3 Dieting Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

By Guest Author

i-d142ba025aaad3f6b961882da319f0f3-sadscales.jpgAs a nutritionist who was once fat, I have examined the weight issue from every angle. I have worked with thousands of clients in successfully fighting fat and I am now, myself, tiny and fit, a mere fraction of my once fat self.

A big part of the problem is that dieters do nothing to change their mental state. Your body’s set point is created first in your mind. New research in cell biology shows our perceptions activate our genes, health and behavior. You can’t get your body to change without getting your mind on board.

The second problem is low-calorie, low-fat diets slow metabolism, block fat-burning and stimulate appetite, making weight loss more difficult on multiple levels.

Here are three common mistakes:

1. Calorie Counting

Counting calories is one of the biggest dieting mistakes. Research shows low-calorie, low-fat diets not only don’t work, they can make you fatter. The following are results of studies on calorie-restricted diets, including the very first study conducted by Ancel Keys in 1944 with 32 men following a 1600-calorie low-fat diet:*

  • A slowing in metabolism by at least half
  • Depression
  • Apathy, fatigue, lethargy
  • A net gain in percent body fat
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • A startling increase in appetite and cravings
  • A new obsession with food and cooking
  • Overall weight gain

Sound familiar? The body stores fat when insulin levels rise, which results from eating refined carbohydrates, not from eating too many fat calories. Look at any impoverished nation. Adults living on bread, pasta, and sweets tend to be overweight even though they don’t overeat.

2. Weighing In

Pounds lost do not always correlate with inches lost. Some people lose a lot of inches but not many pounds. Muscle weighs more than fat but takes up less space. Isn’t the whole idea to become smaller around? To observe less belly flab? To see leaner, smaller hips? Who cares what the scale says if your jeans are less snug? If you are gaining muscle mass (a healthy process that boosts metabolism), your body is likely getting smaller, but you may not see big result on your scale.

Weighing in creates psychological tension. Watching the scale can make it seem to take forever to see results, creating dissatisfaction that prompts a desire for comfort food for relief. If the scale does drop, nothing feels better than a sweet reward. Watching the scale creates a kind of diet-stress mentality that sets up a desire to eat.

3. Starting the Plan

One of the early signposts to failure is when a client identifies the “start” to her plan. Along with “starting” comes “stopping”. Ever said, I’ll start my diet tomorrow? Or, On Monday? Or, after the holidays?. It is important to be eating the best you can during all of life’s interruptions: holidays (doesn’t everyone give up on holidays?), a job loss, a new job, transitions, kid stress, relationship stress… because life IS all that, right?

Faulty Food Logs
When I ask clients to send me their food log, 98% of the time they say, “Oh, I can’t send it; this week is not typical.” So what I am hearing is 98% of the time things aren’t normal. If you can learn to nourish your body healthfully in any situation, you will master the art of staying healthy forever.

Always make the best choice you can. It may be a half an ice cream sundae, not a full one. It may be a fast food burger, but with no bun. A snack might be a handful of nuts instead of a brownie. Each day choose the most supportive foods available to you. This includes your birthday, holidays, and stressful days. Life is filled with reasons to be “off your diet.” Whether celebrating or stressed, why not eat to feel light and lean rather than fat and lethargic?

Do you want to be slim? Change what you can today. Now. Stop waiting for the right time to start a diet. And throw out your scale and stop counting calories.

*References: The Great Starvation Experiment, by Todd Tucker, 2008, University of Minnesota Press.

About the Author
Linda Prout is the author of Live in the Balance, the Ground-Breaking East-West Nutrition Program. Linda is a recovered overweight binge eater turned healing-gourmet. She speaks to corporations and groups throughout the U.S. You can find her website: www.lindaprout.com


  1. Bob

    Calorie deficit=fat loss=counting calories=weight loss=WINNING MOTIVATION. Dump article here.

  2. Jenn

    As someone who also went from fat to fit, I could not disagree with this article more. The only thing I agree with is that low-fat may not be the answer, and that simple carbs are bad. The number of calories you eat in a day absolutely makes a difference in how much weight you will lose or gain. But you also have to mind where you get them from. “look at any impoverished nation”…sorry but pictures of people living off grains in impoverished nations, they are still thin because they burn more calories than they consume.

    I think the first reason why diets don’t work is because people look at them as diets. As temporary, restricting. It’s not about dieting, its about changing your habits and living a healthy lifestyle. its not about going on a diet, but maintaining a healthy diet. Its about knowing how many calories are in the foods you eat, about knowing how different foods affect your blood sugar and hunger responses, about knowing how to get the best nutrition out of your daily caloric allowance. And its also about knowing that ONE piece of cake or ONE BBQ is not going to make you fat or blow all your hard work.

    I agree about being a slave to the scale, as weight is not the only factor when trying to change your body. But that only really counts when your new eating habits are combined with a workout regimen that is increasing muscle. if all you are doing is eating less calories, you can expect to see most of your results on the scale.

    Overall, really bad, bad article.

  3. Charles

    I think that the mental approach to dieting is really important.

    Many people begin a diet program thinking, “In a couple of weeks I can stop doing this”.

    People go in with the attitude that their healthy choices are only temporary, instead of thinking that they must change the way they eat for the rest of their life.

  4. Susan

    I count calories and weigh myself every day…and I have mixed feelings. I admit I am obsessed, but it’s the only thing that works. I have gotten too strict before and got very cranky and quit…but I view that as part of the greater learning experience – I have reflected a LOT about my whole weight management journey to figure out what works and I’m constantly working to improve my program. For me, it has STARTED with calorie-counting because calories truly are what count for weightloss. I have worked hard to identify the best calorie range for me. My nutrition tracking website (SparkPeople) also gives me info about nutrients, and I’m always trying to eat healthier too! I think the improved mindset comes gradually as you learn more about the process – many responders have said the change in mindset has to come FIRST, and I disagree. First I had to use calorie counting to figure out what to eat. Now I am learning to trust myself in various scenarios to always make the right choice. It is a process!

  5. Linda

    In a bomb calorimeter. NOT in a human body.


    This is a great ebook….check it out!!!

  7. Suzy

    “Calorie counting doesn’t work”? That’s called lying. 500 fewer calories a day = 1 lb lost a week.

  8. James

    I agree 100%, I think it’s irresponsible to tell people counting calories doesn’t help. It’s actually the most important thing. If you create a caloric deficit and maintain it for the long run, you are GOING to lose weight. It’s a fact.

  9. Jess

    I started a diet awhile back just eating more protein, less carbohydrates, cut all the unnecessary super-processed stuff out of my habits and almost immediately felt better. As time went on I realized that I didn’t crave other foods anymore, and given a choice, I wouldn’t choose them. I started realizing that I could do this forever, that this doesn’t feel like dieting anymore. Am in a good place, thanks for the article!