It’s the start of a new year and a common time for people to set goals and embark on new fitness and diet journeys. But how many people actually stick to a planned weight loss diet programme?
The answer is not that many. The reasons … because the ‘diet’ is too extreme or unrealistic for long term adherence. And because people try to deprive themselves of the foods they love. There are plenty of other reasons that diets fail as well, and several ways to make sure they don’t, so we’re going to take a look at some of them.
Reasons diets fail
- The wrong mindset
- Unrealistic goals/ expectations
- The wrong approach
- Lack of support structure
- Fad and crash diets
- Hidden calories
- Lack of understanding about nutrition
- Lack of willpower
- Not setting clear goals
- Being too goal-orientated
The wrong mindset
Many people approach weight loss programmes with a short-term mindset. They view a diet as an all-or-nothing proposition. They think they should make some drastic changes for a short, fixed period of time and expect to lose a load of weight that will then stay off.
Rather than making small incremental changes to their eating habits and lifestyles people often treat diets as short-term fixes. But this interim mindset can lead to disappointment. After the fixed diet period they return to their old eating habits and any weight they lost just creeps back on.
A longer-term mindset is required to achieve long-term success. Making small changes over a prolonged period of time usually results in forming new habits that are required to sustain weight loss. Slow and steady is generally a better approach than fast and indefinite.
Unrealistic goals/ expectations
When setting yourself goals it’s easy to aim high but it’s important to keep expectations realistic. Many people set themselves unrealistic goals and feel disappointment that they do not achieve them.
It’s better to over-achieve than under-achieve. The feeling of dissatisfaction at not achieving a goal is a negative and disempowering one, when setting goals should be about the opposite.
Many people simply set themselves up for failure and when it happens it becomes a good reason to slip back into their comfort zone and bad habits. Setting realistic goals helps to manage expectations and stay positive in the long term. Setting a series of smaller goals over a period of time is more achievable than setting one unreachable goal from the offset.
The wrong approach
The wrong approach to a diet goes hand in hand with the wrong mindset. Adopting a short-term mindset and expecting a diet to result in fast results generally leads to disappointment.
Trying to make too many changes too quickly will usually result in craving ‘banned’ foods and ultimately falling off the bandwagon when temptation can’t be resisted. Making small and gradual changes to your eating habits is more sustainable than sudden drastic changes in diet.
A slow but consistent strategy will result in longer lasting changes than a quick fix. Approaching a nutrition programme as a lifestyle change rather than a ‘diet’ is a more sustainable approach and one which is more likely to net positive results.
Lack of support structure
Setting goals and making changes can sometimes seem like a daunting task, especially going it alone. But a good support structure will provide accountability, reinforcement and encouragement when it’s needed.
A support structure should be made up of positive friends and family, or a specific social group that understands your goals. Surrounding yourself with like-minded people will help when any doubts or negative thoughts creep in.
Cutting out any negativity or people who do not believe in you or your goal will go a long way to helping you achieve success. It’s important that your support structure celebrates your successes and happiness rather than questioning your reasons for setting the goals you have.
Fad and crash diets
In an age of instant gratification crash diets sit at the top of the dieting tree. A crash diet generally involves a restrictive eating plan with few foods or an unusual combination of foods for a short period of time, with the aim of losing weight very quickly.
And while there’s no denying that many of these enable people to achieve fast fat loss they very rarely manage to sustain the results. Most people get fed-up with the restrictions, start eating more, choose less healthy foods and pile the pounds back on.
The only way to see long term results is a long term eating plan or a change in habits. Often a complete lifestyle overhaul is required for weight management, including diet and exercise. A crash diet might kick-start the process but they are never sustainable for long periods of time.
There are many fad crash diets out there, from the grapefruit diet to the cabbage diet, but while most of them are not sustainable, they can also be nutritionally inadequate and unhealthy.
While an initial fast fat loss approach can work if it’s part of a structured plan*, any diet that doesn’t instil new and long-lasting habits in your food intake can generally be considered a fad and therefore counterproductive to any long-term success.
[*To find out more about a typical crash diet versus the PP intensive approach check out our blog Fast Fat Loss – Is it Always a Bad Thing?]
Hidden or untracked calories
Hidden calories and untracked calories are actually two separate things but both contribute to the confusion and frustration of some dieters.
