Why Diets Fail and How to Achieve Your Fitness Goals

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Airman eats healthier by preparing his own meals.
Airman 1st Class Matthew Blasberg, 47th Healthcare Operations Squadron referral management and patient travel technician, chooses black beans and rice to accompany his ground turkey, which he seasons with taco seasoning, May 5, 2020, at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. (Senior Airman Anne McCready/U.S. Air Force photo)

There are hundreds of diets, and 95% of them work (in the short term). The problem with diets is that they eliminate certain food groups and limit calories. Paying more attention to which foods you eat will win every time.

For weight loss to be long term, it requires a lifestyle change with discipline. So once again, your motivation has to evolve into discipline to reach your goals.

Why diets work short term

1. Reduction of calories per day, period. At the end of a 24-hour period, you will lose weight if you consume fewer calories than you burn. It does not matter what diet you are on; in the end, you will lose weight because you consume fewer calories than normal. 

2. Water weight. Many diet plans cause a weight loss that can be quite significant (10 or more pounds per week).  If you lose that much weight in a short period of time, consider it losing water. You will gain it back over the course of your next meals and through liquid consumption.

This quick weight loss could be losing retained water, which is a good thing. Or you could dehydrate yourself and lose more electrolytes than you are taking in, and that could be dangerous. This typically can occur when exercising in hot and humid environments (or arid, too).  Surprisingly enough, if you want to lose excess water weight, just drink more water.

3. Accountability. Write it down. One thing a diet will do, especially in the short term, is make you more aware of mindless eating. When you have to write down what you consume during every meal, snack or drink, you will avoid the very foods that tend to add to your caloric intake.

For instance, I discovered I consumed 2-3 spoonfuls of peanut butter each day, which added about 500-600 calories a day to my diet. By simply being aware of that, I avoided it and started dropping weight. I have kept it off by avoiding peanut butter to that level of consumption.  Many diets have groups and counselors who help with the teamwork of losing weight. The ultimate goal, however, is to turn a short-term weight loss into a long-term habit and lifestyle change.

4. Financial commitment. Buying into a program helps, too. If you spend money on certain foods or for counseling, a dietician or nutritionist, you will find that you  also are motivated financially to succeed. There is a process that is triggered in the brain: By starting a diet or workout plan, you get motivated to pay for it, and then you stay motivated to do it because you paid for it. 

Seeing results will start to turn that motivation into discipline, and you have created a good habit and dropped some bad habits for yourself. One of the worst ways to start a program is if it was gifted to you, and you do not have that monetary commitment to help you when the motivation is low.

5. Awareness. Your awareness allows you to avoid mindless eating. Just the fact that you are “watching what you are eating” will help you avoid extra calories because of mindless or stress eating.

If your diet does not allow for long-term health and wellness, it is not a food plan that is nutritious and likely is lacking in either macronutrients, minerals or vitamins. These reduction of calories are fine for short-term weight loss, but you eventually will have to consider overall health and eat nutritiously.

You have to start somewhere.  A short-term goal brought on by a diet plan is great.  However, the majority of people who diet lose weight quickly and will put it on again. The process of turning a short-term weight loss into a long-term lifestyle change relies on the following:

  • Build good habits.
  • Drop bad habits.
  • Exercise: Move more, eat less.
  • A balanced diet.
  • Exercise portion control.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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