New year, new diet plan. At least that’s the typical thinking that accompanies a fresh start like a new year or month. And, with that thinking, comes an increased focus on weight loss. In an effort to shed pounds fast, many turn to short-term solutions, including restriction. These efforts are not only impossible to keep up with, but can yield backfiring results. “These types of resolutions lead to feelings of failure—often before the end of [the month]—and giving up on healthy behaviors,” explains Roger E. Adams, Ph.D., personal trainer, doctor of nutrition, and owner of eatrightfitness. However, there are ways to improve your health (and even shed some pounds) that don’t require you to change your diet.
Don’t scramble to start the latest and greatest weight-loss diet that promises to bring fast results. Instead, Adams recommends focusing on healthy behaviors that will lead to weight loss. “For example, instead of resolving to lose 50 pounds in a year (which may be too aggressive of a goal for many), focus on working out five days per week. Eat seven to nine servings of fruits and veggies daily, and cut alcohol consumption to weekends only,” he says. “These types of resolutions are far more doable [and] longer-lasting. [They] won’t lead to feelings of failure, like assigning a certain weight loss goal.”
As with most behavioral changes that we tackle in life, it’s true that different tactics work for different people. “For weight loss, some of the best long-term research shows that most people who successfully lose weight and keep it off begin with small, gradual changes that are sustainable over time. Eating less at each sitting, eating more healthful foods overall, and exercising more often,” says Christen Cupples Cooper, Ed.D., R.D.N., assistant professor and founding director of the Nutrition and Dietetics Program at the College of Health Professions at Pace University. “Extreme thinking and actions can set an individual up for failure. [This includes] cutting out whole food categories (often carbohydrates) or drastically lowering total calories.”
Striving to live a healthier life packed with more nutritional meals is good for you. Read these expert-backed reasons why switching up your diet drastically this year may not be the best idea.
You may experience burnout from unrealistic goals.
As mentioned, the beginning of a new year, month, or even week can inspire us to change unhealthy habits. It’s important, though, to focus on making small changes before overhauling your whole diet or fitness plan. “We sometimes set goals that are so hard to achieve that we never feel successful. Thus, our rigidity backfires. (For example, cutting out chocolate from your diet entirely, then caving in and eating an entire brownie pan),” says Cooper. “The craving remains and builds. Soon we’re overindulging in that cake and then punishing ourselves. [We] think we’ve ‘failed.’ Building up these impossible standards only set us up for failure. “
Variety in your diet is essential to long-term weight-loss success.
If you start cutting out major food groups in your diet, you might achieve weight loss as a result. But it will be nearly impossible to carry out this same eating plan long-term. Plus, in her book Eating in Color, Frances Largeman Roth, RDN, warns that eliminating an entire food group means that you’re also eliminating the nutrients it provides. Those can be tough to replace if you’re not prepared. “The occasional burger you were eating may contain saturated fat and be high in calories. But it also was providing a host of nutrients, like iron, protein, zinc, B vitamins, and choline,” she says. “So, unless you’re really set on having a vegan lifestyle for other reasons, don’t feel [that] you need to completely ditch meat. You can still get the benefits of a plant-based diet by eating more of those.”
A drastic diet plan might cost you necessary sleep.
“Dietitians have often preached that people shouldn’t eat late at night—and fasting plans often give a cut-off, like 7 p.m.,” says Largeman-Roth. “This can be helpful in curbing unnecessary snacking. [But], it can also leave lots of people extremely hungry, especially if they exercise later in the day.” Anyone who tries to sleep on an empty stomach knows it’s not exactly conducive to a good night’s rest. And you’re likely to wake up starving, which can lead to the potential to overdo it at breakfast.
For those reasons, Largeman-Roth recommends not letting these so-called “guard rails” keep you up at night. “Eating in the evening is fine, as long as you’re choosing something that fuels your body,” she says.
Following the latest trend is no reason to change your diet.
If you just want to change your diet because it’s popular or trendy, then you definitely shouldn’t change your diet. “Dietary changes are needed at times for certain medical complications, symptoms, and weight loss,” says Dr. Adams. “You shouldn’t just change your diet because everyone is trying something.”
Instead, he suggests taking the time to truly determine what type of diet you need for your specific health goals. “Once you know your health goals, consult a nutrition professional to help you create a plan to get you to those goals,” he says.