A lot of people lose weight on a diet only to regain it. This cycle of lose and regain often repeats itself so many times and has been referred to as yo-yo dieting. Most people find it harder to lose weight with each subsequent try. This is because each time you lose weight, as much as 25% of the weight loss may be lean muscle. Unfortunately when you regain weight, you regain fat not muscle. Muscle is your metabolic engine. So whenever you lose muscle, you slow your metabolism making further weight loss difficult. Yo-yo dieting is not good for your health.
The reason so many people yo-yo diet can be found in the way our brain works. The brain controls every thought, feeling and action of every cell in our body. The brain consumes a large portion of energy we eat in order to process the tremendous amount of information it receives every second of every day. In order to function efficiently, the brain has automated most of our actions such as our habits and rituals. It is estimated that as much as 97% of the choices we make occur subconsciously.
When you are on a diet and are confronted with a significant stress, the brain is going to triage in favor of the new challenge and rely on your habits and rituals for your everyday actions such as food choices. Without realizing it, you find yourself back to making the food choices you gave up on your diet. Luckily we can override this by creating new habits and rituals. Each new thought, feeling or action creates an imprint on the brain. With persistence, these form new pathways that can support your new habit. The key to success is persistence focused attention. Left to our own devices, most people cannot do this on their own.
Accountability is one way to ensure that you are able to get back on track when you stray. Accountability can come in many forms.
- Tracking – Read the food label. Keeping a food and mood journal is a great way to stay accountable to yourself. You want to be very honest to yourself. This will work if you use the information to make changes.
- Family and friend. You can elicit the support of friends and family. It will be far easier to succeed if you family and friends are on board with your new lifestyle.
- Support groups. Studies have shown that dieters who join support groups lose twice as much weight as those who do it alone
- Professional help. You can get help from a trained professional such as a dietitian, nutrition coach, personal trainer or your healthcare professional
Other things that will help you stop yo-yo dieting include:
Controlling your environment – Once you decide that you want to lose weight, you must take control of your environment. Get rid of junk, unhealthy high sugar, high salt foods out of your house. Replace them with healthier whole natural foods.
Create a meal plan that is right for you. Cut your sugar consumption down. A good goal is to limit consumption of added sugar to 40 grams or less per day. Added sugar is sugar from any source other than fruits and vegetables in their natural form. Eat enough high quality protein, eat complex carbs, healthy fats, high fiber and drink enough water.
Plan your meals daily. Know what you are going to eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks if you so desire. This gives you tremendous control over food choices.
Mindful eating. Take time to enjoy your food. Take about 20 minutes to eat your food. It takes about that much time for the message to travel from your gut to your brain indicating that you have started eating. In this time your satiety center will be stimulated and you will feel satisfied with your food. Chew slowly, take sips of water in between bites and appreciate the flavor. You will be satisfied on smaller portion while not focusing on portion control which can evoke a sense of sacrifice. Mindful eating will also help you identify any potential food sensitivities or triggers for emotional eating.
Vulnerability Planning. Most dieters have specific times that they are vulnerable to relapse. It may be during the holidays, parties, evenings, stress or loneliness. It is important right from the get go to have a plan in place to deal with your vulnerable times. I recommend that you write down at least five times you are likely to give in to temptation. For each vulnerability write down at least three vital behaviors you can adopt to deal with the situation. Also create a comeback strategy for the times you are going to fail to follow your vital behaviors.
If you continue to have difficulty following your corrective behavior, then seek help from your accountability partner.
Activity. Find ways to become more active. Increase your non exercise as well as your exercise activities. You may want to set some healthy lifestyle goals such as taking part in an annual heart walk, or run your first 3K race.
Focus on the long term. The goal should be a lifestyle of healthy weight and vitality. Think of why you decided to go on a diet in the first place. Is it to have energy for your family and friends? Whatever it is that will keep you motivated is great.