It’s common to hear that people think they are restricting their calories or eating a certain amount only to find out that they don’t actually know exactly how many calories they consume or need to consume to achieve weight loss.
The only way to know for sure is to work out how many calories are in each meal and track them. There are lots of apps available these days that make this process easy, or it can simply be done in the old-fashioned way by writing them down with pen and paper!
Hidden calories, on the other hand, are those calories that people don’t expect to find and are surprised to learn how much certain foods and drinks contribute to their weekly calorie intake. Liquids are a particularly common culprit, for example full fat milk, fruit juice, ketchup and salad dressings often go uncounted but are all surprisingly high in calories.
Lack of understanding about nutrition
A basic lack of understanding of nutrition can contribute to the ‘hidden calorie’ syndrome. It also means that many people have little or no idea of what’s healthy and what’s not. When trying to establish new eating eating habits having a basic understanding of the nutritional value of food will go a long way.
Food plays a crucial role in everything we do, from providing energy to influencing our moods. Understanding how to get the most from food and eating healthily will help when changing eating habits in an attempt to lose weight and feel good.
Cutting calories doesn’t have to mean feeling hungry and tired, and having no energy to exercise. There is a lot of information available to educate yourself on nutrition but if you don’t know where to start it is always worth talking to a professional.
Lack of willpower
We can have all the understanding of nutrition in the world, the clearest goals set and the best diet plan in place but if we lack willpower we won’t succeed. Willpower is essential to achieving results of any kind.
We already mentioned the age of instant gratification that we live in, and unfortunately this spills over into all areas of life these days. As well as shopping at the click of a button, movies on demand and microwave meals ready in three minutes, many people expect weight loss to be immediate.
Unfortunately, this is not the case, as any successful weight loss requires patience, hard work and willpower. The will to want to succeed has to be greater than the desire for that chocolate bar or cream cake, or whatever your weakness!
It takes discipline to make changes to our intrinsic habits but once new habits become established it takes less willpower to sustain them than to create them as they become the routines of normal everyday life.
Not setting clear goals
Just as setting unrealistic goals can make them unachievable, so too can setting goals that are too vague. A clear precise goal is easier to work towards than something fuzzy and obscure.
Clear, precise goals provide motivation and progress towards them can be monitored and measured. A set of clear goals also provides some level of accountability, as you might set a time limit on each step.
By working out exactly what you want to achieve and how you are going to do it gives you clear information to use, making it easier to stay motivated and on track. You are more likely to take action if you set out exactly what action you are going to take, for example if you work out how many calories you need to be eating to be in a calorie deficit you can set yourself a calorie limit each day and stick to it.
If you just told yourself you are going to eat a bit less but didn’t give yourself an exact target your goal would be vague and harder to achieve. While making small consistent changes is the best approach, your goal still needs to be specific to know what changes you are going to make.
If you are trying to establish new nutritional habits you will only succeed if you have clear goals to work towards and measure your progress against.
Being too goal-orientated
The suggestion that being too goal-orientated can be detrimental to achieving results may sound contradictory to not setting clear enough goals but it’s not. Just as a lack of goals or setting goals that are too vague may hinder any progress towards them, so too will being overly focused on goals to the detriment of everything around you.
Being too focused on an end result can lead to a huge sense of disappointment if you don’t hit targets that you have set along the way or if you just have a blip, such as overeating one day. Some people throw the towel in at the first sign of failure and go back to old eating habits without trying again.
Being too fixated on a number on the scale, for example, can result in frustration and ultimately quitting if you don’t hit that number one day. Establishing new eating habits can take time, patience and a lot of effort so there will likely be days when we lapse. The key is getting back on the horse and not obsessing over missing a specific target.
Ways to achieve your diet goals
The key to achieving your goals is to set clear but realistic ones and remember they are not set in stone but can be altered at any point. Take small steps and once you achieve one goal, set a new one.
Approach everything you do with a positive mindset and do not look for instant gratification but be prepared to put in hard work and have patience. Remember, slow and steady always wins the race!
Make small incremental changes to your eating habits and incorporate them into your lifestyle rather than embarking on faddy crash diets. Surround yourself with a positive support structure that provides accountability and people with whom to celebrate your successes.
And most importantly, remember that it is about the journey you are on rather than the destination. If you slip up or fall off the wagon, don’t let that defeat you and fall back into bad habits. Don’t give up, but instead get up, dust yourself down and get back on it.