It’s a fact: Most diets fail.
Why do people have such trouble losing body fat by dieting? According to recent reviews of the issue, most people simply don’t stick to their diets with enough rigor or for long enough to see results.
They get bored after a few days, or they find themselves constantly hungry. They miss certain foods too much, or restrict certain foods that lead them to miss out on key nutrients. Maybe they use up all their will power and just cave to their desire to be full and nourished.
To avoid this misery, it’s important to choose your fat loss program wisely so that it’s something you can sustain for the long haul. Otherwise you’re just setting yourself up for failure. This article will give you six key warning signs that your program is not ideal and give you tips for what to do about it.
#1: It’s the opposite of what you were doing before you started.
People often start a diet or exercise program out of desperation. They want fast results and go all-in by making a radical change. But there are two problems with this.
First, losing fat is hard. You will find yourself challenged, tempted, and doubtful along the way. Therefore, it’s important to make your nutrition as effortless and normal as possible.
Second, consistency is key if you want to lose fat and keep it off. But habits take a long time to sink in. Common knowledge says it takes 21 days for a behavior to become automatic, but research actually shows it’s longer—in the two month range.
The sad reality is that most people who try a new diet quit before the 21 day mark and a far few last two months. The good news it that if your diet is robust to faults and it allows you to develop new habits progressively that promote healthy, smart eating, you can experience significant fat loss by the two month mark. Then it’s smooth sailing because your healthier behaviors are ingrained habits.
Here are a few habits to start with:
- Eat whole foods instead of refined foods that come in packages.
- Cook at home and plan meals in advance.
- Identify how much protein, fat, and carbs you want to eat every day.
- Pay attention to portion sizes and start to eat mindfully—be sure to chew your food and try putting your fork down between each bite to slow your eating down.
#2: You’re ALWAYS hungry.
Most people don’t like being hungry ALL THE TIME. It’s distracting and gets old really fast. It makes us start to fantasize about food. We crave the freedom to just eat.
At first, we feel satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment at being able to endure hunger and stick to our diets. This gratification can help us at first, but hunger brings physiological changes in our bodies that make us do funny things. We make deals with ourselves or rationalize eating. Our will power and focus get depleted. We think we should “listen to our bodies” or we worry that we’re going into starvation mode.
But studies show that there is no “wisdom of the body” that drives food choices. Instead, the foods we like, crave, and choose tend to be socially learned or motivated by environmental factors like stress, not by instinct. We want that “feel good” feeling we have from eating the foods we enjoy the most, which tend to be higher sugar, higher fat foods that are avoided when dieting.
The solution is to use a nutrition plan that allows you to lose fat with minimal hunger and struggle. Yes, this does exist!
Here’s how to do it:
- Use a higher protein, lower carb diet because protein foods are naturally filling, automatically leading people to eat fewer calories.
- Avoid frequently eating high-carb foods, especially high-carb refined foods because they will “hijack” the brain and stimulate food intake. Basically, they make you want to binge because of how they influence hunger hormones and stimulate pleasure.
- If you’re hungry, eat foods containing protein, fiber (green veggies, salad, lower carb fruit), and fat. Plan meals around this trifecta of hunger-reducing foods.
- Drink enough water—one survey found that nearly half of Americans have such a weak thirst mechanism that they often mistake it for hunger.
#3: You’re fighting off cravings.
Food cravings almost always indicate that you are negatively altering hormone balance, setting yourself up for fat loss failure. Cravings for off-limits calorie laden or high-carb foods are stimulated by an increase in the stress hormone cortisol.
Now, minor elevations in cortisol at the right time, such as when you’re working out hard, can promote fat loss because cortisol helps release energy stores to be burned. But the rest of the time, you want to minimize cortisol and avoid an elevated cortisol curve (one in which your cortisol levels don’t decrease over the course of the day).
Studies show that when people have high cortisol or lots of stress in their lives, appetite is stimulated and calorie intake increases because they crave high-fat, high-sugar junk food. At the same time, cortisol shuts off the goal-oriented, rationale parts of the brain.
A second reason for overwhelming food cravings when trying to lose body fat is if your diet is too restrictive. For example, lack of fat or no carbs can trigger cravings because these foods provide the building blocks for the body to produce hormones and brain transmitters that keep you steady and satisfied.
Here are few ways to kick food cravings to the curb:
Try glutamine. It’s an amino acid that will help you eliminate obsessive thoughts about food because it is used as an energy source in the brain—it’s so effective that glutamine is a primary treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.
