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!
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. Continued ›
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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.

Member Comments

  • I disagree completely with #3. There are certain things that you can and should give up altogether--soda, for example. It doesn't mean it's the end of the world if you have it, but if possible, you should work to cutting it out completely. - 3/13/2015 11:33:01 AM
  • Good advice for the most part, although I disagree with some of the points, especially #1, the word "diet" just means a habitual way of eating and to lose weight, I personally DO need to eat less than I burn. There is little difference, to me, in using the word "diet" and the word "lifestyle" as far as food goes. I eat a healthy diet as part of a healthy lifestyle. - 3/9/2015 2:49:43 PM
  • LINNYW50
    I have CHF and cannot loose weight because of edema. I have cut out salt and I eat healthy. What do I do to loose weight? I exercise 3 days a week for one hour. - 1/26/2015 6:33:20 PM
  • These are all very good... and sensible... but as far as the scale goes... tell me again... when you go into your doctor's office for your visit, you DO get on that scale and he or she DOES judge you by what it weighs you at. So yes, you are right.. don't be a slave to it.. but do keep an eye on it at least once a week... modify where you need to... up your exercise when you can. Sometimes it's the little changes you make that do the most good - 1/25/2015 5:36:49 PM
  • Funny, but I did and do almost all of the above and it is how I lost 85 pounds and kept it off for two years and am now going to lose more weight. I think people in general need individual approaches but um many of the things listed here are in fact what you DO need to do to lose weight. For me in fact , buying into all the "don't diet" and "watch restricting too much" etc etc were what kept me unsuccessful for many years... until I woke up.
    So I respect your opinion but for those of you wondering why you are not losing weight... sometimes to accomplish much you just have to really commit and do it. It is worth it... but it does take work and you do have to deny yourself some of your go to comforts...the end becomes the beginning. - 1/25/2015 2:23:03 PM
  • I disagree with the not cutting out bad foods immediately. No you can't just stop eating a whole "category" of food realistically (such as, "no more carbs") because you can't sustain that (and shouldn't) forever. However, if your problem is McDonalds breakfasts every day or 2 bags of chips and dip while watching TV, I believe you should absolutely stop that ASAP. It's like smoking. You have to stop. It's killing you. Now if your problem is too much pasta, cheese, or other whole food, THEN just cutting back and keeping it in your diet occasionally is good advice.
    Otherwise, you're treating the "bad" food like a treat, and that's the danger, IMHO.
    Cheers to us all losing weight!! - 1/13/2015 1:53:22 PM
  • SEATON54
    I need to weigh every day so I'll stay motivated. I try to make sure that I'm not retaining fluid , am on BP meds. - 10/30/2014 5:47:59 PM
  • YVETTE888
    I really disagree with idea of only getting on the scale once a week (or once every two). Weight fluctuates each day and if you are only weighing in once a week (or once every two weeks) and happen to do so on a bad day you will think nothing is working. I've found its much better to weigh myself every day - and know the 2 lb fluctuations are normal. This is especially true for weight maintenance. I can gain easily gain 5 lbs in a week if left unchecked - its so much easier to eat extra healthy for a couple of days when the scale is up one or two pounds - rather than not realizing it for a week and having the sad surprise of an extra five pounds. My background: I lost 36 pounds over 25 years ago and have kept it off with a program of continued healthy eating, excercise and calorie counting when I do gain weight - I just never allow it past an extra 5 pounds at the very most (except of course for the three times I had a baby ) - 9/24/2014 7:47:15 PM
  • I have to disagree with some of the readers/members. To some people just saying the word or phrase "I'm on a DIET" triggers many to do the exact opposite. Sometimes the word diet triggers a panic that leads to an eating frenzy. I know, I used to do it. It took a long time for me to understand there is no "diet" per say. For me it's getting healthy, leading a healthy life style, eating good food for me and exercising. Forget "diet" , it's implies just until I'm at my desired weight. I guess it's a personal thing. Everyone feels differently. - 9/24/2014 7:32:46 PM
  • I thought the article had some great advice, but it bothers me that this writer, along with so many others, scoff at the idea of a "diet" as an effective way to lose weight. Definition of diet (noun): 1.The usual food and drink of a person or animal. 2.A regulated selection of foods, as for medical reasons or cosmetic weight loss. 3.Something used, enjoyed, or provided regularly.

    Dieting simply means deciding on an eating plan and following it. It certainly doesn't mean giving up your social activities or foods you love.
    - 9/24/2014 9:22:08 AM
  • Common sense really. - 9/18/2014 1:34:28 PM
  • Citing information from university studies is only useful if you include information regarding the entity(ies) that PAID for the study to be done.
    These things are rarely, if ever, objective. - 9/18/2014 11:18:29 AM
  • I admit, I struggle with the "healthy lifestyle" concept. I agree with it in principle, but I don't believe that if your goal is to lose weight, that a healthy lifestyle is going to slim you down. Don't get me wrong. I totally agree that people should eat right and get the nutrients they need, but at the end of the day, it's still calories in/calories out.

    If I need to lose weight, a healthy 2,000 calorie day isn't going to help me lose weight. It may improve my mood and nourish my body, but I am not going to lose. If my goal is to get to a healthy BMI, I am going to need to cut calories. The hard reality is that some of my favorite foods are calorie-dense, so if I cut calories I am going to need to eat those less often.

    Anytime you need to eat something less often, you are still restricting yourself from mindlessly eating whatever you want, whenever you want which is what people with a weight problem tend to do. It's a change in behavior, a new habit. Some people characterize the adaptation of these newer, more calorie restricted habits as a "diet."

    So, if I am required to limit my caloric intake to 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day to lose weight, a healthy lifestyle is not going to be enough to get me there. What it will do is give me the tools I need to build healthier habits, but to lose weight, I'm still going to need to make some tough food choices as well as exercise more often.

    Agreed, it gets easier with time, but that's because I'm building better food habits that support a restricted caloric intake--not just "eating healthy." - 7/28/2014 12:14:32 PM
  • The most important reason you are not losing weight could be a medical problem. In the situation described in this article, the first thing should be to see your doctor and find out if there is a medical reason for what is happening. After five years of not losing and changing doctors because none of them would listen to me, I've finally found a doctor who did listen. I'm now doing the same things I did before and with the help of the proper medication for my thyroid condition am losing weight--about 1 to 2 pounds a week. - 7/14/2014 1:50:38 PM

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