4 Truths about Dieting

By , SparkPeople Blogger
In my 12 years of writing about dieting, I have interviewed dozens of experts and have come away with a list of the four main truths that all dieters need to know before diving head over rolls into a new weight-loss program. (You might notice that these sound mighty similar to the advice touted by the experts here at SparkPeople!)

Diet Truth #1: A Diet isn't Something You Go On and Off

By one estimate, up to 95% of dieters will regain the weight they lose. And, in some cases, the dieter will yo-yo to a heavier weight than what they were when they started the diet.

For a diet to be effective, it has to involve a lifestyle change – one that you can stick with. (SparkPeople.com, ahem.)

A diet is not something you go on, then go off after you've dropped a few pounds. The definition of diet is simply “the usual food and drink of a person or animal.” So to lose weight and keep it off you need to consume food and drink that promotes health, not deprivation. (Need inspiration? Check out "The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight.")

Pick a lifestyle you can see yourself still following and enjoying when you are 80.

Diet Truth #2: You Can Lose Weight Without Exercise BUT...

I've been dieting on and off for the past 30 years. The best results I have enjoyed are when I use the one-two punch of diet and fitness to slim down and tone up.

Yes, you can lose weight with diet only. No, you can't lose weight by working out but eating poorly. But you will lose weight more effectively if you combine a healthy diet with regular exercise.

Exercise boosts your ability to burn fat. Studies show that the muscle you build through fitness will continue to burn calories even after you've stopped working out!

Diet Truth #3: It's All About the Calories

Low-fat... high-protein... vegetarian... flexitarian... The list of diets goes on and on.
But recent studies have proved that it really doesn't matter what type of diet you follow. Pick the one that appeals most to you – the one you can stick with for life – because the bottom line is all about reducing calories and burning more calories than you consume!

Yes folks, that is the simple secret to effective weight loss: Eating fewer calories than you burn.

An effective weight maintenance plan then is eating the same number of calories that you burn through normal body functions and exercise.

Diet Truth #4: Slip is Gonna Happen

Trying to remain perfect while following a diet is setting yourself up for failure. You didn't gain your extra weight overnight and you aren't going to lose it quickly either. There will be slips on your way to a healthier weight. Don't ever quit!

Rather than throw in the napkin and quit when a binge happens, pick yourself up, dust off the crumbs and climb back on the dieting wagon.

You're in this for the long haul. Being “good” and following a healthy lifestyle the majority of the time should be your goal.

There will always be temptation, so learn to give yourself a few guilt-free passes for those occasions you eat more than you should.

What have YOU learned from your "diets"? What has SparkPeople taught you?

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I always remember the columns by Erma Bombeck (a very funny lady popular 1960's-1990's, for our younger readers) when she discussed weight. She claimed that in her lifetime she had lost 783 pounds and should, by rights, have been dangling from someone's charm bracelet. This was an obvious exaggeration; in my own 50+ years of "dieting" I'm sure I've lost no more than a quarter ton, tops. Report
Ouch! the truth hurts! But it is nothing I don't know... but sure did need the reminder! Thanks! Report
I went on a diet once - the Atkins diet. That was more than 30 years ago. Since then I just slim from time to time. That's what I call it. I tell people I am "slimming". What I mean is that I am watching what I eat and portion sizes. It is a kinder word, and doesn't have the same all or nothing connotations. Report
Great article! I love the fact that someone actually had the nerve to say that it is as simple as calories in vs calories used! Any more, people want to argue this point!
Also, you mentioned slip ups, even Tony Horton of PX90 fame mentioned that he is good 90% of the time, but gives himself a 10% to eat something that isn't necessarily healthful! I have learned that that is a good formula, except, having been a life long "dieter" ( I kid you not, I remember being under 10 years old & worring about my weight), I have learned that it is best NOT to give yourself a "day off" within the 1st month! If you do, it will be harder to get back on track. It takes 21 days to gain or break a habit! After eating healthfully continuously for 30 days, you & your body will not only get used to eatting that way, you might even find that you crave it! The same with exercize, plus with exercize, it takes appx 3 weeks to your body to respond, after that, because your muscles have become more developed, your metabolism will speed up, burning more "at rest" calories. Report
life style chang for me! Report
Good list, if a bit simplistic.

