A New Diet Isn't The Solution To An Old Diet Not Working

By Amber Thome

That last diet didn’t go well, so you doubled down on your efforts and committed to another one — a stricter one — and that one didn’t go so well, either. So you’re trying again, with a different diet, but by now you’re feeling frustrated and disappointed… in the diet, in yourself.

Does this sound familiar?

Hey, we get it. Many of us at Girls Gone Strong have been in that same spot, trying temporary nutritional fixes to help us reach our goals, only to wind up “failing” at one set of dietary rules after another, unable to stick it out for the specified time period. When those rules don’t fit our lifestyle and are too difficult to follow long term, it’s tempting to jump head first into another diet trend, hoping to find something that works.

While you may simply be trying to find a way of eating that aligns with your preferences and your lifestyle, jumping from one set of rules to another, over and over again, is at best a misguided approach that usually won’t lead to the desired outcome.

Is your diet really working for you?

For starters, the term “diet” implies that there’s a temporary timeline associated with that particular approach. It’s OK to have temporary performance, fat loss, hypertrophy, or any other goals that require you to change your nutrition, and there’s a time and place when the best approach is to adhere to some stricter guidelines to help you achieve results. However, if you’re looking for a sustainable way of eating that pleases your palate and enhances your physique over the long haul, serial attempts to find the next best diet that promises to make you lean and healthy aren’t going to be the most effective approach.

Yet, this is a common misstep for so many women. Instead of examining whether something is truly helpful or not, sustainable or not, they throw out the entire approach and claim that it “didn’t work” or that they “failed,” with an eye already turned toward another diet to try. Without careful evaluation of your current nutrition, what’s helpful about a diet, what’s not, and what your individual needs are, it’s hard to know if a particular approach is right for you.

If you’re finding yourself in this kind of cycle, let’s talk about how to critically assess what’s going on. Thinking about your current situation, your goals, and the diet you’re following, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What are your nutritional needs (accounting for many lifestyle factors like activity and stress level)?
  2. What strategies from this diet are really helpful?
  3. What about this diet is completely not working for you?

Chances are, sustainability makes the top of the list of things that aren’t working. Are you currently eating in a way that you can comfortably and confidently continue to do? In our experience as Girls Gone Strong coaches, most women who come to us want to learn how to eat in a way that’s enjoyable, keeps them healthy, fuels performance in life and in the gym, and helps them get results and maintain them long-term. That’s why we encourage eating in a way that helps you achieve and maintain your results way past a 21-day shred or 30-day detox.

Rules Aren’t Always The Solution

We want you to feel completely independent to make your own nutrition choices, regardless of your circumstances, instead of relying on a meal plan, a macronutrient breakdown, or a strict set of rules. When it comes to how we eat, rules often have a way of hurting more than helping. What do most of us want when something is off limits? Exactly that thing.

Sure, having a set of guidelines can definitely help you stay on track toward long-term health and fitness goals and allows you to gather information about what’s helpful for you, but when some arbitrary rule keeps you from feeling satisfied, nourished, and happy with what you’ve eaten, how helpful is it really? Ideally, rules shouldn’t govern the way you eat unless you have a medical condition, food sensitivity, or specific nutritional need for which eating a particular food could lead to a harmful outcome.

That said, it does take time, attention, and effort to learn which foods help you feel your best, as well as how to reduce your intake of foods that make you feel less than stellar. It takes constant mental and emotional attention to investigate and evaluate whether something is working for you. Many people who start one diet after another usually aren’t taking time to understand what other investments (like time, emotional attention, energy, and mental focus) are required to truly evaluate whether or not something has the potential to be very useful for them. They may claim the whole approach “didn’t work” and move on without carrying forward any helpful strategies they’ve learned and healthy habits they’ve cultivated.

Part of this also has to do with how common the black-and-white, all-or-nothing mentality is when it comes to nutrition. Follow the rules, or fail.

