A small slip in your diet plan doesn’t mean disaster.
You’re on a diet; you’ve lost a few pounds and your clothes feel looser; you’re fitter and healthier than before. Suddenly a bag of chocolate chip cookies calls to you. You are drawn closer and closer to them and vow to have ‘just one, as a treat’. But soon this turns into two, three, four. You hate yourself for giving in and so decide to polish off the whole bag anyway, because the damage is done. The next day you might feel disappointed, even disgusted with yourself.
This is a common experience when dieting. Diet lapses and relapses are bound to occur and are nothing to be ashamed about. However, when we slip up, many of us have feelings of guilt that can be very stressful and destructive.
One study found that women who attempt to restrict their food intake have higher levels of stress than those who do not. The women in the study produced a high amount of the hormone cortisol (which is released when you are stressed). Too much cortisol can cause serious health problems (for example, bone loss, decreased fertility or heart disease). This study suggested that to enjoy healthy eating – rather than monitoring or restricting food intake (dieting) – is the best way to achieve a healthy weight1.
However, diet stress can build up so much for some people, that they become obsessed with losing weight. They can feel hopeless in general and believe that they will only be happy and successful if they are thin. It might be that they feel too fat even though people say otherwise, and feel ashamed of themselves after eating. Weighing yourself daily and skipping meals are other symptoms of diet overload, which may develop into an eating disorder. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to tell someone (a friend, family member, counselor, doctor) how you are feeling2.
A study at Baylor University, College of Medicine, showed that obese people who used only restrictive dieting to lose weight regained the weight later on, whereas people who only exercised had smaller weight losses but kept the weight off3. However, combining a healthy diet (15% of calories from protein, not more than 30% from fat, and the rest from carbohydrates) and doing around 30 minutes of aerobic exercise three or four times a week is the best way to lose weight and keep the weight off permanently4.
This study also indicated that the occasional slipup isn’t that important; for example, eating badly two or three times a week out of 21 meals, means blundering only 10% of the time – the other 90% you are sticking to your healthy weight loss program, which means you can achieve your target weight just as quickly as someone who has adhered to their diet rigidly5.
McLean JA, Barr SI & Prior JC. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2001: 73(1); 7-12
Thompson C. Eating Disorders Recovery Group, Canada. 1996 http://www.mirror-mirror.org
Skender ML, Goodrick GK. et. al. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 1996: 96, 342-6
Foreyt JP, Goodrick GK. Living Without Dieting: A Revolutionary Guide for Everyone Who Wants to Lose Weight. Warner Books. 1994