4 Dieting Strategies That Almost Always Backfire, According to Science
By Krissy Brady
Sorry, but your fitness tracker isn’t a magical weight-loss device.
Spoiler alert: Some of the kilo-shedding strategies that are touted as top notch might actually be sending the number on your scale in the wrong direction. Sticking to your weight loss goals is hard enough as it is—the last thing you need is all of that effort going to waste because of some (seriously) flawed advice.
Here, we’ve outlined some of the common pitfalls people run into when trying to lose weight and what to do about it, so you can get it right and get it tight.
1. Choosing (Another) Fad Diet
On-again, off-again dieters can gain more weight than those who don’t diet at all, thanks to the brain’s built-in survival mechanism, according to a recent study published in the journal Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health. In diet mode, the brain considers the temporary calorie restriction to be a short famine—and once the diet is over, it signals the body to store more fat in case of future shortages, dooming your upcoming weight-loss endeavours. “Uncertainty about the food supply triggers the evolved response to gain weight,” writes study author John McNamara, professor at the University of Bristol’s School of Mathematics in a press release. Non-dieters, on the other hand, learn that the food supply is reliable and they don’t need to pack on extra fat as insurance.
Get it right, get it tight: Instead of going balls to the walls with a weight-loss plan that eliminates lots of kilojoules and ends in an epic pizza binge, take a one-step-at-a-time approach. By mastering one healthy change at a time, like cutting your chip addiction back to one snack bag per week or swapping your sandwich at lunch for a lettuce wrap, you’ll slowly adapt to a lower kilojoule intake and healthier eating habits without feeling deprived—and so will your bod.
2. Noshing on Fitness Foods
Research suggests that when a food’s packaging gives off a fitness-related vibe (think: protein or granola bars) it encourages dieters to eat more of these foods and exercise less. During the study, published in the Journal of Marketing Research, participants were given trail-mix style snacks marked either “Fitness” or “Trail Mix,” and had eight minutes to taste and rate the product. Fun fact: To make the “Fitness” snack look even healthier, researchers added a picture of running shoes to the packaging. Post-nosh, they were asked to work out as vigorously as they liked on an exercise bike. As you might have guessed, the people who ate the fitness snack ate more of it and worked out at a lower intensity than those who ate the trail mix.
Get it right, get it tight: While protein and energy bars can be a good snack or meal replacement in a pinch, assuming that they’ll help you get closer to your weight loss goals is a mistake. Many bars don’t have enough protein or fibre to keep you full for long and contain enough sugar and carbs to spike your blood sugar, leaving you hungry soon after snacking. Instead, keep healthy eats like nut butter and whole-grain crackers in your desk drawer and keep bite-sized veggies and whole fruit in your fridge for healthy, low-calorie snacking. Check out these healthy snacks that can help you lose weight.
3. Relying on a Fitness Tracker
According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, dieters who wear fitness trackers may lose less weight than tech-free dieters. For the study, participants were split into two groups—one was provided with a wearable to track their activity, while the other recorded their progress on a website. Both groups were placed on a low-kilojoule diet, prescribed higher doses of physical activity, and participated in group counselling sessions. By the end of the two-year study, the participants sporting fitness trackers only lost an average of 3.5kgs, while the tracker-free group lost 6kgs. Unfortunately, researchers can’t exactly say why this happened—especially since previous short-term studies suggested that trackers boosted people’s weight-loss success. However, they suggest these results show that trackers can boost your-short terms success, but they lose their effectiveness in the long term.
Get it right, get it tight: Taking 10,000 steps today doesn’t necessarily mean you burned enough to make a dent in your weight-loss goals. Instead of solely relying on your tracker stats to assess your progress, measure your success in the number of healthy meals and snacks you ate this week and how many times you made it to the gym.
4. Severely Limiting Kilojoules
A 2016 study published in the journal Obesity tracked 14 contestants from The Biggest Loser for six years, and found that all but one contestant gained back most of the weight they lost. The study authors found that their regain was caused by a drastic change in their metabolism. After losing weight, their metabolic rates were much slower than the average person of their size, causing them to burn roughly 2510 fewer kilojoules per day than they should be.
Get it right, get it tight: When you have a lot of weight to lose, it can be tempting to drastically cut your kilojoules, but that can lead to a sluggish metabolism (and a serious case of mood swings). Instead of dropping your energy intake to 5020 kilojoules (the minimum number you should never dip below) right off the bat, start by decreasing how much you eat by 418 kilojoules for every 4.5kgs you lose, says registered dietician Wesley Delbridge, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You can also boost your metabolic burn by lifting weights to build muscle, he says.
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