It’s estimated that almost 80% of people that start a diet will fail within the first month. But with literally hundreds of thousands of books, videos and diet plans available, why on earth is this happening? What is it that’s causing intelligent, hard-working people to fail over and over again?
In this post we’ll be diving deep into one of the biggest reasons (Engber 2019), plus providing 5 solutions that you can start implementing straight away.
So Why Do 80% of Diets Attempts Fail?
Put simply, the majority of diet attempts fail because people try make themselves work for one particular diet, rather than finding a diet and making it work for them.
The approaches might sound similar, but there’s a big difference.
Trying to force yourself to adhere to a specific diet that doesn’t suit you is painful. You spend almost every minute of every day trying to fight temptations and relying on your own willpower to succeed. The problem is that willpower is a limited resource, and when it eventually runs out, your diet goes out the window.
On the other hand, finding a diet that suits you and adjusting it to make it work for you is liberating. You have the freedom to eat more of the things you want without the ridiculous rules, restrictions and restraints. It requires WAY less willpower, and so it’s WAY more sustainable.
Well that sounds great, but how do I actually do that?
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be one of those super-vague articles that pitches you some expensive diet solution at the end. Instead, let’s dive right into 5 specific ways that you can start making your diet work for you.
1) Start with a Self-Assessment
In order to make your diet work for you as an individual, you first need to take a good look at yourself and ask some key questions…
- Do you want to lose fat or build muscle?
- Are you good at counting calories?
- Are you active in the gym or training for a sport?
- Do you enjoy weighing your food portions?
- Which ‘treat’ foods can you easily remove?
- Which ‘treat’ foods do you absolutely have to keep?
The more you know about yourself the easier you’ll find point two.
2) Research and Pick a Diet That Matches Your Self-Assessment
Remember when we mentioned that there are loads of diet approaches? That’s great news for you, because it gives you plenty of choice to work with to find something that matches your self-assessment.
For example, let’s say that you want to lose fat, you hate weighing out your foods, but you don’t mind tracking calories. A good diet approach for you might be one that involves daily calorie counting, whereas a poor choice of approach might be a macros counting style that involves having to weigh your foods every day
Or, for another example, let’s say that you want to lose fat but maintain as much muscle as possible by training hard in the gym every day. You also love eating a big bowl of cereal after training, and don’t want to give that up. For you, a good diet approach might involve macro tracking, weighing meals and ensuring you get enough protein each day (perhaps by checking out our high protein food guide) A poor diet approach might be something like keto, because you would have to stop eating the foods you like, and you’d probably feel reasonable deflated training without carbs.
3) Proactively Create Solutions to Potential Obstacles
When you start a diet your motivation is high and the scales often move quickly in the right direction, so you imagine in your head that things will always be this way.
That MIGHT be the case, but you shouldn’t have that as your expectation, or you’ll be caught off guard. Instead, take a few moments to brainstorm potential obstacles to your success and proactively think of solutions.
- Likely to get busy at work? You can meal prep in advance
- Likely to get sweet tooth cravings? You can buy-in low calorie jelly/jello and ice pops
As the old saying goes, hope for the best but plan for the worst.
4) Keep Track of Your Progress
Whatever diet approach you take, making it work for you requires some form of progress tracking. Just like you would track your workouts and training sessions, you should be tracking your diet progress. Some methods of doing this include…
- Regular weigh-ins
- Regular bodyfat percentage check-ins
- Regular progress pictures
- Regular waist, hip, thigh, arm measurements
If you’re not using any form of progress tracking, you’ll have literally no idea if your diet is working. It’s the equivalent of walking with a blindfold on and just hoping that you’re moving in the right direction.
5) Make Micro-Adjustments
One of the biggest, and weirdest, diet mistakes is the decision to completely change a diet just because it temporarily seems like it’s not working.
No diet is perfect, and dieting isn’t an exact science. The human body changes and adapts differently over time, so expecting it to do exactly what you want it to all the time is just ridiculous. Worse still, this unrealistic expectation leads people to jump ship at the first sign of trouble, which is how people end up trying dozens of diets without ever getting the results they want.
Here’s a better approach…
If your diet has stopped working (by which we mean there have been no significant changes in your regular tracking methods for AT LEAST two weeks) then you can make a micro-adjustment.
- If you’re eating 2000 calories per day and no longer losing weight, try eating 1800 calories per day
- If you’re exercising twice per week, perhaps increase this to three times
- If you’re eating 5 low calorie, protein and vegetable-based meals per week, try eating 6 of these
Think of it like driving a car. If the car starts to drift to one side slightly, you make a small adjustment to keep it in the right lane. You don’t just grab the steering wheel and yank it as hard as possible in another direction!
How to make your diet work for you
If you’ve read all the way through then you know that most diets fail because they’re not right for the individual.
To boost your chances of diet success, start with a self-assessment, research a matching diet, proactively create solutions, track your progress and make micro-adjustments.
References Engber, D. Unexpected clues emerge about why diets fail. Nat Med 25, 16371639 (2019).