From tube feeding to tape worms, I’ve seen people take some pretty drastic measures to lose weight. But even clients who try more common strategies (like calorie counting) often find that their efforts backfire. Many go-to diet tricks can leave you feeling hungry, moody, irritable, or downright miserable—things I never want my clients to feel. What’s worse, after you finish a quick-fix weight-loss tactic, you’ll often gain back all of the pounds you lost (or more!). In reality, the only way to shed pounds, keep them off, and stay sane in the process is by adopting habits you can actually stick to long-term. Below, four common weight-loss tricks that don’t fit that criteria—and in my opinion aren’t worth your time or effort.
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Cutting out ALL sugar
Sugar is currently the top nutritional villain, and I can’t say I disagree. I am a fan of cutting back on sugar. After all, most Americans eat nearly four times the recommended daily max. However, I’ve seen many of my clients get too strict about sugar, which typically leads to binge-eating forbidden sweets, or abandoning healthy eating altogether.
Another issue with this tactic: many people also ditch fruit to slash sugar. Not only does this deprive your body of key nutrients, it’s counterproductive: Research shows eating fruit helps you shed pounds (even more so than veggies!). This could be because fruit is loaded with antioxidants (which have been tied to leanness in research), or simply because fruit tends to replace sweet, processed snacks.
As for added sugar, even the strictest guidelines from the American Heart Association allow up to six teaspoons worth per day for women. This means there’s still room for healthy indulgences, like nutrient-rich dark chocolate, which has been shown to help curb cravings for both sweet and salty foods (score!). The fact is, cutting out all sugar simply isn’t realistic for most people. So stick with the fruit (without overdoing it) and pre-plan can’t-live-without treats. It tends to be a much more manageable and maintainable approach.
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Obsessively counting calories
Most of my clients are shocked when I advise them to stop counting calories. But trust me, it’s for the best. First of all, when it comes to calories, quality is often more important that quantity. I’ve had clients actually start losing weight after upping their calorie intake, because they swapped processed fare for fresh, whole foods. In fact, research confirms that not all calories are created equal—some foods like pulses, almonds, and avocado trigger caloric burn, feelings of satiety, or delayed hunger.
Just the stress of counting calories can also do a number on your waistline. One study found that women who simply monitored their caloric intake (without restricting it) experienced spikes in cortisol, a stress hormone tied to increased belly fat. A more effective alternative to calorie counting is focusing on healthy portions. For example, you can slash 125 calories by simply pairing a half cup of brown rice with one cup of greens, instead of one cup of brown rice with a half cup of greens.
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Extreme portion control
Serving yourself healthy portion sizes is generally a great diet strategy. However, there are a number of methods that take portion control too far, like eating only with chopsticks, or stopping after a few measly bites of your meal. Again, while this may result in weight loss, who could keep this up forever? Plus, eating too little can result in a number of counterproductive side effects, like feeling too tired to exercise, losing calorie-burning muscle, weakening your immune system, and constant crankiness. Not to mention, there are plenty of foods you can eat in large portions and still lose weight. For example, these veggies pack less than 30 calories per cup: kale, mushrooms, red bell pepper, zucchini, eggplant, cauliflower, asparagus, and many others. So stop trying to nibble your way through the day. And instead, strategically chose the foods that make up the bulk of your meals and snacks.
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Eating one single food
Whether it’s bananas or potatoes—there are plenty of diets that involve literally eating one food. While this restrictive approach may indeed lead to weight loss, it’s typically temporary. A healthier method is picking a single balanced meal (a combo of lean protein, healthy fat, and nutrient-rich carbs) and repeating it on a short term basis. Check out this guide for ideas. I’ve found that narrowing your meal repetoire can be a great kickstart for breaking an unhealthy pattern and making way for a better one. But the key is that it has to be a transitional strategy. So before you even start, be sure you have a plan to sustain these healthier habits for the future. After a month of clean eating, you’ll feel so happy and energized, you’ll never look back.
What’s your take on this topic? Chat with us on Twitter by mentioning @goodhealth and @CynthiaSass.
Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Yankees, previously consulted for three other professional sports teams, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Sass is a three-time New York Times best-selling author, and her brand new book is Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.