If losing weight were simply a matter of knowing the right foods to eat, in the proper portions, and understanding the necessity of daily exercise, we would all be trim and fit. Knowledge is essential, yes. But self-knowledge is perhaps even more critical to diet success.
Last year, results from a one-year study at Tufts-New England Medical Center of four popular diets, published in Journal of the American Medical Association, found that the key to losing weight is not which diet plan a person picks, but sticking with the plan that is chosen. There have been numerous studies like this one before and since.
Here's the take-away message: If you want to lose weight and change your body and health permanently, it's best to find a diet plan that's enjoyable so that you can stick to it. In order to stay on track, here are the 10 most common diet pitfalls:
Diet Pitfall #1: Impatience and unrealistic expectations. Realize that weight loss will not be instantaneous, nor will it easy or without sacrifices along the way. Gear yourself up for slow, steady weight loss, the only clinically proven way to lose weight permanently. The good news is that as you change your habits and begin to see results, weight loss gets easier over time.
Diet Pitfall #2: The wrong game plan. Clinical studies show that calorie restriction, not the carbohydrate or fat composition of the food, is the only consistent factor in successful weight loss. If you don't restrict calories, your diet won't work. There is a formula based on weight, height, age, resting metabolism, and physical activity level that physicians use to calculate the number of calories needed to maintain your current weight. Find out your personal number so you can start cutting 200 or more calories a day.
Diet Pitfall #3: Changing your eating habits. Radical changes in what you eat will only result in your feeling deprived and burdened. Instead, make small but consistent changes in your overeating habits. A recent study found that the only behavior that correlates with an increase in weight-not eating at bedtime, not eating between meals-was eating beyond fullness. To keep yourself from overeating, slow down so you can feel your body's satiety before reaching for seconds or thirds.
Diet Pitfall #4: Depending on willpower. This will set you up for failure. Instead, view weight loss in a positive light: as a set of skills to be mastered. Also, especially in the beginning, don't put yourself in situations that challenge your willpower, such as cocktail parties or buffet-style restaurants.
Diet Pitfall #5: Eating less food and fewer meals. Eating more frequently, and consuming high-fiber, less calorie-dense foods in larger quantities, will yield better results. Start by having a healthy salad before lunch and dinner. Always have a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack, such as a handful of high-fiber almonds or an apple.
Diet Pitfall #6: Turning food into your enemy. Food is your friend; it will help you lose weight. Get rid of negative and self-sabotaging thoughts using cognitive restructuring. An example of cognitive restructuring is: After overeating, encourage yourself to get back on track. Research shows that positive self-talk results in positive behavioral changes.
Diet Pitfall #7: Trying to stay away from your pantry and fridge. Instead, modify your home environment. Remove temptations from your kitchen. The key is to shop wisely: If you don't buy it, you won't try it.
Diet Pitfall #8: Trying not to think about food. You will have great success if you do think about your meals. In fact, try to plan all of your meals the day before. Especially important are lunch at work, and the late-afternoon and evening snack. Having a dinner plan-something already prepared, or ingredients already assembled-will prevent you from grabbing something at the end of your day because you are starving and don't have anything at home.
Diet Pitfall #9: Viewing exercise as a chore. View exercise as you do your checkbook. It will tip your daily net calorie balance to weight loss. Calories burned will either contribute to weight loss or let you to eat more daily calories or enjoy a splurge. The more you exercise, the less calories you need to restrict. One way to exercise more is to buy a pedometer. A recent study found that just using a pedometer results in weight loss!
Diet Pitfall #10: Making dramatic changes. Studies show that working on making small, daily changes results in long-term, lasting behavioral shifts versus making huge or dramatic changes in lifestyle or diet, which are most often unsustainable.
Jane Conway Caspe is a diet and fitness coach, and Sol Jacobs, MD, is an endocrinologist who specializes in the metabolic consequences of obesity. They are coauthors of "The Nantucket Diet: A Safe and Effective 3-Phase Program for Permanent Weight Loss and a Healthy Lifestyle" (Ballantine Books, 2006; www.nantucketdiet.com).