Table of Contents[Hide][Show]
Obesity in the United States continues to rise each year. Many people are looking for ways to stick to a diet and attain a healthy weight once and for all. The problem is, weight issues are not simple. There are lots of reasons that people struggle to lose weight and there are lots of reasons that people struggle to stick to a diet. Here’s why:
Why It’s Hard to Stick to a Diet
So often people (especially women) get down on themselves for having extra weight and for not being able to stick to a diet. Many people believe that extra weight is a product of not having enough self-control when it comes to food. As you can imagine, this belief can lead to self-esteem issues when they can’t stick to a diet or lose weight.
Traditional diet plans also rely on calorie restriction, which means people have to choose between being overweight or being hungry. But lack of control around eating and overeating are not the only (or even the main) things that contribute to weight issues.
Overeating doesn’t make biological sense. The body is designed to feel hunger when it needs fuel and to feel satiety when it doesn’t. When everything is working well, this is the case. But sometimes this cycle malfunctions.
What’s the Problem?
The reason that this hunger/satiety cycle malfunctions is often leptin resistance. Leptin is a hormone that monitors energy intake and expenditure and generates hunger to refuel when needed. But leptin resistance in the body can make it impossible for this function to happen the way it should. The body doesn’t recognize the leptin being emitted and so it doesn’t get the signal that we’ve eaten enough. If you’re struggling with weight issues, you likely have leptin resistance.
One contributing factor for leptin resistance is the Standard American Diet (SAD). The foods that most Americans eat are nutrient-poor but high in calories. This kind of diet leads to plenty of energy (sugar) intake but very little nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, amino acids, etc. In other words, your body is getting enough (or too many) calories, but essentially starving as far as nutrients go. This triggers the body to hold onto fat instead of burning it and other mechanisms that cause weight gain.
As Dr. David Ludwig, author of Always Hungry, explains, obesity is not an issue of excess, but is really an issue of starvation in the cells of the body. So, calorie restriction, like most traditional diets rely on, only makes the problem worse.
The bottom line is, if you struggle to stick to a diet, it’s not your fault! Most weight loss programs or diets don’t address the above issues.
How to Stick to a Diet (For Good)
But there are simple ways to stick to a diet and finally lose weight that align with the underlying cause of weight gain. Here are some ways to finally reach a healthy weight:
Recognize That Weight Is a Symptom of a Larger Problem
As discussed earlier, weight is often a downstream symptom of other health issues. This means that fixing the underlying issue will often fix the weight issue. Leptin resistance (as mentioned earlier), insulin resistance, thyroid disease, etc., can all affect weight. Trying to improve weight when one of these underlying causes is not addressed will be fruitless. My best advice is to see a functional medicine doctor who will be able to tell you whether an underlying issue is causing weight issues and what you can do about it.
Luckily though, you don’t have to be diagnosed with leptin resistance to start taking steps to help it. Anything you do to support proper leptin can only benefit the body. Some of those things include:
- eating enough nutrient-dense food (instead of restricting calories)
- forgoing simple sugars and sticking with starchy vegetables for carbs
- getting quality sleep
- reducing stress by getting out in nature
- focusing on anaerobic exercise
Doing some of these things can help reset the body so weight loss isn’t so difficult.
Make Health Part of Your Lifestyle
You’ll want to think about your new healthy eating habits as a lifestyle change. The diets from the ‘70s and ‘80s aren’t going to cut it. These traditional diets are something you “go on” to lose weight and then “come off” when you’re sick of the deprivation.
These kinds of diets cause more harm than good considering that weight issues are often a product of malnutrition. Instead, we need to embrace sustainable healthy eating habits. Eating healthy should never leave you hungry! Here are some ways to do this:
- Find new favorite recipes that use only healthy ingredients (and remember that healthy fats are important and not to be avoided!).
- Make treats at home with healthy ingredients (think ice cream, cheesecake, and cookies). Real food meals are so much better than packaged or even take-out meals.
- Create a routine that includes time for preparing and eating healthy meals as well as plenty of time outside, movement, and stress reduction.
Making healthy habits a normal part of your life can help you to both be healthy and enjoy life more (no restrictions!). I eat about 95% healthy foods, and I can honestly say I never feel deprived.
