The Diet Detective: Diet Villains

Diet villains are patterns common to many people trying to lose weight.
Sometimes it's difficult to spot a pattern, so I've put together a list of diet villains -- patterns common to many people trying to lose weight. Just as we have preferences for particular styles of entertainment and activity, we also tend to prefer specific dieting styles. I call these styles individual dieting traits (IDTs).

Read the following statements with a notepad in hand, and pick out the ones that sound like something you'd say. Then read below to see which diet villain you're dealing with.

    [A] I'm genetically predisposed to be overweight -- this is my natural size, and I can't change it.
    [B] If I buy low-fat chips, I don't feel bad eating the whole bag.
    [C] I look forward to January, because that's when the latest diets are released.
    [D] I would never start a diet before the holidays, because I know I'm going to binge.
    [E] I try to work out every day, but I never seem to lose weight.
    [F] I oversleep most mornings, so I usually skip breakfast.
    [G] I've been a vegetarian for three years, and I still haven't lost any weight.
    [H] You only live once. Dieting is just a waste of time.
    [I] I'm going to throw out every "bad" food in my house, and I'm never having a doughnut again -- this is my last diet.
    [J] I like diets to give me a strict set of rules so I know exactly what to eat.
    [A] Diets don't work for me, so I might as well eat what I want.
    [B] When I'm dieting, I load up on healthy foods such as granola and wheat bagels.
    [C] I would definitely try any new diet if it meant I could drop the weight fast.
    [D] My New Year's resolution is always, "I'm going to lose weight this year."
    [E] Exercise makes me work up an appetite -- I'm always starving afterward.
    [F] I don't have time to make myself lunch every day. It's easier to buy something fast that I can eat on the run.
    [G] All I eat is fruits, vegetables and nuts -- I don't see why I'm still overweight.
    [H] I had an argument with my husband/wife, plus my boss has been picking on me all day -- I should be allowed to treat myself to a sundae or a handful of cookies.
    [I] I'm going to run and do strength training every day and eat only fruits and veggies.
    [J] When I'm dieting, I try to make my portions small.
    [A] I eat healthful foods all the time -- I must have a slow metabolism.
    [B] I eat frozen yogurt instead of ice cream so I can splurge.
    [C] My friends ask me whatever they want to know about diets, because I've tried them all!
    [D] I'd rather start a diet on a Monday so I can eat what I want over the weekend.
    [E] I think it's OK to treat myself to a candy bar as long as I walk it off later.
    [F] I think I'd work out more if my schedule weren't so crazy this year.
    [G] I only eat organic and healthful fare, so there's no reason for me to be overweight.
    [H] With all the stress I deal with at work I shouldn't have to worry about dieting too.
    [I] I'm opting for the starvation diet -- it has to work!
    [J] I have to keep a constant vigil when I'm dieting -- one wrong food and I blow up.

Mostly A's: Living in denial

You claim you barely eat anything, and you don't understand why you can't lose weight "no matter how little" you eat. But while your meals are small and light (a piece of toast and an egg white for breakfast, a salad for lunch and a chicken breast for dinner), you like to nibble throughout the day -- while cooking, while sitting at the computer, even those free samples at the supermarket.

The fix: Write down every morsel of food or drink you consume in a food diary, or take a picture of it with your camera phone. Most people under-report what they eat by as much as 40 percent.

Mostly B's: The diet food "expert"

You're convinced you can lose weight by eating every, low-calorie, low-fat or low-carb food in the grocery store. As long as the food was a diet food, you figure it's OK. The problem? Low-fat foods are usually high in sugar, and low-sugar foods are usually high in fat. Plus, you eat way too much of them -- without feeling an ounce of guilt because they're "diet" foods.

The fix: No matter what you're eating, pay attention to portions, and don't overindulge. Diet foods are meant to replace foods that you were already eating. They're not meant to be additional.

