4 Dieting Traps
"And many people try dieting 10 times or more before they find something that works," says Lona Sandon, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and assistant professor at the University of Texas, Southwestern. Why is it so hard? Top weight-loss experts told us that most diet plans fail for the same key reasons. But take heart: Those experts also told us how to overcome the pitfalls so you can successfully slim down for good.
Pitfall: They're Too Restrictive
If you want to, say, shed 5 pounds before your high school reunion, eating only cabbage soup or grapefruit for a few days may do the trick. But try eating such a limited diet for longer than that and you're bound to run into trouble (not to mention hunger and crankiness).
"People ultimately can't follow a diet with lots of rules and restrictions," says Sandon. "Most of us go back to our old eating habits and gain back the lost weight plus some." Not only that, but plans that cut out entire food groups (e.g., carbs or dairy) or severely limit calorie intake can also be dangerous, because they deprive your body of key nutrients that you need to stay healthy.
Strategy:Go slow and steady and eat a wide range of foods—and be sure to include your favorites, says David Katz, MD, associate professor, adjunct and director of Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center. That means eating about 500 fewer calories a day (but don't go below a total of 1,500), which should enable you to safely lose about a pound a week. That may seem like a huge chunk of calories, but experts say that eating frequently (five or six mini-meals instead of three big meals) and filling up on water-rich, fiber-filled foods can help curb
your hunger as your body adjusts. "Research shows that if you start your meal with fruit, a salad or a broth-based soup, you'll end up eating fewer calories at that meal," says Barbara Rolls, PhD, professor of nutritional science at Penn State and author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan. You can also trick yourself into feeling like you're eating more by choosing foods with lots of air, like puffed cereal and popcorn.
Just as important is figuring out which foods you can easily give up so you can decide what's worth indulging in. "Don't suffer with fat-free mayonnaise if you hate it," says Carolyn O'Neil, RD, coauthor of The Dish: On Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous! "Instead, find a lower-calorie alternative that you like—maybe hummus or honey mustard—or just use a delicate smear of the real stuff instead of loading it on." Love pizza? Eat just one slice but accompany it with a salad to help you fill up, suggests Sandon.
Pitfall: They Don't Include Support
If there's one solid weight-loss fact that research continues to confirm (other than the need to eat less), it's this: Successful dieters don't do it alone. A large study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute found that after two and a half years, dieters who'd gotten one-on-one monthly counseling regained the least amount of weight, followed by those who got social support online. "Support
is crucial to losing weight—it provides motivation, inspiration and an outlet for frustration so
you don't have to turn to food for comfort," says O'Neil. Plus it's a lot easier to get excited about trying new healthy recipes when you have someone to compare notes with.
StrategyTell everyone you're trying to lose. "Dieters often make the mistake of keeping their efforts secret," says Dr. Katz. One of the toughest challenges is sidestepping the potential diet disasters you're faced with all the time: from the doughnuts your coworker brings in every Friday to the beer and tortilla chips your husband stashes in the pantry. "If the people around you know about your plan, they can
help you stick to it, or at least not unknowingly sabotage your efforts," says Dr. Katz.
To get more direct support, you can choose a plan that includes it, such as Weight Watchers or Overeaters Anonymous; hire a nutritionist to steer you in the right direction (find one at eatright.org);
or join forces with a friend—you can check in with each other once a week, share tips and vent to each other when you're tempted to give up.
Pitfall: They Don't Fit Your Lifestyle
A recent study from Stanford University found that dieters were more likely to stay with a particular plan if they found it convenient to follow. Let's face it, if you have no time to cook, an eating plan that demands made-from-scratch meals is guaranteed to backfire. Many people are so anxious to lose weight that they're willing to try just about anything for a little while, but they go back to their old ways when it becomes too difficult.
StrategyBefore you choose a plan, take a long, hard look at your lifestyle and the way you eat. Write down your "eating attitudes" (for example, "I hate to cook" or "I love preparing meals with my family") as well as your habits. Do you travel often? Do you work late hours? Do you cook for your family but have no time to make two separate meals? Seeing it in black and white helps you zero in on a plan that meets your needs.
If your schedule is super-hectic, you may do well with a prepackaged plan like Jenny Craig, Nutri-
System or Slim-Fast, says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "These take out the guesswork and can help get you on the right track," she says. If you often eat out, however, you may be better off with a plan like Weight Watchers, which lets you pick from a wide variety of foods as long as you track your intake.
Pitfall: They Promise Quick Fixes
Next time you're watching a diet infomercial and are tempted to pick up the phone, ask yourself: If this really could make me lose 10 pounds in 10 days, wouldn't everyone in America already be using it successfully? (Think about it—the obesity epidemic would be over for just four easy payments of .99.)
You know the drill…if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Though you may think it can't hurt to try a product or plan, no matter how farfetched, you're just setting yourself up for failure, says Dr. Gerbstadt. OK, you may lose 10 pounds in 10 days, but chances are you'll gain it back once you go off the plan—and that can be extremely discouraging, not to mention potentially dangerous (remember the diet drug ephedra?). No one puts on 20 or 30 (or even 10) pounds overnight, so it's better to accept that losing it will be gradual as well.
StrategySet small, doable weight-loss goals—say, a pound a week or 5 pounds this month. "If your goals are unrealistic, you'll lose motivation when you don't accomplish them," says Sandon. And reward yourself (um, no, not with that slab of cake) when you reach them. Everyone needs a pat on the back, says Sandon.
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