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How to Stay on a Diet

Expert diet tips to keep you from being a diet dropout.
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Will this be the year you lose weight for good, or will you end up a diet dropout? Most dieters start out with great intentions for diet success -- hitting the gym every day and cutting calories to a minimum. But before long, when the results are not fast enough, and maintaining the routine gets tough, they throw in the towel.

Typically, people last about six months on a diet -- even less if the plan is really strict, says Catherine Champagne, PhD, RD, a researcher with Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Center.

"When diet plans differ immensely from previous eating patterns, restrict favorite foods or entire food groups, dieting usually lasts for a much shorter time," she says.

Reasons for Diet Failure

According to the experts, these are the four leading causes of diet dropout:

1.Choosing the Wrong Diet

Choosing a restrictive diet that doesn't fit your lifestyle is a major reason for giving up on weight loss efforts, says Holly Wyatt, MD, Colorado University's program director for obesity research and education. When the diet is too difficult in the first place, sustaining it long term will be almost impossible. Factor in boredom, and all it takes is one misstep to cause a dieter to give up.

"There is no one perfect diet that is the best," says Wyatt. "Instead, look for a sound diet plan that you can live with, day in and day out." It should also allow you to enjoy small portions of your favorite foods.

Diet Success Tip: Diets that work are diets that last. Don't think of your eating plan as a "diet" you can go on and off of. Choose a healthy plan that fits your lifestyle -- one that you can see following for the rest of your life.

Successful losers understand that whether they're trying to lose weight or maintain the lost weight, theirs is a lifestyle of constant vigilance.

"Losing weight and maintaining it is among the most difficult things people can do because it has no end," says Gary Foster, PhD, director of the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University in Philadelphia. "To succeed is to make the vigilance part of a regular lifestyle."

2.Unrealistic Expectations

Failing to lose weight quickly enough is the Achilles heel of most dieters, says Champagne. Weight loss may take longer than anticipated, or your diet may need adjustments along the way.

"Most dieters want to lose large amounts of weight and aren't happy unless they lose 30%-40%" of their body weight, says Wyatt.

When you set the bar unrealistically high, she says, it can feel like you failed when you don't meet your goals. And when you think of yourself as a failure, this can trigger a return to old eating habits.

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