Promote insulin sensitivity in the body. Use these food preparation tricks:
- Cook carbs with healthy fats such as butter, olive oil, or coconut oil.
- Flavor food with acids such as vinegars, lemon, or lime.
- Eat pickled foods such as kim chi, sauerkraut, or pickled ginger as condiments.
- Use cinnamon, fenugreek, and turmeric to spice foods.
- Pair high-carb and antioxidant-rich foods like oatmeal and blueberries or rice and kale.
Use cheat meals
Let yourself eat whatever you want for one meal a week or once every five days. Novices to healthy eating or those trying to lose fat often benefit from cheat meals because they put you in control and give you freedom to eat foods that you have strong attachments to.
#4: You don’t enjoy your food.
Losing fat is not easy, but it’s not supposed to be a soul-wrenching struggle of will power, guilt and deprivation. Sustainable fat loss occurs when you eat and live in a way that allows you to create an energy deficit while still enjoying your food.
There is no magic bullet for this. People who lose fat and keep it off without too much struggle have figured out a way of enjoying vegetables, whether it’s by sautéing them with beneficial fats or pairing them with other foods they like more. They delight in trying different protein dishes and look forward to tasting new foods—no, they don’t like all of them, but they’re willing to test their palate.
Preliminary evidence suggests that eating healthy “grows on” people: Once people stop eating the hyperpalatable scientifically engineered foods and replace them with veggies and fruit, they literally retrain their taste buds to enjoy REAL food.
Remember that whole food can include a whole lot of food that is deemed unhealthy by the mainstream like meat, eggs, whole-fat dairy, butter, coconut oil, coffee, and so on. It’s completely possible to enjoy a high-protein real food lifestyle and achieve a body composition that you’re happy with.
Here’s how to do it:
- Plan every meal to include protein, fat, and a vegetable.
- Avoid sugar, trans-fats, and processed fats because these foods lead the body releases substances called endocannabinoids in the gut, which affect dopamine and opioid receptors in the brain to make you feel good (THC in marijuana also activates these receptors).
- Cook with natural flavors and spices from vanilla, cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg, cloves, curry, cumin, vinegars, basil, and so on.
- Try a new veggie, fruit, or protein food every week to expose yourself to new flavors.
#5: You’re exercising to be able to eat.
Certain types of exercise can absolutely help you lose body fat because they build muscle to raise your metabolic rate and improve hormone balance. However, recent research shows that when people are motivated to work out with the sole purpose of losing fat, they usually aren’t successful because they end up eating more calories afterwards.
In contrast, people who work out for other purposes, such as “for fun,” “to get strong,” or “for endurance” don’t tend to compensate by eating more calories. Scientists think that people have become conditioned to reward themselves for physical efforts that they associate with weight loss.
How to solve it:
Set performance-related goals. The calories burned during workouts are a drop in your metabolic bucket compared to these other amazing benefits you get from exercising:
- Increased lean muscle mass and better bone strength from intense training.
- Improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance for a healthier metabolism.
- Greater motivation to engage in other healthful behaviors that make you feel energized, strong, and lean.
Be aware of your eating behavior and how workouts influence it. Humans are amazingly good at rationalizing behavior that goes against their goals. Track your habits (food and water intake, sleep, and workouts) to get an honest picture of your behavior.
#6: Not taking responsibility for your results.
Coaches, dietitians, friends, and experts can all guide and support you to develop a lean lifestyle, but you have to be honest with yourself about your habits and behavior.
When you take responsibility for your nutrition, it makes you accountable to yourself for your mistakes. If you’re blaming someone else for eating something you don’t actually want to, how can you improve?
That’s putting the responsibility on them to change your behavior, when what you need is their support in helping you troubleshoot the situation so you can change your behavior.
How to fix it:
Plan your meals and prepare them in advance. This is critical so that you don’t get caught with poor meal choices when you’re hungry. It also allows you to stay excited and engaged with your diet, promoting enjoyment.
Track your diet with a food journal. Food journals aren’t always necessary once you’re happy with your physique, but for fat loss they’re essential because they allow you to own up to what you’re putting in your mouth and analyze trouble spots.
Believe and commit. The true “magic bullet” for fat loss is believing that your program is going to work. Sure, it has to create an energy deficit, but once that’s taken care of with a high-protein, lower carb meal plan, all you have to do is stick to it and make minor adjustments along the way.
Optimal body composition is not a mystery. We know how to do it. You’ve just got to buy in to the plan and troubleshoot the individual things that trip you up. Challenge your limits. Believe.