6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Jumping Into a New Diet
It’s tempting to try that fad diet you read about on social media. But is it really right for you? Here’s what to consider first.
There’s no shortage of trending diets these days. Paleo, keto, intermittent fasting, and so on. According to the Centers for Disease Control, at any given time nearly one in five older Americans is on a diet such as these, with weight loss as a leading motivator.
Losing weight is not always easy. But these diets promise to give you the results you want. Lose weight, feel better than ever — what’s not to love?
Before you jump into a trendy diet, it’s important to ask yourself some of these tough questions. The answers may drive you to find solutions elsewhere.
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Diet Question #1: Will I enjoy it?
Eating isn’t just a biological imperative. Food is linked to your culture, your emotions, your social bonds and more. Eating should be a joyful part of your day. But overly restrictive diets can take much, if not all, of the pleasure out of eating.
If you’re thinking of starting a diet, look at the details: Will it force you to give up some of your favorite foods? Will it require you to eat some foods that you don’t like?
If so, this diet might not be right for you.
If you don’t enjoy the meals you’re eating on a diet, you’ll likely struggle to stick with it for the long haul. And making lifelong habits of healthy changes is key to losing weight for good.
Diet Question #2: Will it work?
Trendy diets are full of big promises. And many really do work … for a little while. But once the diet ends, research shows the positive results tend to go with it.
One large review study published in the British Medical Journal looked at the results of 14 popular diets. It found that people on these diets lost weight and improved their cholesterol and blood pressure after about six months. But after a year, those improvements had largely disappeared.
Another review found that dieters tend to regain about half of the weight they lost two years after dieting. After five years, they regain about 80 percent.
Despite all the ads and social posts that say otherwise, it is very rare for people to lose weight and keep it off “for good” on a diet. The longer you can maintain healthy changes, the more likely you are to maintain weight loss and other health improvements.
So, if a diet “works” largely depends on how feasible it is for you to stick with it.
Recommended reading: Weight Loss Basics for Older Adults: The SilverSneakers Guide
Diet Question #3: Are there nutritional consequences?
The “rules” of different diets can vary a lot. But one thing many have in common is cutting back on “ultra-processed foods.”
These are things like deli meats, fast food, packaged pastries, and snacks that are often high in added salt, fat, and sugar.
Cutting back on these foods is generally a good idea. They’re linked to all sorts of health problems like obesity and heart disease. A recent study even found that they’re linked to cognitive decline, too.
But many diet programs don’t stop at ultra-processed foods. Some banish other foods from the menu that are much more nutritious, such as whole grains, dairy, and legumes.
Cutting out whole food groups like this can make it hard to plan meals. What’s more, it could make harder for you to meet certain nutrient needs.
For example, if you forgo grains and beans, you’ll be missing out on the fiber they provide. Ditch dairy and you’ll be missing out on a key source of calcium and vitamin D.
Ask yourself: Is it really necessary to cut these foods in the first place? If you do, will you still be able to get all the nutrients you need?
Diet Question #4: Can you do without?
You may be able to give up your favorite “guilty pleasures” for several days or even a handful of weeks. But can you (or you do you want to) give them up for good?
Giving up your favorite foods can leave you feeling deprived. And this can lead to intense cravings for those foods — more than you’d feel if you let yourself enjoy those foods whenever you wanted.
Your attempt to completely forgo baked goods could end up in a day of eating a dozen cookies as your craving intensifies. Not only can this lead to weight regain, but it can also lead to feelings of shame and guilt which is problematic for mental health.
You may find that eliminating your favorite foods just won’t work and could even end up backfiring.
Recommended reading: Stop Yo-Yo Dieting for Good. Your 3-Step Plan
Diet Question #5: Will it teach you how to eat better?
Most “fad diets” aren’t exactly based on healthy eating principles. They tend to take a “slash-and-burn” approach to eating: You’ll make extreme changes to your diet for a short amount of time to get the results you want fast.
When the diet ends, you’re no closer to making a lifelong habit of smarter food choices. In fact, you may find yourself more confused about what’s healthy and what’s not if your diet required you to give up otherwise nutritious foods like grains and dairy.
Look for diets that encourage building healthy, long-term habits instead. Two eating plans that have been well-vetted by health and nutrition experts include the Mediterranean diet and the DASH Diet.
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Diet Question #6: Will it sour your relationship with food?
Does the diet you’re considering have lists of “good” and “bad” foods? Assigning “morality” to foods in this way can impact your mental health and your relationship with food.
You may start feeling shame or guilt when you do eat “bad” foods. Or maybe you’ll start avoiding social gatherings where food is present or feeling anxious when trying to make healthy food choices.
Suddenly, food may feel more like an enemy instead of a helping hand. These are consequences of dieting that rarely get discussed. And the side effects can negatively impact your mental health and your social life.
Recommended reading: Quiz: Do You Have a Healthy Relationship With Food?
What to Do Instead of Dieting
When asking these questions, you may realize that a fad diet is not the right path to improving your health. But what to do instead?
Think about a healthy eating plan that you could live with and enjoy for life. One that works towards your health goals but does so in a sustainable way.
Such an approach may not help you lose 10 pounds before your daughter’s wedding next month. But it will set you up for a lifetime of healthier habits that will be better for you in the long run.
And remember, nutrition isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” concept. The best diet for you will be whatever fits your life. That includes your food preferences, budget, culture, cooking skills, what foods are available to you and more.
If you’re struggling to figure out the right plan for you, talk with a registered dietitian. They can help guide you toward a personalized, sensible eating plan. And, yes, it can have room for both kale and ice cream.
Recommended reading: 10 Things That Can Happen When You Stop Dieting
See our sources
Percent of Americans on a diet: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Study on long-term effects of dieting: British Medical Journal
Review of weight loss maintenance after dieting: The Medical Clinics of North America
Study on ultra-processed foods and brain health: JAMA Neurology
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