Anyone who’s ever dieted to lose weight has come across an interesting phenomenon:
It’s not so much an issue to lose weight, but rather to maintain your results afterward.
In other words, most people can jump on a diet for a while, and shed some weight.
The real challenge, however, comes when the diet is over. How does one maintain the slimmer waistline?
The Glaring Problem With Diets
If you’ve ever read diet statistics or scientific journals regarding nutrition and weight loss, you’ve likely come across the statement that 95 percent of diets eventually fail.
In those 95 percent of cases, people either fail to stick with the diet for long enough to see good progress or are unable to maintain their weight loss after the diet is over.
For the most part, this statement is unproven, and for a good reason:
It’s borderline impossible to do so. Some small studies suggest dramatic drop-out and weight regain rates, similar to the statement from above, which is probably where people first became aware of just how much diets fail.
But even if, by some chance, a team of researchers set out to look at the existing literature on dieting and compose a systematic review, we still wouldn’t have usable and actionable data. Frankly, cookie-cutter, non-personalized, and highly-restrictive diets are bound to fail, and we don’t need studies to tell us that.
So how can one go about sustainable weight loss?
Get Away From the ‘Dieting’ Mentality
The first step to sustainable weight loss is to get away from the idea of dieting – the temporary change in eating habits with the goal of achieving some results.
“I’m going on a diet to get beach ready.”
Have you ever heard yourself say this? Or maybe you’ve just thought about it. Whatever the case might be, the statement implies something temporary – you’re bound to get off the diet eventually.
And once you’re off the diet and go back to your old way of eating, you’re bound to lose all that progress and end up on square one.
It Has to Become Part of Your Life, Rather Than a Short-Term ‘Fix’
The bad news here is that long-term thinking rarely delivers instant results. It takes time for something to become part of your life, and most people don’t have the patience for it.
But an essential factor for sustainable weight loss is your ability to stick with a given way of eating, not for a month, or a year, but for life. This creates a positive trajectory in your life – you might not like the current results, but those positive changes are putting you on a path of success.
This is done by focusing on life-long habits, rather than temporary fixes. For example, learning how to eat more slowly and being mindful of how full you feel aren’t the types of tactics that bring about rapid fat loss. But they can certainly help you feel full and more satisfied with less food on the plate. Over time, that would naturally help you lose weight without you doing much.
Adding more protein to your diet is another seemingly unimportant habit, but, again, it helps in the long term – it allows you to build muscle, maintain healthy bones, and lose fat much more effectively.
In the wise words of James Clear, “Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.”
Your Nutrition Has to be Individualized
The internet is rife with cookie-cutter diet solutions. Everywhere you look, there appears to be yet another diet book or template you can use to lose weight.
One of the many significant issues with these diets is that none of them are personalized to you. We all have different caloric needs, and thus some people can eat more food than others and still lose weight. A man who is 6’3 would need a lot more calories than a girl who is 5’6.
Second, we all have different goals, and thus, no single way of eating is going to work for everyone. An active marathon runner will have vastly different goals (and therefore nutrient needs) from a stay-at-home mom who does three hours of exercise per week.
Third, we all have different nutritional preferences. A cookie-cutter diet can never fit your preferences well, which presents a problem with long-term commitment.
To succeed with nutrition, it has to be individualized to you precisely – your nutrient needs, your fitness goals, and your food preferences. This is the only way for you to enjoy it and stick with it. Remember – it has to be sustainable.
It Has To Offer Flexibility
The fact is, we are human. Life doesn’t always go as planned, and we need to have the ability to adapt and maneuver effectively.
Most people can stick with a diet or meal plan well enough when it takes place at home. But what if you’re invited to a social event and don’t have much (or any) control over the food choices? What if you went on a trip for a week and your diet got messed up?
Your way of eating needs to offer such flexibility because you won’t always be able to control what’s on your plate, and, frankly, you need to be able to have a social life while still eating healthily. You wouldn’t want to be that one person who is always dieting, do you?
And this is where the importance of good, pre-established habits comes to play, as well. For example, you may not always have the best, most optimal food choices, but you can always rely on good habits like eating more slowly and stopping when you’re 80-90% full.
Habits, in combination with nutritional flexibility, will allow you to maintain your sanity and achieve sustainable weight loss. Here is a good question you can ask yourself about your nutrition:
“Is this something I can do for the rest of my life?” If the answer is no, then look for the reasons why that is the case. In most cases, the issue stems from too many restrictions.
Ready to dive deeper? Head over to part II on sustainable weight loss, where you will dive deeper into flexible dieting.