Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. He probably wasn't referring to dieting, but he could have been. If you've tried the same weight-loss tricks month after month without losing pounds, maybe it's time for something completely different. It turns out most time-honored dieting decrees don't benefit everyone. In fact, they might be sabotaging your efforts. Here's how to rewrite the rules and finally drop pounds in a way that works for you.
By Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
Old Rule: Eat everything in moderation. Don't make any food off-limits, or you'll want it even more. If you're craving a high-damage goodie, have a few bites and be done with it.
Break It: Recent research has found that a few nibbles of a tempting food may actually spark overeating. In the study, people who ate a small chocolate truffle wanted to continue eating high-calorie, high-fat food just 25 minutes later. Researchers say that a small bite of an indulgent food activates a "pleasure goal" that makes people crave more.
Revised Plan: Identify your trigger foods. While you don't want to label entire categories of foods (like sweets or desserts) as "forbidden," focus on the one or two foods that make you lose control. It's a smart move to keep them out of the house. "Rather than saying, 'I can't have this food' say, "This food doesn't work for me,'" says New York City diet doctor Stephen Gullo, PhD, author of The Thin Commandments (Rodale Books). When you decide to treat yourself, go out for one serving of your trigger food (like ordering a child-size ice cream cone), he says. Then tell yourself that one portion is enough. "The people in our study who truly believed that one truffle would satisfy them were not tempted to eat more," says researcher Juliano Laran, PhD, an assistant professor of marketing at the University of Miami School of Business Administration.
Old Rule: Switch to diet soda. You'll consume fewer calories and lose weight.
Break It: Some research shows that people who drink a lot of artificially sweetened beverages actually have higher BMIs than those who don't—possibly because people think they can splurge while drinking a diet drink (like having a Diet Coke with a double cheeseburger). The super-sweet flavor of artificial sweeteners also might trigger cravings for sugary treats and lead to overeating.
Revised Plan: Swapping high-cal drinks for diet versions isn't a bad thing, but don't use that swap to justify your supersize combo. A diet soda doesn't "cancel out" calories in your meal! If you have trouble keeping sugar cravings under control, you might be better off skipping sweet drinks entirely—even the calorie-free ones—and staying hydrated with water or seltzer instead.