Why It's Difficult to Stick to a Diet
There numerous reasons it's difficult to stick to a diet long term, which is why you should stop trying to stick to a diet. Lots of weight loss plans are fads, meaning these diets nix essential nutrients and are designed for rapid short-term weight loss, not a well-balanced way of eating you can follow indefinitely.
Fad diets often encourage you to drastically cut calories or carbs — leaving you feeling hungry, too tired to exercise, mentally fatigued, nauseous, or with frequent headaches. When you’re not feeling energized, it’s difficult to burn the number of calories needed to reach your goal weight and maintain lean muscle mass.
Other weight loss diets are simply too difficult for people with busy schedules to follow. These diets have you counting calories, tracking grams of carbs, protein and fat, measuring food, or trying to figure out complicated meal plans. While diets like this may work well when followed properly, many dieters end up giving up due to the difficulty level and time commitment required.
How to Stick to a Diet — Additional Tips and Tricks
Healthy eating doesn’t have to be a daunting task, as it’s possible to stick to a diet without unpleasant side effects or high frustration levels. Try following these few simple tips and tricks:
Choose a Long-Term Eating Plan
Choose a healthy eating plan you can stick with long term that doesn’t drastically cut certain nutrients or calories. Steer clear of diets containing less than 1,000 calories a day (unless you’re supervised by a medical professional). Make sure your healthy eating plan contains a good mix of fruits, veggies, healthy proteins, nutritious fats, and fiber-rich grains.
One simple weight loss strategy you may not have thought much about, is getting the right amount of sleep each night. Insufficient sleep causes the body to retain more fat and lose muscle mass, compared with getting adequate sleep (7 to 9 hours per night). One study published in 2012 in CMAJ found that people who slept 8.5 hours per night lost more body fat and maintained more lean muscle than study subjects who slept just 5.5 hours each night.
Researchers who conducted the CMAJ study say getting too little sleep increases certain hormones that cause hunger and fat retention. So prioritizing sleep, despite hectic and busy work schedules, appears to be more important than you think when it comes to weight loss, healthy weight management, and maintaining (or gaining) lean muscle mass.
Work Out Most Days
Exercising daily makes it easier to expend the number of calories needed to maintain a healthy weight, and keep your body fat low. Aim to complete at least 30 minutes daily of cardiovascular exercise (walking uphill, jogging, biking, swimming, stair climbing, rowing or using an elliptical machine) to keep your heart healthy and shed excess body fat. Pair cardiovascular exercise with weight training routines customized for your individualized goals — or complete functional fitness training workouts that combine cardiovascular exercise with resistance training for optimal fat burning.
Steer Clear of Chronic Stress
As much as you try to avoid stressful situations, stress simply can’t be avoided in some cases. However, chronic (long-term) stress can take a toll on your waistline. Harvard Medical School says long-term stress boosts cortisol levels, which increases appetite and your risk for overeating. Often times emotional distress leads to an increased intake of high-calorie items — such as sugar, fat or both. Try to eliminate chronic stressors in your life, and take time for yourself to avoid unwanted weight gain. Go for a walk, take a nap, get a massage, do yoga, or complete other stress-relieving workouts when anxiety is getting the best of you.
When stress levels soar, drinking alcohol isn’t the way to cope if maintaining a healthy weight is your goal. Many alcoholic drinks are packed with sugar and empty calories that go straight to your waistline. Drinking is a risk factor for obesity, as alcohol contains 7 calories per gram. In comparison, carbohydrates and protein each provide just 4 calories per gram, and fat contains 9 calories per gram.
If boosting your risk for weight gain isn’t enough of a reason to nix alcohol, new research shows alcohol increases your risk for cancer. One 2017 study says there's strong evidence linking alcohol with larynx, oropharynx, esophagus, colon, liver, breast and rectum cancers. So while drinking in moderation is certainly better than heavy drinking when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight and reducing cancer risks, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020 say if you don’t drink alcohol, avoid starting for any reason.
Rewards don't have to involve food
While it might be tempting to reward yourself with junk food or alcoholic drinks after a tough workout, long day at the office, or stressful situation — don’t fall into that trap. Rewarding with food can be comforting, but is a tough habit to break and takes a toll on your waistline. Choose rewards not related to food (or alcohol) instead — such as a massage, an outdoor hike, new clothes, or a trip to the beach.
Diet Food Alternatives
You will likely not to stick to a diet if you're following quick-fix techniques that aren’t designed for long term success, focus on a few simple healthy eating strategies. Choose a variety of healthy diet food alternatives, especially whole foods packed with nutrients. Again, don't just try to stick to a diet. Change your perspective.
Even if you’re not trying to shed pounds, drinking plenty of water on a daily basis (in place of sugary drinks) is crucial. One 2015 review published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that 16 to 28 percent of adults are chronically dehydrated, and that low water intakes may be linked with higher chronic disease risks and lower cognitive performance.
When it comes to weight loss, drinking water before meals appears to be an effective strategy. A 2015 study published in Obesity found that drinking 2 cups of water before meals helped study participants lose more weight than study subjects who didn’t preload with water before mealtime.
