9 Surefire Ways To Sabotage Your Weight Loss

by | Jan 16, 2013

Photo by Tomas Sobek

There are thousands of ways to fail at meeting your health and weight loss goals, but some are so reliable you may as well give up before you start.

If your plan includes any of the following strategies, you may want to reevaluate your tactics.

9 Surefire Ways To Sabotage Your Weight Loss

1. Rely on willpower

Even if you’re one of those people with an iron will, no one can hold out forever. Willpower is notoriously unreliable, and if you’re ever sleepy, hungry, tipsy, grumpy, sad, happy, lazy or all of the above, your weakness will eventually win.

2. Forget the difference between temporary and permanent

Is your goal to fit into a size 4? Almost anyone can get there if they follow a strict enough diet and workout regimen for a set amount of time—the question is, how long do you want to stay there? If your goals are intended to be permanent, your dietary and fitness modifications need to be as well.

3. Start a really hard workout regimen

Having someone kick your ass in boot camp may sound like what you need to get in shape, but how long do you really think you will subject yourself to pain and suffering before you give up on exercise completely? Most people don’t last 2 months.

4. Never learn to eat mindfully

One of the biggest differences between the US and less obese cultures (e.g. France) is our complete and utter lack of food culture. In healthier cultures, meal time is an important event of people gathering to share good food and stories from the day. And with these habits come standards for portion sizes, eating speed and nutritional balance.

Sadly, it’s unlikely the US will suddenly establish a healthy food culture in time to help the majority of the population. But you can get a lot of the benefits yourself by learning to eat mindfully. Mindful eating helps you slow down, savor your food and appreciate each bite. For these reasons it is incredibly effective at helping with portion control–but without any feelings of deprivation.

In our culture, mindful eating is very difficult and takes some practice. It’s hard to slow down when your friends are wolfing down food by the handful. But it is possible. Practice when you’re alone and it will be easier when you’re with friends.

5. Ignore how much you miss your favorite foods

Love ice cream? Can you go your entire life without it? What about 6 months? Or do you just plan to hold out as long as you can before the next inevitable binge? Cold turkey isn’t necessary if you develop a healthy relationship with your favorite treats.

6. Assume that what worked for someone else will work for you

Have a friend who lost a ton of weight on the Atkins diet? Me too. I also have friends who lost weight doing the master cleanse or going vegan. Typically only the ones who make permanent habit changes can maintain it, so a plan that works for someone else will only work for you if you enjoy it and can incorporate it into your life. Everyone is different.

7. Dramatically restrict your eating

Starving is not fun. Nor are cravings. Nor is malnutrition. Limiting your calories to unrealistic lows is a great way to begin the cycle of yo-yo dieting that we all know and love. Enjoy!

8. Don’t find deeper purpose in what and why you eat

This one may sound a bit esoteric, but bear with me. If your goals are to build healthy habits (which they should be), the people who have the most success are those that want to achieve more than a change in their appearance. Vegans believe so deeply that harming animals is wrong that they never stray from their diets. Locavores want to know and trace the source of all their foods. For some people, being told you will die if you do not change your habits is enough.

For myself, it’s good to know that my habits are healthy and effective, but I’ve come to understand that how I eat is a way of life that has deeper political, philosophical and environmental impact than I ever imagined. It’s also super tasty. For inspiration, check out the film Food, Inc. or read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, by Michael Pollan. You won’t regret it.

9. Pick a diet that is super inconvenient

We all have our limits on how far we’ll go to stick to an eating plan. Be sure to know yours. If you’re too busy (or have too many taste buds) to eat a specific combination of foods every 3 hours–I know I couldn’t–then don’t pretend like you can. Pick dietary changes you can handle, the little things do add up if you can maintain them for the long haul.

Have you lost weight and kept it off for years? Tell us how.

Originally published January 19, 2011.

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27 Responses to “9 Surefire Ways To Sabotage Your Weight Loss”

  1. Ken Leebow says:


    That is great advice.

    The only problem: Until you experience what you describe, it’s very difficult to understand and appreciate it.

    In regard to your question: Have you lost weight and kept it off for years? Tell us how … I recommend:

    1. Forget the myth: Eat Less, Exercise More – that implies willpower and deprivation

    2. Never go hungry – if you’re hungry eat!

    3. Related to two above – I believe snacking is the “secret” to permanent weight-loss and lifestyle change. If hungry, have a snack. Of course, not on Skittles, Snickers, or Snackwells.

