The textbook definition of the word “diet” refers to an individual’s eating pattern, but over time, it has come to mean a course of food intake—which is often restrictive—that aims to lose weight. So, technically, “diet” is the collection of foods that you habitually eat, regardless of what they are.
However, the meaning of the word “diet” nowadays is a special pattern of eating that is often short-term more than long-term. For this article, we will be using the word “diet” with this definition as we discuss the possible reasons why it’s not helping you gain, lose, or maintain your weight:
You are following an unsustainable diet
Unfortunately, the popularization of fad diets has tricked people into following extreme eating patterns that promise unreasonable or unrealistic results. More often than not, these types of diets are unsustainable and result in people going back to their previous eating habits sooner or later, which does little to contribute to their health goals.
Take the very keto (ketogenic) diet as an example. The keto diet is a high-fat, low-carb diet specially designed to minimize seizures in people with epilepsy. It was not made for weight loss, but non-epileptic people have taken to this diet because of its weight loss effect. According to Wellness Dietitian Mary Condon, RN, LDN, “More often than not, it’s not sustainable. Oftentimes weight gain may come back, and you’ll gain more than what you lost.”
The same is true for many other fad diets, which, just like the keto diet, can result in adverse health effects. If you are following such a diet, you should consult a nutritionist to determine what type of eating pattern is best for your health goals.
You are not counting your calories
A key to gaining or losing weight effectively is to count your calories or have an idea of how much you are eating each day. Otherwise, you may be eating too few or too many calories than you need.
For example, if you need to eat at least 1,600 calories to lose a pound each week, you will need to ensure that you eat around 1,600 calories every day. If you are not tracking how many calories you eat, you could be unknowingly consuming more.
You are eating too few calories
Eating too few calories may seem like a perfect way to lose weight, but it can, in fact, do the opposite. This is because if your body does not receive enough nutrients, it slows down your metabolic rate and holds onto sugars and fats instead of burning them. Why? Because the body thinks that it is starving and thus conserves as much energy as it can. Furthermore, the body will start to break down muscle, your calorie-burning tissues, to fuel itself.
With that in mind, ensure that you eat at least the recommended amount of calories each day. For women, the average recommended intake is between 1,600 to 2,000 calories. For men, it is 2,200 to 2,800. However, certain health conditions or other factors require you to eat less or more than the average recommended amount based on sex. Talk to your doctor or nutritionist to determine your ideal calorie intake.
You are taking cheat days too far
Research shows that cheat days can be beneficial for weight loss as eating a cheat meal can lead to increased metabolism, helping you burn calories faster. Moreover, indulging occasionally can help you stay on track for the rest of the week rather than restricting yourself from your favorite foods forever.
However, cheating too frequently or going overboard with your cheat days can be counterintuitive. Although it is unlikely that you will gain a lot of weight from eating, say, 3,000 calories in one day, it may lead to binge-eating habits and an unhealthy relationship with food, which could undermine your weight loss efforts.
You are not exercising
The key to weight loss and weight gain is exercise, although it matters less than a diet. If you are not exercising, your basal metabolic rate is slowing down, which means that the calories you burn each day become fewer and fewer.
Moreover, you need exercise to build muscle, which would help you burn more calories and sustain your weight loss further. Similarly, muscle is essential for gaining weight safely and gradually.
If your diet doesn’t seem to be working, then you may be doing something wrong. But worry not—most of the time, all it takes is to find out the cause and do the opposite to achieve your health goals.