they can and can’t eat or how much they’re allowed to eat, they will be able to control their eating and lose weight in the process. The problem is that many people go on diets without really tackling their underlying eating habits. It’s only once you’ve identified and addressed any problematic eating habits, for example binge eating, emotional eating or stress-based eating that you can then find ways to improve your relationship with food and your eating habits long-term.
Diets can be restrictive and unenjoyable, yet people do them because they’re so keen to lose weight but then they can become fixated on what the weighing scales says. Many diet clubs have weekly weight loss as their main focus, and with a fixation on weight loss people can feel a failure if they’re not seeing the number on the scales go down. If you don’t tackle any underlying unhelpful eating habits alongside, you’re likely to remain stuck in a yo-yo dieting rut where you’re swinging between extremes of being either ‘good’ (on a diet), or ‘bad’ (off the diet and overeating). Make your top priority to tackle those underlying eating habits, exploring what you eat, why you eat and how you eat, and then once you’ve gained that self-awareness weight loss can be a positive by-prodcut of that self-awareness. This is far more effective than simply going on another diet. Going on a diet can make us feel like we’re doing something productive but in fact we know deep-down that most diets are unsustainable and produce only short-term effects.
Impatience To Lose Weight
I’ve met many people who have lost a lot of weight rapidly on certain quick-fix weight loss plans, and as a result they still expect to lose weight as quickly as they did back then. People who want to lose weight quickly might embark on VLCDs (very low calorie diets). Unfortunately, if the body perceives it’s starving it will start making you crave food sooner or later, so eventually the willpower you’ve been relying on to stick to the diet runs out and you end up playing a game of tug of war with your body- the body usually wins! The key thing is to give your body the message that all is well, that adequate food is available to the body. We can end up feeling hungry, grumpy and cold if we severely restrict calories, and within a few days or weeks our appetite increases, we start to crave food, and the urge to eat intensifies to the point that we just give in. In fact dieting can lead to bingeing. When we ditch the diet we feel like a failure, yet that desire to lose weight is still there, so a few days or weeks later we start feeling like we should get back on that diet, even though deep-down we know that the next diet we do isn’t going to last long because we’ve been there before. This is why it’s so important to be patient, so aim for slower weight loss. The great thing about slower weight loss is that more flexible eating is possible- you don’t have to severely restrict calories or cut out your favourite foods. This is the mindful eating approach that I teach people. Put less pressure on yourself and do things more gradually. With more flexible eating you’re much less likely to feel like you’re ‘on a diet’ and therefore it will be much easier to stick to.
Obsessive Weighing Is Demotivating
Even if a person embarks on a less extreme diet and loses a few pounds in the first couple of weeks but then finds that the weight loss slows down, it’s easy to become disheartened and give up the diet. It’s important not to weigh yourself too often (ideally not more than once a week) as it can be demotivating. It’s also important to remember that weight can fluctuate from day to day for a variety of reasons. The weighing scales is a bit of a double-edged sword; it can be incredibly motivating and it can be incredibly disheartening. Weighing can be a useful feedback tool on your weight loss progress, but if it becomes an obsessive behaviour it’s not helpful. If you find that you get a bit obsessed with the scales, set an intention to weigh yourself no more regularly than once a week, or forget the scales and focus on the feel of your clothes such as your waistband. Your ultimate goal should be to keep focusing on any underlying problematic eating habits and keep tackling those, rather than simply fixating on what the scales is saying. Once you make consistent, positive changes to your eating habits, weight loss is likely to follow anyway.
It’s Hard To Stick To A Diet When The Goal Seems Too Big
If a person has a lot of weight to lose they might see their weight goal as huge and unsurmountable, making it difficult to feel motivated to do anything about it. Rather than fixate on a seemingly distant goal, it’s more important to enjoy the journey and be less hard on yourself by aiming for more gradual weight loss with more flexible eating and drinking. Break your goal into smaller and more achievable chunks such as lots of individual weight loss goals of, for example, 3-4 pounds- this way you can see progress each time you reach a goal, which will help to maintain motivation. When we perceive failure it’s easy to give up, whereas when we achieve ‘mini-victories’ it feels really good, and we’re more likely to feel inspired to carry on. Try not to keep thinking about the larger, ultimate goal if you have a lot of weight to lose; just focus on the smaller goals; make sure too that if you’ve set yourself a weight loss goal that it’s not unrealistic, that it’s achievable, and that it’s a weight loss goal that you think you have a good chance of maintaining long-term.
