Sunday, 16 December 2012

What to look for in a diet plan, especially to keep weight off for life

It's interesting how I get a lot of questions asking "how" I lost weight.  I mean, for me it's pretty plain and simple. I changed my diet and I added exercise.

Are people out there looking for a magic pill? Maybe. But I think that people are looking for something more than an answer of "diet and exercise."  I mean, everybody knows that diet and exercise leads to weight loss and a healthy lifestyle if done right.  So why aren't more people doing it to lose weight? 

When I was at my heaviest I worked in a plus sized women's clothing store.  I was helping a lady pick out some clothing and I asked her what size I should be grabbing for her.  She said, "I'm not sure, I've lost weight recently and I don't know what size I am."  So of course I asked her how much she had lost.  "50 lbs" she said.  I was blown away. FIFTY pounds!  To me that was unfathomable.  All I knew was that fifty pounds was heavy.  I used to work at an office supply store, and one large case of paper was 50 lbs and if you've ever tried carrying one, then you'll know how much 50 lbs weighs. I thought to myself that I would do anything to lose 5 lbs, let alone 50.  Of course in the back of my head I said to myself, "not anything, Daphne. Otherwise you'd be skinny."

So I asked her what she was doing.  "Diet and exercise" is what she said.  My heart sank.  It was an obvious answer, but I was looking for something more.  Maybe she would mention a weight loss group, or a really great book.  Or maybe an easy to follow menu plan.  Nope, what she mentioned was anything but easy.  I wanted something with structure, and something easy to follow.  Maybe even something fun to do.

Now I know that losing weight isn't easy, and almost everything I know is self taught.  It's something I had to do for myself and something that I had to force myself to continue when I didn't want to.  However the great thing about doing this myself is that everything I do is done my way.  I craved a structured plan where I could journal my food daily to hold myself accountable.  So I did it.  I craved camaraderie so I signed up with SparkPeople and joined teams and talked to people I could relate to.  But I had to do it myself, there was no one else doing it for me.  I made myself fat, I can damn well make myself healthy too.

If you're still craving a more structured plan I understand.  Sometimes it's incredibly hard to get a diet plan off the ground and to stick wit it, especially if you're self motivated.  I cannot tell you which diet plan is for you because there are as many diet plans under the sun as there are snowflakes in the sky.  There is a plan out there that will work for you and most likely only you.  I do however have some pointers that I've learned that I can pass on.  These are things I've learned from my own experiences and from watching others as well.

When you're looking into a new diet plan, whether it be a group, book, online program or other form of diet these same ideas apply.

-Does the plan include a maintenance program?
What is the point of losing weight if you have no plan to keep it off?  Losing weight is great, and very satisfying but the way you eat to lose weight is different from the way you will eat after you lose weight.  You cannot eat the same as you did before otherwise the weight will come back on.  Think of it this way.. let's say you're 180lbs and you try this quick new diet plan and you lose 30 lbs in 4 months. GREAT!! But now what?  You cannot eat the same as before, because before you where eating to maintain the weight of a 180lb person.  Now you need to eat to maintain the weight of a 150 lb person.  Does the plan teach you to do that, or just expect you to "wing it?"

-Does the plan encourage healthy eating for life?
Does the plan encourage you to change your habits so you can live healthy for life, or only to eat a certain way for X amount of time?  A good diet plan will teach you how to be healthy for life and how to incorporate it into your life.

-Is there a support group or support system?
For some people losing weight can be a very private matter.  For others it's a great way to bond with others who have the same struggles as you.  Having a support system is a great way to help you meet your goals.  Also, if you have questions or concerns then you have somewhere to present them.

-Is the focus for short term for long term success?
Does the plan only ask for a certain amount of your time? For example only one week?  Or a few months?  Or is it a plan to help you achieve long term success? The problem with short plans is once you try it, sure you lose 5 lbs in a week, but then you gain it back because there was no long term plan to keep it off.  Then once you're unhappy that you regained that 5lbs (and probably more) they rely on you to come back to them and use their diet plan again, because, "hey I lost weight with this plan last time".  This is a very common dieting plan gimmick to get you to keep coming back and a big indicator that they do not care for your health.

