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  • Writer's pictureDaniel Rockman

3 factors define whether your weight loss diet will succeed or fail

In my last post, we used a recent study to look at the different types of diets and how they stack up against each other. In the end, the results were pretty underwhelming for weight loss, although all diets have unique benefits and drawbacks.


In the people who did lose weight, the diet showed three consistent factors that directly altered whether the individual would succeed or fail.

3. High quality foods.

This one is a no-brainer, trying to lose weight while eating Maccas makes for a good documentary, but not long-term success. You want foods which are nutrient-rich, and usually food that is not calorie-dense. The less processed a food is, the more likely it is to be of high quality.

Side note: Red meat appears to be a high-quality food - studies in the past have associated high red meat intake with risk of death, but these studies lumped red meat and processed meats together. It appears that processed meats are the real villain due to containing high levels of minced fatty tissue and preservatives like salt (reference). Red meat should still be moderated.

To increase the amount of high-quality food you eat, buy whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, cook your meals at home, create your own sauces and limit the amount of sweet goodies you consume.

2. A negative energy balance.

At the end of the day, gaining weight comes from having more energy than the body can use up, causing it to be stored. Losing weight comes from burning more energy than consumed, causing the stores to be used up.

It is a far more complex topic than just food eaten minus exercise performed, but in its simplest form it comes down to calories in vs calories out.

As long as the diet helps to achieve a negative energy balance, it is more likely to be successful. Some do this through limiting the types of food you eat, through the time that you eat, or through the nutrients you eat. However your particular diet does it, make sure that you are getting a total negative energy balance.

To measure your energy balance, first find out what your estimated basal metabolic rate (BMR) is using this website: BMR calculator . This will give you a rough estimate of how many calories your body needs just to function, as well as an idea of how much exercise affects your daily calorie usage. P.S. Be brutally honest with yourself!

Next, track your calorie intake using one of the many free calorie-tracking apps, my favourite being MyFitnesspal. Calorie tracking can be time-consuming, as for some foods you may need to weigh them, but I highly recommend going through the effort for at least a day to give you a rough idea of how many calories are in different types of food.

Some foods will surprise you!

For example, 200g of carrots contains 82 calories, while 200g of cashew nuts contains 1,104 calories!

My final tip for keeping a negative energy balance is that all of these calorie calculations are rough estimations. They are generalisations and don't take into account all the factors affecting energy balance, like daily variations and hormonal changes. They give you a really good ballpark figure of whether you're over, under or maintaining your calorie intake, but don't treat these numbers as gospel.

And the number one factor for a successful weight-loss diet is...

1. Adherence

That's right, the biggest factor as to whether you are going to succeed or not comes down to whether you can adhere to the diet.

A diet that asks you to eat 1000 calories a day is going to leave you starving and lethargic (for reference - the average daily intake sits around 2000-2500 calories).

Even if you can keep it up for a day, a week, or a month, eventually you are going to crack and the more that diet tells you not to eat anything, the harder it will be not to relapse into old habits once you can no longer follow the strict regime.

Instead, find a diet that you think you can adhere to long-term. Everyone is different, so there is no ideal diet for everyone. The best way to find your ideal, consistent diet is to experiment; don't be afraid to mix and match different popular diets.

Paleo zealots aren't going to scream at you like pterodactyls if you eat starchy vegetables and vegans aren't going to come crawling out of the trees to beat you up if you crack an egg, so feel free to follow diets as closely or as loosely as you like. Reducing the amount of bad food habits you have is still helpful (arguably more so, if it improves your adherence).

On a related note, incorporating cheat days into your diet will actually help weight loss! While eating all those restricted foods you've been craving might seem counter-intuitive, it has been shown to increase adherence, which as we've just discovered, is the most important factor in dieting for weight loss. If you need some ideas, just look at what The Rock does for his cheat days!

Now that you know the three biggest factors that affect the success of your weight-loss diets, you will be better equipped to navigate the treacherous world of dieting.

Remember, if a diet consists of high-quality foods, maintains a negative energy balance and, most importantly, can realistically be adhered to, it is more likely to be successful in helping you lose weight.

Also, when finding new information, do a quick google search to see if your new source is making money off making you believe a certain way. For example, someone selling weight loss tea wants you to believe it will make a big difference to your weight, regardless of the outcome to you.

I hope you found this helpful and remember, if you need individual advice: dietitians exist for a reason.

Stay strong.

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