9 Lies You Tell Yourself About Food and Dieting

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, RD, LD, MPH on June 07, 2014
3 min read

Think diets are pure torture? Convinced that eating healthy means depriving yourself? Experts explain how your beliefs about losing weight could be holding you back.

An extra bite here, a snack in the car there …“It’s surprising how often people don’t know exactly what they’re eating,” says Terese Weinstein Katz, PhD, a clinical psychologist who specializes in diet issues. Instead of trusting your gut, start tracking daily calories in a food journal (or on your smartphone). In one study, women who kept a food journal lost up to 6 pounds more than those who didn’t.

“Diets shouldn’t be ‘all or nothing,’” says nutritionist Carolyn Brown, RD. Researchers have found that being too rigid about what you eat leads to food cravings, which can hamper weight loss. “Allow yourself to have a treat meal or dessert once a week, and don’t think of it as cheating,” Brown says. Occasionally indulging yourself will help you stay on track.

“Skipping meals is one of the worst things you can do,” Brown says. Once hunger kicks in -- and it will -- “you’ll overeat, and probably not something healthy.” Missing a meal also puts the brakes on your metabolism. To keep your blood sugar stable and hunger cravings to a minimum, Brown recommends eating breakfast within 2 hours of waking up, then having a healthy snack (like guacamole and carrots, or a small handful of trail mix) or meal every 3-4 hours.

Instead of berating yourself for choosing chocolate cake instead of an apple, show yourself compassion. “We’re more likely to change when we’re kind to ourselves,” Katz says. “Staying sympathetic makes it easier to examine how we can prevent those same setbacks from happening again.”

Actually, the two go hand in hand. Cutting calories will help you shed pounds, and with regular exercise you can keep the weight off, says Alison Massey, RD, director of diabetes education at Mercy Medical Center. “The people who successfully maintain their weight loss beyond a year are the ones who exercise at least 45 minutes most days of the week.”

Going on a diet doesn’t mean putting your life on hold. “The changes you make to your food choices and meal planning should be lifestyle changes that are sustainable,” Massey says. Go ahead and meet friends for dinner. To avoid overindulging: “Research the restaurant ahead of time to find healthy menu options,” Massey says, “and request a to-go box for half your food at the beginning, rather than the end, of your meal.”

Trying to get in shape is nothing to be ashamed of. “Really owning your goals will help you succeed,” Brown says. “Accountability and support are key for weight loss.” Let your friends know your goals, and don’t shy away from admitting when you’ve had a setback. “Sometimes you need other people to cheerlead for you,” Brown says. “Remove the shame and guilt about losing weight, and you’re far more likely to reach your goals.”

True, you don’t want to load up your plate with refined carbs like white bread and cookies. A better choice: complex carbs like those in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, says David Grotto, RD, author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life. “Carbs are [our] main source of energy,” so Grotto says that a better strategy is to monitor your overall calorie intake and include a variety of healthy foods in your diet.

“It’s better to dust yourself off and try again, rather than quit once something’s gone wrong,” Katz says. Setbacks are an inevitable part of dieting. So, next time you’re derailed, think about what habit or thought undermined you. Then plan exactly how you’ll react differently -- and successfully -- next time.