Despite what many think, weight loss is not always about intense restriction and rigidity, but rather finding ways to better control food intake while adjusting meals to be more appropriate for your goals.
Even though many people think drastic change is required, doing so will make weight loss much more difficult and certainly not enjoyable.
Finding ways to mitigate this difficulty is of the utmost importance for an effective diet.
In this article, I’ll touch on some key methods I’ve used with thousands of clients over the years to ensure meaningful weight loss that is actually enjoyable and sustainable.
Start With A Modest Reduction Of Calories
It’s no mystery that in order to succeed with an effective diet, you’ll need to restrict calories one way or another, whether by directly reducing the calories you consume or inadvertently via increasing the quality of the food you consume.
This is due to the theory of energy balance, stating that to lose body weight, you need to expend more calories than you consume, creating a negative energy balance1.Unfortunately however, many people jump the gun and create far too large a calorie deficit than they need, creating immense hunger and the temptation to quit before any meaningful body changes have occurred.
Further, often times when this occurs, weight loss comes to a screeching halt, soon after beginning, leaving the person with no additional calories to restrict and no additional weight loss.
Rather than cutting your calorie intake in half, start with a meaningful yet modest reduction of calories coming in at around 20% of your total calorie intake. For example, a person regularly consuming 2000 calories should reduce to around 1600-1700 calories per day.
This is in contrast to how many people begin dieting by drastically restricting calories right from the start.Rather than restricting all of your calories at once, dial it back by restricting only around 20% of calories and then reducing further once weight loss plateaus. Using this amount will allow for meaningful weight loss, yet provide you with more calories to restrict, once weight loss plateaus.
Eat Similar To Your Current Eating Habits
In the fitness world, there are literally hundreds of difference dieting approaches, all claiming to provide the same result. Some focus on restricting carbohydrates while others focus on increasing dietary fats.
Regardless, it’s important to remember that the most effective diet is one that you’ll be willing to remain consistent with, while actually enjoying yourself.
Since a diet’s effectiveness depends on your ability to actually stick with it, it’s always suggested to closely match your current habits as exactly as possible so that changing slightly to adhere to the diet will be easy and effective.
I’ve often been baffled by the amount of people who, for example, love to eat carbohydrates, yet opt for a low-carb ketogenic style of dieting. Sure, a low carb based diet will be effective but if you’re constantly craving carbs, it could be a recipe for disaster in the long term.
Rather than completely uprooting your eating habits, try to find ways to restrict calorie intake, but do so in ways that allow you to continue eating close to normal. Doing so will make the process more enjoyable and it will also be more likely that you’ll actually stick to it.
Avoid Intense Restriction
Many people’s first line of action when attempting to lose weight is intense restriction of certain foods they believe is the reason for their weight gain. Popular substances falling into this category include soda, carbohydrates and surprisingly, even healthy food groups such as dairy.
Unfortunately, while this technique may provide initial weight loss, eventually people cave in and so begin to consume these products again, often times in ridiculous amounts.
The problem with this approach to weight loss is that it’s just simply not sustainable and often times results in feelings of guilt, immense temptation and eventually bingeing.
As mentioned above, energy balance is the most important factor in fat loss. While restricting consumption of food can certainly help shift the tide in the favor of weight loss, that doesn’t mean that you need to totally restrict consumption.
For example, reducing full calorie soda is probably a great idea for weight loss and is often times a first step for many when losing weight. However, consider for a moment that many sodas have calorie free versions.
In this case, simply switching from full-calorie soda to a calorie free version will provide the necessary reduction of calories, yet still allow for consumption of soda.
This is without mentioning that some research actually indicates that consuming sugar free beverages may actually be more effective for weight loss than simply drinking water alone! By switching the type of soda being consumed, you’ll allow for substances you enjoy while continuing to eliminate the unnecessary calories2.
Further, while restricting carbohydrates may be an effective path for reducing bodyweight, it’s not a requirement. Restricting carbohydrates completely is not advised unless you’re planning to use a ketogenic style of dieting.
If you enjoy certain substances, which are calorically dense, first try to find ways to reduce their caloric impact, rather than assuming you need to completely restrict them. Doing so will allow for more compliance to the diet, while making the diet actually enjoyable.
Make Even Cheat Meals Beneficial
When dieting, many people take an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to the foods that are being eaten. Many times, I’ve seen clients slip up on their diet and decide to abandon the process entirely.
