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In some ways, it’s easy to believe, but the number is still staggering. The weight loss industry is worth over $66 billion. From membership programs, pre-packaged meal programs, shakes, bars, and frozen meals to books, websites, and get-fit-quick schemes, it’s easy to spend a lot of money thinking you’ve finally found the solution to the struggle with your weight.

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It’s also easy to become overwhelmed and confused. Is low-carb or low-fat right for me? What about calories? Do I need to worry about sugar? Can I really spend the rest of my life eating only pre-packaged meals? Is it healthy to eat so much processed food, even if it’s low in calories and promises quick weight loss?

I won’t pretend to have all the answers … not by a long shot. If I did, I’d own a piece of that multi-billion-dollar industry and live in a house by the sea.

The best (and worst) diet plans for 2018

But what I do have is experience. When I was 14, I pretty much stopped eating. I drank sodas and mooned over boys. My weight dropped to 102 lbs. Then at some point I started eating again, and by age 16, I was up to 127 lbs. Horrified, I went on my first diet. Fast-forward more than 40 years. I have tried every diet there, including some dangerous remedies, and I’m still overweight. Suffice to say I weigh a lot more than 127 lbs.

So, while I have yet to find a lifelong solution, I have learned a lot about what doesn’t work.

Weight-loss mistakes to avoid

woman weighing herself
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First, don’t make the mistake of assuming that what worked for one person will work for another. To this day, every time I see a success story of someone who has dropped 50 pounds, I want to know exactly how she did it. Often, these stories are useful, but just as often, they’re disappointing. If the formula is “I stopped drinking sodas and limited myself to only one fast-food meal per week,” that’s not of much help to me. (I haven’t had a soda in years, and fast food for me is more like once in a blue moon.) Those things aren’t my problem. Neither are sweets or midnight binges or a family to cook for. I work at home, not in an office, so avoiding the doughnuts or birthday cake in the conference room isn’t an issue, and taking the stairs instead of the elevator is a choice I rarely face.

Then there’s my personal favorite: “I had hit rock bottom. So, I talked to my doctor and …” — now, mind you, if the rest of that sentence is “… had her help me in preparing a healthy meal plan,” no problem. Good move. But if the sentence ends in “… we decided that weight-loss surgery was right for me,” that’s the end of my interest.

The important takeaway here is that, while you may be able to learn something valuable from everyone’s weight-loss experience, remember that, like everything else in life, our own journey is unique. There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all weight-loss plan, no matter what the $66 billion weight-loss industry tells you.

‘Best diets’ ranking puts keto last, DASH first

forbidden fruit
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Second, avoid the forbidden fruit. What I mean by that is it’s generally best not to put any particular food off-limits or limit yourself to only certain foods. I once joined Jenny Craig and was restricted to eating Jenny Craig frozen meals. One evening I went grocery shopping for the rest of my family and bought my kids a bag of cheese doodles. Now, I don’t even particularly like cheese doodles, but that bag of junk food called out to me the entire way home, and by the time I got there, I had to have some. I devoured half the bag. I believe that, for me, knowing that those orange puffs of air were strictly off limits made me crave them.

Again, everyone is unique, and you may have good reasons for deciding you simply can’t order pizza anymore or you want to cut out red meat. I encourage you to do what’s right for you. However, if you vow to never eat another doughnut and you’re struggling with yourself every time Jim, the office supply guy, brings in two dozen Krispy Kremes, it’s probably a matter of time before you lose the struggle with your own mind and end up eating a dozen of them all by yourself.

An exception to this is if you recognize a particular item as a trigger food. If there’s something that you know, once you start eating, you won’t be able to stop, then it’s probably best to avoid it.

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Third, ensure that you have a healthy relationship with your bathroom scale. The biggest weight-loss success I ever experienced was a year doing Weight Watchers. Even though I fell off the wagon and gained back all the weight, I would still recommend the program. It has a lot of the elements that are important for weight loss — again, to a greater or lesser degree for each individual. The reason I fell off the wagon is because I’m an emotional eater. When a major crisis erupted in my life, I turned to my old friend — food. But during the time that I was having great success, I weighed myself every day.

Now, there are people who will tell you not to do that. In fact, Weight Watchers themselves discouraged it, urging members to rely on the once-a-week weight-in at meetings. But for me, it helped keep me accountable. Once a daily weigh-in became a habit, it helped me stay on track throughout the day. However, it’s important to recognize that the scale will fluctuate based on a lot of factors that are not directly related to what you ate the day before. For example, women have a tendency to retain water. I discovered that exercising caused water retention, so I never worked out the day before my “official” Weight Watchers weigh-in.

There are a thousand other reasons the scale may not move … or worse, move in the wrong direction, and you can’t always pinpoint what they are. As a Weight Watchers friend of mine used to say, the scale didn’t move because you wore green that day, or you didn’t wear green, or it was Tuesday, or it wasn’t Tuesday. Truly, that’s how difficult it can be to figure out why the scale won’t budge or why you gained a pound or two. Another friend of mine suggested that failure to see results on the scale was due to working out and building muscle. That didn’t sound right to me, so I researched it. The average woman, working out on a regular basis, can expect to build 1/2 to 1 pound of muscle per month.

One size does not fit all (The Waitresses, 1982)

So, it’s a new year and a new chance to get it right. Here’s my plan:

  • I will continue my quest to discover and improve on the weight-loss formula that will work for me.
  • I will avoid trigger foods but resist creating forbidden fruit.
  • I will weigh myself every day but also recognize that the scale doesn’t always tell the whole story.

Let me know what your plan is to live your best year in 2018.

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