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If your last diet ended with your diving head-first into a bag of potato chips, don’t worry: It’s not you; it’s the diet.
After all, no one diet is the end-all, be-all of weight loss, according to research from theJournal of the American Medical Association. The study found what we all know to be true: The best diet is the one you’ll actually stick with—and what's more, that many people are pretty bad at choosing a plan they'll be able to actually follow through on. “Being realistic with yourself about what type of nutrition program is right for you is actually one of the keys to long-term success,” says dietician and weight-loss expert Jaime Mass, R.D.
So how can you know if a diet won’t work for you—long before you waste your time on it? If it checks off any of these boxes:
Any diet plans that ask you to restrict calories to less than 1,200 per day is just not a good idea, says Lori Chong, R.D., a dietician at the The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Most women need to eat at least 1,200 to 1,400 calories a day, even when trying to lose weight, to avoid feeling hangry and exhausted. And eating too little can actually send your body into starvation mode so your body burns muscle rather than fat, too.
Don’t think about zebras. Now what are you thinking about? Zebras, right? The same thing happens when you try to forgo a certain food. Granted, if you have a food allergy or food sensitivity, that’s another thing entirely, says Mass. But if you aren’t allergic to gluten, fruit, whole grains, or legumes, there’s no reason to rid them from your diet, she says. You'll just be setting yourself up for bingeing and potential deficiencies, says Chong.
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If you’ve got a crazed schedule, a diet that requires lots of meal prep could make you feel overwhelmed and, when you lose steam, like a failure, says Mass. Likewise, if you love to go out and eat with friends, a diet that puts limits on your ability to eat out probably isn’t going to go over well. “Your everyday life should be considered any time you choose a plan or program involving food and nutrition,” she says.
Variety is the spice of life. If your diet doesn’t allow you to mix up your menu options, you are going to get bored really fast, says Chong.
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“We all like a treat now and then,” says Chong—and that’s completely okay. “If your plan doesn't allow this or teach you how to include a treat, then it probably won't be sustainable for long,” she says. Plus, research in the shows that carbs increase your levels of leptin, a powerful satiety hormone, as well as the number of calories you burn in the following 24 hours.
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While there's nothing wrong with having a smoothie for breakfast, consuming only things that come from a cup is a different story. "If a program requires you to drink liquid for meals, it is likely a crash diet," says Mass. "I would also worry about your health and nutrient intake on it: Would you even meet your caloric needs? The diet could slow down your metabolism or cause digestive issues." What's more, these types of weight-loss programs almost always lead to binge eating and eventual weight gain, she says.
Most of us would rather eat cupcakes than kale, but if you straight-up despise the foods your diet makes you eat (plus, why isn’t your diet letting you make your own food choices in the first place?), every meal is going to leave you unsatisfied, says Mass. Even if the foods your diet makes you eat are perfectly healthy and balanced, it doesn’t matter because you won’t be eating anything you detest for long.
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