5 Diet Traps to Avoid

Can't keep off the weight? Maybe you're caught in a diet trap

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD

About 8 million Americans a year enroll in a weight loss program. All in all, we spend about $30 billion a year on diet products and programs, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. So why can't we keep the weight off? Here, says the FDA, are the 5 common diet traps that trip us up.

1. Eat all you want and still lose weight.

Sounds too good to be true, right? It is. The laws of physics still apply. Your extra weight is energy stored up as fat. To lose weight, more energy has to come out than goes in. Energy is measured in calories. When you move your body, you burn calories. When you eat or drink anything other than noncaloric beverages like water or tea, you take in calories. If you burn more than you take in, you lose weight.

2. I have to starve myself to lose weight.

Very low-calorie diets are dangerous. This should be done only with medical supervision, and only when there is a medical need to lose a lot of weight as fast as possible. Gradual weight loss is much healthier -- and much easier.

3. I have to diet to lose weight.

One diet after another isn't the answer. A consistent plan for a healthier lifestyle lays the groundwork for lasting weight loss.

4. A fad diet worked for my friend.

We all know someone who went on a diet and swears by it. These diets rarely work for long. A sudden change in your eating habits can lead to a pattern of quick weight loss followed by rebound weight gain once you go back to a normal diet.

5. Lose 20 pounds in two weeks!

Early weight loss from fad diets is usually from water loss. The bathroom scale may show that you lost weight, but it is not fat weight. Most experts say that losing a pound a week is an excellent goal. This means eating 500 fewer calories a day. This can be done by learning -- and practicing -- healthy eating habits.

So what should you do if you want to lose weight and keep it off? Follow these sensible steps suggested by the FDA:

  • Talk to a professional. A doctor, a dietician, or another qualified health professional can help you determine your ideal healthy body weight -- and the safest way for you to get there.
  • Eat smaller portions.
  • Eat a wide variety of foods to be sure you're getting the nutrition you need.
  • Eat lots of foods with lots of fiber. These include fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
  • Eat fewer high-fat foods. These include dairy products like cheese, butter, and whole milk; red meat; cakes; and pastries.
  • Exercise for at least 20 minutes at least three times every week.

Originally published July 30, 2003.
Medically updated Aug. 20, 2004.

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