Regular exercise and maintaining a healthy balanced diet will always be important components of weight management – but if you are exercising and eating all the right foods and your diet still isn’t working, it may be time to look at other lifestyle factors that could be playing a role, like sleep or hydration. Here are six common reasons your diet isn't working (the first two of which have nothing to do with food).
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DIET FAIL #1: POOR SLEEP HABITS
A whopping 30% of Canadians – including children and adolescents – get less than 6 hours of sleep per night. According to medical experts, that’s simply not enough sleep. What's worse, our poor sleep habits may be causing a lot more damage to our health than most of us realize realize, and contributing to the obesity epidemic. A mounting body of evidence shows that chronic sleep deprivation is bad for brain health, bad for both physical and emotional health, and, not surprisingly, also leads to weight gain. When it comes to weight management, sleep is an important hemostatic modulator and the reduction of sleep significantly decreases both glucose and fat metabolism while also inappropriately increasing appetite, leading to weight gain.
“Sleep plays an important role in regulating the hormones that influence hunger (ghrelin, cortisol, and leptin),” explains Medisys Registered Dietitian Richelle Tabelon, “that’s why sleep deprivation increases appetite and leads to overeating and weight gain.” To read more about sleep health, click here.
DIET FAIL #2: INSUFFICIENT HYDRATION
Drink more water, yeah yeah, we’ve heard it a thousand times. How much water you drink matters, a lot. Sufficient hydration helps regulate hunger because your metabolism is directly linked to water consumption. Carbohydrates are broken into their component molecules by water through a process called hydrolysis. As such, insufficient water intake – regardless of what diet you are on – can result in slowed metabolism and lead to weight gain. In fact, one study found that drinking more water helped boost healthy men and women’s metabolic rate by nearly 30%.
DIET FAIL #3: CONSUMING “ADDICTIVE” FOODS
Accumulating evidence has documented neurobiological and behavioural similarities between compulsive overeating and psychoactive drug dependence, leading researchers to use the term “food addiction” to describe this pattern of overeating. Studies suggest that not all foods are equally implicated in addictive-like eating behavior. Processed foods, that are both high in fat and glycemic load or foods that are high in sugar, are the most “addictive” – meaning they share pharmacokinetic properties (e.g. concentrated dose, rapid rate of absorption) with drugs of abuse. Even people who aren’t overweight or obese can be addicted to food, or have an unhealthy relationship with food. While all diets that result in a Calorie deficit (Calories burned exceed Calories consumed) will lead to weight loss – diets that include more highly processed, high sugar foods are a lot more difficult to stick to, click hereto learn more.
DIET FAIL #4: BEING DECEIVED BY HEALTHY-LOOKING MEALS
That really healthy-looking goat cheese and cranberry quinoa salad at your favourite lunch spot may actually pack a lot more Calories, carbohydrates, or sugar than you bargained for. Many restaurants fill their takeout boxes with rice, quinoa, or other grain product portions that are SIX to EIGHT times larger than the grain serving size recommended by the Canada Food Guide. One “serving” of grain products should be about half a cup, cooked. If you are curious how many servings of grain products are in your takeout order, pack a measuring cup in your brief case and do some detective work. To discover which “healthy” takeout meals contain more carbs than half a loaf of bread, check out our carb comparison guide.
Green salads are always a safe bet though, right? Not always. We’ve analyzed the nutrition content of several popular salads at leading Canadian restaurant chains and found some salads with more sugar than three slices of your average banana cream pie! When ordering takeout, or when dining at a restaurant, green salads and grain salads (made with 1-2 servings of whole grains) are often a healthy choice. However, just because something looks healthy doesn’t mean it is low in Calories or low in sugar. When it comes to takeout orders, be mindful of grain portion sizes, and be weary of salads that are loaded with dried fruit, candied nuts, glazed or battered proteins, and sweet dressings. Looking for a healthy boost? Try our free 30 day no-sugar challenge.
DIET FAIL #5: TREATING FRUITS AND VEGETABLES LIKE EQUALS
Up to 80% of Canadians aren’t getting enough of the health-promoting, disease-fighting phytonutrients found in colorful fruits and vegetables. You should be eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables from each colour group (eg. green, red, white, yellow, purple) every day, for a total of about 7-10 servings daily servings. One serving is about 1/2 cup of chopped raw fruit or vegetables, or one whole small fruit such as an apricot or a peach. However, just because fruit is good for you doesn’t mean you should eat the whole case of nectarines in a day. Fruits are higher in naturally-occurring sugars, and as such, can be thought of as any other healthy carbohydrate source. If you are trying to manage your weight, it’s important to focus on eating more vegetables than fruit. Consider this: one cup of chopped whole fruit contains about 120 Calories, whereas a cup of chopped green veggies contains about 10 Calories. Of your daily recommended fruit and vegetable servings, aim for a split of 70:30 vegetables to fruit. Fruit is chalk full of disease-fighting compounds, vitamins, and minerals, so when you eat fruit you should feel good about it. However, often dieters treat healthy food like fruit as a “free food”. Fruit isn't a "free food" the same way celery, lettuce, collard greens, cucumbers, or other low-Calorie veggies may be. As a rule, before adding anything else to your plate at lunch and dinner, fill half of it with veggies.
DIET FAIL #6: FASTING
You may have fasted in the past and had short term success, but for most people, extreme dieting and fasts don't work as a healthy, sustainable weight management solution. In fact, fasting is often counterproductive. You might lose some weight at first but then gain more weight in the days or weeks following the fast. For more information on fasting, click here. This is because starvation diets tap into evolutionary biological mechanisms that used to kick in when food was scarce. “During famine, our bodies respond to lower calorie intakes by slowing down the metabolism to not burn as much energy” says Dr. Farrell Cahill, Director of Research at Medisys Health Group. “Our bodies are regulated by a delicate balance of hormones and that balance gets disturbed when you starve yourself,” he continues.
"YOUR DIET PROBABLY ISN'T WORKING BECAUSE, WELL, IT'S A DIET. STOP GOING ON DIETS. INSTEAD, FOCUS ON LONG-TERM, SUSTAINABLE, HEALTHY LIFESTYLE CHANGES THAT YOU CAN COMMIT TO FOR GOOD".
- DR. FARRELL CAHILL, RESEARCH LEAD, MEDISYS HEALTH GROUP
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