Unfortunately for them, dieting doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing approach. Rather, it’s a journey with some good days and some bad.
Instead of guilting yourself for having a less than optimal meal and abandoning the diet, I suggest structuring your meals according to importance, ensuring that even "cheat meals" are actually beneficial.
Let me paint an example for you.
Let’s say you are interested in having some pizza for dinner. Normally, people would just consume five or six pieces and call it a meal. However, if your goal is to improve body composition, this is certainly not an optimal meal.
Rather than just eating the pizza, I suggest having a small, decent meal just prior to consuming the pizza, comprised of protein and some form of fiber, such as from a salad.
By consuming these ingredients first, you’re turning a terrible meal (in terms of benefit) into one that is actually fairly well rounded, comprised of protein, fiber and of course carbohydrate and fat, as opposed to a meal of just carbohydrate and fat (pizza).
Further, by consuming protein and fiber first, it’s likely you’ll consume less pizza, potentially going from five to six pieces to only two to three.
Instead of casting judgment to the wind when it comes to more delectable foods, consume ingredients you need first and then consume the cheat meal ingredients. You’ll turn a subpar meal into a halfway decent one.
Take Regular Diet Breaks
A big mistake many make with dieting is constantly restricting calories for long periods of time.
When you first begin dieting and restricting calories, you’re burning more calories than you consume, since your metabolic rate is still fairly high. Unfortunately however, as a survival mechanism, your metabolic rate eventually adapts, bringing weight loss to a halt.
From here, more restriction is required and eventually, this can create bad habits with no end in sight.
Rather than constantly restricting calories all the time, I suggest taking regular breaks, using what are known as refeeds to provide a break for both your metabolism as well as your psychology, since dieting can often be stressful.
By taking regular breaks from dieting where you increase calories to a normal level, you in essence give your metabolism a break, ensuring that it doesn’t adapt to the new, lower calorie intake. Not to mention, consuming larger amounts of calories occasionally will provide a much-needed break, mentally.
This isn’t just opinion either, recent research actually suggests that regular breaks from calorie restriction may be more beneficial than constantly restricting3,4,5.
When implementing this strategy, I suggest taking a break under two circumstances. First, if you find that weight loss has plateaued for multiple days, it might be time to take a short break from restricting calories. Second, it’s still recommended to take a break in the range of 3-6 weeks after beginning.
If weight loss is still occurring, taking a break may not be necessary, but it’s always prudent to try to be ahead of the curve. If you find that weight loss is starting to slow, it may be a good idea to consider taking a short break.
By taking regular breaks from calorie restriction, you’ll avoid metabolic adaptation while giving yourself a much-needed break from the gripes of dieting.
How To Build A More Enjoyable & Sustainable Diet
Dieting can sometimes feel difficult, restrictive and quite frankly, a burden. However, it doesn’t need to be that way.
Many of the common pitfalls people make when dieting can be avoided by finding ways to slightly adjust your current lifestyle habits, rather than radically adjusting them under the pretense that doing so will lead to weight loss.
By using these techniques, you should be on the path to a more enjoyable and sustainable dieting approach that actually works, and will do so in no time.
This article originated at and can be found at the following:
- Spiegelman, B. M., & Flier, J. S. (2001). Obesity and the regulation of energy balance. Cell, 104(4), 531-543.
- Peters, J. C., Beck, J., Cardel, M., Wyatt, H. R., Foster, G. D., Pan, Z., … Hill, J. O. (2016). The effects of water and non-nutritive sweetened beverages on weight loss and weight maintenance: A randomized clinical trial. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 24(2), 297–304.
- Arguin, Hélene, et al. "Short-and long-term effects of continuous versus intermittent restrictive diet approaches on body composition and the metabolic profile in overweight and obese postmenopausal women: a pilot study." Menopause 19.8 (2012): 870-876.
- Byrne, et al. "Intermittent energy restriction improves weight loss efficiency in obese men: the MATADOR study." Int J Obes (Lond). Aug 17 (2017) [Epub ahead of print].
- Keogh, Jennifer Beatrice, et al. "Effects of intermittent compared to continuous energy restriction on short‐term weight loss and long‐term weight loss maintenance." Clinical obesity 4.3 (2014): 150-156.