"Hey Jared, How do you know it’s time to give up on a failed diet?"
Putting forth effort into a diet and not seeing the results is an incredibly frustrating feeling I am all too familiar with. To answer this question properly I have to evaluate all of the variables of your situation, or of the situations others may be in as well.
When a diet fails there is always a reason. That reason may be the diet is not set up properly for you, or you are not sticking to your diet as strictly as necessary to see the results. Let's evaluate the diet and look for that real underlying reason, and from there we can decide a course of action.
Is It Self Control?
If the diet is not working because you’re not able to stick to it, that is another problem with the diet (and potentially with your self control). Is the diet too strict? Are you too hungry? Does it not fit your everyday life? Are you trying to force a square peg into a round hole?
For reasons of this blog post, we’ll assume the issue is not self-control. Keep in mind that self-control changes drastically based on circumstances. When you are starving, you’re not going to have a whole lot of self control towards food. On the other hand, if you’re well fed and just ‘craving’ a taste, that is a self control issue. Take a look at my other blog post 'Break The Addiction' for some ideas here.
Is The Diet Too Strict?
Your diet could be too strict in a couple different ways. First, it could be too strict because it eliminates the foods that you enjoy eating and leaves you with something bland and unappetizing. If this is the case, I would go ahead and re-evaluate the diet and potentially switch off. It’s best to recognize something is not working for you and switch it immediately rather than hold on long-term for failure after failure.
Don’t misunderstand me on this one, if you enjoy your food the diet is not too strict. Diets that are too strict are generally eliminating an entire food group like the Ketogenic Diet or a Vegetarian of Vegan diet. These kinds of things can cause more cravings than necessary and make a diet harder than it has to be.
The second way a diet can be too strict is in food volume or calories. A diet that is too low in calories for your energy requirements will kick your hunger and cravings up to 11.
Yes, you may have the ability to withstand this type of diet with sheer willpower, but it’s not the way it should be. Your goal should always be to coerce your body into losing fat, not to force it. Force causes problems - resistance - that will work against you. Coercion means a cooperation from your body (even if threatened by force), one where hunger isn’t overwhelming and energy is not completely depleted.
If you’ve been ‘cheating’ on your diet when you normally have good self-control, you may be going after it a bit too aggressively and need to step it back.
Is The Diet Just Wrong?
Let’s face it, sometimes we try some pretty stupid things for our diets and workouts. If you’re looking at your diet and hoping to see it work but realize you made a mistake even attempting the diet - cut it now and get things right. There is no reason to invest more time and effort into something that isn’t working even if you’ve already invested time into it. That’s a sunk cost fallacy - just because you invested time doesn’t mean it’s worth investing more time in it. Cut it now and start over with something much more reasonable.
If you’re not cheating on your diet, you enjoy the food you’re eating, and it’s nutritionally sound (not some whack-job diet) we have some options to work with here. I would never drop a diet within the first month of trying it out, and rarely would I adjust it within that month unless I am seeing things go in the opposite direction. My adjustments typically are only done every two weeks, but for someone that is naturally ‘leaner’ just wanting to get into better shape the changes every two weeks won’t be nearly as pronounced as someone that needs to lose more weight.
Let's take a closer look at your diet, your habits, and see what you can change up. Many times the problem isn’t your diet, but everything else going on around your diet.
Here are some things to consider and look at:
Are you getting enough sleep? Not getting adequate sleep will kill your weight loss attempts - FAST. When in doubt, sleep more - I bet you’ll see weight start dropping.
Are you allowing yourself too much freedom? A diet that allows a full cheat day is typically too much - especially if your mindset going into that day is to ‘eat like the world is coming to an end.’ If you’re planning cheats, keep them to what a normal meal would be like - not as if you will never taste good food again.
Are you tracking your diet? If not, start. If you don’t have any idea what you’re eating or how many calories it is, it’s pretty hard to adjust it.
Are you tracking macros...incorrectly? Tracking macros is not terribly difficult but can easily get thrown off if you’re not paying close attention to serving sizes, accuracy of labels, or using REAL measuring tools (scale, cups, etc).
If all of those things are in check - you’re the best sleeper known to mankind, eat one cheat meal per week allowing yourself to enjoy the delicacies of Burger King, and tracking your macros like a pro… but the diet still won’t work? We still have a few more options.
Before we drop calories down, check your workouts.
How many times are you working out per week? Can you add more without overextending yourself?
Are you doing cardio? How much cardio are you doing?
The goal is to add extra calorie loss through DOING MORE THINGS. Simply put, moving more can allow you to keep your diet as it is and make progress that has stalled.
Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to your nutritional needs.