Nutrition Articles

10 Habits of Unsuccessful Dieters

Bad Habits That Are Preventing You from Losing Weight

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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. 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

  • 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.
    - 5/24/2016 3:49:14 PM
    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. - 5/24/2016 3:37:51 PM
  • 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! - 5/24/2016 8:44:12 AM
  • 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. - 5/24/2016 7:42:23 AM
  • 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. - 4/20/2016 10:41:34 PM
  • 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 - 3/10/2016 2:04:53 PM
  • 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 ... - 2/24/2016 1:14:51 PM
  • What if you follow all of the good habits and STILL aren't meeting (any of) your goals? :( - 2/16/2016 10:51:04 AM
    This article is your BEST article!! - 1/20/2016 7:22:20 AM
    I love this article.

    When I was looking for updated info on weight loss, I've been hearing a lot about "keto" diets, and after reading what it's about, I knew right away that that way of eating would not be sustainable for me long term, and I question it's safety. I don't want tricks, I want to feed my body what it needs to be healthy.

    I do track my calories, but this article makes a good point about focusing on more than that. If all my calories are junk, even if it's at/under my goal for the day, that's not very healthy for me, is it? Plus, it doesn't take long before you see a pattern of how trying to juggle high-calorie foods in small enough amounts to stay within your goal will leave you hungry each day. By ADDING things like fiber, protein, etc, you tend to end up with food that leaves you feeling fuller AND healthier. I think a good approach is 90/10, with 90% eating very healthy food, and saving 10% each day for something you love that would otherwise be "banned" from a certain diet.

    All or nothing is not sustainable. Moderation is great. - 12/11/2015 2:07:46 AM
  • One thing that made me feel better about my scale was actually weighing everyday (good or bad) then plugging those numbers into a weight trending site. (Not going to promote one, just look it up. :)) Basically, it averages out your weight and creates a smoother line so you can see your overall weight loss more easily. It's really helped encourage me. - 9/6/2015 10:09:54 PM
    I didn't know a thing about dieting ( the only thing that changed in my life was having a hysterectomy, taking steroids, menopause, and middle age). After I was put on estrodiol , and other hot flash medication, I gained 10-15 pounds each year the last two years! Even though I did not make any other changes in exercise, or what I was eating!! I was never a big eater and could go/would go half to two-thirds of the day sometimes without even eating. Then I would have a bowl of cereal for lunch/supper, and maybe supper. Never gained a pound until the medication/menopa
    use entered my life. I was actually trying to gain weight before then because I was too thin. Now since I stared dieting I want to eat EVERYTHING! All I think about is food. Unbelievable! I used to think eating 1000 calories per day was a lot and couldn't figure out what people were bitching about. Haha. Now I know it's not much at all. I heard the saying , "want to gain weight? Just go on a diet"! Now I know it's true. - 8/18/2015 11:46:14 AM
  • Good Article

    My bad habit was listening to the doctors, in the first place. - 7/2/2015 9:00:55 PM
  • Seriously one of the best articles written ever here, Nicole. I read this expecting now that I'm finally finding success, to find one or two things I disagreed with - but each point was true. I weigh myself every day, but now have the three day rule, that I only record it three days that it has stayed that way. - 5/24/2015 3:44:10 AM
    Some reasonable advice here, but I'd caution everyone against watching the scale too much, it can be a serious de-motivator! If you want to see consistent and lasting results, work on developing habits that promote a healthy LIFESTYLE. Those habits will carry you through the low points in your weight loss journey, and ensure you stay slim for life! In fact, check out the following article that does a wonderful job of explaining the key factors in an effective, long-term weight loss strategy:
    5 - 5/19/2015 10:17:25 PM

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