    4. Identify healthy foods that are tasty and flavorful that will replace the incredibly flavor-potent fast food/junk food.

    5. Be willing to make changes. My favorite saying: Good habits are as addictive as bad habits, and a lot more rewarding. – Harvey MacKay

    As always, thank you for your information.

    Ken Leebow

  2. Alex says:

    Excellent post Darya.

    Here’s my two cents:
    The key to staying at the same weight is understanding your body. Seemingly obvious, yet most people get this horribly wrong over time. Your metabolism will change as you age and as you add/subtract different activities/stressors to your daily life. Your lifestyle at 23 may not be the same at 27, even though your body chemistry hasn’t changed much. You just need to learn how to adjust. A super strict diet and routine for the ‘rest of your life’ isn’t going to work, and then you’ll find yourself wondering what’s going wrong when it’s worked for so long. Your body changes, your life changes, you need to learn how to adjust; both for your goals and your sanity.

    Although not very detailed advice, I hope I helped someone lol.

    – Alex

  3. Jan says:

    I quit smoking, retired, and have lost 40 lbs. so far (was 220). I began by walking everyday for 1/2 hour. After 1 1/2 years, I now walk 1 hour everyday, belong to a gym, work with a trainer 2 times/wk., (expensive but it’s time I did something for ME,) and have several weights to work with at home. Foodwise, I have cut out salt wherever possible, no sugar if possible, only good fats, (olive oil,) and I read all nutrition labels. I have the same breakfast daily: Steel Cut Oats, 1 tsp. cinnamon, dash of nutmeg, 1 banana, 1 slice whole wheat toast with peanutbutter. I eat 3 meals & have 2 or 3 snacks between. I eat lots of fruits & vegetables, try to stick to chicken for meat, and only whole grain bread. I take a multi vitamin and a fish oil cap daily. I drink coffee with meals but I also drink a gallon of water daily, at least. And finally, I keep a food journal. This helps me be more aware of exactly what I’m consuming. I am gradually getting fit and I REALLY feel good!

  4. DK says:

    Bare with you? Nah, I’m not into stripping.

  5. Kristine says:


    I love love love this post, thanks for writing it! All of your points are spot-on. I especially like the one about the deeper purpose in what you eat- sure, I love the taste of ice cream, white bagels and cookies, but because I know what these things do to my body- the inflammation, insulin spike, etc they cause, my desire to eat them is greatly reduced.

    Thanks again,


  6. Chris says:

    Also, 10. Beer

    I kid, I kid. Everything in moderation (including moderation).

  7. Sarah says:

    Thanks for the tips, agreed on all.
    Consideration of where the food has come from has really been on my mind lately. How long ago did it come from there more so. Fish that had been in my freezer for a year was on my dinner plate the other night, a year….dead a year…..yuck.
    The challenge I have found is regionally. I am originally from the NW now living in the south. I tried going vegetarian for a year but was extremely discouraged. People in this area look at you like some kind of freak when you say no meat; they also do not respect the idea and serve it to you anyway. Leaning back toward a raw diet, but realize it is just not practical here. I do what I can. Reading posts like above keep the motivation up, thanks!
    p.s. any of Michael Pollan’s books are wonderful

    • Darya Pino says:

      Sounds rough, but keep up the good work. You certainly don’t need to be vegetarian or raw to be healthy, but yes, freshness is a wonderful thing. Glad to keep you motivated in a place where health isn’t the most popular ideal 🙂

  8. KCCC says:

    1) Make sustainable changes, one step at a time.
    2) Make habit work for you. Use your limited willpower to establish one habit at a time, then you can coast on those habits.
    3) Create a healthy eating environment. Don’t keep junk in the house – do have healthy food. Learn to cook simple meals. Make it an enjoyable social time as much as you can.
    4) Eat satisfying meals, and drop the snacks. (I know, this is controversial. See http://www.nosdiet.com/ for extended rationale. Short form – your body will get used to meals, and reducing “eating opportunities” reduces excess. Plus meal food just tends to be much better for you than snack food.)
    5) Learn to eat mindfully.
    6) Have REALLY GOOD QUALITY treats when you have treats. You’ll eat less and enjoy more. Plus, you’ll become a bit snobby about most ordinary junk food, which is not a bad thing.
    7) Move more. Enjoy food more. Laugh more. Find things to do besides eat. 🙂

  9. Paul Tevis says:

    I appreciate you posting these, Darya. It helped me clarify what’s been working for me.

