Expert reveals 7 common dieting mistakes

Can’t lose weight, no matter how hard you try? Expert reveals 7 common dieting mistakes that could be making it a struggle

  • Dr Meg Arroll and Louise Atkinson reveal why your diet may not be working 
  • Sticking at a diet for a long time and exercising are key to losing weight, they say
  • People should be realistic about their targets and not aim for the unachievable
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Can’t lose weight no matter how hard you try? 

You might be making one of seven common dieting mistakes, according to Dr Meg Arroll and Louise Atkinson, authors of new book ‘The Shrinkology Solution’.

Not sticking to a diet for a long time, picking one which doesn’t suit you, not doing enough exercise and setting unrealistic targets are all well-known obstacles.

Dr Arroll and Ms Atkinson say finding a diet which makes you feel good, instead of one which makes every day a struggle, is key to losing weight.

Their book aims to help people shift their mindset and in turn shift the pounds.

Here is co-author Louise Atkinson’s run-down of seven reasons your diet might not be working, written for Healthista: 

Psychologist Louise Atkinson says a diet which is too difficult and not enjoyable is less likely to be successful

1) You’ve picked the wrong diet 

In the quest to slim down for summer it is so tempting to pick the latest trendy diet but there’s no such thing as ‘one diet plan fits all’ and if your chosen plan isn’t working, it might be the wrong plan for you.

The science is now clear: no two people are the same – mentally or physically – and your approach to food and eating will always be a highly personal one.

One person might have developed particular habits throughout childhood (the compulsory biscuit with a cup of tea or desert after every meal) while another might crave carbs or fear hunger.

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And we all vary in our susceptibility to the continual bombardment of powerful food messages that accost us every day.

This means that each of us will have a unique combination of eating triggers and lifestyle factors which can get in the way of making consistently healthy food choices or sticking to any one particular diet plan.

A confirmed chocoholic might struggle to stick to a low-carb plan, and if you work long hours or do shift work, home cooked meals might be an impossible dream.

So the decision should not be ‘what’s the best diet plan?’ but ‘what’s the best diet plan for me?’

2) Your head’s not in the right place 

Psychologist Dr Meg Arroll who co-authored The Shrinkology Solution, says any diet is much more likely to work if you have got to the point where you are absolutely ready to lose weight and willing to make some changes to get there.


Following a ‘fashionable’ fast for just one week can damage the heart, research suggested in February 2018.

Obese people who suddenly lower their calorie intake to just 600-to-800 units a day, experience heart-fat level increases of 44 per cent, a trial found today.

Despite such dieters on average losing six per cent of their total body fat after just seven days, this fat is released into their bloodstream and absorbed by their hearts, the researchers explained.

Although this excess heart fat balances out by week eight of dieting, for people with heart problems, it could leave them breathless and with an irregular beat, the scientists add.

Study author Dr Jennifer Rayner from the University of Oxford, said: ‘Otherwise healthy people may not notice the change in heart function in the early stages.

‘But caution is needed in people with heart disease.’

Heart disease, which is linked to obesity, affects more than 1.6 million men and one million women in the UK.

Dr Rayner added:’The heart muscle prefers to choose between fat or sugar as fuel and being swamped by fat worsens its function. 

‘People with a cardiac problem could well experience more symptoms at this early time point, so the diet should be supervised.

‘Otherwise healthy people may not notice the change in heart function in the early stage.’ 

The researchers analysed 21 obese volunteers with an average age of 52 and a BMI of 37kg/metre squared.

The study’s participants ate a very low-calorie diet every day for eight weeks.

MRI scans were taken at the start and end of the investigation, as well as after week one. 

‘Any plan that leaves you feeling resentful or deprived is never going to work long-term,’ she says. 

‘It is far better to decide that you are making changes for YOU, and to set yourself realistic, achievable and measurable goals.’

Studies show that ‘intrinsic motivation’ (which comes from within) is much more likely to lead to successful behaviour change than ‘extrinsic motivation’ (triggered by external forces such as squeezing into a certain dress or pair of jeans).

‘If you’re not really making changes for yourself it might be time to dig a bit deeper and ask why you’re not making YOU a priority,’ advises Dr Meg.

3) You’re switching plans too fast 

Diets very rarely market themselves on their long-term maintenance phase. 

After all, if they all worked beautifully, the multi-million pound diet industry would be on its knees.

‘It might take a long time and you will have to watch what you eat forever’ doesn’t have the same marketing allure as ‘the effortless route to dropping a dress size in a week’.

Many popular eating plans will give only sketchy maintenance advice, and some none at all.

