A good roller coaster can be exhilarating. We throw up our hands, feel the speed of the twists and turns, and usually walk away smiling or hop back in line to do it all over again. A diet roller coaster, though, can be detrimental to your health and your overall weight loss goals. Sure, you may throw up your hands with this type of coaster, too, but out of defeat, not enjoyment. Each year, Americans spend more than 66 billion dollars on weight loss products and services, a number that increases every year. What also increases every year, though, is the nation’s obesity rate, meaning something is clearly not working. How are we spending record amounts of money trying to lose weight and still gaining it?
Blount Memorial registered dietitian Angie Tillman says those diet roller coasters are partially to blame. “I see many patients who have been on the ‘on-again, off-again’ diet cycle for their entire lives, many beginning in childhood or adolescence,” Tillman said. “They go on a diet, lose weight, eventually realize they can’t maintain the diet’s strict ways of eating and gradually regain. Oftentimes, they wind up regaining even more weight than they initially lost. Then, they wind up searching for the next great diet plan that they think will get them where they want to be. It’s an up-and-down cycle, which is why we call this habit ‘roller coaster dieting,’ and it can lead to all sorts of problems, including binge eating, decreased metabolic rate, increased feelings of deprivation, an increased sense of failure, a decreased sense of willpower and an increased preoccupation with food,” Tillman explained.
To attempt to break the “roller coaster diet” cycle, Tillman suggests starting with accepting that what you’ve been doing hasn’t worked for you. “Anything that works for you and promotes good health can’t be all bad,” she said. “In reality, though, we can’t call a diet a true success if it doesn’t lead to sustainable change. We’ve all heard the phrase ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.’ This mindset also can be applied to dieting – we all secretly hope that this next diet will be the one that magically generates the results we’re hoping for. The first step, then, in getting off the diet roller coaster is to accept the fact that what we’re doing – and what we’ve been doing – simply isn’t working,” she explained. “Only then can we begin to look at new ways to go forward,” she added.
Next, Tillman says, it’s important to truly analyze your eating habits. “Once you’ve accepted that the old ways haven’t worked, it’s time to look at why,” she said. “Have you been drinking sodas or other sugary, high-calorie drinks either on or off the diet? Have you been eating fast food multiple times per week? Do you frequently eat larger portions than necessary, overeat at mealtimes or snack a lot throughout the day? These types of questions will help you identify habits that are hindering your success,” Tillman explained.
With those assessments in place, Tillman says it’s time to work on some new goals. “The idea with goal setting is to think small,” she said. “Look for one or two specific behaviors that are creating challenges, and focus on changing them. As you begin making changes, stop to consider and evaluate whether these changes are sustainable. If you’re a person who enjoys sodas, try adjusting your taste buds to flavored waters, bottled waters, or unsweetened coffee and tea. If you dine out frequently, try to cook more meals at home, and practice packing lunches and breakfasts. Also, all of us could benefit from eating more slowly and stopping when we feel full or ‘satisfied,’ rather than feeling like we have to finish those large portions,” Tillman explained.