Becoming Your Own Diet Detective

by Charles Platkin, PhD

The “” reports that more than 90 percent of “successful losers” have previously failed in their efforts to lose weight. Many reported having lost and regained the weight — up to nearly 270 pounds — several times before they finally mastered permanent weight loss.

Unfortunately, recent research in the “International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders” indicates that yo-yo dieters actually gain more weight over time. And research in the “Journal of the American Dietetic Association” found possible immune effects resulting from long-term, frequent weight cycling.

But don’t give up! “It’s never too late to try again to lose and control your weight,” says Alison Field, Sc.D., an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. The fact is, the more often you try and fail to lose weight, the greater chance you have of succeeding the next time.

I know what you’re thinking: “If failing is the key to losing weight, I should be in perfect shape right now.” But it’s not quite that simple. You also have to do something with the information you’ve collected about yourself from those unsuccessful attempts in order to break the pattern of previous disappointments.

“Individuals struggling with weight control can benefit significantly by reviewing issues that contributed to their weight gain and strategies that helped them succeed in the past,” says Vincent Pera Jr., M.D., medical director of the Weight Management Program at the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I.

This is your chance to stop repeating your personal history and win the final battle of the diet war. Here are a few tips to help you take a look back — not to find fault or blame with past diets, but to see what you can learn from them.

Ever heard the expression, “You have to be in it to win it?” Well, if you don’t keep trying to lose and control your weight, you probably won’t get results. “Research shows that most people don’t maintain their weight loss on the first few attempts — that’s why an individual needs to keep trying, making small, effective changes that will last,” says Diane Berry, Ph.D., author of a Yale School of Nursing study examining women who successfully maintained their weight loss.

Many yo-yo dieters “fall off the wagon” when faced with stressful situations. “For instance, someone could lose a significant amount of weight and then experience a major event such as a divorce, the death of a spouse or the loss of a job, which often triggers weight regain,” says Pera. If you don’t want this to happen to you, make sure you have a “major event” plan in place. In other words, mentally rehearse what you would do in terms of weight control if faced with such a situation so you won’t regain the weight.

“About 30 to 40 percent of the success of controlling weight has to do with the review and analysis of past dieting experiences,” says Pera. You probably learned something from every diet you’ve been on. It’s up to you to find out what you gained from all that hard work.

For instance, from Atkins you might have found that you didn’t need two slices of bread to feel satisfied with a sandwich: Just the meat and veggies, wrapped in a lettuce leaf, were satisfying on their own. From South Beach you might have learned about good carbs versus bad carbs. Maybe Weight Watchers helped you realize that surrounding yourself with supportive people keeps you motivated. Or with Jenny Craig you might have learned portion control by eating the prepared foods offered by the program.

Your best bet is to write down everything you’ve learned from your past successes and go through the list carefully. Then hold on to those facts, attitudes and behaviors to keep the weight off.

Many people who have lost and then regained weight feel disconnected from what has worked for them in the past. “The skills you learned to help create and maintain your weight in the past are often blocked,” says Pera. He recommends taking very small steps to help you reconnect with your successful dieting self. He warns against overwhelming yourself with a crash, all-or-nothing diet.

When looking at your past, keep in mind that it’s not unusual to camouflage certain unpleasant or unflattering details or truths about yourself. An honest and uninhibited look at your history is a courageous and potentially healing act that will ultimately change your future for the better.

“Don’t be ashamed of your failures,” offers Pera. Keep an open mind. Think of the strategies that didn’t work when you tried to lose weight in the past. By looking at the failures, you learn what NOT to repeat.

For instance, you might have had the following situation: “All the dieting gurus told me, ‘Don’t deprive yourself.’ Well, I didn’t deprive myself. Whenever I had a desire for cookies, I would eat them. I would try having just one, but I simply couldn’t stop myself. I put on 10 pounds following the ‘don’t deprive yourself’ diet. I realized I went too far.”

Make sure to ask yourself: Why didn’t these strategies work, and what have I learned from them?

The past may be behind you, but thinking about and analyzing what happened is the key to your dieting future.

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