Nutrition Articles

10 Habits of Unsuccessful Dieters

Bad Habits That Are Preventing You from Losing Weight

What could be more frustrating than not seeing the scale drop despite days or weeks of doing everything right? After all that hard work—all the cookies you didn't eat, all the willpower you maintained, all the time you logged at the gym—how could you not have lost any weight? It's enough to make even the most determined person throw in the towel.
Before you swear off exercise and declare yourself as someone who "will never lose weight," stop, take a deep breath, and remember this:  Weight-loss may seem simple (eat fewer calories than you burn), but often, there's a lot more going on than a simple calorie equation. Our bodies aren't calculators after all!
What's more likely is that you've made some innocent mistakes in your quest to lose weight. Don't feel bad about it—it's extremely common. These bad habits may be preventing you from getting the results you want. Instead of giving up, make some of the smart changes outlined below, and you'll see that scale drop in no time!

Why Am I Not Losing Weight? 10 Habits of Unsuccessful Dieters

Bad Habit #1: Going "on a diet" in the first place. 
Since when did the word "diet" refer to something good? The word itself implies restriction, limitation, and a short-lived effort to get some quick results and then return to a "normal" way of eating. SparkPeople's surveys have shown that people who consider themselves to be "dieting" lose less weight and encounter more problems (such as plateaus and a lack of motivation) than people who are trying to lose weight by creating a lasting healthy lifestyle. Plus diets usually mean giving things up: favorite foods, dining out, desserts—even your social life. You don't have to be a psychology expert to know that when you tell yourself you can't have something, you usually want it more. This way of thinking could directly be sabotaging your efforts.
Smart Fix: Ditch the diets for good and focus on creating a healthy lifestyle based on nutritious foods and small, realistic changes that you can live with for the long term.
Bad Habit #2: Overhauling your eating habits overnight.
How many times have you gone crazy eating all the "bad" foods you know you shouldn't, only to promise to swear them off starting next week or next month or next year? How often have you decided to suddenly clean out your kitchen, throw away all the "junk" and then shop for only healthy food?
How's that working for you? No one can expect to change a lifetime of eating habits overnight—and no one should have to! To lose weight successfully and keep it off, you have to adopt a way of eating that you can stick with for the rest of your life.
Smart Fix: Eating healthy isn't about taking food away; it's about eating MORE of the things that are good for you. To be successful, you have to implement small and realistic changes to your diet. Next week, swap that 2% milk for 1%, and switch out your usual bread for a healthy whole-grain variety. Once you get used to that, you can set a small goal like eating one serving of fresh fruits or vegetables each day. The point is to start small with changes that fit into your lifestyle. Here are more tips on how to start eating a healthier diet.
Bad Habit #3: Giving up certain foods altogether.
We've already touched on the idea that labeling certain foods as diet no-no's can make you crave them even more. Whether you feel out of control when you're around certain foods or you've read about a certain diet plan that promises results if you were to just cut out wheat, gluten, carbs, sugar, or dairy, a lot of people think that to lose weight they have to give up specific things—including foods that they love.
A truly healthy diet that you can stick with forever will include all the foods you love. Unless you plan to give up ice cream or bread forever, then don't cut anything out temporarily. Generally, people can give up foods like that for a while and see some weight loss success (usually because they're eating fewer calories, not because anything about that specific food causes weight problems). But as soon as that food is let back into your life, the weight tends to come back with it.
Smart Fix: All things in moderation. Instead of focusing on the foods you can't have, set goals to eat more of the foods that you know are good for you. This is a much more positive way to think about your goals and get results. Plus, allowing yourself portion-controlled servings of the food you're thinking about banning will keep you happy and content, but also prevent crazed binges that can occur when you're feeling weak.