-Ask yourself, are you willing to live the lifestyle they suggest for life?
If you want to be healthy then you need to continue with healthy lifestyle changes for life, not just until the weight is gone.

-Does the program teach you about body health and how to eat properly? Does the plan completely cut out a food group or is too restrictive?
Always be wary of programs that don't teach you anything.  If the program doesn't teach you how to eat properly or to create healthy meals that you can use everyday then there really is no point to the program. Losing weight is about creating a healthy body not about cutting out a food group or worse only eating one type of food group in order to lose weight quickly.  If a plan is too restrictive it can be catastrophic.  If you're cutting out a lot of foods you'll start to feel deprived which leads to stress.  Then one day you have one thing you're "not" allowed to have and the whole thing can quickly cave in on you.

-Does the program use "gimmicky" terms?
Does it promise weight loss results using terms you've never heard of before?  Does it say things like, "blast away fat with fat blocker technology?"  What does that even mean?? Or "Lose 21 lbs in 8 weeks!".  If you're eating right then the weight will literally fall off, they shouldn't have to pull you in with bogus promises.

-Does it encourage a healthy relationship with food?
This one is important, very very important.  You cannot be overweight or obese and still deny the fact that you have an unhealthy relationship with food.  Losing weight is fantastic, but if you do not learn how to have a healthy relationship with food then what?  You cannot assume that you will just "do better" with your eating once you lose weight. That's unrealistic and poor planning.

-Does the plan expect you to buy anything?
Besides membership fees and basic supplies be wary of having to actually buy anything.  You don't need specific foods, pills or equipment in order to keep a membership or to lose weight.  Losing weight is as easy as eating right and exercise. So your money should go towards healthy foods and what ever you need to exercise.  Of course paying membership fees and so on is your own decision but you absolutely don't NEED to buy things to lose weight.

-Does the plan encourage you to have an active lifestyle or to exercise?
If the plan says that you can lose weight with no exercise they might be right. But exercise helps you to create a healthy body. Even a little bit of exercise can go a long way to help reduce your chances of heart disease, diabetes, cancer and a myriad of other health problems. Also be wary of plans that state that everyday activities count as exercise, such as mowing the lawn or house cleaning.  These don't count as exercise for a normal person.

Not all diet plans are completely bogus, there are definitively some out there that work really well.  The reason I don't follow a specific plan is because I found something that works for me and it works well.  I am self motivated and I am completely self taught.  However, if I where thinking of joining a group or diet plan then these are the guidelines *I* would follow.  Remember the dieting industry is huge and people are so willing to throw away money for a chance of losing "21 lbs in 8 weeks!".  Just remember this is about creating a healthy and beautiful body for life. Not just to be 21 lbs lighter for a few days.  

I've heard lots of great things about Weight Watchers, My Fitness Pal, and of course my favourite is still Spark People.  There are lots of options out there.  Just remember that you're not alone.

Now this list is created for people who wish to lose weight and to keep it off. Sure you can lose weight doing almost anything, but this is about doing it in a healthy way and for long term weight loss.  A lot of people will say that "I only lost weight doing this plan! and watching what I eat/calories did nothing! I lost X in 2 months!"  Yes that's probably true, but did that person keep it off for life? Most likely not.  If you want to lose weight long term you have to be diligent and do it like it's your JOB.  Any old Joe can lose weight, but it takes someone with dedication and strength to adopt a new healthy lifestyle to lose weight for life.


  1. Very informative!!!
    I know what you mean. (I'm not there yet, but the two people who complimented me did ask me 'how' I did it)

  2. Good summary here. My wife has tried a variety of diets, but none have ever stuck for an extensive period of time. As a runner, I always tell her that the key is the exercise part, but she is always looking for that pill. It is a tough lifestyle to live, but it sounds like you are making the thoughtful and appropriate choices for continued success. Keep it up!

    1. Thank you. The problem is that people get overwhelmed really easily. Especially since weight loss is entirely a mental process. I mean, going through the motions is dead easy, but if it was easy mentally.. then we'd all be skinny/fit!

      I find exercise isn't so key for me, for me it's finding a healthy mental balance. But certainly exercise helps me stay in check. :)