There’s something about January 1st that makes people ignore safe and sane nutrition advice in a desperate attempt to finally lose those extra pounds. But for most people, the “new year, new you” diet and exercise wave comes crashing down pretty quickly.
It’s not for lack of effort, or because their motivation isn’t genuine; it’s usually because they’ve fallen prey to marketing schemes and are going about it all wrong. If your goal is sustainable weight loss for good health, make sure your strategy is on target. Here’s how to tell if your diet plan is taking you down the wrong path:
- It doesn’t allow for flexibility. If you’re following a rigid meal plan that doesn’t bend with your preferences or circumstances, it’s only a matter of time before you kiss the whole thing goodbye. We all need a certain level of autonomy in our work and personal lives; what if you don’t feel like eating a scoop of cottage cheese and half a pear for breakfast? What if you just ran 4 miles and are hungry for a whole-grain English muffin with raspberry jam, scrambled eggs, and a banana? Following a cookie-cutter diet plan that doesn’t take your needs, preferences, and activity level into account is setting yourself up for frustration and failure.
- It completely eliminates an entire food group. You’ve seen them— diets that promise amazing results, but insist on no white foods. Or no grains. Or no fruits. These are big red flags — because for normal functioning and good health, the human body requires a balanced, colorful diet that includes a variety of choices from all food groups; you can’t completely cut out a food group without robbing your body of important macro and micronutrients needed for health and well-being.
- It forces you to eat meals from a box. Diets based on pre-packaged meal plans are designed to do one thing — make money. Helping you lose weight and keep it off? Not so much. Boxed meals contain processed foods; even those advertised as “lite” can contain excessive amounts of sodium and fat — and may be dismally low in fiber — but because the portion is small, it may be low in calories. Eating packaged meals doesn’t help you learn to choose or prepare healthful meals, and doesn’t help you learn to eat appropriate portions; it simply teaches you to eat what’s in the box.
The sheer number of diet plans on the market is alarming, because most people could benefit from simply getting back to basics — exercising regularly, honoring body signals of hunger vs. fullness, learning to cook healthful meals, and coping with stress and emotions in positive ways that don’t involve food.
To achieve and maintain your weight goal, your best bet is to meet with a registered dietitian for a personalized plan you can live with. If you prefer to pursue weight loss on your own, choose wisely — and be on the alert for red flags.
Beth Shepard, MS, ACSM-RCEP, ACE-PT, has a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the University of Arizona. Beth is an expert in fitness and health promotion and a certified wellness coach, helping people thrive by adopting sustainable lifestyle changes. She and her family love to hike, bicycle, and try new sports.