Updated: May 10
Although there is an abundance of information out there regarding dieting, there are often neglected pieces of information that will help prepare you for the reality of what will be involved. The psychological, logistical and educational challenges that come with figuring out a SUSTAINABLE diet that you can ADHERE to, are often left unmentioned.
The goal of this article will be to focus some limelight on the realities, struggles or variables you should be prepared to consider before you start down the diet road.
1. Restriction based diets are nearly impossible to sustain for the long-term
I want to start by reiterating that any diet will work if it creates a caloric deficit. I have explained this in detail in multiple articles in the past and at this point it should not come as a surprise for most of you to hear it again.
Many diets achieve this caloric deficit by fully removing, highly avoiding or flat out demonizing a particular food or food group and often promote the superiority of the given approach. Examples of this include:
Ketogenic diet (largely removing carbohydrates)
Carnivore diet (no plant based sources)
No sugar diet (no refined or processed sugars)
Vegan diet (no animal sourced foods)
This is a short list and certainly not inclusive of all that exist, but it allows me to illustrate the point that by eliminating a particular food group, you create a “good” versus “bad” mentality.
My primary issue with this is that is comes with its own host of logistical issues. Going out to eat, a social event, or having friends over for dinner can add unnecessary stress, as you are forced to adhere to the rigidity of the restrictions you have chosen to impose upon yourself.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are tons of reasons to avoid or limit various foods, however when the reasoning is rooted in the belief that it is necessary in order to achieve success, potential problems could arise.
You may be one of those rare people who prefer to avoid the majority of carbs and live on a high fat diet, or perhaps you have ethical reasons for avoiding all animal products. If you can adhere to your decisions and enjoy your life, I am all for it. In general though, restriction based approaches are set up to fail from the start for a lot of people.
2. You are going to be hungry
When starting a diet, you have a certain level of metabolic requirement, meaning there is a current amount of calories or energy your body requires in order to function and complete all the things you ask it to do. When the diet starts, there will be a need for a caloric deficit as mentioned previously, and as the diet proceeds there will be internal adaptations that occur and various protective processes within our bodies will be initiated.
Very briefly stated, this is what we term metabolic adaptation. Metabolic adaptation comes with a host of adjustments your body makes, including:
Decreasing your metabolic rate (burning less calories during the day)
Decreasing the calories you burn on non-exercise activities
Alterations to how we use or store food sources (fats, carbs, proteins)
Hormonal changes and adaptations
Amongst these changes, is the lovely fact that you will be hungrier at times. This is one component of what we call the bodies “self-defence” system, and it is your bodies way of trying to resist famine and encourage you to bring more energy in.
This is worth mentioning on its own, since it is experienced by anyone on a diet, so it is better to know it going in. Just know that it is normal and not dangerous as long as you have a well planned diet strategy and are getting the health-related nutrition you need.
Finally, there are a few things we can do that might alleviate some of this along the way:
Eat fibrous foods. Not only do they come with less net calories, they also pull water into our digestive tract and have a satiating effect (help you feel full)
Moderate-high protein meals have a slower rate of digestion due to the breakdown time required to get the amino acids into our blood stream, again helping with feelings of fullness
In the end, hunger is just part of the dieting game. Knowing this going in makes it less stressful and easier on the mind.
Remember, a diet is not forever. Having a well laid out plan that is sustainable and that you can adjust along the way is a phenomenal step in the right direction.
3. You are going to plateau at some point
As mentioned above, metabolic adaptation is going to occur. This is where the calories you were consuming before that once created a caloric deficit, will now become your maintenance calories (meaning your weight will stay roughly the same). Knowing this in advance and having either the education or plan in place to adjust when it does occur, will be required for continued success. If this confuses you, don’t just start on a diet, get support!
Anyone reading this has experienced this themselves or knows someone who has. Like I said, anyone can lose weight as long as an energy deficit is occurring. Knowing how to safely navigate through this stage and doing so in a healthy and sustainable manner, will ultimately determine both short-term AND long-term success.
After all, a diet is absolutely useless if the methods, strategies and skills you learned to achieve the success cannot be maintained and implemented for sustainability. Focus on learning how weight loss works and the strategies best suited to you as an individual, not what your friend did or what you saw on the news.
Keep learning, keep adjusting and don’t fall victim to quick fixes!