"Diet" maybe about calories, but "healthy lifestyle" is about the nutritional value of those calories.

That's why I use the word "diet" in its original, accurate sense: a diet is what a person eats. "Diet" as a verb gets people into trouble. Report
Good list, if a bit simplistic.

"Diet" maybe about calories, but "healthy lifestyle" is about the nutritional value of those calories.

That's why I use the word "diet" in its original, accurate sense: a diet is what a person eats. "Diet" as a verb gets people into trouble. Report
I have learned that learning is part of the process. The process is the journey and the journey does not come to an end. I've learned to enjoy the never ending journey and apply the things I've learned along the way. Report
Thank you for writing this short simple list! Report
my whole life changed when i stopped dieting and took on a lifestyle change. wording means so much and can give you the mental edge you really need to get the job done. since jan of 2010 i have made changes, one at a time and stuck with them... dropping soda for water was the first and i have not had soda (diet or otherwise) since the day i started my lifestyle change. making sure i have 7 plus servings of fruits and veggies a day is another lifer for me, after making sure i have my fruits and veggies planned into my day there is not much room for in there for unhealthy foods and you will find that after a while, you CRAVE the fruits and veggies and just can't get enough of those. i thought i would never be satisfied without my chips and salt (i never use salt now by the way, don't need to, do not even keep it in the house) boy was i wrong!

you do not need to do anything drastic, but everything in moderation.

after gaining courage through spark people to hit the gym (thank you kim) it was no looking back from there. exercising IS ADDICTING!! i was 350lbs and waddled into the gym, embarrased all i could do was a minute or two on a treadmill and leave. could not even last 1 min on an elliptical, but i kept going back because i was creating a new lifestyle for myself. now i hit the gym 3-5 times a week, can go an hour on elliptical and nothing is off limits for me. i feel so good going to the gym i can't even explain it and i feel crappy if i miss a few days, it has become my lifestyle!!! but i did start out just walking on a treadmill and increasing time by a minute a day.... (and streangth training after a while too) but it can be done.

back in dec of 2010 i did not realize the difference the wording from diet to lifestyle change would make. my goals board that i used for visuals reminded me daily of the LIFESTYLE changes. just making the wording stick helps your mind (and body) make necessary adjustments to make sure the steps you take are permanent and not just (during your diet). there is NO falling back!

good luck to all!!

hugs to all

kat Report
This really gives me hope because I fall down a lot. It's good to know that I can pull myself up again and keep on going. Great article. Thanks so much. Report
G-R-E-A-T article! Report
I don't diet, and never have. I do however moderate my food plan and my exercise...some times are better than others as I still reactive eat and stop exercising when stressed. Report
It is very good advice to follow and do. Will have to try somethings from the article. God Bless You and have a Wonderful Week. Report
Be in it for the long haul (lifestyle change). Report
I love the part about picking yourself back up after you fall. I fall down more than I'd like to admit and its nice to know its ok to not be mad at myself for it. Report
I agree with all of the article... for me it boils down to a balance of all of these points. SP is helping me change my lifestyle, teaching me to exercise correctly AND have fun doing it(if it ain't fun it won't get done!), showing me you can have good nutrition and still eat good food, and best of all, SP is providing all the tools I need to become healthy and stay that way... in a wonderful, easy to navigate site which keeps me motivated through the mundane daily-ness of life!
I can live this life, enjoying the journey... how long doesn't matter. I AM WORTH IT...Who I am becoming IS worth it, too! ;) Report
Such excellent advice! Thank you Report
Let me see: 1) yes 2) yes 3) yes 4) yes.

