I have had hundreds of clients over the years that I have designed diets for that have lost weight. However, when I first began this dieting endeavor, I took too tough of an approach with people. I was expecting everyone to just jump right into hardcore dieting where they go low carb right away and do hours of cardio and then reach all of their goals with no glitches whatsoever.
But after doing it for a few years, even with dedicated, elite athletes, I realized that although folks stuck to the plan for a while, they soon fell off, and when they did, they fell off hard. Sometimes they gained the weight back and sometimes gained more weight than when they started! I came to the conclusion that the best way to look at all of this was to see it as a lifetime commitment, and I had to find a way for people to not look at the diet as a huge sacrifice, but rather as something that can change their life if they just stick with it, if they just gave it a chance. They needed to be confident that the small changes that they see in the mirror or the scale are changes that, with consistency, lead to permanent weight loss. With that being said, I came up with ten important factors that I have learned about dieting success over the years.
- Start slowly. There is no reason to come out of the gate like gangbusters if the client quits after a week when the going got too tough too soon. I have written about the Kaizen Method before, the method where the person makes small, relatively easy changes that turn into habits that last a lifetime. And this is important, because it allows habits to develop and for the person to gain confidence in themselves, which may be the most important attribute to develop of all.
- All diets work. Whether it's low carb, high carb, intermittent fasting, or the myriad of other diets out there, they all have something in common, and that is reduced calories. I have always done well on the lower carb, higher fat way of eating, but not everyone does. High fat keeps me satiated longer, and I seem to function better on that type of diet, my cognitive function and energy is better on it. On higher carb diets, like one that is rice and chicken based, for example, I seem hungry immediately after eating. But for others, the high carb diet works great and on high fat, they feel nauseous and don't get a pump when they train. So I had to learn that EVERYONE is different and responds differently to diets.
- There is a big difference between performance based diets and diets for people who just want to lose weight. If the person is a competitive sport athlete or an athlete involved in weight training based activities like bodybuilding, weightlifting or powerlifting or is just a person interested in maximizing muscle size and strength, their diets would be different than someone who just wants to see the numbers on the scale go down. Just seeing the scale numbers go down is easier than keeping muscle while getting lean. For someone who just wants to lose weight, the diet can be just reduced calories, because they aren't concerned with losing muscle while dieting. The people that I train need more protein than the average person to allow them to keep their muscle while dieting.
- Find a diet that someone can live with that fits their lifestyle. This is important because everyone's lifestyle is different. If the person is a salesperson who has to attend cocktail parties on a regular basis or has to entertain clients at dinners, it may be unreasonable to have them stay on a high fat diet or even a special diet. In that case, I have them make the best possible choices available to them. For instance, drinking a light beer instead of a fruity, sugar laden cocktail. Or having one slice of cake to be social instead of a bunch of desserts that will sabotage the diet. It’s key to have a diet for them that allows flexibility. In those cases, I'd have them look at the day when they knew that the dinner was coming, and have them eat mostly protein and low carb during the day, planning for the influx of carbs and or “bad food” at night. That way, the damage would be minimal if any damage occurred at all.
- The scale is not the end all be all. Usually, folks will lose a bunch of weight right away, especially if they have a lot of weight to lose, sometimes up to 10 pounds, with much of it being water, but still the weight on the scale is dropping. After the initial weight loss, if someone loses 2 pounds a week, that's great! A big challenge to the client's mental state is when they don't lose weight for a week or two, to get them to understand that they are probably gaining muscle also, and it's not only the scale that matters, but how they look in the mirror, how their waist is reducing, how their clothes feel different when they put them on.
- Be accountable to someone. I have always had my clients who were dieting check in with me, to give me a synopsis of their diet weekly, and sometimes daily. This can make the person think twice before they cheat on their diet, knowing that someone is out there who they are accountable to, who they may disappoint if they blow it.
- Don't be too hard on yourself. If the client blows their diet, one of the most common things that they say to themselves is, “Oh, now I blew it, I might as well just keep cheating,” which then puts the person way behind. Instead, if they eat something not on their diet, I'd tell them “It’s over, let it go, now get back on for the very next meal.” And again, the emphasis should be on the diet lasting a lifetime, and that one bad meal will not ruin all the work that they have put in.
- Embrace being different. Many times I will appeal to the clients being special, different from the “masses''. I tell them how special they are, eating right and exercising and taking pride in their appearance. How they are different from everyone who is sitting in line at Burger King, waiting to get worse, while they are preparing their food daily, striving to always get better.
- Ignore the naysayers. One thing that I have noticed is that when some of my clients have had dieting success, their families and friends try to sabotage them! They make comments such as, “Oh, you can have just one doughnut.” or “Why do you want to lose all that weight anyway?” It’s the craziest thing when it happens. Maybe it's because of jealousy or envy, but sometimes it happens. Maybe they hate the weakness in themselves and seeing their relative or friends' success reminds the person just how weak that they are when it comes to dieting. Whatever the reason, I always prepare my clients so that it can happen to them.
- You can do it! Whatever happens, whatever bad dieting days that you have, just keep going. A bad day, a bad week, even a bad month does not mean that you will fail. Tell yourself that you will not fail, and that you are special and that if you just give it time, and love yourself no matter how hard it gets, you can do it. You can do it because millions of others have done it and they are no different than you are, they are just people. Sometimes you may get hungry and want to quit. Don’t do it. The next morning, you will be mad at yourself. Picture how you will look when you reach your physique goals. Visualize your success, and be the success that you were meant to be.
About The Author
Jim Steel has been immersed in athletics and the Iron Game for most of his life. He has been a college football player and coach, powerlifter, Muay Thai fighter and is currently a competitive bodybuilder. In 1999, Steel was named Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania, and moved up to Head Strength and Conditioning Coordinator in 2004. He is the owner of the blog basbarbell.com, and is a motivational speaker, frequent podcast guest and the author of two books, Basbarbell Book of Programs and Steel Reflections. Steel is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association.