Did you know that as many as two-thirds of weight-loss dieters end up heavier and less healthy than when they started? This is because most people begin a weight-loss diet with a short-term mindset and don’t understand that dieting is a lifelong commitment to your health. But you don’t have to starve yourself or cut out all of your favorite foods (though these do tend to be the indulgent, addictive treats that aren’t very good for you) in order to lose weight. In fact, proper nutrition is only one aspect of effective weight loss, and several of the reasons why as many as 95% of diets fail have nothing to do with the foods you’re eating.

1. Commitment Issues

Learning about nutrition and committing to a healthy lifestyle is a choice. Once you find a diet that works, you’ll never want to return to your old ways. But many people have unrealistic expectations of dieting, viewing it as a temporary solution, seeking immediate results, or resorting to exotic and extreme fad diets. Rather than making small, incremental, sustainable changes in lifestyle, diets encourage you to turn your life inside out for two weeks or so. There are often many ways you can configure your diet to cut back (i.e. soda, alcohol, dessert), but you shouldn’t starve yourself or let your diet make you unhappy. Balance and moderation should be your motto, and you should never give up! You must approach dieting optimistically or else you’ll fall prey to insecure and hopeless ideas (“It’s just one burger…”), undermining any progress you may have made. Remember: the small changes last and the big ones don’t. Good health practices are more than just learned — they become a habit and a way of life.

2. Inadequate Sleep

Sleep plays a vital role in your physical and mental health. Sleep also helps maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry (ghrelin) or full (leptin). When you don’t get enough sleep, your level of ghrelin goes up and your level of leptin goes down; this makes you feel hungrier than when you’re well-rested. Sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, and obesity, as well as depression and other mental health concerns. One study has found that with each hour of sleep lost, the odds of becoming obese went up. Not getting enough sleep also risks disrupting your circadian rhythms to the extent that you develop a metabolic disorder, which can make losing weight nearly impossible. Rule of thumb: get 7-8 hours of sleep around the same time each night and you will be ready to seize the day.

3. Poor Timing of Meals

When we eat is arguably just as important as what we eat. All living things naturally follow a circadian rhythm, and timing is a crucial factor in determining our eating and sleeping patterns. Irregular eating schedules have subtle, yet traceable negative health effects and are associated with increased risks of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and inflammation. The good news is that simply by staying in sync with your circadian rhythm, you will facilitate weight loss. Try eating breakfast every day within one hour of waking up, then having a healthy snack or meal every three to four hours. You need a steady stream of glucose throughout the day to maintain energy and prevent your metabolism from slowing down. As long as you don’t overdo it (see below), you’ll feel better without necessarily eating less. And don’t worry, naps don’t affect your circadian rhythm.

4. Underestimating Calories Consumed

Calories are just one way to estimate the general healthiness of a food product, and you should always take the measurement on the label with a grain of salt (not literally!). Counting calories accurately is extremely difficult, even for nutritionists and health experts, and if you aren’t cooking the meal yourself, you really have no way of knowing how many “hidden calories” there may be. Big meals and large portions (i.e. holiday feasts and most restaurant dinners) also tend to distort our calorie-counting efforts. But the vast majority of people don’t know how many calories they actually need, anyway. Although the U.S. food supply produces 3,900 calories for each person per day, men claim to eat an average of 2,618 daily calories, while women report eating only 1,877. However, by keeping an honest diet journal, you can begin to have a better awareness of your calorie intake. Dieters who keep a daily food diary tend to lose twice as much weight as those who do not.

Ultimately, calories are merely a rough guideline, and there are many other important factors to consider in choosing your next meal. For example, if the food you eat contains fiber, it will keep you feeling full longer, which can prevent you from reaching for “extra” calories in order to fill yourself up.

5. Overestimating Calories Burned

All of your body’s processes require energy in order to function properly. A healthy diet provides the body with essential nutrition: adequate fluid, adequate essential amino acids from protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and adequate calories. If you’re cutting back on calories to lose weight, you may find that your diet makes you tired. This makes finding the time and energy to exercise more difficult, and can ultimately make a diet fail. By incorporating a little exercise whenever possible — such as choosing to walk or bike instead of driving, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator — you will burn calories and slowly build up stamina. If you’re timing your meals right and getting enough sleep, you should have plenty of rest and energy to burn more calories than you’re consuming. A healthy diet combined with exercise is far and away the best thing you can do to lower all sorts of health risks, including obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cancer. Now is the time to stop making excuses and start becoming the person you want to be.

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Featured photo credit: S. Diddy via Flickr

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