Eat Real Food
One way to make health part of your lifestyle is to make healthy food a priority. One of the most important aspects of sticking to a diet is what kind of food you’re eating. Nutrient-poor foods like packaged convenience foods are going to contribute to leptin resistance and insulin resistance and won’t help you lose weight.
On the other hand, real foods can help support the body and improve any imbalances that may be causing weight issues. It’s important to focus on:
- Healthy protein – Pastured chicken, grass-fed beef and lamb, and wild-caught fish are what we’re looking for.
- Healthy fats – These include avocado, real olive oil, coconut oil, pastured butter or other fats from healthy animals, and fatty fish.
- Lots of veggies – Ideally we’ll consume only pesticide-free, organic veggies but the important thing is to simply eat lots of them!
- Healthy sweeteners – Instead of sugar, sweeten foods with fruit, maple syrup, raw honey, or other natural sweeteners. It’s also important not to rely too heavily on sweet foods. We usually stick with fruit and use sweeteners for occasional treats.
- Healthy Carbohydrates – Fruit and other sweeteners are carbohydrates, but it’s important to also get plenty of other forms of carbohydrates. My favorites are winter squash and sweet potatoes. For some people, going low carb will help with weight, but that’s a higher level goal to focus on after switching to real food.
Just making the switch to real food may be all you need to get your body back on track. In any case, it’s a great first step and can have a huge positive impact on the body. Check out my best tips for stocking a real food kitchen.
Make Positive Goals Instead of Negative Ones
Often the thinking about staying on a healthy diet is to simply stop unhealthy habits. But if it were that simple, no one would struggle with weight. The problem is, stopping doing something takes willpower.
In ideal conditions, willpower is plentiful. We can make good decisions based on a big picture view when we’re calm and cared for. But while under stress, the fight, flight, or freeze instinct kicks in. According to an article on Stanford.edu, when we’re operating on instinct, we make decisions based on short-term benefits and do not focus on long-term benefits.
This makes sense, too. In a hunter-gatherer society, acting short-term when there is a threat would make much more sense than looking long-term. If there was a wolf at the cave door, for example, you’d want to flee to save your life (short-term thinking) rather than stay because you don’t want to have to find a new cave or sleep outside (long-term thinking).
This explains why so many of us eat junk food when we’re underslept, hungry, or stressed in other ways!
As my friend Anne Bogle of Modern Mrs. Darcy says, “You can’t just drop a bad habit: you have to replace it with a good one. If you want to succeed, you have to make a plan.”
So, instead of relying on willpower to “stop” eating junk food, it’s more beneficial to make positive goals such as:
- Adding vegetables to your breakfast every day
- Cooking with only healthy fats
- Making all of your treats at home with real food ingredients (but not setting a limit on them yet)
This way, you’re actively doing something instead of trying not to do something else.
Set Yourself Up for Success
In addition to making positive goals instead of negative ones, it’s also important to set yourself up for success. If you make a healthy eating goal but don’t make changes in your life, it will be hard to stick with it. If there is candy and other unhealthy foods in the house, you’ll have to rely on willpower again. And if you work late and don’t have a plan for dinner, it will be really hard not to grab take-out.
Instead, prepare for your new healthy eating lifestyle. This means stocking the house with healthy snacks and having a plan to make healthy meals every night (Real Plans helps a ton!). I only keep healthy foods in the house so there’s very little room for failure!
Bottom Line on Sticking to a Diet
Ultimately, we have to stop looking at weight management as simply a problem with self-control and overeating. Underlying health issues and poor nutrition are much more likely to be the problem. Improving the quality of food we eat as well as creating space for healthy eating in our lives is the best way to finally stick to a diet and achieve a healthy weight.
Have you ever tried a calorie-restricting diet and failed? How did that affect your self-esteem?
Discussion (25 Comments)
I am a 44 year old woman that has struggled with her weight since forever. I have lost dramatically and then gain double. I am very happy when I am at a healthy weight but for some reason and no particular day I just give up . I am not a fan of junk bagged food , my problem is the amount of food I eat in one sitting. If I am eating rice or a pot roast I have to eat twice , or worse until there is nothing inside the whole pot. The worse is that I am not satisfied until my stomach feels that it is about to explode . I did a basal metabolism check up and the doctors didn’t find any hormonal problem. I feel like a child without any control, I feel weird because here I am a grown woman spoiling my health and happiness for an unknown reason and without control. Can somebody give me any advice I would appreciate it
Bright Line Eating
I also want to add–though I realize it’s not what the author is addressing here–that sometimes the reason we don’t “stick to” a diet, new habit, or other long-term change is that it turns out not to work for us.
