I’ve tried a lot of diets in my life. Diets you might describe as “crash diets”. Diets you might describe as “unhealthy”. I’ve tried juice diets, ketogenic diets. I did the Soylent thing. I’ve gone dairy free, sugar free, carb free.
I’ve tried about every bullshit thing you can imagine and I’ve learned a few things along the way. And I have a rough idea why the diet you’re about to try will probably fail miserably.
I know because I’ve been there. I’ve been there as lately as two weeks ago where I crashed out of ketogenic diet so hard that I put on roughly six kilograms in two weeks.
So this advice, it is not judgement. I understand. But these lessons are probably worth learning. This is why the diet you’re on is probably going to fail.
#1 You Didn’t Prepare
You’ll have more success with the diets you prepare for, particularly if the diet is ‘extreme’.
For example, if you’re attempting a juice diet, you should probably give yourself a week beforehand to cut out meat, sugar and caffeine since those are cravings that are going to feel absolutely overwhelming in the beginning.
Jumping in headfirst with no prep is a recipe for disaster.
Prepping might mean switching things up before you start the diet. It also might mean stocking your pantry with the right foods to avoid giving in to cravings. If you love chocolate, maybe take the time to remove chocolate from your cupboard (or get someone to hide them from you, which is what I’ve done in the past!) It might mean stocking your pantry with the right food, so you can work on replacing your bad habits with good ones — berries instead of chocolate, almonds instead of chips, etc.
It might also mean pre-cooking some meals to make things easier. Maybe freezing your lunch and dinner or going to the markets to buy fruit and veg in bulk.
Preparation will help you hit your diet goals. At the very least you’ll stand a better chance of following through.
#2 You Tried Too Much At Once
Connected to preparation is the danger of trying too much at once. I’d say this is the most common reason diets fail.
It’s January. You’re reading Lifehacker. Chances are you have a document in your mobile device filled with a list of goals for 2017. Whether it’s ‘quit smoking’ or ‘stop drinking soft drinks’ or ‘write a novel’ — you’re most likely not going to succeed if you’re trying to do everything at once. That’s just scientific fact.
Its essential that you prioritise your goals and work through them systematically. Human beings are actually quite adept at breaking habits. If you work through bad habits one at a time the odds are in your favour. You have an 80 per cent chance of success.
If you try and break two, possibly three, bad habits at once those odds become drastically different. We’re talking like a 15-20 per cent chance.
Willpower is finite. That’s worth remembering. If you’re on a diet, make sure that’s your focus. Make sure that’s where you’re putting your willpower, at least until you’ve rewired your brain a little.
#3 You Didn’t Replace Your Bad Habits With Good Habits
Habits are ingrained in you, often without your knowledge. If anything, a diet will throw that into high contrast. Often on diets I’d find myself craving certain foods at certain times, or when I did certain things. In the past my brain would mistake that for hunger. I’d tell myself, “yep, I’m hungry, time for snacks” when that really wasn’t the case.
It’s necessary to be prepared for that. Either put it front and centre so you can recognise it when it occurs, or find some sort of replacement to satiate that need. Blueberries for chocolate, green tea for soft drinks. That kind of thing. Routines are important, particularly when it comes to eating. Your body is used to eating certain things at certain times and it’s important to be aware of that when making dramatic dietary changes.
#4 You Didn’t Allow For Small Failures
It’s important to be realistic. You might falter. Be okay with that.
I struggle with this most. In my experience a small failure is usually followed with “bugger it, diet’s over lets go all in”. It doesn’t have to be that way. Prepare yourself to recognise that moment of weakness, recenter and continue as normal.
Everything might go according to plan, but you don’t want to ruin progress because of one small mistake – even if that diet is strict. Getting back on the horse after one failure is miles easier than rebooting after two weeks of gluttony, so take the easier path when possible.
#5 Your Diet Isn’t Sustainable
This is probably the most important one.
Your end goal should always be a sustainable diet that you can maintain over a long, long period of time – like years. If this isn’t your end goal, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.
How you get to that point is your own concern – strict diets help me eliminate bad habits, then I usually relax into something more sustainable. That’s me. You’re almost certainly different.
There’s not one-size fits all solution. Everyone’s body is different and everyone responds differently to differing methods. That’s to be expected and that’s why it’s worth experimenting. But everyone’s end goal should be the same – healthy eating habits that can be maintain indefinitely.
But it’s hard. It’s super hard. I’ve failed and I’ve failed hard. I’m in the process of recovering from a big fat failure right this second. It doesn’t mean you can’t do it. The important thing is to learn from your mistakes and – most importantly – be aware of your own body, of your own strengths and weaknesses. That’s the key to success.