  10. Charlie says:

    Great post! I really need to learn to eat more slowly. For me, it is more a problem when I eat alone since I don’t speak ;).
    The most important thing for me in a healthy diet is to eat when you are hungry. When you are starving, you have more chances of eating too much!

  11. Andrew says:

    From April of 2010 to August 2010 I have lost 30 pounds. I have lost about 10 more pounds since August. I wrote about how I lost the initial 30 pounds on my blog @ http://www.amongtherealm.com/how-i-lost-30-pounds/

    I am on track to get to my goal weight of 190… I have hit a plateau so I am making a change to my eating habits and that will hopefully knock of the rest. I also have been doing the p90/p90x program since April as well as mixing in as many outdoor activities like biking, hiking and rock climbing.

  12. Hi Darya,

    diet and calorie restriction go together in many people’s minds. But, severe calorie restriction, as you say, is a weight loss saboteur.

    On another note, I think Google updated their Pager Rank and your site is now enjoying a PR5. Correct? Congrats on this!

  13. Elise says:

    My success story started with a endocrine disorder which could lead to diabetes. After gaining forty pounds, graduate school and no caring, my body was way too sluggish. I saw I needed to care. I increased my activity and have found that three meals, two snacks work well (less insulin spikes). My goal is as many fruits and vegetables as possible, whole grain as much as possible, and use portion size as a good guide. A book on eating with hormone issues said it best with the 80/20 rule, eat great 80% of the time and it will work out. My other piece of advice, let your mistakes go. Whatever you ate is in the past and cannot be changed and tomorrow is another day.

    • Rian says:

      I’m glad you mentioned your last point of letting mistakes go. All too often in modern culture people view a slip up in diet as something to feel immense amounts of guilt over and they turn food into an enemy and feed a negative cycle of self blame.

      I eat healthily most of the time and cook at home with fresh and wholesome ingredients, but if I have a time when I eat a little too much junk, I try not to beat myself up over it like I used to. Instead, I view the next meal as my next opportunity to be healthy and nourish my body and that’s what is important. I cannot change the past but I can take charge of what I do next.

  14. Gloria says:

    We decided to stop cooking red meat at home. If we want red meat, we eat it on weekends in a restaurant. At home we have vegetarian dinners most nights of the week, with some chicken or lean pork thrown in here and there. I wish the fish options at my local supermarket were better, as we would then eat far more.

    With regular exercise and these habits, I have been able to lose 30 lbs. My husband has lost 40 lbs. We have not felt deprived at all. Ah! And we still enjoy a piece of chocolate every night 🙂

  15. Rian says:

    Good post, Darya. I’m happy to see a focus on cultivating healthy and satisfying habits and that the notion of severe calorie restriction and deprivation is being challenged. We’re bombarded with far too much of that in daily life.

  16. Andreas says:

    Hey Darya,
    Loved the post and especially your point on eating mindfully. Taking your time to eat is so important. Just as sitting and not eating standing up ready to run.
    Sadly culture over here (Austria) is getting obese too. Despite people over here having a source of good and healthy food around the corner.

  17. Really great post, and right on target for most people. The one thing that’s missing for me is the types of food we’re eating that got us here in the first place (too much fat, too much processed foods, lack of healthy carbs, etc).

    You can’t eat the same things and expect different results.

    I strongly encourage everyone to journal or track your eating habits for two weeks. You will very quickly realize where your problem areas are.

    Use the journal as a tool to get you on the right track! I eat around 1500 calories a day (and I manage to keep my protein, fat, and carbs all up). I’m always full and satisfied, and if I want to, I will snack. I try to keep my snacking healthy, but I’m a sucker for bread and butter…I still journal it. 🙂

  18. Nam Hu says:

    Thanks for the awesome post! I didn’t need to lose weight but had an angioplasty six months ago and adopted a much healthier diet/lifestyle afterwards. If you cross out weight loss and replace it with lifestyle change in the above article it’s perfectly applicable to my situation and will be super helpful in the future.

  19. Jenna says:

    Love this post! Sharing with other. Thanks!

  20. Ted Manner says:

    These are definitely common mistakes made by a lot of people just trying to lose some weight. I am glad there is a place they can find some answers and tips. Thanks for the article.

  21. Lynne says:

    Yes! Success for the last 2 years and counting by eating micro nutrient dense food à la Dr. Fuhrman and many other whole food foodies out there.Great post.

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