Here's the problem with diets: More often than not, they're too hard or unhealthy to sustain in the long run, and too frequently they end in weight gain—a fraction of what you lost; or worse, even more flab sloshing around your midsection.
Because here's the truth: "Research on people who have lost weight and kept it off from the National Weight Control Registry demonstrates that weight loss requires adopting permanent changes in what you eat, how you eat, and other behavioral changes that require taking a hard look at your where you get your foods (home prepared or eaten out) and how well you prioritize eating often enough to keep impulse eating under control," says Hillary Wright, MEd, R.D.
Men and women are more apt to look at quick-fix diets to remedy their weight problems, though. Because of this, we asked Wright to highlight the worst behaviors and habits that will prevent you from losing weight for good.
1. Fasting too frequently
Fasting before a cheat meal can have a remarkable impact on your ability to lose weight and drop body fat because the calorie deficit changes levels of leptin, your satiety hormone. (For more information, check out Cheat Meal Strategies for Weight Loss and Muscle Gains.)
But if you're fasting for long periods during the day, and this happens frequently throughout the week, you're in trouble. "This type of fasting will lead to muscle loss and likely over-eating later in the evening in response to being over-hungry," Wright says.
2. Living on a crazy-strict cleanse
"Cleansing" and other restrictive "detox" plans can seem like a load of B.S. when it comes to their lofty promises. Some might have an uplifting effect—leaving you feeling lighter, more energized, and thinner. Others, though, can cause severe headaches, dehydration, nausea, or worse. "The most effective way to 'cleanse' or 'detox' is to take advantage of your body's natural means of detoxification, which relies on loading your diet with lots of whole fruits and vegetables," Wright says. Not only is this a safer way to remove toxins, but it'll save you the psychological and physical pain of skipping meals or eating too minimally. "Aim for five to 10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day," Wright adds. This will help keep you full for a longer period of time and make eating fewer calories far easier.
3. Popping diet pills
Companies claim these magical pills help with weight loss, but there's not much merit—or science—to back it up. "And aside from not having evidence they lead to lasting weight loss, supplements often contain stimulants which may be potentially harmful especially for those with a history or risk for heart problems," Wright says.
4. Cutting entire food categories
Neglecting to eat or over-restricting an entire category of food, unless you have an allergy, is usually a bad idea. Carbs are often enemy #1 on the list for fit guys, but there's no reason you have to cut them out entirely. "Carbs are the primary source of fuel for the body, so over-restricting them can leave you feeling drained and irritable," Wright says. Aside from regulating your mood, carbs are crucial to your brain's health. The human brain uses up to 25 percent of the body's energy budget and up to 60 percent of blood glucose, so it pays to keep the right kind of carbs in your diet, according to a study from the University of Chicago. "The type and quality of carbohydrates matters, so limiting your choices to whole fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and low-fat dairy helps you get the nutrients you need for good health and provide the feeling of fullness you won't get from consuming processed carbs like white flour foods, sweets, soda, and processed snack foods," she adds.
5. Using liquid meal replacements
No one's denying shakes and smoothies are helpful in curbing hunger when you can't sit down to an actual meal. Liquid meal replacements are nutritious (if you have the right ingredients), but they’re not something you should be eating in place of breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the regular. Wright adds, "Relying on them to help you control your calories is an unsustainable way to manage your calorie intake, and rarely leads to lasting weight loss." Essentially, if you're drinking shakes because you're trying to keep your portions in check or hate cooking on your own, you're not going to develop healthy life-long habits that'll last. You're also lacking the fiber and certain nutrients from whole fruits and vegetables that are diminished in the making of shakes.
6. Relying entirely on exercise
You'll hear tons of guys say they hit the gym religiously, but dieting? That's not for them. (They're probably also in their 20s.) But to really make an impact on your weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle, you need to change your activity levels and your diet. "Exercise lowers blood sugar levels, which is one of its many health benefits, but if done to an extreme—particularly in a setting of restricted food intake—it can result in rebound over-eating later in the day as your body attempts to restock its fuel sources," Wright says. The key to producing the calorie deficit you need to consistently lose weight is to balance two things: a sustainable exercise routine and meal plan that's mostly plant-based to regularly manage hunger levels.
7. Mentally beating yourself up
It's all too easy to look in the mirror and get frustrated, which sends you into a spiral of, well, not going to the gym anymore. We've all been there—yes, even the ripped guy in the corner of your gym who just cranked out his fifth set of windshield wipers. But buck up, champ: Fitness is a lifelong commitment, and it's a process. Mr. Ripped Guy will definitely tell you as much. So try not to focus too much on the physique right off the bat, and try to channel your energy toward making sure you hit the goals you set for yourself. Put that energy to positive use, rather than getting anxious about how you look in a tank top.