If you find that drinking plain water is difficult, try adding ice to it or flavoring water with chunks of fruit (such as lemon, strawberry, melon or lime slices). Other very low-calorie drinks (containing 5 calories or less per servings) that can be used as water alternatives include black coffee and unsweetened tea.
Focus on Protein
Getting plenty of protein in your diet daily helps you burn extra calories, feel full for long time periods, maintain or build lean muscle mass (even when you’re losing weight), and lower your risk for chronic diseases, says a 2015 review published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Authors of this review say eating at least 25 to 30 grams of protein per meal is what it takes to reap protein’s health benefits.
By focusing on protein you already have an advantage when it comes to shedding pounds, shredding body fat, and maintaining lean muscle mass. Protein-rich foods that are healthy options include grilled chicken, turkey, fish, lean pork, seafood, eggs, low-fat dairy foods, protein powders, legumes (dried beans and peas), nuts and seeds.
Boost Fruits and Veggies
Rich in fiber, vitamins and minerals, fruits and veggies generally aren’t high-calorie foods — but they’ll fill you up and maximize your energy levels nonetheless. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends filling half your plate with fruits and veggies at meal time (slightly more veggies than fruit). Choose a variety of fruits and non-starchy vegetables — such as broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, tomatoes, leafy greens, cucumbers, mushrooms, asparagus, green beans, bell peppers, and onions– during meals to maintain a healthy weight, and look and feel your best.
Be Selective with Starches
Starches (carbohydrates) have a bad reputation among many fad dieters. But the truth is carbs are your body’s main source of energy and can be included in healthy meal plans when you choose the right starches. Pick slow-burning carbs — such as brown rice, quinoa, Ezekiel Bread, whole-grain pasta, or sweet potatoes with the skin. Slow-burning carbohydrates are rich in fiber, take longer to digest, keep you full longer, and often provide more protein than refined carbohydrates (such as white bread and white rice). Steer clear of carbs from sugary drinks and baked goods when you need to shred fat for summer.
Add in Healthy Fats
Choosing healthy fats means adding in nuts, seeds, nut butters, oils (including fish oil for better brain health), avocados and olives to go with the rest of your heart-healthy meal. Doing so helps boost satiety at mealtime, making it easier to say no to tempting sweets and other added sugars. Healthy fats also lower your risk for chronic diseases, such as high cholesterol and heart disease. Aim to choose a healthy fat at each meal.
Forming Healthy Eating Habits
Healthy eating for life doesn’t happen overnight. But following a few simple tips and tricks will get you headed in the right direction and stick to a diet long term.
Get More Sleep
Sleep cannot be stressed enough. Getting enough sleep means you’ll have the energy to power through tough workouts, and you’ll keep appetite hormone levels in check to avoid overeating. Go to bed at the same time each night, and aim for at least 7 hours of sleep. Rest in a quiet, dark room and set your bedroom temperature between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal sleep, suggests the National Sleep Foundation.
Write Down What You Eat
You don’t have to count calories to keep an effective food dairy and achieve your ideal body weight. However, writing down what you eat is an excellent way to keep calorie intakes in check, especially when following specific healthy eating plans.
One 2011 review published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that self-monitoring (writing down what you eat and weighing yourself) is associated with weight loss. Penn State Extension says people who record what they eat lose twice as much weight as those who don’t. When you’re tracking food intake (in a paper food diary or electronically), you’re more likely to make nutritious food choices.
Find an Accountability Coach or Partner
Finding someone to help you stay accountable boosts your chance of sticking with healthy lifestyle choices long term. Use a health coach, or talk with a spouse or friend who keeps you accountable for staying on track with your diet. Long distance health coaching sessions are an effective way to improve blood pressure and get rid of excess body weight, says one 2017 study.
Eat at Home
While eating out once and awhile is generally okay, it’s tough to know exactly what’s in restaurant foods — where hidden ingredients and calories may lurk. That’s why cooking at home, where you know exactly what you're getting, is often an effective way to maintain a healthy weight. Choose non-processed healthy protein foods (such as salmon or grilled chicken breast), plenty of veggies, and whole grains cooked in oil. Season your foods with herbs whenever possible. Round out your meal with water, black coffee or unsweetened tea!
Find a Plan
Following a healthy eating plan that’s spelled out clearly for you is an excellent way to achieve or maintain a healthy weight. Choose a plan that takes the guesswork out of dieting, tells you exactly what to eat, and provides you with daily workouts. FF30X is a plan specifically designed for men over 40 — and includes meal plans, shopping lists, workouts, and accountability coaches to keep you on track.
The best way to stick to a diet and get started with long-term healthy eating habits, is to choose a plan specifically designed for your individualized needs. Sign up for a free 1-day meal plan to get the ball rolling, without investing time or money. You’ll be amazed at the simplicity of this plan, and the results you’ll experience. Getting started means beginning the process of a healthier version of you, and achieving the body and energy levels you’ve dreamed of!
Writer, The Fit Father Project
A 15-year freelance writing veteran, Erin is registered dietitian and health educator who is passionate about health, fitness and disease prevention. Her published work appears on hundreds of health and fitness websites, and she’s working on publishing her first book! Erin is a wife and mom of two beautiful children.
*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on getting healthy.