We all know someone who is constantly on a diet. Maybe that someone is you. But this is the thing: diets don’t actually work. These days when I hear the word ‘diet,’ I think of feeling faint, guilty and deprived, whilst swallowing constantly to get rid of the fragments of rice cake sticking to my throat. I think of obsessing over calories and macros and walking on the spot in front of the TV for three hours at a time to burn off that spoonful of sugar I had in my coffee earlier to get me through the afternoon. This is precisely why I don’t diet. It’s miserable, obsessive and makes you behave in some very odd ways.
The fact is, a diet is temporary, and it is temporary because we drive ourselves to despair. We give up. Not only are we all stupidly busy, but we are also all constantly bombarded with conflicting information about what is and isn’t good for us, what we should and shouldn’t be doing, all in the context of being under immense pressure to maintain a body ideal that is not obtainable for many of us. As a result, we are so determined to lose weight and to lose it fast that we’re seeking out quick fixes, getting obsessive over the fluctuating digits on the scale and throwing bags of money at the Diet Industry (TM) that we could save ourselves with a bit of thought, foresight and education.
It’s not all about what we’re eating; it’s also partly about how we’re moving, somewhat about what we’re thinking, and often about how we’re behaving. The four barriers to weight loss I am about to discuss encompass all of these things. I’ve made all the mistakes I am about to detail here. To set the usual disclaimer, I am not a professional; just someone who knows that staying healthy and trying to navigate a chaotic and busy life is really damn tough. I write from that perspective because I know it is one that many people share, however your mileage may vary. As such, anything I write on this blog should be taken as friendly advice and nothing more. If you need professional input, get off the bloody internet and go see a doctor. Losing weight should be a personal decision and nobody should ever tell you that you need to aside from a qualified health professional.
Mistake Number 1: Eating ‘Diet’ Foods
It’s no secret that the Diet Industry (TM) is more interested in its profits than it is in our health. You can’t walk down the street, turn on the TV or get on the tube without adverts displaying the latest weight loss miracle getting right up in your grill. Their plans and potions and products may work in the short term, but longstanding weight loss starts with a frank honest assessment about your own attitudes towards food and continues with a series of healthy lifestyle changes. Otherwise, you’re going to finish your four-week pre-packaged cabbage smoothie diet or whatever, maybe see some results (if you can even stick with something so miserable in the first place) then quickly and easily slip into your old habits.
The majority of diet-designed foods may look appealing with their super low calorie content. There’s also their convenience; the majority of us are busy and stressed out and simply believe that we do not have the time to prepare healthy, delicious meals. Much easier to pick up a Weight Watchers frozen meal after a hard day and you’ve got a dinner in ten minutes. The thing is, most of these meals are highly processed and full of added sugars and sweeteners that are at best not satiating and at worst damaging to your health. If you’re trying to lose weight and keep it off, long-term, they’re the worst thing you can eat. The portions are tiny, unsatisfying, and contain a lot of modified starches and preservatives which have zero nutritional value. If you’re counting calories, you are wasting them on these meals when you could instead be getting them from natural, unprocessed fruits and vegetables which will keep you fuller for longer and do a much better job of nourishing your body. Fruit and vegetables should always be a major staple of your diet. You can’t live on frozen diet meals forever.
Preparing healthy meals doesn’t have to be miserable and arduous. A quick google search will bring up thousands of quick to prepare recipes for delicious and nutritious meals and snacks to keep you feeling full and healthy all day. It’s also best to always read the list of ingredients on anything you eat – the less ingredients, the less processed the food is. Being mindful of this golden rule will really help you think twice before you put something in your mouth (whaey) and therefore help you change your eating habits for good.
Mistake Number 2: The Daily Weigh-In
This one is more psychologically than physically damaging, but should be avoided none the less. Our body experiences natural fluctuations in weight on a daily basis, which is determined by several things. One of the biggest culprits is sodium. If you eat a diet high in sodium, which is most likely what you are doing if you are chowing down on those processed ready meals which are usually very high in salt, your body will retain water to balance out that sodium content – therefore, your scale reading will be higher purely due to this water weight. We also all know that hormones play a role – honestly, if you’re female and you’re approaching your period, I would just avoid the scales altogether until you’re out of the woods. We can gain up to ten pounds during this fabulous time of the month and you will torture yourself trying to guess what is period weight and what is you.
