It takes a lot of time and energy to adopt a new diet plan and to stick with it. Here are some common reasons why you might be tempted to quit your diet—and some diet fix ideas to stay on it.
There’s no question that trying to stick to a diet takes work. Once you’ve made the decision to take charge of your weight, you’ve got to break away from your usual routine. Instead of days of mindless eating and nights spent loafing on the couch, now you’ve got to think about planning and cooking your meals. Not to mention counting your calories and carving out time for exercise. That’s a lot to tackle, and it helps explain why so many people have such a hard time sticking to a diet.
How Long Does the Average Diet Last?
It’s generally recognized that people diet frequently (and often give up), but the average length of time people actually stay on a plan is a bit hard to pin down. One survey from the UK found that women start, on average, three different diets a year. And they stay on each one for an average of about 19 days. By day five, two-thirds will have already cheated—tempted by at least one of the top five diet deal breakers: chocolate, potato chips, wine, pizza and cake.1
Another poll from Britain was slightly more encouraging and a lot more precise. In the 1,000 women who were surveyed, it was determined that they quit their diets after an average of five weeks, two days…and 43 minutes.2 Similar to the other survey, a quarter of the respondents had given up after two weeks, and by week four nearly half had quit.
Whatever the time frame—whether it’s five minutes or five weeks—the point is this: many people have a hard time sticking to their diet plans. Why is sticking with a diet so hard? And, more importantly, what can you do about it?
5 Reasons It’s Hard to Stick to Your Diet
1. It doesn’t fit your lifestyle
I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: When you say you’re going “on a diet” it implies that, at some point, you’ll be going “off your diet.” This often happens when people try to adopt a diet plan that just doesn’t fit with their lifestyle. Maybe it calls for a lot of food preparation and you just don’t like to cook, or you don’t have time. Maybe there are too many restrictions. So, you quickly get bored, or you can’t find anything you can eat when you go out with friends or family.
Easy diet fix: Rather than trying the latest “diet,” focus on making lifestyle changes for the long term. If you don’t have time to cook or don’t enjoy it, seek out recipes that are quick and easy, and learn your way around a restaurant menu so you can always find something that works for you.
2. Your expectations aren’t realistic
Once you’ve made the decision to “go on a diet,” you may have high expectations for your weight loss—especially if you find yourself making a lot of sacrifices. But if you expect to lose more than you can safely achieve over a period of time, you’re just setting yourself up for failure. And if you expect that you’re going to follow your new diet to the letter, you’ll probably abandon the whole thing as soon as you make a slip and cheat.
Easy diet fix: First, recognize that a safe and reasonable rate of weight loss is about 1-2 pounds (up to about a kilogram) per week. Recognize also that when you’re working to establish healthy new habits, it’s natural to slip once in a while. Rather than letting that diet slip turn into a diet fail and giving up altogether, try to learn from your mistakes and allow some time for the new habits to get established.
3. You don’t change your environment
Your environment has a big effect on your eating. Think about what you keep in your refrigerator, freezer and cupboards at home, the snacks you have stashed in your desk, the burger places you pass on your commute every day. There are temptations all around you, and if you don’t take charge of your environment, it’s just too easy to give in.
Easy diet fix: Clear out tempting, high-calorie foods from your house and replace them with healthier items. Rather than a jar of candy on your desk or a bag of cookies on your kitchen counter, put out some fresh fruit or protein snack bars. Cut up some fresh veggies and put them in a highly visible spot in your refrigerator where they’ll be the first things you see. Stock your freezer and pantry with healthy staples, so you always have what you need to put together a healthy meal. If you can’t drive past your favorite fast food restaurant without taking a detour into the drive-through, find another route.
4. You don’t eat regular meals and snacks
Too often, people think the quickest way to weight loss is to just eat as little as possible. So, they skip meals and snacks, which leaves them hungry, tired and cranky. Then they crave sugar and caffeine to get them through the day. Skipping meals and snacks usually doesn’t help you lose weight, because you’re likely to just eat more at your next meal.
Easy diet fix: Work on establishing a regular eating pattern that will keep you from getting overly hungry. In general, people feel the need to eat about every 3-4 hours during the day, which means that most people need, at a minimum, three meals and a snack in the afternoon. When you know you’re going to eat every few hours, it makes it easier to control your portions at each meal and snack, too. You can teach yourself to eat just enough to hold you until the next time you plan to eat. And make sure that each meal and snack provides some low-fat protein to help keep your hunger under control.
5. You eat for reasons other than hunger
Emotional eaters turn to food when they’re feeling depressed, angry or stressed. If they start on a diet and deprive themselves of the emotional comfort of food, you can imagine what happens. They just get more depressed, angry and stressed. If you find yourself eating when you’re not really physically hungry, you’ll want to work on finding other ways to make yourself feel better.
Easy diet fix: When you get emotional and feel the need to eat, take a moment to stop and simply acknowledge what it is that you’re feeling. Rather than ‘stuffing down’ the negative feeling with food, just let it be. It might help to write down how you’re feeling, or call a friend and talk it out. You can also tell yourself that you’ll wait 5 or 10 minutes before giving in. Chances are you’ll get busy doing something else and forget about eating altogether. Exercise is one of the best mood-lifters around. Instead of drowning your sorrows with sweets, put on your shoes and go take a walk, or get down on the floor and stretch instead.
by Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Senior Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training
1Engage Mutual Assurance. Cost of Dieting. July 23, 2010.
2 Daily Mail Online. Five Weeks of Willpower. February 11, 2013