They promise quick and easy weight loss. They promise results. They are often extreme, with heavily restricted do’s and don’ts. You’re probably familiar with fad diets, and odds are you’ve tried one (or two or more) at some point. Fad diets often work, but for limited amounts of time, which is why people keep coming back to them. They often have a community of supporters who rally around them combined with social media status and celebrity influence. The problem, though, is sustainability. Fad diets are not sustainable over the long-term.
WHY FAD DIETS BACKFIRE
A key characteristic of fad diets is they tend to overemphasize a certain nutrient category or profile and underemphasize balance. They lead to weight cycling, also called yo-yo dieting, where successful weight loss is followed by unintentional regain, on repeat. This behavior has a negative impact on your metabolism, making it harder to lose weight and keep it off.
Moreover, what works for one person (more often than not) doesn’t work for another. It’s highly unlikely that the best diet for you is the best diet for your neighbor, your best friend or even your spouse. Genetics, lifestyle, gender and age are just a few factors that make losing weight an individualized process.
HOW TO MAKE WEIGHT LOSS SUSTAINABLE
Adopting a healthy lifestyle overall — not hopping on and off different fad diets — is a far more sustainable and manageable way to lose weight and keep it off.
Try implementing these eight tips to make healthy eating and exercise fun and sustainable long-term:
DON’T GO TOO LONG WITHOUT EATING
When you go long periods of time without consuming any calories, your blood sugar drops. This can result in adverse symptoms, like dizziness and fatigue, and can also lead to cravings for sugar-rich foods. It’s also easy to go from one end of the spectrum (extreme hunger) to the other (extreme fullness) if you bypass hunger signals and wait too long to eat. Aim to eat meals and snacks at regular intervals, and include a balanced combination of protein, fat and carbohydrates to keep your blood sugar stable for longer.
EAT COLORFUL FIBER-RICH FOODS
High-fiber diets can help protect against chronic diseases like Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. However, despite the health benefits of fiber, many people don’t consume enough. Opt for more fiber-rich foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts, which also contain other essential nutrients and phytochemicals that benefit overall health.
Including a colorful array of fruits and vegetables can spice up meals and snacks, while also keeping you full longer. To save money, consider buying frozen produce, which is flash frozen at its peak and often has a similar nutrition content to the fresh form.
CUT BACK ON ADDED SUGAR…
This might seem like an obvious one, but sugar is often disguised on food labels under many different names. Added sugar is the main reason packaged and processed foods (Think: ketchup, cereal, salad dressing and even sandwich bread) are so calorically dense. Our bodies break down added sugars rapidly, causing blood sugar and insulin levels to spike. Added sugars also lack a sense of satiety, contributing to cravings for more. One easy way to cut back on sugar is to eliminate it from your morning meals. Many people start the day with flavored yogurts, cereal, muffins or fancy lattes, which are all loaded with added sugar. This leads to a mid-morning crash and can set you up for failure the rest of the day. Instead, opt for a savory breakfast that has all three macronutrients, like avocado toast or egg and sweet potato hash.
…AND LIMIT ALCOHOL
At 7 calories per gram, alcohol is the second most concentrated source of calories; more than carbohydrates (4 calories per gram) as well as protein (also 4 calories per gram). While most of us aren’t willing to give up a good happy hour, we can at least be more conscious about our alcohol consumption. Many cocktails are loaded with added sugar (tonic has 6 grams in just 2 ounces) and trendy IPAS with double-digit ABV can carry as much as double the calories of a light beer (upwards of 200 calories per 12 ounces). What’s more, our bodies don’t burn nearly as many calories metabolizing alcohol as they do breaking down fat and protein, and drinking alcohol can lead to dehydration and interrupted sleep — which further hinders weight loss.
Try to limit your alcohol intake and stick to lower-calorie, lower-sugar options like wine (120 calories per 5-ounce glass ), liquor with low-sugar or sugar-free mixers (like club soda or fresh-squeezed citrus) and beer with a lower ABV (lower ABV typically equals lower calorie). Make a point to drink a tall glass of water before and after each alcoholic drink to stay hydrated.
ADD MORE WHOLE FOODS TO YOUR DIET
Whenever possible, choose whole foods over processed ones. It sounds easy enough, but many fad diets have a line of prepackaged bars, snacks, breads, cereals, smoothies, etc. tied to them. So you have to be on the lookout for hidden forms of sugar and fillers, which are not whole foods. Choosing foods as close to their natural form as possible ensures you’re getting the most vitamins and minerals, without added sugars or additives. Eating more whole foods helps you feel fuller longer, which is key for sustainable weight loss.
PRACTICE MINDFUL EATING
We’ve been told time and time again not to eat in front of the TV, in your car or while checking emails, and this is solid advice — distracted eating comes at a cost. When you aren’t focusing solely on what you’re eating, it’s easy to ignore the body’s natural satiety cues, leading to overeating. Mindful eating means paying attention to every bite — the textures, aromas, flavors, presentation and even sounds. Focus on your meals and snacks, take small bites, and ask yourself how much you really need in order to feel satisfied. You’ll avoid overeating and appreciate your food far more when you are mindful about it.
EXERCISE IN A WAY THAT FEELS GOOD
Finding exercises you truly enjoy and look forward to doing is much more sustainable and will have a positive effect on both physical and mental health. Maybe that means trying a barre or a strength-training class, doing yoga at home, or going for a walk. With a variety of forms of movement to choose from, and many that can be done from the comfort of your living room, the opportunities are endless.
MAKE ROOM FOR SOCIAL TIME
While what you eat and how you move play significant roles in reaching health goals, the impact of social connection is often undervalued when thinking about longevity. But there’s plenty of research showing social connection improves physical health and psychological well-being. Spending quality time with others has also been linked to improved immunity, lower rates of anxiety and depression, improved self-esteem and a decreased risk for all-cause mortality. Instead of socializing over a drink, try joining a friend for a (virtual) exercise class. Or if you like to cook, try making meal prep a family event.
Originally published April 2020, updated with additional reporting
Meet your weight loss goals with recipes from our Under 300 Calories collection, featuring meals, desserts, and snacks. Simply tap “Recipe Discovery” in the MyFitnessPal app.