It can be very hard to intuit the difference between resisting change despite its potential gains, and resisting change because of its harmful effects…both situations tend to announce themselves with the overall feeling of “This Sucks!” But fighting that feeling when it’s telling you something important can be WAY more harmful than whatever you were trying to correct.
TL/DR: Some diets (and resolutions, and situations, and relationships) don’t actually deserve to be stuck to. It’s really important to be able to tell the difference.
Every person has beliefs about food and how it affects them, and how their body should respond to the foods they eat. Some of these beliefs come in from our ancestors. These are beliefs that help us survive. Examples of these are “I need to eat more now, because there may be none later.” “I need to store as much fat as possible in case there is a shortage.” “My body will always be fat.”
Sometimes these beliefs are buried deep in the subconscious, and the person is unaware that they are there. So when the person begins to lose weight, the subconscious belief kicks in, and the person suddenly develops an insatiable appetite, or maybe they just can’t motivate themselves to go to the gym.
Suddenly the person has gained more weight that the original amount that they lost. Thetahealing is a way to find these beliefs and change them to something beneficial like, “There is always plenty.” “Eating less is better.” “I enjoy eating healthy foods.” The process of finding the beliefs is fast, and the beliefs are changed instantly. Sessions can be done over the phone!
You can go to “Ingrid Muller Dobbins-Thetahealer” on Facebook, or to http://www.thetahealing.com and search for certified practitioner Ingrid Dobbins for more information.
my issue is that i drink prolly 2 to 4 24 packs of reg mountain dew. or even more. i eat 1 small meal a day. and thats usually pasta with a tony bit of butter. i cant get out of this habit no matter what i do. i even tried a different sauce.. and cut back to 2 cans a day and i get horribly sick. sounds silly but im sooooo addicted to soda its bad but weird thing im losing alot of weight. even drinking tons of soda. I cant stand coffee, teas, or bubbly water.. or even water alone… ive tried so hard to find a different drink.. but they are sooooo disgusting i gag… i dont touch nuts, almonds, or any type of health food. i cant stand them… i feel like a rabbit… its gross. but the same time if i dont figure out what works for me ill have really bad kidney stones. HELP!!! but also my sleeping pattern is basically i sleep 6 hours every 4 days. been doing that for yearrrssss… If anyone can help me.
Sarah – I love Coke and Pepsi, but do not consume at the rate you are. I’m wondering if you should check this out with a doc. Maybe he/she can suggest alternatives to substitute that are palatable. It sounds like you have been way out of balance in a potentially dangerous way. The symptoms you have when cutting way down might be withdrawal. You need to learn to love the healthier foods and it may take some professionals to get you on track. I hope you kick this! For me, I can enjoy salads, steamed vegetables, fruit smoothies, poultry. I still eat junk food every day – hamburgers and hot dogs, and maybe 2 servings of soda per day. No fries or onion rings, but I do go on binges. I’m worried about you because it sounds like you don’t like very many foods at all. That will make it harder.
I agree. I don’t know if you’re still having the same problems, but seeing a doctor might be your best bet. They may be able to get you paired with a dietitian who can help with the texture sensitivities. You’re probably not sleeping well due to the amount of caffeine you’re drinking. And you’re probably feeling sick from the sugar withdrawal after cutting back the sugar amount in all the soda.
I’ve drank soda for years. Not at the same rate, but until now I’ve never found a good substitute. It’s a Chai tea. Not the full fat authentic stuff, but just the Celestial Seasonings kind. After it’s done steeping I add 1 serving of the coffee mate French Vanilla creamer in and then ice the whole thing. It gives me the sweetness I’m craving and the cardamom and other spices make me feel full. It’s been a Godsend. It doesn’t even really taste like tea either.
The thing that has helped me the most, besides the tea, is thinking about the damage I’m doing to my internal organs with all the unhealthy food and drinks I consume. You can still treat yourself and indulge once in awhile. I think it would be unhealthy not to. But it’s about moderation. Please go visit a doctor to help you feel better for you.
