The first days are easy.
You never get hungry. You look forward to every meal.
The first weeks are a little harder.
You get a few hunger pangs, but it’s not enough to stop you. The scale drops every day.
Something changes after about two weeks.
You’re still getting leaner, but you don’t have the same optimism as before. You’re getting hungry and bored.
Suddenly, getting lean doesn’t seem worth it.
After another two weeks, you’re almost ready to quit. You’ve only lost five or six pounds. Now you feel unmotivated and frustrated.
What happened to your motivation? What changed?
You failed to recognize the early warning signs that your diet was doomed to fail from the start.
Here are five sure-fire signs that you won’t be able to get lean on your current diet.
1. You’re constantly fighting cravings
Everyone has the willpower to resist tasty food for a few days or weeks.
But no one can do it forever.
I didn’t eat dessert for five years. I was tempted to eat junk food hundreds of times, but I never did. Eventually I cracked, like everyone else.
Satisfy your cravings as they arise. Don’t let them build until you can’t control them anymore. It’s far better to have a large slice of cake, even if it’s far more than you planned, than to eat the entire thing later.
There will be times when you have to resist junk food, but that shouldn’t be the norm. Eventually your cravings will win, and you’ll end up fighting problem number two…
2. You’re bingeing, or tempted to binge.
Binge eating is not about willpower.
It’s hard to find a bodybuilder or figure competitor who hasn’t binged at some point. These people train harder and eat better than 99% of the world, yet they struggle with binge eating, too.
Binge eating is usually caused by stress or boredom.
It could be from dividing foods into “good” or “bad.”
It could be caused by eating the same boring meals every day for weeks or months.
Binge eating could also be caused by other problems.
Are you struggling to keep up at work?
Are you fighting with your family?
Are you lonely?
Are you still not sure what you want to do with your life?
I’ve been there too. I started binge eating around the same time I decided I didn’t want to become a professional triathlete, which was a huge decision. I felt like part of me was gone, and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do.
Sometimes, the only way to lose fat is to deal with these problems before you try to get lean.
Instead of fixing these issues, many people focus on the wrong measures of success, like your weight.
3. You only track your weight.
You wake up every morning and step on the scale.
If it’s not lower than it was last week, you’re not happy.
That’s the trap most dieters fall into, and I’m guilty of this as well.
If you want to lose fat, you need to lose weight, but that doesn’t mean you should only focus on the scale.
Weight loss always happens slower than you’d like. Some days you might be five pounds heavier than the day before due to water retention and food weight.
Or, you might have gained some muscle while losing fat, so your weight stays the same.
If you want to lose fat, track more than your weight.
Track your habits.
Track your calorie and macronutrient intake.
Track your workouts.
Take progress pictures.
Have some way to measure your progress besides your weight.
Your weight is like a compass. It tells you the general direction you’re headed, but it doesn’t account for all of the twists and turns you’ll run into while dieting.
4. You’re always hungry.
You’ll never get lean if you’re always hungry.
In The Minnesota Starvation Experiment — where people were forced to diet for six months — one person cut off his own finger to get out of the study. That’s what people will do to eat.
At first you feel proud of yourself for being able to stay hungry for hours. Then, after a few days, you’re ready to eat the squirrels on your windowsill.
If you’re hungry, eat more calories, protein, fat, or fiber.
You may also want to change your meal frequency to something you enjoy more — either eating more or less often until you’re satisfied.
Or you can start planning meals.
5. You aren’t planning meals.
You’ve probably resisted meal planning for years.
You eat the same foods every day, so your meal plan is always the same.
Then you get bored, and you binge or stop dieting. Or, you have no idea how much or what you’re eating, because you aren’t tracking your diet.
Meal planning makes it easy to stay excited about your diet, while eating the right number of calories to lose fat.
You don’t need to plan every meal down to the gram. Set a few rough guidelines, and try a few new recipes every now and then.
You’ll almost never get bored, and you’ll lose fat without thinking about it.
Fail-proof your diet.
Dieting is only as miserable as you make it.
You don’t have to fight cravings. You don’t need to be hungry all of the time.
Often, all you need to do is try a few new meals, address the primary causes of your stress, and track your diet or workouts.
This isn’t easy, but it is simple. If you’ve been struggling to lose fat for years, it’s hard to adjust to a more flexible diet without restricting and bingeing. It’s hard to safely lose weight without ruining your social life and sanity.
If you’d like to try a better approach, read this article to learn more about flexible dieting.