Avoid Creating Habits of Failure

Because most diets don’t set you up for long-term success, jumping from diet to diet tends to create habits of failure. This is disastrous for mindset and quickly drains willpower.

In this habit loop, you may try a new diet but can’t stick to the rigid guidelines for long. As a result, you “fail” before officially completing the diet and end up feeling badly about yourself, your lack of willpower, and your inability to get results. This experience continues to provide a stream of “evidence” that shows that you’ve failed every diet you’ve attempted, and you deem yourself unworthy of feeling healthy, strong, and confident in your body because you just can’t stick to the rules. “Failing” becomes the easy, practiced behavior and perspective. “Failing” becomes the automatic choice, which is constantly reinforced with every jump to a new approach.

From Following Rules To A Lifestyle of Good Habits

1. Change begins with your vocabulary and your perspective.

How you talk and what you choose to see about yourself and your experiences can lead to big changes. Substitute the word “learning” for “failing,” as long as you’re willing to do some thoughtful inquiry. “I learned” is much more powerful and builds more confidence than “I failed.”

“I failed” implies that you didn’t measure up to some expectation and settled. Girls Gone Strong wants you to thrive, and not settle for anything less than what you deserve. So, the next time you try a new nutrition approach, ask yourself what you learned and what you can carry forward into the future, even if the overall approach wasn’t right for you. Continually learning and evaluating shifts your mindset in a positive way and allows you to cultivate a habit of success by pulling forward the positive or helpful things you’ve learned, even when things don’t pan out exactly as you’d like. Instead of getting down on yourself, celebrate the wins, large or small, that you did have with that approach.

2. Build a solid foundation.

Many diets focus on nuanced intricacies of nutrition and pay little attention to whether or not the person following the diet has solid nutrition habits in place to begin with. Focusing on the “big rocks” can pay dividends and allow you to notice which nutritional nuances are helpful for you, or not.

These big rocks should make up the foundation of your nutrition plan and include things like:

  • eating a palm-sized serving of protein at each main meal
  • filling one-third to one-half of your plate with veggies at each meal
  • eating a thumb-sized portion of dietary fat at each meal
  • eating the type and amount of carbohydrates that leave you feeling energized and satisfied
  • drinking enough water throughout the day

Focusing on these big rocks consistently over time will help you understand your true nutritional needs and can give you a baseline understanding of what works for you. If you’re constantly changing everything about your nutrition, how will you ever know what you truly need? Take an opportunity to slowly improve your nutritional big rocks before jumping into another diet. Adjust your timeline so that you’re only focusing on one change at a time, which allows you to successfully strengthen one habit at a time, and builds your confidence in your ability to make healthy choices.

Once the big rocks are in place, you can tinker around with the number of meals, meal timing, serving sizes, and types of each food that work best for you. This also gives you feedback about whether or not a diet may be helpful for you before you even begin. For example, if a diet calls for taking out all saturated fats like those in higher fat meats like steak, butter, and coconut oil, but your big rocks are in place and you already know that including those types of foods in your diet make you feel good, perform well, and leave you satisfied with what you’ve eaten, then why take them out because that diet’s rules say to?

There may not be a need for that. Conversely, if you’re not sure about which types of carbohydrates leave you feeling energized versus those that make you feel groggy, cranky, and craving more, then maybe following a specific diet’s rules for which types of carbs to try or cut out may be helpful for you. It’s up to you to carefully decide whether or not trying a new approach makes sense for you at that time.

3. Remember this: the secret is that there is no secret!

Many women are on a constant search to find the nutritional “holy grail” that will turn them into strong, lean, confident women. There isn’t a way to do this that doesn’t require acting deliberately, with intention, purpose, consistency, and patience. Even once you find an approach that works for you in your current lifestyle, it may not work forever. Your body will change over time, as will your nutritional needs, physical demands, and responsibilities and priorities. What helped you before may not deliver the same results again under different circumstances. Having a solid nutrition foundation and objectively evaluating what’s working and what’s not, can help you continue to get results over time.

