Ignoring These 5 Things Can Make Any Diet Unsuccessful
Eating healthy and losing weight are sometimes treated as two separate goals.
If you’re losing weight but aren’t eating healthy, you’re bound to gain that weight back eventually.
But the opposite is also true… if you’re eating good foods but are at an unhealthy weight, you’re still at risk of having health complications that lead to a shorter life (and/or a decreased quality of life).
That’s not to say that you should ALWAYS be losing weight or that you ALWAYS need to make the most nutritious food choices. But if you completely ignore one side in pursuit of the other, you end up neglecting key aspects of your diet.
And it can cause you to fall short on both goals.
2 Things That Get Too Much Spotlight
I’m guilty of a lot of things — some of them I wouldn’t change in any way.
For instance, I’m a man who’s guilty of watching the movie The Notebook more than once and thoroughly enjoying it. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s an objectively great movie, if for no other reason than it gave me the GIF “Every time I ask my wife what she wants to eat…”
On the other hand, I’m also guilty of trying to lose weight simply by eating less calories — or other times by simply avoiding sugar. And those are things I wish I could go back in time and change.
Because being obsessed with calories and sugar creates an unhealthy relationship with food.
I know the feeling of saving up all my calories so I could eat a plate of cookies in the evening.
I also know the frustration of depriving myself of a special cocktail with a group of friends, or a gourmet brownie at a birthday celebration, all because I have this voice in my head shouting, “You’re not supposed to eat that!”
And even though my efforts did cause me to lose weight sometimes (temporarily)…
And even though I did have phases where my diet consisted almost exclusively of highly nutritious foods…
In hindsight, all it did was hold me back for years from reaching my true long-term goal of having the freedom to enjoy my life (and my food) without fear of “messing up” or slipping back into an unhealthy weight.
I don’t focus as heavily on calories and sugar anymore.
Sure, they’re still part of the process. But, for the most part, these 5 commonly neglected aspects of a healthy diet will do a better job of helping you manage those things anyway.
1. Protein & Veggies
You already know that protein and veggies are an important part of a healthy diet. But are you doing anything about it?
For most people, the answer is no.
With most diets (especially for weight loss), it’s easy to skip this step and feel like you’re doing ok as long as you aren’t eating too many calories.
But all the current research — as well as practical experience — tells us that isn’t a good plan.
When you don’t eat enough protein and veggies, you aren’t getting the nutrients your body needs as a foundation for long-term success. And for the average person, not only are you not getting enough, you’re probably not even close.
The ironic thing is that protein (especially high quality, lean protein) and veggies tend to be lower in calories than other foods anyway.
Which means if you start by focusing on getting MORE of both, you’ll likely eat LESS calories by default.
Just imagine a world where you don’t have to meticulously count calories and yet you still lose weight. Not only is it possible, it’s a better approach to eating healthy.
You may be surprised when I tell you that the answer here isn’t to track your fiber intake at all.
Before I tell you what to do instead, let’s first acknowledge that, unless you’re under doctor’s orders because of something like high cholesterol or diabetes, fiber isn’t even on your radar.
It isn’t trendy.
In fact, of all the mainstream diets I used to try (and there were a lot), fiber wasn’t a consideration with any of them.
That said, I know Megan (my wife and nutrition coach) once tried (long before she was a nutrition coach) what she calls a “peas and beans” diet. It wasn’t a popular diet. It was just her own way of attempting to get more fiber to improve some intestinal issues.
She didn’t stick with it long for the simple reason that it was an awful way to live.
That’s why, even though fiber is altogether overlooked by most diets, we don’t recommend counting grams or forcing yourself to eat peas and beans every morning for breakfast.
A better approach for most people is to look at improving the quality of your carbs in general, one small step at a time. Things like switching from:
White bread to whole grain
Chips or pretzels to strawberries
Frozen dinners to home cooked meals
There are a million different places to start, but the most important thing is to choose something you’ll be likely to stick with.
The cool thing about this one is that making those types of switches — no matter where you start — can also help you lose weight by keeping you more full throughout the day, making you less likely to overeat.
In the meantime, your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, intestines, and more will be thanking you.
3. How You Feel (Physically and Emotionally)
You can lose weight in any number of unhealthy ways. You might feel like crap while you do it, but that’s pretty easy to ignore if the only thing you’re concerned about is the number on the scale.
But even if you’re not as worried about your weight and just want to eat “healthy,” that can lead to destructive behaviors, too. For example: obsessing over your diet to the point where it affects your relationships with other people.
And before you say you would never do that, think about my example earlier…
Have you ever not fully participated in a birthday celebration or get-together with friends because of your diet?
Most of us have.
I’m not saying you should throw all nutrition guidelines out the window — there’s room for a certain level of (flexible) restraint.
But if you’re sitting there feeling like you can’t enjoy yourself because you’ll feel guilty if you have a slice of cake — or worse yet, you don’t show up at all — that’s just trading one unhealthy behavior for another.
Losing weight isn’t ONLY about literal weight loss, and living a healthy life isn’t ONLY about what you eat.
If you have to ignore the way you feel, either physically or emotionally, in order to adhere to your diet, it’s time to reconsider your approach.
Let’s go back to talking about sugar.
It’s true that most people eat too much of it, but swearing off sweets completely is typically not a successful strategy because it doesn’t line up with real life. Sugary treats are too readily available, and saying no all the time isn’t realistic.
This doesn’t necessarily have to be about just sweets though.
Starting any diet that forces you to give up the pleasure and enjoyment of any type of food you love isn’t a sustainable plan. Once that diet is over, you’ll be far more likely to binge on all your favorite foods, whether that be ice cream, wine, or pizza.
To be clear, abstaining from a specific food for a short time isn’t always a bad plan.
For example, years ago, I made it a goal to give up soda for a month. I ended up feeling so much better without it, I never went back (although I’ll still enjoy one on rare occasion). But that’s the exception, not the rule.
If I took that approach with every food that isn’t “perfectly nutritious,” I wouldn’t even last a month.
That’s why a more realistic strategy most of the time is to continue to enjoy the foods you love, but just have more practical expectations of how to do it (like we talk about in Can You Eat Pizza On a Diet?).
Eating healthy isn’t about being “perfect” with the foods you eat.
And you’ll have much better success if the way you eat for weight loss closely resembles what your eating habits will look like when you aren’t trying to lose weight — that is, the way you’ll eat for the rest of your life.
5. Your Real Goal
Your real goal isn’t to lose weight.
I can prove it to you, too, with a quick game of “Would You Rather…”
Would you rather:
A) Lose X pounds (however many you want), but still have excess body fat rather than being toned up, have even less energy than before, feel miserable, and be in a constant battle with food (and the scale) that causes you to feel guilty when you mess up?
B) Lose X pounds (but not be worried about the exact number), have a healthy body composition with less fat, be more toned up, have more energy, feel great, and have the freedom to enjoy foods you love without fear of messing up and gaining back the weight?