Why do most diets fail?
First off, notice the terminology. It's the diet that failed, not necessarily you who failed.
Next, let's define "diet". If you google "diet", here's what pops up:
"restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight"
"a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons"
What's the common theme? Restrict.
Essentially, diets impose a set of rules to restrict the amounts and/or the types of foods that you eat.
Here are some examples:
Restricts carb intake (<50g per day).
Restricts what times you can eat by cycling between periods of fasting and eating. For example, eating only between 12pm-8pm.
Eat according to a points system.
Eliminate all processed foods. Eat only "real", whole foods.
Eat mainly only Jenny Craig pre-packaged meals and foods.
You try to fit your unique lifestyle and preferences into a one-size-fits-all, cookie-cutter diet. Rather than fitting nutrition around your lifestyle and preferences.
What else do diets have in common? How does it work?
Let's talk calories.
What is a calorie? A calorie is a unit of energy.
According to the law of thermodynamics:
Calories in > calories out = energy surplus = weight gain
Calories out > calories in = energy deficit = weight loss
Calories in is achieved through food consumption and calories out is achieved through exercise and daily movement.
At the end of the day, there is nothing inherently special about any one diet that causes you to lose weight per se.
The common factor is that all of the food restrictions simply make it easier for you to be in a calorie deficit:
Keto diet: By cutting out entire food groups of grains, fruits, and most veggies, you drastically reduce your carb intake, and many people naturally reduce their overall calorie intake as a result.
Intermittent fasting: By skipping meal(s) and only allowing yourself to eat within a specific timeframe, many people naturally eat less and reduce their overall calorie intake.
Does this mean that all diets are bad?
Not necessarily. There are some mainstream diets that tend to have a higher success rate. Such as the intermittent fasting, vegetarian, vegan, and Mediterranean diet. Which we'll get to later.
This does mean, however, that diets that you don't enjoy, and thus, can't sustain, are likely not worth your while.
If you don't enjoy what or how you eat, which is literally something you do every single day that takes up energy and willpower, then you'll likely stop eating that way at some point. Then you revert back to old habits and gain the weight back, since you didn't necessarily develop any habits that stick.
Sometimes it backfires to the point where we gain even more weight back than what we started with. This is often the case for very restrictive diets that lead to quick and drastic weight loss. While this can be very gratifying in the short term, it often leads to a loss of muscle mass in the long term. Muscle is more metabolically active than fat, which means it burns more calories. This means your metabolism has now slowed down, and can continue to slow down if you cycle through periods of dieting, weight regain, dieting, weight regain, and so on and so forth.
So when can a diet work in your favor?
There are definitely diets that have a higher success rate than others. In other words, people are able to stick to it long-term because it works with their lifestyle, preferences, and/or beliefs.
In this case, I like to define one's diet as:
"an individualized and habitual way of eating"
For example, many people who naturally don't have an appetite in the morning are able to stick to an intermittent fasting style of eating where they skip breakfast, and have a larger lunch and dinner.
And those who feel strongly about animal ethics and/or sustainability are often able to stick to a vegetarian or vegan diet long-term.
Take what works for you and leave what doesn't.
So yes, you can adopt a conventional diet, or bits of it - just make sure it's a realistic approach and suits your preferences to ensure long term sustainability. Otherwise, scrap it, and instead, work towards developing healthier food habits in a gradual, sustainable manner. This might look like starting with one meal, such as packing lunches rather than getting takeout, then gradually working on other meals in your day. Individualize it to you, what you currently eat, and what's realistic for you.
Think Long Term.
We often want to make drastic changes when we first start because we're motivated and excited for results. This may work for some people to kickstart things and build the momentum that helps fuels them. However, for others, slow and steady wins the race. Especially when we're being realistic with ourselves, considering that most of us aren't nutrition professionals, and have many other priorities aside from just health and nutrition. Some of you may work long hours, have a side hustle, kids, a social life, and other priorities and obligations.
Just like most things in life, it's important to think long term when it comes to your diet.
Some questions to ask yourself:
Do I like the food I eat in my diet?
Is this something I can sustain long term?
Does it fit with my lifestyle in terms of time, cost, food prep, logistics, social life, and beliefs?
Bottom line: Make the diet fit you rather than the other way around.
The best diet for you is the one that:
1. You enjoy.
2. Is generally healthy most of the time.
3. Is within your target calorie range for your goals.
Well, that's a wrap for a first blog post!
Leave a comment below and let me know what you think! What has your dieting journey looked like?👇