So it’s little wonder many of us flit from one diet to the next when weight plateaus or starts to creep back.

But abandoning one diet plan to leap straight into another will throw your body into confusion and set you on a destructive downward spiral of yo-yo dieting. 

Frustratingly, studies show this often leads to more and more weight gain over time as the body clings onto calories and the mind gets caught-up in an increasing sense of failure.

So before starting any plan, always check out the long-term maintenance phase – if there isn’t one, or you can’t see yourself sticking to it forever, power walk away.

4) You’re not moving enough

There is some truth in the old adage that losing weight is all about ‘eating a bit less and moving a bit more’ and the two elements really do work hand in hand.

Large-scale reviews of research into dieting consistently show that adopting exercise into your daily life is one of the key factors in maintaining a stable weight.

But a quarter of all adults exercise for less than 30 minutes a week.

People who are dieting need to exercise, too, to burn off the calories they eat each day

True, exercise might not be the calorie-burning nirvana we’d like it to be, but it does have multiple unequivocal benefits for physical and mental health and studies show keeping active – even just via a ten minute walk each day – really will make you more likely to stick to your diet plan.

If you don’t think of yourself as naturally sporty and you squirm at the thought of lycra, the key to success is throwing your exercise net wide, trying lots of different forms of activity, and picking the right form of exercise to suit you. 

So forget the latest trendy class or trainer and think in terms of quick-fix HIIT if you’re super-busy, deeply relaxing yin-yoga if your life is stressful, Cross-fit if you’re fired up by competition, or swimming if you’re the solitary sort.

The decision shouldn’t be based on what’s in fashion, or what you think you’ll be good at, but on what suits your life and your personality right now. 

Because that’s more likely to be something you’ll stick at and thereby reap the benefits long-term.

5) You’ve got diet fatigue

Everything about our physical and mental set-up changes over time – metabolism slows, hormones unravel, and life becomes complex. 

So there’s never any guarantee the fail-safe diet plan that always worked to get you swimsuit ready each summer will continue to serve you this year.

After the age of 30 metabolism drops by five percent per decade and from the age of 40 that decline accelerates further. 

The drop is perfectly natural as cells throughout our body start to slow down, but it means you’ll be burning 100 fewer calories per day at the age of 35 than you did at 25, and 200 fewer at 45.

To maintain your weight, your portion sizes need to start shrinking proportionally, and to lose weight, you’re going to have to work a little harder each time. It could be time to try a new plan.

6) You’re mixing your diet metaphors

If you’ve tried loads of diets in the past – with some degree of success – you might find yourself creating your own hybrid version of a weight loss plan.

That’s fine if it works, but if the scales aren’t shifting, could it be because you are unwittingly concocting a nutritional mash-up each day that puts your body into a state of confusion?

Maybe you kick your day off with a smoothie (clean eating), tuck into a meat-heavy lunch (Paleo), skip dinner (intermittent fasting) then reward your efforts with a few glasses of red wine (Mediterranean diet)?

You might think you’re being healthy but this eclectic combination can be highly calorific, confusing to your body and can drive you demented with cravings.

The best way to clear a path through dieting confusion is to complete a one-week mood/food diary. 

Keeping a diary of foods you eat and the moods you’re in is an effective way to work out where you might be going wrong, according to Ms Atkinson

Studies consistently show keeping a food diary aids diet success but by making a note of your hunger levels and/or mood every time you put something in your mouth, you can get a fascinating insight into how often – and why – you eat what you eat.

In fact, studies show dieters who make a note of everything they eat and how much exercise they do can lose twice as much weight as those who don’t. 

So much of our eating is automatic, and you might not be consciously aware of the healthy and unhealthy elements of your diet. 

A food/mood diary is a great way to put you back in control.

7) Maybe you don’t need to diet at all 

It’s so easy to get caught up in the spin of wanting to look model-skinny and to be prepared to jump through all sorts of dietary hoops to get there.

But ask yourself – is weight gain a real problem for you or could you be chasing an impossible ideal? Be sensible about what you consider to be your ‘ideal’ weight.

Everything changes as we get older and it is healthier – both mentally and physically – to aim for a happy sustainable weight and body shape rather than some random weight you remember being happy at when you were in your teens or early twenties.

It’s a far better goal to feel energetic, vibrant, strong and flexible than hungry-skinny.

If you can learn to find and adopt a realistic mind set then making a few well-advised changes, such as cutting back on alcohol and increasing your vegetable/salad intake could be just enough self-correction to set you straight.

This article was originally published on Healthista and is being reproduced with their permission. 

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