It’s Hard To Stick To A Diet When It’s Antisocial
Many people see weight loss as a ‘no pain, no gain’ endeavour. Perhaps they want to lose weight by a specific date such as a wedding or holiday- they might not give themselves much time to lose the weight and resort to extreme measures such as VLCDs. Although people do lose a lot of weight quickly on such diets and find the rapid weight loss results exciting and highly motivating, VLCDs can be very anti-social and are therefore hard to fit into a busy social life. Some such diets might prohibit alcohol, for example, and if a person really enjoys alcohol, having to cut this out completely can be hard to sustain for more than a few weeks, or even days, making it hard to stick to the diet plan. VLCDs can make eating out difficult, or if a person does attend restaurants they might take a diet food pack with them and ask for hot water in the restaurant to hydrate their food pack. This can cause a sense of ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out), and as we’re social animals by nature, it’s unlikely that many people would be willing to tolerate such a way of life for long. And if they do stick to it, how sustainable will the weight loss results be at the end, especially if they go straight back to their old eating habits again? Some people do complete VLCD plans and manage to maintain their new weight long-term, but in many cases weight gain is inevitable if they go back to their old eating habits because the diet plan was in such contrast to their usual way of eating.
Diets Prevent Us From Thinking For Ourselves
Weight loss diets usually involve following someone else’s rules about what and how much to eat. We can almost become blinkered and stop thinking for ourselves. It’s much better to cultivate an inner wisdom so that you can get in touch with which foods and portion sizes suit YOU. Diet rules are often too simplistic, and the guidelines don’t necessarily teach you to get in tune with your internal cues to eat. If a diet plan tells you to eat a certain amount of food at a mealtime and you still feel hungry afterwards, your body is telling you that you need more food, but if you’re trying to follow the plan you might ignore what your body is telling you. If a diet suggests that you eat 3 meals and avoid snacking, yet you feel hungry between meals, this is another way in which you’re ignoring your body’s cues to eat. As a result of following diet rules about specific portions sizes and set times to eat, a person may lose touch with their body’s signals around satiety and hunger. Mindful eating is about getting in tune with your internal cues to eat or stop eating. A diet can be hard to stick to if you’re not eating food amounts your body needs, so rather than go on a diet it’s a good idea to start focusing on your body’s signals and eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.
Strict Rules Can Lead To Rebellion
If we embark on a strict diet plan with rigid rules we can end up placing ourselves in a mental cell of deprivation. If we don’t allow ourselves to eat the foods we enjoy, we’re bound to start craving them sooner or later and we may become frustrated and decide to abandon the rules. Something I hear regularly is the labelling of foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. No one food is bad, it’s how often you eat it and how much of it you eat that counts. People rely on willpower to not eat the ‘bad’ foods, but willpower is like a battery- it runs out. Rather than denying yourself the foods you enjoy and eating those foods you think you should be eating, try to take a more relaxed approach and give yourself permission to eat the foods you enjoy- when we have choice we can start to relax around food. When we have strict rules we can feel anxious or miserable, and it can also ignite the inner rebel, which starts wanting the ‘bad’ foods. It’s much better to adopt an ‘80/20’ approach where 80% of the time you’re aiming to eat pretty well, rather than trying to eat perfectly 100% of the time- the latter might kick-start that inner rebel. Try to neutralize foods rather than categorising them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Give yourself permission to eat all foods whilst being mindful and taking into account the nutritional components of foods to give the body the nutrients it needs- start making foods decisions that are in your own best interest, most of the time.
Diets Encourage ‘All Or Nothing’ Thinking
It can be hard to stick to a diet because dieting can encourage a black and white mindset- this means that you’re either trying to be ‘good’ and eat perfectly in accordance with your weight loss plan, or you’re being ‘bad’ and eating exactly how you please, perhaps mindlessly making poor food choices and overeating. Examples of all or nothing behaviour include weekday restraint and weekend overindulgence, or starving before a holiday and completely overindulging whilst you’re away. These kinds of behaviours mean that you completely undo all the effort you made whilst you were being ‘good’, which means that in the long-term you just don’t get the results you’re striving for. Labelling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is a reflection of that unhelpful black and white mindset. Eating ‘bad’ foods can lead to self-judgement and potentially a feeling of ‘I’ve blown it’, leading a person to quit the diet altogether.
Make Food Your Friend Not Your Enemy
Although it can seem daunting to stop dieting and aim for more ‘middle-way’ eating, setting up new mindful eating habits just takes a bit of practice. Don’t be hard on yourself, be patient with yourself, and start off with baby steps on a new way of eating that enables you to escape the diet trap. Going on diets can make us feel miserable and even anxious, and it can even damage our relationship with food, but by becoming a more mindful eater, adopting a more flexible mindset, giving yourself more permission and feeling less guilty around food, you can start to feel a lot more free and relaxed around food, and start seeing food as a friend, not an enemy.
Try developing some mindful eating skills so that you get into the habit of having a dialogue with yourself to help you make better food choices most of the time such as thinking before you eat, eating only when you’re hungry, stopping when you’re full, and generally paying more attention to what you eat rather than eating mindlessly on ‘autopilot’. Start relying on your inner wisdom rather than following someone else’s diet rules. Becoming a more mindful eater involves a bit of work and focus as you shift yourself out of old, automatic habits and set up new, more helpful ones, but it can be done- I’ve seen many people in my work become more mindful eaters, and they feel so much better for it and no longer rely on diets to try and control their eating and their weight- they feel very empowered.
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