If you’ve lost weight (yay!) and then regained it a few months later (ugggh), it’s important to recognize a few things.
First, you’re not alone. Regaining about half of what you shed a year later is not only common but also expected. Most people are back at their original weight 3–5 years later, according to a 2014 review.
Second, you’re not a failure. “The idea that there needs to be a constant linearity to healthy living trips people up,” says Yoni Freedhoff, MD, director of the Bariatric Medical Institute in Canada and author of “The Diet Fix.” “I have been married for 15 years, and there are good times and bad times, but after the bad times, we build.” The same goes with weight loss, he adds. It will be easier and harder at times, but keep working toward it.
Third, learning from your past weight-loss experiences can help you succeed this time. “Reflection can help you fully understand what worked well and what didn’t work well,” says Katherine Nashatker, RDN, nutrition director at the Cooper Clinic. And then you can make a plan that better fits your life and goals.
Consider the following common reasons dieters don’t reach their weight-loss goals and learn how you can overcome these hurdles to be more successful next time:
1. YOU DIDN’T THINK LONG TERM
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”HEX 0073bb” class=”” size=””]”Rather than thinking,‘Can I lose X pounds?’, ask yourself, ‘Can I lose X pounds living a life I enjoy?”[/perfectpullquote]
You may have heard that to lose weight, you need to think about lifestyle changes rather than quick fixes. It’s true. “The inconvenient truth is that effort is required to lose weight,” Freedhoff says. “Rather than thinking, ‘Can I lose X pounds?’, ask yourself, ‘Can I lose X pounds living a life I enjoy?’”
If you’ve reached your goal weight but staying there means you need to work out six days a week and have salad for dinner every night, chances are you’re going to regain. So, although looking back at old food diaries can help you figure out what worked for you in the past, be sure you like what worked. “If you see it as misery, it won’t be sustainable,” Freedhoff adds.
2. YOU WERE TOO RIGID
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”HEX 0073bb” class=”” size=””]”Rather than being so black and white, embrace imperfection.”[/perfectpullquote]
A sliver of cake at a birthday party becomes a beer, too, and then another sliver, and then the next day you decide, ‘Heck, I’m off my diet anyway, might as well go to bottomless brunch at the greasy spoon.’ Rather than being so black and white, embrace imperfection. “There will be good times and bad times. Don’t throw in the towel. Brush yourself off and get back to it,” Freedhoff says.
Instead of thinking, ‘What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I do this?’, ask yourself what you can do in that moment to help, he adds. Perhaps that’s taking a walk, cleaning your messy kitchen or calling your accountability buddy. Whatever it is, be sure what you choose is something concrete and achievable, that way you’ll have a small victory to build more victories off of, Freedhoff adds.
3. YOUR PLAN WASN’T SMART
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”HEX 0073bb” class=”” size=””]”Is it specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely?”[/perfectpullquote]
Nashatker likes to use the SMART test with eating plans: Is it specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely? To be specific, you can’t just say, “I want to feel better” or “I want my clothes to fit well.” What does that mean? Are you aiming for a specific clothing size or weight? Really define what you are trying to achieve.
Measurable tends to be easy: Keeping a food and exercise log (see below) helps you see how you are doing and know whether you are progressing or not.
Achievable means you can realistically overcome the barriers, such as time and resources, to reach your goal weight. To help you, Nashatker recommends aligning new behaviors with existing habits. For example, if you’re trying to drink more water, set a goal to drink a big glass before your daily morning meeting. Visual cues are also great, like leaving your gym shoes and clothes out so you see them when you wake up. All of these are reminders to do your new behavior.
To be relevant, you want to think about your short- and long-term goals. Can you adopt these behaviors and keep them going for life? Will following your eating and exercise patterns lead to a better quality of life, or could it put you at risk for disease?
Last, timely means is this something you can start today? If not, what can you do today? Or perhaps it’s best to wait to dive into a new weight-loss plan, especially if you’re experiencing stress from other aspects of your life right now.
4. YOU SKIMPED ON YOUR FOOD DIARY
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”HEX 0073bb” class=”” size=””]”An accurate diary cultivates behavior changes.”[/perfectpullquote]
Keeping a food journal is associated with weight loss, with one study finding that women who kept more complete food diaries lost about 4% more weight than those who were less thorough. And that’s the thing: If you use something like MyFitnessPal to track your eating, you need to be complete and accurate, Freedhoff says. That means measuring your portions and tracking as you eat rather than waiting until later to document your meals.
Keep in mind that a food diary is a tool, not something to make you feel bad, he adds. “An accurate diary cultivates behavior changes; it reminds you of the behaviors you are trying to do,” he explains. So rather than judging your choices, use them to sleuth things out. What eating pattern helps you stay fuller? Why was it easier to stick to your plan on one day versus another?
5. YOU TRIED TO BE THE NEXT “TOP CHEF”
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”HEX 0073bb” class=”” size=””]”Too often we think we need to make gourmet meals that are beyond healthy and filled with kale and quinoa.”[/perfectpullquote]
It’s no surprise, cooking at home is healthier than eating out, even if someone isn’t trying to lose weight. Too often we think we need to make gourmet meals that are beyond healthy and filled with kale and quinoa. This can lead you right back to the drive-thru. Sure, aim to eat healthy, but go ahead and make meals that would make dietitians blush, Freedhoff says.
The goal is to get comfortable in the kitchen and learn cooking skills, which doesn’t happen overnight. Cook foods and meals you will like, and as you gain experience, you can start cooking healthier options, he says.
READ MORE > IS THERE SUCH THING AS HEALTHY OBESITY
6. YOU WEREN’T READY TO CHANGE
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”HEX 0073bb” class=”” size=””]”Be sure you’re ready to commit to the hard work involved, not just the idea of being a few pounds lighter.”[/perfectpullquote]
“Oftentimes we like idea of losing weight. But are you ready to change?” Nashatker asks. Losing weight means new foods, changing how you spend your time, new eating patterns — all kinds of shifts. It’s a lot to ask of yourself. Be sure you’re ready to commit to the hard work involved, not just the idea of being a few pounds lighter.
7. YOU DIDN’T GIVE YOURSELF ENOUGH TIME
[perfectpullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”HEX 0073bb” class=”” size=””]”Be patient and also be honest with yourself.”[/perfectpullquote]
“We want to see change tomorrow and think three days into a diet, where is my new pants size?” Nashatker says. Be patient and also be honest with yourself (that food diary can help). If losing weight happened overnight, you wouldn’t even be reading this.