Dead End Diets: Don’t Go There!

By Martin Brown

dieting1Jenny Abbot tells a story that many women have told. “I’ve started and dropped out of more diets than I could ever hope to remember.” the 40 year-old single mother of twin 12 year-old boys explains. “I don’t care if it’s South Beach, Atkins Diet, the Zone, or a dozen others I’ve long forgotten. I seem to always wind up back in a pair of size 14 jeans.”

In every diet she has tried, Jenny relates the experience common to nearly all dieters: noticeable weight loss, followed by regaining all the lost pounds and then adding a few pounds on to of where she began.

“It’s so frustrating,” says Jenny. “There are plenty of times that I’ve promised not to go back on a diet, but then a wedding invitation lands in my mailbox-or worse, a class reunion-and my pride kicks in and I get back on the diet wagon. Within weeks after the event I crash and burn once again.”

While throughout my conversation with Jenny, she did a great job of keeping her humor about the situation. Still, her frustration came through clearly: dead-end diets are no fun.

There is nothing worse than jumping into a dead end diet. You invest effort, emotion, and self-esteem in a diet that has little if any chance of succeeding. And every diet failure puts us that much further from our ultimate goal: to loose excess weight and to keep those pounds off for good.

Just about all of us over 35, and often much younger, have experienced the frustration of one or more diet failures. I myself have a collection of different jeans, slacks and sport jackets in various sizes that testify to the fact that this weight loser has often been a weight gainer waiting to happen.

So why do all these diets fail with such incredible consistency? How can we break this cycle?  And is maintaining weight loss ever possible?

Let’s start with the first question: Why the high failure rate? Basic science tells us that when we eat fewer calories than we burn during a day, we lose weight. Consume, however, 3,000 calories over 24 hours and burn, say, 2,400 of them, and your weight in little time will show a noticeable increase.

The obvious and simple solution is to reduce your caloric intake.

That makes perfect sense. The problem, however, is that approach works for a very limited time for two reasons. First, your metabolism adjusts while you diet to burn fewer calories. And secondly, reduced calorie intake is like sitting on a time bomb: you’re frustrating your natural desire to satisfy your appetite, and at some point you’re going to breakout and go back to eating with a vengeance, thereby wiping out any losses you’ve gained.

A similar factor is at work in people changing their eating habits dramatically when they get into a highly regimented meal plan such as the Zone diet. If you think it’s tough to break a single habit, it’s much harder to change a lifetime of dozens of different eating habits. Comfort foods, between meal snacks, and so much more are all habits that do not just go away, as Jenny Abbot and millions like her have learned, because you have vowed to go on a new diet program.

So, what can we do to break this cycle of dead end diets? I believe that everyone needs a diet that is uniquely suited to his or her needs. In other words rather than you fitting into the diet, the diet fitting you. How does that work? Really it’s deceptively simple. First, be aware of portion size. There’s a big difference between six ounces of pasta on your plate and four. Next substitute good stuff for junk. In other words a cup of frozen blueberries with a spoonful of low calorie, fat free whip cream is going to look a lot better on you than a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey. Keep lots of healthy munchies on hand.

Raisins, dried fruit, carrots, apples, bananas, and more. Any healthy foods that you enjoy. Most importantly, while you don’t have to purge your house of junk food, although it’s a good idea to do so. DO NOT BRING MORE JUNK FOOD INTO THE HOUSE!

Picking up those potato chips, donuts, cookies, cokes, and more and more junk, because friends, kids, relatives are going to want some “treats” when they come to visit is like throwing nails on your bedroom floor before you go to sleep and hoping that when you get up in the morning you won’t stumble over one of them in the dark. Chances are you will and if there’s a box of donuts, a bag of greasy chips calling you into the kitchen, chances are you’re going to take the fall. Bottom line: Don’t bring that junk into the house. Approximately 75% of the bad calories we consume are calories we brought into the house. Most of us don’t have the desire to go out for cookies at 10 pm but if they’re under our roof we’ll brew some tea and grab a few.

The web has a thousand ideas for healthy eating. From foods to recipes there are lots of good ideas just waiting for you to claim the ones that suit you best. A great place to find dozens of snack ideas and meal menus is by going to the Mayo Clinic Health Center on the web.

Remember: the simple rule of reducing calories always applies. But don’t allow the calories you do consume to be someone else’s idea of what you want to eat. Make it your own.

Finally, the really tough part, maintaining that weight loss can be summed up in one word: MOVE.

For tens of thousands of years, we moved. Whether it was to get water from the well or to get wood for a fire, to plant, to hunt, to gather, humans always moved. Now, for millions of us, most of what we need in life is brought to us. If you want to keep the weight off,  you have to move. Bad knees? Swim. Whether it’s running a marathon or wiggling your toes, sitting on the couch watching TV is not going to help you stay trim.

As for Jenny, she says she’s ready to turn over a new leaf. “I’m 40 and I’ll be damned if I’m going up to a size 16 when I’m still thinking about becoming a size 8,” she says. After two dozen dead-end diets, Jenny is ready to try a diet of her own design, which includes sensible eating and a lot of moving.


More SMW Health Articles:

Holiday Eating and Diet Cheating: How to Make It Up to Yourself

What’s Good & Bad About Ice Cream?

Childhood Obesity: Why Parents Are to Blame