Have you ever gone on a diet and gained weight? According to a new UK survey, nearly a third of women have seen a spike on the scale after going on a diet, gaining an average of nearly four pounds.
It may sound counterintuitive, but I've seen it happen. In my private practice, many women have contacted me after a diet backfired, and made their too-snug jeans even tighter.
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Has it happened to you? Here are five of the top reasons a diet can actually expand your waistline:
1. A diet can throw your body out of balance
The UK survey found that one in three women starts dieting between the ages of 15 and 20. Most then routinely diet about three times a year, but over 10 percent diet five times a year.
Trouble is, many schemes are too strict, which can bring metabolism to a screeching halt, and others are approaches that result in an imbalance. For example, cutting fat too low can lead to a surplus of carbs your body can't burn, which then get socked away in your fat cells. And diets that permit eating unlimited amounts of "allowed" foods essentially sanction overeating, and unfortunately, any time you eat more than your body needs, even healthy stuff, the excess feeds body fat.
2. Diets don't allow for wiggle room
The number one thing that makes dieting unsustainable is the "on" or "off" mentality. When people go "on" a diet, then slip up, they feel like they totally blew it, which shifts them into "off" mode, and right back into unhealthy habits. In so many other areas of life, we accept a lack of total perfection, and even use detours as learning opportunities. That should be the case with weight loss.
If you overate, ask yourself why? Did you turn to food as a reward, comfort, or way to quell anxiety? If so, actively work on finding other ways to meet those needs. Or if you binged because you were starving, the diet is failing you, not the other way around. The reality is losing weight and keeping it off requires consistency, so your approach should feel like something you can stick with. And if emotional eating keeps getting in the way, address it. In my experience with clients, doing so is often the true key to lasting weight loss.
3. You have to eat foods you don't like
There's nothing worse than having to choke down foods you can't stand because a diet demands it. That just creates feelings of deprivation and resentment, which may boost stress hormones, and as a result, intensify cravings. Plus it's not necessary. You can eat meals you look forward to and enjoy and still lose weight (check out this meal from my newest book S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim) – it's just about finding the right balance.
For example, I had a client who loved sandwiches, and she thought she had to nix them in order to lose weight. After a few days of eating unsatisfying salads, she'd give up, and go back to sandwiches, feeling guilty but satisfied. The real problem was her sandwiches were portioned for the body of a male construction worker, not a petite female who works at a desk. Once we tweaked the proportions, she was able to enjoy her custom-built sandwiches, and finally get results.
4. Diets are filled with fake foods
"Diet" foods trigger a nails on chalk board kind of response within me, because they're just wrong on so many levels. Most are laden with artificial additives, which in my opinion is like body pollution. They rarely taste good or feel satisfying, and they're typically way too skimpy, so you're left with lingering hunger and distracting food fantasies.
Plus, processed foods fortified with nutrients is not nutrition, and when you give them up, you can eat so much more. For example, for the same number of calories as a diet frozen dinner (but a lot more nutrients, flavor, and aroma), you can eat a generous portion of veggies stir fried in a simple vinegar-based ginger sauce, over a small bed of brown rice topped with edamame or shrimp and sliced almonds. I know pre-portioned meals are convenient, but if they lead to extra snacking, they ultimately work against you.
5. Diets forbid foods you can't give up
Balance is a boring word, but when you think about what it really means, it's incredibly alluring. To me, balance means having your cake and eating it too – literally. In all my years of counseling clients, I've only met a few who didn't have at least one can't-live-without splurge food
According to the UK survey, the top five foods people find hard to resist are: chocolate, potato chips, cheese, bread and wine. One in four give in within a month of swearing them off, but the truth is, it's possible to indulge without derailing your results, as long as you create some balance.
For example, if you're going to a restaurant and you want to get dessert, which is high in carbs and fat, leave the carbs and fat out of your dinner, and make a meal of veggies and lean protein, like steamed or roasted vegetables with chicken or lentils. It may seem strange if you're used to all or nothing, but think of it this way: spending a little too much on occasion leads to a much better outcome than going on frequent, wild spending sprees. More progress, less chaos.
Cynthia Sass is a New York City-based registered dietician and author of S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.