Five Ways To Fail At A Diet


Which Have You Done?

by Chris McNeil
signsMost people gain and lose weight in yo-yo cycles while others lose it and keep it off. It’s not that the successful ones are naturally gifted. They are simply doing things differently. People who are successful at long term weight loss know how to avoid the typical traps. The five diet failure traps I discuss here are very prevalent patterns, but if you know what to do about them, you can create the body you want and keep it.
Here are the five ways to fail at a diet, with a solution strategy for each:

1. Try to change all your habits at once
Sure, the author of the latest best-selling diet book is a guru but, he doesn’t know you. A plan that works is shaped from your natural habits. Sure, you can try to jump out of your “comfort zone” into something alien, and prescriptive, that doesn’t take your life into account. You then are unable to truly internalize the changes as habits. So, when the discipline and motivation wane (as they will at some point) you slip back to your old ways.
The alternative is to shape gently enough from your normal habits that you permanently create new, healthier ones.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get ideas from diets. Just look at them as suggestions for strategies. Assess them from the perspective of their fit to your own eating challenges. Then, mold the relevant philosophies into manageable bites of new behaviors, picking no more than three to focus on at a time. Choose them for maximum impact per unit effort. The new habits should feel close to how you normally live while giving you the caloric reduction and metabolic impact to get you to the body you want. Attend to these carefully chosen “behavior goals” until it feels natural to do them automatically. This normally takes about two months. Then you can add more new habits. Repeat until you are happily maintaining your goals.
Antidote: set goals for a just a few, impactful healthier habits that are based on how you normally live.

2. Use the scale as your only feedback
Biochemist and exercise guru Covert Bailey said it best- using the scale is like going to the meat counter at the grocery store and saying “I’d like 5 pounds please.” What would the answer be? Maybe “Umm, 5 pounds of what?” When somebody says they lost 5 pounds in a week, you can ask that very question. I know it won’t be all fat loss, but mostly water weight. And, that water weight will come right back.
Also, over-dependence on the scale reinforces losing calorie-burning muscle. As #4 reinforces, you want to increase your metabolism, not reduce it. Muscle is denser than fat, so by swapping fat for muscle you can be smaller and look better without knowing it by your weight.
Sure, we’ve been brought up with tunnel vision on the scale. Insurance companies use it to calculate health risks with their charts. The BMI (Body Mass Index) only takes weight and height into account. But, these are outdated perspectives. The scale builds frustration in, so let it go.
While body composition testing, which shows you the ratio of fat and lean weight, is ideal, it is not always easily accessible. You can, however, easily translate your weight goal into the equivalent measurement changes. A loss of an inch in the waist for a male or inch in the abdomen for a female is equivalent to a loss of 5-7 pounds of fat. Aim for losing an inch in the appropriate measurement every 4-6 weeks.
Your net weight is, at best, irrelevant as a goal unless you know how much is fat, muscle, and water.
Antidote: set goals for losing inches off your waist or abdomen instead of tracking weight.

3. Try to eat “perfectly”
There will always be foods that you want and enjoy that aren’t healthy. If you completely deprive yourself of them, the part of you that enjoys those foods will eventually get pretty ticked off and rebel. You won’t have the congruence that comes from getting every part of you working together.
Pretend you have two people inside of you – the “healthy” you and the “enjoyment” you. They both need to agree with your plan. You can satisfy both needs when you give the enjoyment part exactly what it wants … just enough of the time. It is like an “inner negotiation” where you have a meeting with your different eating motivations to work out a deal. The right compromise might be a “cheat day” once a week or it might be having that ice cream you crave every 5th day or so. I don’t know how you will find the right balance between health and enjoyment but I do know that doing so supports your long term success.
Antidote: Feed the “enjoyment” side of yourself often enough and you’ll be able to stick with your plan.

4. Neglect Strength Training and Lose Muscle
Research says that if you diet without strength training, about 20% of the weight you lose is muscle weight. Muscle is metabolically active: it burns calories even while at rest. Depending on which study you look at, every pound of muscle burns between 30 and 50 calories each day. Fat, on the other hand, is stored energy: the calories waiting to be burned.
So, if you lose 40 pounds without that essential strength component, you have lost eight pounds of muscle and about 300 calories a day of metabolism. Since a pound of fat has 3,500 calories, that means you will now gain a pound every twelve days with the calorie level that would have maintained your weight before.
Conversely, if, instead you gained 2 pounds of muscle, you would now lose a pound of fat every five to six weeks with that same food intake.
Muscle equals metabolism. Don’t lose it, gain it.
Antidote: Strength train to add muscle and metabolism. You can then be just as lean with a higher, more reasonable calorie level intake.

burger5. Think You Can Eat Anything If You Exercise
Exercise is perhaps your most powerful tool in your lifelong weight management toolbox. It both burns calories and, especially if you do it right, increases your metabolism so your body burns more calories all the time. However, you can still out-eat any level of fitness. A six pack of beer offsets the calories burned in three hours of walking. Sumo wrestlers don’t lack exercise. So, use exercise as a tool to enhance your fitness and weight management, but don’t depend on it to do it all by itself.
The synergy of exercise and managing your eating together can work miracles, though. They support each other. Healthy eating gives you the energy to exercise. Exercise supports your belief that you are a health-conscious, fit person who naturally wants to eat good things. Use both.
Antidote: Use the synergy of finding the right balance of exercise and healthy eating.

Think of how you can use the five antidotes as a component of the five-fingered hand of the full plan of long term weight management. The fingers of the hand work together to do tasks you couldn’t imagine a finger doing on its own, like playing a guitar. You also need all of them to succeed at a similarly challenging task like losing weight permanently.

Chris McNeil

fitmenu_logoChris McNeil’s Pensarc Software was recognized as an “Innovator 2008” by the Charleston Regional Business Journal for developing . Chris has also won two national awards for innovation for web-based fitness software. Follow fitmenu on twitter at You can reach Chris at

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