I love this post! I have kicked a serious food addiction and lost 160 pounds in the process. I recently led a weight loss program in my church. One problem I noticed was some people were so negative, always lamenting about everything they were giving up. I was costantly telling people, you have to have a plan, and you have to focus on what you can eat and activites you can do rather than what you think you’re missing out on. And beyond that, it really helps if you have specific goals outside of just giving up a bad habit. Nobody gives up junk food just for the fun of it, but you may realize you need to do it to be healthier – and then you then have a new bunch of positive things to focus on, like losing weight, feeling better, having more energy, looking better ect. It makes a world of difference in being committed enough to reach your goals.
I love it! “Nature abhors a vacuum” So true! What a great reminder 🙂
Okay, everyone’s talking about salty and crunchy … what about cutting that sweet tooth? It’s summer and I have 4 kids …. always ice cream in the house. I can’t eat gluten so I am careful about that, but I CRAVE the sweets. Ice cream, chocolate, tapioca, rice pudding, any pudding! It’s not just the ‘sugar’ or I’d be happy with fruit. It’s the sugar and fat together that I think I crave. It is absolutely an addiction. I told my doctors 10 yrs ago that this sweet tooth thing was an ADDICTION for people and they disagreed. I’m so happy to see that they’ve changed their tune but I still can’t repair my addiction. Like the article says, I can cut it for a certain amount of time … almost going through DT’s but eventually something gets triggered again and the problem comes back. Having a truly acceptable and satiable alternative is a great idea but I don’t see that in the list of snack alternatives.
Be creative – find ways to combine raw fruit with fat. Cheese and fruit. Peanut butter and apples. Also, I found that my sugar cravings were related to my energy level. Anemia, blood sugar lows, and just plain being tired made me crave sweets. When I started attacking my energy level problems, the cravings disappeared. Pay attention to when the cravings happen, and see if there is a pattern to them.
I have a Vitamix and because it blends and freezes so well I can make a good substitute for ice cream and still have it healthy. It takes a little experimenting but basically I pack a couple handfuls of baby kale (yes it makes green ice cream-so?) your choice of frozen fruits; I like pineapple, green grapes, granny smith apple, some lemon juice and a bit of mint leaves. I also add a couple teaspoons of coconut oil , the solid oil never liquify’s and it blends all together nicely, plus it’s good for you. The kale needs to go on the bottom or the frozen fruit will freeze up and the kale won’t be blended. Add enough water or fruit juice 1/2 cup give or take and set it on high. I found out quite by accident that it freezes. Maybe not rock hard, more like a home made sorbet but if you have patience you can stick it in the freezer. It got me passed ice cream and the horrible stomach cramps it gave me.
Don’t replace sugar with artificial sweeteners.
Research and understand how artificial sweeteners cause weight gain.
A craving is a chemical reaction.
Try a low carb induction style diet to break your sugar craving. Step down easy if you need to (100 carbs, 40, 20), then switch to a whatever diet if low carb isn’t for you.
Be wary of high fructose corn syrup. While aspartame makes me “quietly” crave more aspartame, I’ve found HFCS triggers severe sugar cravings and for 18 hours plus.
After you have cleared sweeteners/sugar from your diet, note how you respond to high carb/high starch foods. This is a key step to avoiding a runaway re-addiction.
Remember, EVERYONE is on a diet. Some are better than others. Eliminating artificial sweeteners and understanding and controlling sugar intake will change your diet for the better.
Hum….good the ideas, i just need to apply them. – i hate diet Anything, so that’s not a problem for me, – i adore seltzer so that’s what i indulge in for healthy drink, but the munchies…well they tend to strike a bit more often and with more force than i can always handle….i DO love carrots- so that’s a plus, but always having them ready and on hand can be the problem. …i think i shall give it a try though! 🙂
I wonder what that seltzer water and all those bubbles are doing down there in your stomach. I think they must be distroying anything healthy because how could something healthy survive those gases? Just a thought! I quit soda years ago but water is my first replacement choice and only spring water or reverse osmosis.
I do enjoy tea and coffee but my food cost enough money so distroying it with something unnatural doesn’t work for me.
