All over the world people are following diets to reduce their weight, improve their health or simply to feel better. However, it is common for dieters to end up gaining weight when following a restricted eating plan, an effect that is disheartening and frustrating.
As a general rule if you consume less calories through food than you are burning in exercise and day to day activities you will lose weight. However, in practice it is not always that easy as there are numerous factors that can contribute to the success of a diet even if it theoretically puts you into the negative energy balance needed to lose weight.
Many dieters start an eating regime without a complete knowledge of food and the bodies’ requirements which can lead to simple eating mistakes that result in weight gain rather than the desired loss.
Many diets are also overly restrictive and cut out whole food groups or important nutrients. These types of diets can also lead to weight gain, especially in the long term as they are not maintainable and they can lead to the development of disordered eating habits which alter the way your body functions.
Here are some reasons why your diet may be causing you to gain weight rather than to lose it.
The diet does not result in a negative energy balance.
Eating habits and diets are very personal things and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to weight loss. Many dieters overestimate the amount of calories they burn during exercise or incidental activity and underestimate the amount they are consuming in certain foods. This can mean that even if the diet is followed correctly, weight loss may not occur and in fact you may gain a little.
It is also common for dieters to choose a diet program seen in a magazine or on the internet that provides a certain amount of calories. Whilst this may cause weight loss in some people, there is no guarantee it is the right number of calories for everyone to lose weight. To avoid this trap, see a dietician who can work out an appropriate weight loss diet for you based on your weight, physical activity level and current diet.
Energy requirements change as you lose weight.
Many dieters make the mistake of continuing on the same diet and calorie intake even after they have lost some weight. This can easily stop weight loss and may even cause regain of the lost weight. When the body weighs less it requires less calories to maintain this weight. Thus it may be appropriate to reduce calories further after you have lost some weight.
Very strict diets can change your metabolism
Very low calorie diets can cause your body to go into starvation mode, conserving every calorie that it receives as it is unsure when it will receive more energy. These results in your metabolism slowing down, which means if you slip up and consume more calories or you stop dieting and go back to your original way of eating, weight gain is likely to result. (See also: How to increase your metabolism naturally)
In general it is wise to aim for a small weight loss per week which can be achieved by a calorie deficit of about 500 to 1000 calories per day, rather than an extremely low calorie diet that is impossible to maintain and may end up causing weight gain in the long term.
Overcompensating for exercise
Many dieters also use exercise as a tool to burn more calories and lose weight. This can be very successful; however it is common for exercisers to overestimate the amount of calories they are burning during physical activity.
If exercise is seen as an excuse to eat more this can result in weight gain. Remember that just because you have gone to the gym, it is not an excuse to come home and eat a tub of ice cream. A balance between intake and exercise needs to be found in order to achieve weight loss.
Excess consumption of healthy or low fat foods
Many dieters choose what they perceive to be healthier options when watching their weight. This can lead to weight gain for two reasons, the first being that products that appear to be healthier, such as low fat yogurt, are not always lower in calories than the original product.
Low fat products often contain more sugar than other products to maintain the taste and may even have more calories than the original because of this. Similarly, ‘healthy’ choices on menus such as salads are often laden in dressing or fried croutons meaning they have more calories than a dish that may seem unhealthier.
The second reason healthy food intake can cause weight gain is that when people perceive a food to be healthy they feel they can eat more of it. Remember that if too much of any food, no matter how healthy and nutritious is eaten, it will result in weight gain.
To combat these issues learn to read food labels to determine the true healthiest products and exercise portion control even when eating healthy foods.
Diet foods may cause cravings
Many diet foods contain artificial sweeteners to replace sugar and reduce the calorie content. There has been some suggestion that consuming sweeteners may lead to cravings for sweet foods, as the body expects a sugar hit when something sweet is eaten.
This in turn can lead to increased cravings for sweet or carbohydrate based foods and makes it harder to follow a diet and can result in weight gain if these cravings are given in to.
Erratic eating patterns
Following a restrictive diet can set people up to develop erratic eating patterns that may lead to weight gain. Many dieters skip meals and don’t eat at regular intervals in order to reduce calories; however this can play havoc with the hunger control hormones in the body and lead to overeating due to extreme hunger later on.
It has been suggested that those who eat regular meals tend to lose more weight than those who eat erratically or graze throughout the day.
Setting short term goals
Short term goals set by dieters such as losing weight for a special event can often lead to weight gain in the long term. Generally these people are so focussed on the one event that they do not look to develop lifelong healthy eating habits, but instead go for a quick fix solution that is unsustainable in the long term.
People who follow these short term crash type diets generally gain all the weight back and usually a little extra to go with it.
Food as a reward
Many dieters use food as a reward for sticking to their diet, which is fine if it is an occasional treat, but can lead to weight gain if indulged in too often. It is a much better idea to reward yourself in non food related ways, such as a shopping trip or long hot bath, rather than risk undoing all your hard work and developing food habits that can lead to long term weight gain.
References used in this article