Huffpost Healthy Living
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Kathy Freston Headshot

3 Reasons Your Diet Isn't Working

Posted: Updated:

Not losing weight? Or worse, you worked like hell to lose it and now the pounds are back, and then some? If you're on a diet, or if you've spent much of your life dieting, you've undoubtedly worked very, very hard to achieve results. And quite probably you've experienced the devastating shame or disappointment of having the weight creep back on. Whether you've been working against 10 pounds or 200, losing weight and keeping it off can be one of the toughest challenges, and I bow to you for the efforts you've made. Losing weight may have been hard thus far, but it doesn't have to be. Let's look at three of the reasons your diet has probably not been working, and then I'll show you how to change things up.

The Three Reasons Your Diet Isn't Working:

  1. You are miserable while dieting. Most diets would have you cutting things out from your diet; they are about denial and discipline. You love pizza? No more of that. Pasta? Forget it. Dessert? Erase the word from your vocabulary. So you white-knuckle your way through some crazy diet of deprivation, and you're miserable. If you are fed up with too many restrictions and you are missing the simple joys of your old life, you simply won't keep up the effort. And why should you? Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed -- and that includes enjoying your food.
  2. You are doing the high-protein thing. You are most likely doing a high-protein, low-carb (HPLC) diet, which has been the popular diet since the last century. Yes, you do lose weight on a HPLC diet. But the weight loss comes partly from losing a lot of water in the beginning of the diet. When you stop eating carbohydrates, your body rapidly loses water. In the first few days of a low-carb diet, you'll be in the bathroom surprisingly often, and the first few pounds of "weight loss" are not fat loss at all. They are temporary water loss. This happens because the body, starving for glucose normally found in carbs, is using up stored glycogen which holds a lot of water -- one pound of glycogen holds three pounds of water; the first bit of weight loss you see on the low-carb diet is just water loss from losing your natural glycogen, and as soon as you allow a little bit of carbs back in, your water weight comes right back.

    The weight loss from a HPLC diet also comes from eating fewer calories, because you are knocking out so much of what you normally would consume -- because these days, eliminating carbs means doing away with calorie-dense, highly processed foods, most of which contain high-fructose corn sweetener. Of course you lose weight when you give up cookies and cakes and doughnuts, which erroneously get lumped together with good carbs like those from brown rice and quinoa.

    But eating a HPLC doesn't work long-term. Your body needs GOOD carbs, and will crave them voraciously if you don't pony up a steady, healthy supply of them. Whole grains like brown rice and quinoa, and beans like lentils, chickpeas, and black beans supply the body with the much-needed slow and steady supply of glucose. Glucose is not a bad thing; it's the source of fuel for the brain and body and it's not negotiable that we get it. Which is why the cravings for carbs become so irresistible that you end up caving: it's your brilliant body telling you to stop starving yourself of what you need!

    The trick, of course, is to stick with the good carbs (whole grains, beans), not the bad, refined, junky carbs (white bread, chips, cakes, cookies).

    Whole foods like grains and beans release their sugar very, very slowly because of the fiber in them, and they don't give you a sugar rush. They feed your cells as needed, and as a result, you have loads of stable energy that powers you through the day. Not so with meat, dairy and eggs (they have no fiber in them, but more on that soon), which are the centerpiece of the HPLC diet.

    And why else is your HPLC diet not working? Let's not forget the obvious: Meat and dairy are concentrated sources of fat and calories. Fat and calories make you fat. Period. Even a lean breast of skinless chicken -- certainly the leanest of all the meats -- has 20 percent of its calories in fat, 29 percent of which is saturated. So, that's a problem when it comes to weight loss and health.

  3. You aren't getting enough fiber. In medical literature, the one dietary component that has been most highly and consistently associated with long-term weight loss is fiber consumption. It controls your weight because it adds volume to foods without a lot of calories, so it fills you up and makes you feel satiated, thus turning off the hunger signals. It helps to slow down the release of glucose, therefore stabilizing your blood sugar -- which means the rollercoaster of cravings is finally brought to a halt. Fiber also acts like an internal scrub brush, too, cleaning out the fat and gunk. Animal-based foods have no fiber -- zero, zilch. Plant-based foods are chock full of fiber.

So now you know why your diet probably wasn't working. Now here's what you do to change things:

Upgrade

You can still have that beloved burger or pizza or pasta; just make them healthier by opting for a veggie burger, or pizza with nondairy cheese and soy sausage, or pasta that's made from brown rice rather than white flour. Have all the foods you grew up loving, but just have better versions of them. Eventually, lean even further toward simple nutrient-dense plant-based foods like whole grains, legumes, nuts, veggies and fruits.

Add in Good Stuff

Fill up on some good stuff by incorporating new little habits into your daily routine. Things like adding two tablespoons of ground flaxseeds to a soup or smoothie, or adding in an apple a day to pump up your fiber intake will go far in changing your body's chemistry. You can do something as simple as drinking two cups of water before a meal to fill your belly a bit so that you don't overeat, or change up your cheese from dairy to nondairy.

When you ADD things in to your daily routine rather than parsing out calories and counting grams of protein, you don't feel deprived or hungry. It's called "crowding out," and it's a whole different approach to the old "cutting out" method of dieting. You won't be white-knuckling your way through some crazy deprivation diet that makes you miserable. You don't need to stick to tough rules or overnight changes; you need not rely on hardcore discipline that makes you hate your life. You need only focus on progress, not perfection. Lean in to the process of losing weight, and it will happen easily. And it will last. At last!

For more tips and a simple 30 day plan for losing weight and keeping it off, please check out The Lean!

For more by Kathy Freston, click here.

For more on weight loss, click here.