Bad Habit #4 Only caring about calories.
Calories are key to weight loss. In fact, balancing your calorie equation (what you eat and what you burn) is what results in successful weight management. However, there is more to weight loss and a healthy lifestyle than calories alone. Some foods that may be higher in calories per serving are actually healthier for you than foods that may be lower in calories (think a heart-healthy avocado vs. a processed 100-calorie pack of pretzels). So while calories count, nutrition matters, too.
Smart Fix: While tracking your calories, don't forget to look at other key nutrients like protein and healthy fats (both of which can keep you full) and key vitamins and minerals that are important for your overall health. Luckily, SparkPeople's Nutrition Tracker allows you to track all of these nutrients. Ideally, you want to use a little trial and error to balance not only your calorie equation, but make the kinds of choices that meet your protein, fat, carbohydrate and micronutrient (vitamins and minerals) goals.
Bad Habit #5: Focusing on the scale.
You want to lose weight, so you weigh yourself, right? Yes…and no. Weight is an easy way to measure your progress, but it doesn't tell you the whole story. Even if the scale isn't budging, that does not mean that you're not making major progress toward losing weight and getting healthier. You can lose inches, get fitter, gain lean muscle mass, drop body fat, become better hydrated, look better and feel more energized without the pounds budging at all.
Smart Fix: Remember that the scale tells you only one thing: the total mass of all your body parts at a given moment. Don't put too much stock into it. Weigh yourself less frequently (about once every 1-2 weeks), and track all the other signs that amazing changes are happening in your body even if the scale doesn't move. This is the best way to stay motivated for the long haul.
Bad Habit #6: Only dieting and not exercising.
This may be one of the most common reasons your weight loss is stalling. Yes, you can lose weight through diet alone, but it will be a lot harder. You can only cut so many calories without feeling overly hungry, lethargic or miserable. Yet by exercising along with making dietary changes, you can eat more (and feel more satisfied) and still lose weight. Plus, you'll get all the amazing physical and mental benefits that come from exercising, including improved appearance, better muscle tone and a healthier body overall.
Smart Fix: Add exercise to your weight-loss plan. It doesn't have to be boring, strenuous, or time-consuming either. Even 10 minutes a day can make a huge difference in your results. For tons of fun, easy and effective workout ideas, check out our Fitness Resources. You're sure to find something that you enjoy!
Bad Habit #7: Trying to eat as little as possible.
If cutting calories is good for weight loss, then eating as little as possible is better, right? Wrong (especially if you're also trying to fuel your body for regular workouts). You need to eat a certain calorie level to function optimally and get all its essential nutrients your body needs to stay healthy. Eating much less than that can cause serious problems in the long term and damage your metabolism, making weight loss even harder.
Smart Fix: Don't just guess how many calories you need, and don't eat what someone else eats either. Your SparkPeople free Nutrition Tracker has a recommended calorie range that is personalized for you and your goals. Eating within that range (even at the very top of it) will help you reach your weight loss goal. There is no reason to go below it. Remember: You have to eat to lose!
Bad Habit #8: Giving up too easily.  
No person who ever lost weight successfully reached that goal because they were perfect all the time. Setbacks happen to everyone, even the most successful people. We've all had days where we made a poor food decision during a meal—or even for an entire day. We've all missed workouts, forgot the lunch we packed, or been too busy to cook a diet-friendly meal at home. But those who continue dropping the pounds pick themselves up, forgive themselves from their mistakes, learn from their slipups, and just keep right on going.
Smart Fix: Remember that perfection has no place in a weight loss plan. When you do make a mistake or feel like you're not making enough progress, don't give up. Change requires time and old habits die hard. When you feel yourself ready to give up, reach out for some support, and don't wait until next week or next month to get back on the wagon. Here are 25 ways to get back on track today.
Bad Habit #9: Confusing "healthy" with "low-calorie."
Research shows that when shoppers see "healthy" buzz words or claims on food packages (think: gluten-free, organic, all-natural, sugar-free, low-fat, etc.), they automatically assume the food is low in calories. This couldn't be further from the truth. Food manufacturers will plaster all sorts of enticing lingo onto their packages, knowing that you'll think exactly that. But none of these words really tell you much about the healthfulness of a product; and none of them actually have any affect on a food's calories.
Smart Fix: Read front-of-package labels with a discerning eye, and always turn over the package and look at the nutrition facts (and ingredients) to get a full picture of what a food is really like. This goes for restaurant menus, too. Don't let healthy-sounding words make you think a food is actually low in calories. Know your menu watch words or look up nutrition facts before you place your order.

Bad Habit #10: Unrealistic expectations.
These days with news stories, weight-loss advertisements and reality shows alike touting fast and extreme weight loss as the norm, it can be easy to think that you are capable of those kinds of results, too. But in truth, these are extreme and abnormal results that most people cannot expect to replicate. If you're expecting to drop a lot of weight fast—and to do so consistently—these unrealistic expectations could be setting you up for failure. There's nothing worse than expecting to lose 10 pounds in your first week, but to only lose one.
Smart Fix: Change your expectations and your mindset. If you expect to lose 10 pounds in one week, then losing 1 pound is a major letdown. But if you expect to lose 1 pound and you did, you feel successful and inspired to keep working toward your goals. Losing 1-2 pounds per week—even half a pound—is major progress that should be commended. This is a healthy and realistic rate of weight loss that you can expect if you're sticking to your nutrition and fitness goals.

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Member Comments

  • Great article. Thank you
  • wow!!!! great article!!! love learning and thinking in new ways! thanks Sparkster Nicole and Sparkland!!!