Those are all things I have learned on SparkPeople. 1) It can't be a diet, it has to be a lifestyle change or it won't last. 2) Watching what I eat alone won't cut it for the long haul; I have to move more, too. 3) While there is a lot of debate about the 'right' and 'wrong' foods to eat, in the end you have to eat fewer calories than you burn without eating too little. 4) Perfection is impossible; recognizing that there are going to be slips and figuring out how to deal with them is part of #1--making it a lifestyle, not a diet. Thanks to SparkPeople, I've lost nearly 100 pounds and become an active person, going from complete couch potato to half marathoner. Report
I need to be more forceful with my hubby to stop purchasing my trigger foods....he picks me up from work with a huge bag of smartfood white cheddar popcorn and it is open. I have asked him to NOT do this and he still does. I need to get myself more under control and not eat any. I try not to...but i still do. Small portions ...but i want to only indulge in a treat once a week --- not almost every night....Help.... Report
Thanks so much for the ... um, FEEDback! I totally agree with the fact that "diet does not mean deprivation!" Keep on writing... and keep on living healthy, gang at SparkPeople! Report
It is true IN GENERAL that it doesn't matter what kind of diet you go on as long as you maintain. HOWEVER if you are insulin non-sensative then lower carb is the better way to go. See Stanford University AtoZ diet study "Battle of the Diets, is anyone winning at losing?" Report
It is true IN GENERAL that it doesn't matter what kind of diet you go on as long as you maintain. HOWEVER if you are insulin non-sensative then lower carb is the better way to go. See Stanford University AtoZ diet study "Battle of the Diets, is anyone winning at losing?" Report
nice! Report
I agree, but I would change #3. We need to a minimum amount of calories each day for our body to work. If we do not, our body turns to starvation and pulling what it needs from our muscles and bones. We don't lose weight. If you are only eating vegetables and fruits, you may not be consuming enough calories for your body to function properly. The best thing that I have found is to use a food tracker/journal. It works with all meal plans and keeps you on track. Report
It's never too late to start again. I've been idle for about 5 months for the most part. Gaining 4 pounds scared me. I refuse to go back to where I was and sp keeps me on track. The biggest lesson I've learned is to use the tools that are avaliable to me. The first one I turned to when I realized the road I was headed down was sp and I'm so glad I did. Report
I agree with all of these points, especially #2 - I was a really reluctant exerciser for a long time, struggling with a sluggish motivation and my natural tendency to be a couch potato. But I didn't really start achieving small health victories - including looser-fitting clothes, more energy, less gnawing in my stomach, pounds and inches lost, etc. - until I started exercising consistency. It really is the part of the equation that made a huge difference for me. And now I actually look forward to going for a run or heading to the gym (well, most days, anyway...)!

Another tip I would add to #3 - don't go overboard on reducing your calories. Make sure you are eating at least the minimum number of calories in your recommended SP range. While I was upping my fitness level, I wasn't making changes to my calorie intake, and found myself feeling really worn out after workouts, and pretty hungry by the end of the day. Plus, I hit a plateau on the scale. After I updated my fitness goals on SP to reflect what I was actually burning each week (way more than SP estimated for me), it automatically increased my calorie intake by 300. This made all the difference - I finally had enough fuel for my workouts and didn't feel sluggish afterward, and I broke through my plateau. SP really know their stuff! Report
I agree completely with #3. It really is all about the calories in and calories out, and if you have a deficit, pounds will be lost. And I believe you should treat yourself occasionally, if your calories for the day will allow it. Because as soon as you deny yourself a food, that is the food you will find yourself craving, and let's face it, we will all eventually give into at least some of our cravings.

But the point I like best is #4. It's what keeps me going everyday in this struggle I call maintenance. I always remember, "I'm in this for the long haul," and "I can't ever quit." BUT....sometimes I will slip. I have a bad day or even two or three in a row. But I start over, and keep trying and NEVER EVER GIVE UP! Because with this weight loss, I have gotten my life back, and I don't intend to ever give THAT up! Report
Sensible advice.

As far as #3, I've found I'm sensitive to sugar and starches - they cause cravings which lead to binges. So I eat a pretty high protein set of foods. Not because I'm slavishly devoted to the religion of Low Carb, but because through trial and error I've figured out what seems to work well FOR ME. Report
#1 thing that I've learned:
Diet does not mean deprivation!
It's about being conscious of what you're taking in and using proper portion sizes. You can still have those jelly beans! ... just not the whole bag... :)

If I deny myself something all together all it does is make me focus on it 24/7 until I crack and end up with my head buried in a bag of Oreos! Report
That's a pretty good list. The only one I would modify a bit is #3. While true, you need to burn more than use take in, doing this by simply dropping calories is a losing proposition. In fact, it's about the same a exercising while eating poorly. You need to eat less than you burn of the right kinds of food. If you are not satisfied, you will eat more. Fighting that hunger all the time will simply lead to giving up. Report