What to Do After Your Fad Diet Fails

What to Do After Your Fad Diet Fails
Photo: PHOTOCREO Michal Bednarek, Shutterstock

Diets tend to fail, and the ones that promise quick weight loss through following one weird trick are especially doomed to failure. If you’ve just been on one of them, don’t just hop on a different fad diet; instead, take a minute to reflect on what you’ve learned, and make a plan to eat healthier in the future.

But before you even get to the tips we have below, consider using this eating disorder screening tool from the National Eating Disorders Association to check in on your relationship with food and with your body image. NEDC has a helpline that you can call or text.

Deprogram yourself

Every fad diet comes with an explanation of why it’s the best diet for you and why it will succeed where all the other diets failed. But no diet (or “way of eating”) has a magic secret that the others missed.

If you’ve been following the teachings of a specific diet guru, book, or internet forum for a month or two, you’re likely steeped in the mythology of that specific diet. Write down some of the assumptions you’ve been holding onto — sugar is toxic, or beans are full of anti-nutrients, or full-fat yogurt is too many calories to fit into a healthy diet, or whatever — and actually look up whether they’re based on any scientific consensus.

The actual truths relating to healthy eating are boring and obvious, like that vegetables are good and that there are many ways to reduce your calorie intake. You can let go of the rest.

Set realistic expectations

Fad diets promise, and often achieve, quicker weight loss than regular old healthy eating. That’s what makes them so attractive, but it’s also a tell that they’re not actually teaching you how to eat better.

The scale fluctuates from day to day, and it’s not just about fat gain or loss. The food you have in your belly weighs something; so does the water in all of your body tissues, making you heavier when you are more hydrated. If you’re eating a lot of carbs, you’ll have more glycogen and water in your muscles; if you go on a low carb diet, you’ll lose weight from that glycogen (carb) storage. Meanwhile, if you have a menstrual cycle, you might find that you have a time of the month when you’re heavier and a time when you’re lighter.

For all these reasons, short-term weight loss (or gain) isn’t always about fat. If you lost two kg in the first week or two on your crash diet, chances are that very little of it was actually fat — and you aren’t reversing your progress if at some point you gain it back.

Over the course of weeks, if you lost weight quickly, you may have also been losing muscle mass along with fat. Muscle is important to overall health as well as to allow you to exercise, so after your diet ends or fails, it’s actually healthy to gain that muscle back if you lost too much.

Start from scratch

First, ask yourself if you actually need to lose weight, and why. And if your reason is health-related, consider whether you might want professional help in setting goals and coming up with a plan.

All weight-loss diets work the same way, which is by giving you a framework to eat fewer calories than you burn. There are a ton of different ways to do that: you can count every calorie, you can reduce how much you eat of certain food groups, or you can eat slightly smaller portions of your usual meals, to name a few. Pick an approach that appeals to you. If you see a steady change on the scale from week to week, you’ll know it’s working.

If you want to track calories or macros, we recommend Cronometer over the more popular MyFitnessPal; its database is more accurate and its interface is far more usable and friendly.

Actually eat some protein

Many diets don’t account for protein, but protein is important for health and it’s especially important during fat loss. Make sure you’re eating enough of it, and do some resistance training to make sure you aren’t losing too much muscle.

Eat all the food groups

If you aren’t getting fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein-containing foods (like meat or tofu) every day, your diet may be missing something. Check out the basics at eatforhealth.gov rather than trying to live off just yogurt and salads (or, on the flip side, just beef and bacon).

Build good habits

Here’s where you can think back to your experience on the fad diet. Is there anything you found easy about it? Not things that were tough, but that you liked sometimes — things that you actually didn’t mind? Maybe you ate a ton of fruit, which you forgot how much you liked, or maybe you drank less alcohol because of the calories but then realised you enjoyed getting better sleep and avoiding hangovers. If something is good for you and makes you happier, stick with those things.

On the other hand, you probably built some bad habits on the crash diet, too. Skipping meals, for example, or declaring certain foods completely off limits. Or exercising too much (because you felt compelled to burn calories) or not enough (because you were too fatigued all the time). Ditch the unpleasant or unhealthy habits and keep the good ones.

Eating healthy may be less exciting than crashing and burning on a fad diet, but you’ll be happier and healthier in the long run.

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