    just changing my mind from " diet" to healthy loving choices has made a HUGE impact on my health and mindset!
  • Overall I liked this article. Problem/Solution format is a good way to document some of the things talked about here. Most of us have a love affair with one food or another - mine is ice cream, full fat, creamy and just vanilla. I am an icecream-a-holic. If I buy a pint it will call me from the freezer until the last spoonful of goodness has moved from the carton to my hips. My solution since giving it up isn't really possible. A trip to an icecream store once a week where I replace a meal (usually) lunch with a child scoop of vanilla and then I sit quietly and savor it. I want more but at the price - one scoop of even a child's portion is more than the cost of the pint, I wont do it. Then I get up and leave. Not perfect, but it works for me.
  • What is really discouraging is that I have to be so careful about EVERY SINGLE BITE. I went three days without tracking ... and gained 4 pounds. In those 3 days, I had two cheat meals and otherwise stuck to my calorie range. I know it's not supposed to be "easy" but does it have to be this hard?
  • I have kidney disease stage 2 and am on the Davita kidney diet and average 1500 calories a day. I eat less protein,less milk products,all white bread products,no white breads or white rice. I also have extra salt to keep my blood pressure reasonable. On most days it is 80/55. It is because of kidney disease that it is low. My body can not metabolise pottasium and every food has pottasium even though governments do not list it on the packaged foods people eat,so I have cut back on that and added a Iron supplement because of my kidney disease. I have lost 45 pounds this year. I will be on a special diet for the rest of my life. I exercise 5-6 times a week.I weigh myself daily otherwise I can gain 5 pounds a week with little effort on my part.
  • I can't think of the new way i am eating means I am on a diet. I enjoy food too much, I need to watch my portions. Enjoyed the article.
  • Know what I feel I can't control myself around? Alcohol! It took me 20 years of misery to admit that. "Moderation" in ALL things? Not possible for me. And I'm not too sure all foods are "moderatable" by all people, either. I haven't eaten pizza for the last seven months. Not eating it has caused exactly zero binges. Some people are better off staying away from
    things they KNOW they have trouble eating in moderation. Those people are out there, and their hard experience should be respected.
    I wish you would stop promoting the low fat myth on this site. Low fat and reduced fat products are part of the problem. They contain chemicals to make them low fat. It's not the fat that's bad, it's the carbs that turn into sugar and then into fat. Google LCHF.
  • I made all of these mistakes and more when I first decided to get on the healthy track. The first change I made was to stop using the word "diet" and allowed for cheat days. These are all great points!
  • For me I think all of these held true. Especially the not going on a diet - that really was key because there was no rush and I wasn't waiting for the diet to end. Knew that once I hit my goal, nothing much would change. the other thing that made a difference was gradually moving to real food and more plants. Not only did I feel better, but weight loss was more consistent.
  • I can say I agree with a lot of these. However, the idea of a "cheat day" terrifies me. I am a food addict, pure and simple. If I start having a day that I can eat what I used to want, I would ruin all of my progress.
    I think the thing to take away from this article is that you have to find what works for you. I used to be able to lose weight without exercise. Now that I'm post menopausal, I've had to step up my walking, so to speak.
    I'm comfortable with what I'm doing and I'm pretty sure I can keep it up long term. However, I also have a wonderful therapist who helps me with the hard times that I go through remembering why I got so fat in the first place. I also cut out about 80% of the carbs in my diet because I apparently have some kind of sensitivity to wheat. It causes my blood sugar to spike into terrifying ranges.
    Good luck to everyone here and I hope you find your path.
  • I am stuck. Now everyone is telling me I need to eat more in order to lose more weight. If I am not hungry,why eat? I have lost 75 # in the last 1 1/2 years. Slow as you go. I would like to lose another 40 but not over night. I am being sensible but don't want to gain any weight back. After 6 PM I will eat a fruit or yogurt, low cal, or popcorn. Can't budge the scale. Can anyone help me???????? Joan
  • I will respond based on my experience over the last 4 years... take it for what you will but my patterns disagree with your article.

    1. Disagree completely. You have to be mentally ready to commit even if DIET is a 4-letter word. You also (later on) need to change to a permanent healthy lifestyle, but this is for *maintaining* your weight after you achieve it.

    2. Yes and no. Make a mental commitment to real change, even if that change is not extreme, and then tweak from there a little at a time. Commitment to change is the first step, not the last, and not the result of many small changes. Doing things as gradually as what you're talking about does not yield the measurable results that keep most people going. At some point you have to be all-in.

    3. Portion control daily does not work for me. I turn 40 this year and one little treat on an otherwise immaculate day very often means the scale does not move. Give yourself a cheat day... for me that cheat day is 2 meals and a snack every Friday. The day I start taking nibbles here and there is the day I descend to my fall off the wagon - every, single, time.

    A "cheat day" gives me something to look forward to, and gives me will power all week to say "I can just have that on Friday if I really want it". Then I only have 1 day a week where the scale doesn't do what I want it to do, and because of how good my diet has been the rest of the week, there usually are no adverse effects.

    4. Very much agree with nutritional balance from a more holistic approach. Calories are important but not everything, well said.

    5. Strongly disagree. Checking the scale every day keeps me going. For *most* people, if you're doing what you are supposed to be doing, the scale will reflect changes for the better. I get really excited when I've had a good day, to get on the scale first thing in the morning and see results. Sure it doesn't always say what I think it's going to from one day to the next, but over the course of 2-4 days it's always pointing in the correct direction. It's ...
  • What if you follow all of the good habits and STILL aren't meeting (any of) your goals? :(
    This article is your BEST article!!

About The Author

Nicole Nichols Nicole Nichols
A certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with a bachelor's degree in health education, Nicole loves living a healthy and fit lifestyle and helping others do the same. Nicole was formerly SparkPeople's fitness expert and editor-in-chief, known on the site as "Coach Nicole." Make sure to explore more of her articles and blog posts.

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