If you’ve spent the last few weeks, or months, committing to a strict diet regimen, you know the frustration that follows from a lack of progress or results. This can be especially true when the problem isn’t your self-discipline. You’re left feeling helpless and out of resources. As it turns out, you may be making some small, but diet-sabotaging mistakes. These can completely inhibit you from reaching your weight loss goals. We talked to experts to figure out some reasons your diet isn’t working.
You’re not consuming enough fat.
If you’re avoiding fat like the plague, you might be doing your diet goals a disservice. “When people go low-fat in today’s society, they typically replace the fat with sugar and salt, both of which trigger us to eat more,” explains Darria Long Gillespie, M.D. board-certified emergency physician and professor at the University of Tennessee School of Medicine, Chattanooga. That’s why you can binge on your favorite junk foods for far longer than a bowl of fresh veggies. It takes more time for the brain to experience satiety from the high sugar and salt they contain.
While there are plenty of “bad fats” out there, namely saturated and trans fats found in foods like potato chips and pastries, there is also such a thing as “good fats.” These are found in foods like avocados, eggs, and raw nuts. These good fat sources are necessary for weight loss and satiety. Additionally, they’re also good for general body function.
You’re not actually in a calorie deficit.
“Too often, someone seeking weight loss will ‘clean up’ their diet by cutting back or quitting a few bad habits. For example, cutting out soda, alcohol, or fast food,” explains Paul Salter, M.S., R.D. and former nutrition editor of Bodybuilding.com. “Although this is a great decision and will likely lead to short-term weight loss, it doesn’t last. Soon after, the body adapts to the new baseline calorie intake.” In other words, the “dieter” is thinking they’re in a massive calorie deficit when they’re actually not. What’s really happened is that their metabolism and energy expenditure have adapted to recreate an equilibrium.
You’re not getting enough shut-eye.
Sleep is a vital human behavior—we can’t live without it. Even when your days are jam-packed, it’s crucial that you get your recommended seven to nine hours of sleep, daily. Otherwise, you’re fighting an uphill battle when it comes to weight loss. “Studies have shown that when people get inadequate amounts of sleep, they eat significantly more calories in a day,” says Dr. Gillespie. One study, by the University of Chicago, even found that people consume 600 more calories on days when they’re sleep deprived. “That may be due to the finding that sleep restriction raises levels [of] the hormone ghrelin (which makes us feel hunger) and lowers the hormone leptin (which makes us feel full),” explains Dr. Gillespie.
You’re eating too many processed foods and sugar.
Even if you are restricting calories, if your diet is high in sugar and processed carbs, weight loss is challenging, if not impossible, according to Dr. Gillespie. “Anytime you eat something high in sugar or processed carbs, your blood sugar skyrockets and you release insulin,” she explains. “This directs all that blood sugar straight to your fat reserves, causing your blood sugar to drop, which makes you feel hungry again.” If you want to lose weight, she says that cutting out sugar and processed carbs is essential.
You’re relying on too many sugar-free or calorie-free foods.
While this might sound counterintuitive, sugar- and calorie-free foods are just as diet-sabotaging as their full-sugar and full-fat counterparts. Unfortunately, these items, such as dressings, spreads, syrups, and creamers, do, in fact, contain calories. “They also use sugar alcohols, which contain one to three calories per gram compared to carbohydrates that provide four calories per gram,” explains Salter. “The serving sizes often list zero calories/grams of sugar because, technically, as long as there are less than five calories per serving the company may put zero on the label.” The problem with that? The serving size is tiny! In other words, if you’re consuming sugar alcohols in multiple servings per meal and per day, that could quickly lead to an extra 100+ calories per day!
Setting and following a workout and fitness routine is great. But if you don’t consistently stick with it, you likely won’t see desired results. If you want to see a change in your physical body, you have to commit to your diet, as well as your exercise routine. That includes weekends, too. “Eating well Monday through Friday is great, but if this isn’t in place [on] Saturday and Sunday, don’t expect to meet your weight loss goals anytime soon,” adds Salter.
You’re being impatient.
When you’ve finally committed, adopted, and stuck to a workout and diet regimen, you’re beyond eager to see and feel results. But, Salter explains that this will likely not happen as soon as you’d like it to. Although that doesn’t mean it’s not on the horizon—if you continue to keep up with everything efficiently. Also, bodyweight can fluctuate by a few pounds each day. “Too often, those seeking weight loss approach their goals expecting results yesterday,” he says. “When they notice their weight hasn’t gone down the past few days, and in fact, they hit a new high rather than a new low, they become flummoxed and give up.”
You’re eyeballing portions.
There’s a good reason why many popular diets, including Paleo and Whole30, offer guidelines and examples for proper portions. They’re important and they matter in the long run. Eyeballing portions, compared to precise portion control, isn’t ideal. “Using a food scale will allow you to dial your portions into the nearest gram or calorie (+/- 5%). Whereas eye-balling may lead to a 20-30 percent error (or more),” says Salter. “A precise portion control method is necessary to ensure [that] you’re indeed in a calorie deficit.”