So, with that ever changing number, it can be very difficult to know how much weight you are actually losing if you weigh yourself every day. Experiencing a fluctuation where your weight goes higher can also make you feel down if you have been working really hard and may affect your motivation. A good rule is to weigh yourself once every few days at a minimum, however from personal experience I would strongly advise once a week. It can also be more reliable to measure your waist to see how you’re getting on. There is growing evidence to suggest that our waist-to-height ratio is a much more important indicator of our health and risk of disease than our weight or BMI. Check it out.
We can also look at the fat vs muscle argument here. You may be losing fat whilst gaining muscle, which of course is awesome – but as a result, the scale won’t budge very much. However, the inches off your waistline will. Especially if you’re weight training or working out hard, this might prove to be a much better option.
Mistake Number 3: I Must Never Eat Pizza Again
NO NO NO NO NO. And again for emphasis – NO! Why?
Of course a bar of Galaxy is unhealthy. Of course a bacon cheeseburger is unhealthy. But telling yourself that these foods are off limits, all of the time? That’s even more unhealthy. I am not saying you should eat these foods every day, or even every week. But it’s human nature to feel miserable when we can’t have something we want. The bottom line? You’re setting yourself up for failure.
Say you tell yourself you can never stop by Burger King after a really long, hard day ever again. This might seem like a good idea when you are just starting out with eating healthy or losing weight, but give it a week or two, when you feel miserable and weak and tired and hungry because you’ve been eating nothing but bowls of spinach every day, that Burger King extra large meal is looking the best it ever has. You will weaken. All your resolve and good intentions will fly out of the window. You swing by Burger King, tears of joy running down your face, grease all over your chin, and you think fuck it, you’ve messed up now, so you might as well get a whole tub of ice cream for dessert. Your brain is like, woohoo. I have been reborn. The next day, you feel guilty and miserable. You can’t face your bowl of spinach. You have a biscuit or five with your mid-morning coffee, and they taste so darn good that you start thinking maybe this health kick wasn’t such a great idea after all. You were so miserable while you were eating healthy that you just can’t bear it anymore. Your old habits swallow you up. Within a short period of time, you’re even more miserable, tired, sick and gaining weight… time for another health kick! And so the cycle continues. Don’t do it to yourself. If you had that Burger King to look forward to on a Saturday night, say, would you not be more motivated to eat that bowl of spinach the rest of the time? (I’m not advising a daily bowl of spinach, but you catch my drift).
Yes, a diet based on whole, natural foods (mostly plants) is the way forward, but that doesn’t mean you can never have a slice of Red Velvet Cake again. Could you imagine a more miserable life? No? Then don’t do it to yourself. As long as you’re mindful about moderation, there is simply no need.
Mistake Number 4: Only Doing Cardio As Part of Your Exercise Routine
We’ve been told for years that cutting calories + cardio = weight loss. Especially as women, we are very afraid of weight lifting for the fear of looking ‘bulky.’ This doesn’t have to be the case. It is a lot harder for women than men to bulk up.
Yes, cardio is very good for burning calories and heart health, and can cause weight loss along with clean eating. But by only doing cardio, you are neglecting to build lean muscle and may actually be damaging your health in the long term! Excessive cardio can lead to breakdown of tissue, release of the stress hormone cortisol (a factor for weight gain in itself) and can even damage your heart or lead to a stroke. Just like with the bad stuff, moderation can be key with the good stuff too.
Weight training alone can actually help you to lose weight – your metabolism receives a huge boost that may continue for up to 36 hours after exercising, therefore leading you to burn far more calories over the course of the day just going about your usual business. Also, the lean muscle you build over time will ensure you naturally burn more calories on a daily basis just by existing. Cardio is great and it has its place – but it can’t do that. Plus, cardio can be boring as hell. Personally I can’t spend too long on a treadmill or an elliptical purely because I get bored. And maybe in the case of the elliptical also because I kind of hate the bloody thing. The burrrn.
Better still than steady state cardio workout for weight loss is High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, which burns a lot more fat. On a boredom level too, I’ve found HIIT really helpful; not doing the same thing for long periods of time at once keeps me interested and therefore I push myself harder because I’m not zoning out thinking about what I’m going to eat after said workout.
Weight training will not only shave off the pounds but it will also sculpt your body a lot better than cardio will. Also, cardio won’t necessarily help you get strong, whereas weight training will, improving your bone density and putting you at less risk for nasty things like osteoporosis. What’s not to love?
Got any of your own mistakes to share? Comment below…