Mostly C's: The diet groupie

You're always on a new diet -- looking for the latest and the greatest. As soon as you hear about the latest miracle diet, you jump on it. "This is the one -- finally." Plus, that's all you talk about. And while you might lose weight, you also gain it back as soon as you get bored with the diet and realize it "wasn't the one" for you.

The fix: Focus on coming up with strategies that work with your lifestyle and that you can stick to forever. Also, be patient. If you take your diet a little slower -- plan it out detail by detail -- it'll become foolproof and automatic. So you won't just lose the weight, you'll keep it off. Examples: find calorie bargains, walk for a few minutes each day, plan your meals in advance (including restaurant meals).

Mostly D's: I'll start tomorrow dieters

You don't want to start dieting until after some huge upcoming feast or major event, such as Thanksgiving or a birthday bash. However, your calendar is usually so full that tackling your weight is always a long way off.

The fix: If you want to lose weight, you can start anytime -- the sooner, the better.

Mostly E's: The exercise junkie

You work out every single day. You walk, do crunches and even lift weights, but you never lose a pound. You blame bad genes, but the real problem is that you use daily workouts as an excuse to eat whatever you want.

The fix: Working out doesn't give you a get-out-of-jail-free card when you overeat. No matter how much exercise you get in a day, you still need to pay attention to what you're eating and come up with a few diet strategies. If you burn extra calories but compensate by eating extra food, you'll just break even and stay right where you are.

Mostly F's: Just too busy

Between work, spending time with your spouse and kids, housework, parties, friends and everything else you squeeze into a week, you're just too busy to think about dieting -- let alone do it. It's important to lose weight, but look at everything you have to do!

The fix: Eating healthy food doesn't take any more time than eating unhealthy food --you can reach for cut-up vegetables or a piece of fruit just as easily as a can of Pringles. The key here is planning. Figure out what you need to eat healthier and increase your physical activity without creating havoc in your life. Just don't use your crazy schedule as an excuse to put off your diet. If you do, you'll only be cheating yourself out of getting the body you want.

Mostly G's: The health nut

You shop only in health food stores, buy organic, follow a vegetarian diet, take loads of vitamins and preach (to anyone who will listen) about the virtues of eating "healthy." Nevertheless, you're overweight. That's because excessive amounts of any food -- even healthy foods -- will lead to weight gain.

The fix: Don't confuse the concept of eating foods that have health benefits with eating to lose weight. Even if foods are healthy, calories still count.

Mostly H's: It's justifiable dieters

If you're stressed out or going through a tough time in your life, you may feel you're allowed to load up on comfort foods.

The fix: If comfort foods make you put on pounds, they're not going to be very comforting in the long run. Find other ways to relieve stress: exercising, writing down your feelings in a journal, talking to friends/family or a trained therapist or preparing healthy, low-calorie comfort foods.

Mostly I's: The complete overhaul

As soon as you start a diet, you join an expensive fitness center (and never go), buy every diet book (and never read any of them) and fitness video, join a weight-loss support group, rid your house of all junk foods, start getting up at 6 a.m. to walk and eat only rice cakes. Your goal -- lose all the weight in three months -- is to get it over with.

The fix: Trying to do too many things at once doesn't let you put energy and time into any of them. Instead, set realistic goals and have a realistic plan for reaching them --without changing everything about your lifestyle. It's OK to set your goals a little lower. Remember, if you achieve them quickly, you can always set new ones.

Mostly J's: The restrictor

"I'm just not going to eat anything." That's the mantra of the "restrictor." It's all about low-carb, no-carb, low-fat, no-fat or no-something.

The fix: Instead of looking for a miracle diet that'll revamp your whole life with a strict set of rules, focus on making small behavioral changes that you can actually maintain.

CHARLES STUART PLATKIN is a nutrition and public health advocate, author of the bestseller Breaking the Pattern (Plume, 2005), The Diet Detective's Count Down (Simon & Schuster, 2007) and founder of Integrated Wellness Solutions. Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter at

Copyright 2006 by Charles Stuart Platkin

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