Our family had a Reverse Osmosis system for 20 plus years before the damage set in. For many years alternative health advice was given to me that Reverse Osmosis water will strip your body of minerals. Well it finally did, in the form or leg cramps. My MD did Ultrasound and Cat Scans and finally tried to tell me that everyone gets them. But I felt there was a more logical reason than “everyone gets them” I could not sprint across the street without gettting a cramp in my calf. After peeling back several layers, my AK Chiropractor found my mineral levels were too low and suggested a regiment of minerals and drinking Fiji water. It worked? After 2-3 years of pain in my legs and calves, the problem was solved! I now not only do not drink RO water, I recently began drinking Kangen water. It alkalinzes your body, because our environment and the foods we eat are too acidic, which cause inflammation in our body, leading to weakened immune systems.
If you want to drop junk food, try replacing it with a fatty snack, not vegetables. As someone who has eaten junk food literally her entire life, trying to eat a carrot stick when you want a deep fried potato chip isn’t going to cut it, no matter how many carrots you shove in your face. Your body is craving that junk food for a reason and it’s not out of pure habit. You’re hungry, you want something carby or sugary for energy, and your body has been fine tuned to instantly crave the hyper-palatable additives found in junk food. The only way you’re going to kick that habit is by filling up with fats and proteins at all of your meals and keeping *filling* snacks on hand. Instead carrots, eat a couple bites of egg salad or a homemade version of the junk item – nothing wrong with some vegetable chips fried in quality lard. Do this long enough and the next time you do slip up and give in to that bag of doritos, you’ll find yourself with a horrific stomach ache, further breaking the habit. Yeah, it’s high calorie, but you’ll be getting nutrient dense food, allowing you to heal your body at the same time as breaking the habit, and you’ll never forget how awful the junk food makes you feel after eating nutrient dense food. Carrots, celery and nuts never did any of that for me.
I have to disagree a little bit, but only a touch. It’s true that if you’re craving something fatty, focusing on crunchy isn’t going to cut it. But like WM said, if you’re craving cruchy, replace it with crunchy. If you’re craving fat or salt, a healthy(ier) alternative might be a good choice. If veggie chips is a good enough substitution for your diet, perfect. For me, nuts work really well to replace chips, as do various baked veggie chips (kale chips, eggplant chips, etc). It’s all about identifying the quality you’re craving in the food and focusing on just replacing that. Because you’re right, if you’re craving fat a carrot won’t cut it, but if you want crunchy, it just might. I’d also like to add that fat is literally an addictive substance – craving it does NOT mean you need it. Sometimes, maybe, but a person who eats a lot of fat and craves fat is responding to addiction not nutritional need.
I loved this post. I gave up pop while I was pregnant, and discovered flavored selters for the first time. I love them and am so glad I made the switch. It was hard for quite a while, but being pregnant and knowing that it wasn’t just my health at stake helped 😉
You’re missing the point. People don’t crave fat unless their body is used to the fat in hyper-palatable junk food items or items fried in canola oil. Good fat has leptin in it that creates satiety. Hunger leads to cravings for fast calories, not nutrients. This has nothing to do with “crunchy” or “salty” and everything to do with keeping your body filled with nutrient dense, truly satisfying foods (fat and protein) instead of hyper-palatable junk food items.
Fat that you eat does not provide leptin. Leptin is an “adiposity hormone” that is produced by fat cells within living tissue. It is destroyed when living cells die (as in meat, unless you eat it straight from the slaughter), and also destroyed by your own digestive enzymes when you eat the meat/fat.
Thank you for your comment, Cassandra Roy, I think you’re spot-on. I agree with everything you said, and way to go for telling it like it is!
When I first started eating nutrient dense, and giving up processed sugar (which I didn’t think I ate a ton of–until I started giving it up!) among other things, I was a little stumped at what to eat, and you’re right….carrot sticks do not cut the cravings! I find, since eating better, I don’t crave any food anymore at all….I used to get intense cravings for certain things at different times, but now I don’t crave anything. Also, you are so right when you said when you do cheat from eating nutrient dense, it makes me feel so bad that it resolves your mind to never do it again! I’ve yo-yoed back and forth a lot this year, but have only just begun this year, and am still learning new things to contribute to my resolve to NEVER go back to how I ate before…….
I love hearing about others who know about REAL food, nutrient dense, and truly nourishing food (it validates what I’ve learned, and makes me feel like I know what I’m talking about). These blogs are awesome, because it helps connect people that way, and we need all the help and support we can get!
Interesting comment. Out of curiosity what are you eating instead. It’s so confusing as to what to eat and is actually considered healthy. There’s so much conflicting advice and pseudo science being bounded around. I don’t know where to start!