Experts offer a road map to success to help you steer clear of dieting pitfalls.
You’ve mustered your resolve, and this time you’re sure: You’re going to stay on your diet no matter what!
But a few weeks or a few months later, you find yourself weakening. A nibble here, a nosh there, and before you know it, your healthy eating plan is history.
If this has happened to you, there’s no need to beat yourself up. In fact, says psychologist and weight loss expert Warren Huberman, PhD, it’s more common than not for dieters to derail.
“Every diet and every dieter is different, but yes, there are some specific pitfalls that befall almost every dieter at some point in their weight loss experience,” says Huberman, a psychologist at the New York University Surgical Weight Loss Center in New York.
The good news: If you know where the pitfalls are, you can steer clear of them — or at least be prepared so they don’t throw you too far off course. Huberman and several other weight loss experts helped WebMD map out your route to dieting success — and red-flag those pitfalls along the way.
Your Road Map to Dieting Success
1. Anticipate a Long Trip
Packing for a weekend excursion is a whole lot different than packing for a two-year journey. And the same philosophy holds true for dieting, experts say.
“You can’t address a long-term problem like obesity with a short-term solution, and if you try you’re almost guaranteed to fail,” says Huberman.
Find an eating plan you can live with long-term, and Huberman says you’ve automatically eliminated one of a dieter’s major pitfalls.
Adds Huberman: “If your weight loss plan makes room for some of the foods you like, if it allows for occasional ‘cheating,’ if it’s a plan you can live with for the long haul, then you are a lot more likely to stay with it, and a lot less likely to get lost along the way.”
2. Pack a Lunch
Remember when your family took summer road trips, and Mom packed a box lunch so you wouldn’t have to buy food along the way? Well, experts say, the same idea works on your weight loss journey. Planning your meals ahead of time helps you avoid another dieting pitfall: spontaneous eating, says nutritionist Loren Pascal, RD.
“No matter how great your diet plan is, sticking with it will be a lot easier if you sit down at least once a week and consciously plan your meals for the next seven days, complete with shopping lists,” says Pascal, nutrition coordinator at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.
And the more your weight loss eating plan differs from what you’ve been used to eating, the more important it becomes to plan your meals, Pascal says.
Washington, nutrition expert Jessica Adler, RD agrees, and suggests you cook healthy meals ahead of time as often as possible.
“Instead of depending on fast food to get you through your busy schedule, pre-cook healthy foods and have them around,” says Adler, a dietician at LiveHealtheir.com. When healthy meals are at arm’s reach, she says, you’re more likely to reach for them instead of foods that will steer you off track.
3. Don’t Forget to Refuel
Does your car run on empty? Of course not! And neither do you. But, experts say, a major dieting pitfall is thinking that you can.
“Decreasing your caloric intake is not a bad thing — restricting your calories too low can cause trouble,” says Adler.
When you don’t get enough calories, she says, your body retaliates. Instead of losing fat, you’re more likely to lose muscle — plus, you don’t have enough energy to get you through the day.
Further, says Stephen Schnur, MD, when you skip meals you often end up eating more — not less — by day’s end.
“Small meals at regular intervals are better and can help you withstand temptation,” says Schnur author of The Reality Diet: Lose the Pounds for Good With a Cardiologist’s Simple, Healthy Eating Plan.
It’s especially important for dieters never to skip breakfast, he says.
“Research consistently shows that people who eat breakfast actually eat fewer calories per day and lose weight more successfully than those who do not,” says Schnur.
4. Prepare for Detours
While starting a diet may be easy, sticking to one can be hard, particularly when you don’t plan for life’s little food detours.
“Whether it’s a stressful event that normally causes you to overeat, or a food-related event like a wedding or a birthday party, you must realize that the world isn’t on your diet, and perfect road conditions aren’t going to exist every day of your weight loss journey,” says Huberman.
The way around it, he says: plan, plan, and plan.
“If you try to just show up at your cousin’s wedding and wing it through the buffet table, you’re going to run into trouble,” he says.
But if you decide ahead of time that you will detour off your diet, you can set limits on just how far afield you’ll go.
“If you make up your mind beforehand that you will have two pieces of fried chicken and a portion of potato salad, most likely that is what you will stick to,” says Huberman. “If you don’t have a plan, you won’t stop at two pieces of chicken — you’re more likely to turn it into an ‘all you can eat’ experience.”
Moreover Huberman tells WebMD that if you do derail beyond your plan, encapsulate the event as a single slip up — and don’t use it as an excuse to ditch your diet for the rest of the weekend.
“Anticipate that detours will occur, tell yourself it’s normal and expected, and then get right back on your diet with the very next bite you take,” says Huberman.
5. Stop to Admire the Scenery
Does your motivation wane after just a few weeks of weight loss success? Experts say that’s another common pitfall.
The way around it: Constantly remind yourself how far you’ve come.
“Remind yourself of the things you can do now that you couldn’t do before, the clothes you can wear now that you couldn’t wear before,” says Huberman.
When you compare where you are now, to where you were and how you felt even 10 pounds ago, the motivation will spring back, he says.
Pascal reminds us not to focus only on pounds lost.
“Your blood pressure is probably lower, your blood sugars may be under better control, you have more energy, and probably get tired less and generally can do more,” says Pascal. “Remind yourself of these things on a regular basis to keep motivation high.”
6. Don’t Set Your Sights on Oz
A tornado blew up and — shazam! — Dorothy was in Oz. But if your weight loss expectations are too high — especially if you’re looking for instant results — experts say you’ll get caught in a tailwind that can blow you far off course.
“When we are too impatient about losing weight we go to extremes, either cutting calories to an unrealistic level or working out too long and too hard — whatever it is, feelings of impatience set up an unrealistic weight loss situation that is impossible to stick with,” Pascal tells WebMD.
According to Sol Jacobs, MD, an endocrinologist and co-author of The Nantucket Diet, impatience and unrealistic expectations are among the key reasons diet plans fail.
“Weight loss will not be instantaneous, it will not always be easy, and it will require some sacrifices along the way,” Jacobs say. “Slow, steady weight loss is the only clinically proven way to lose weight permanently.”
So think of your journey as a slow but steady one.
“The tortoise always wins this race,” Adler says. “The slower you lose the weight, the better chance you will have of keeping the weight off.”