Some Thoughts About “Results”

The actual “results” that you’re looking for may change over time, although many women have a hard time identifying and labeling what they truly want to achieve. Instead of repeating, “my goal is to get in great shape and look good,” clearly define your goal and why you want to achieve it to help you narrow down your nutritional priorities. What does “getting in great shape” and “looking good” mean to you? Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and physique with minimal mental stress may be your long-term priority at some point. Likewise, you may choose to temporarily focus on your performance for a powerlifting meet, or you may want to build muscle, or achieve a short-term fat loss goal. Each of these goals may require some changes to your nutrition, training, and focus.

The next time you’re tempted to jump on a diet trend, ask yourself:

  • What are my big rocks, and are they in place?
  • Am I consistent enough with the big rocks to do some experimentation?
  • Have I clearly defined my goal and do I understand what nutritional changes may be necessary to achieve it?
  • Am I emotionally and psychologically ready for stricter guidelines to follow?

If the answer is no to any of these questions, you’ll benefit in the long run from spending some time working on those areas first. If the answer is yes to all four, be very mindful and thoughtful with your evaluation of the diet approach in question. When you’re ready to move forward, make powerful choices and decisions that ultimately help you improve your overall nutrition strategy. Be open to change, thoughtful in your investigation of what works for you and what doesn’t, and stay engaged in objectively evaluating that nutritional approach.

Coaches’ Corner

As a personal trainer or coach, I’m willing to bet that you’ve had a client who’s jumped from diet to diet, only to wind up feeling like they’ve failed each one. If you have a client who struggles with their nutrition there are a few key things you can do to help guide them. As always, it’s important that you’re staying within your scope and are not providing medical nutritional therapy. Providing nutritional suggestions and strategies is usually fairly safe, but do your best to get to know your client to make sure the advice you’re providing is a good option for them.

1. Ask plenty of questions. The more you know about your client, the better you’ll be able to understand their past diet experience, lifestyle, nutritional needs, and to also clarify her goal. Encourage your client to be descriptive and specific about what she’d like to achieve. Using Motivational Interviewing (MI) techniques allows you to work productively with your client to uncover what motivates her to reach that specific goal in a non-judgemental way. Your role as the coach is to understand your client’s readiness to change and to help her be involved in the process of changing her behavior, instead of just telling her what to do. This should increase her motivation and commitment to follow through.

2. Emphasize the “big rocks” with your client. Help her determine how consistent and confident she is with the basics and gauge how solid her nutritional foundation is. Start with those skills first to ensure she’s ready for more nuanced change. Ask your client about which nutritional “rules” she has abided by in the past, which helped her long-term, and which had disastrous effects on her motivation and drained her willpower.

3. Help your client see what she’s learned instead of how she’s failed. Help her understand how she’s set herself up for “failure” in the past, and how that’s become the easy fall-back behavior. Focus on helping her see the helpful nutritional skills she’s carried forward, and define those as successes. Reassure your client that this cycle is normal, and that when she understands how impactful her word choice is to describe her experience, she can build habits of success instead of failure.

4. Communicate clearly and map out a strategy together. Strive to understand the results your client wants to achieve, and communicate what those results require. Decide together if those results are worth working toward, and come up with a roadmap that prioritizes one change at a time. These nutritional changes should be scaled to your client so that she can learn a new skill or develop a new habit, and should move at a pace that works well for her. Most of all, stay involved as your client’s best resource to assess her progress and reassure her as she moves forward.

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About the author:  Amber Thome

Amber Leonard-Thome is a coach, curriculum developer, and contributor for GGS. Since 2008, she has held multiple positions in the fitness industry as a personal trainer, wellness and nutrition coach, a university lecturer, and managed a fitness and sports performance facility. Amber holds a M.S. in Kinesiology, a B.S. in Exercise Science, and is an ACSM Certified Exercise Physiologist and is Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified.

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