April 15, 2024
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Why Food Rules Don’t Work for Weight Loss and Two Strategies That Do

If you have ever been on a weight loss diet before, chances are you followed some type of food rules: no bread, carbs, bananas … no eating later than 7 p.m. or eating within one hour of waking up. I have been a dietitian for 20-plus years; I have heard them all.

The reason diets have food rules is because they cause a caloric restriction and bring about weight loss only because you are eating fewer calories than your body needs to sustain its current weight. In other words, it’s not actually the absence of bread, bananas, grapes, or the timing of your food that is causing the weight loss. By following these rules, you are eating less, and therefore losing weight.

But here is why food rules don’t work for sustainable weight loss:

1) They work when you are following them, but as soon as you start to break the rule, the weight comes back. And inevitably, you are going to break the rule, not because you aren’t motivated or good at following rules, but because eventually the rule becomes too difficult to sustain.

A life without challah and being able to eat at simchas because of food rules becomes unattainable. The guilt and shame over breaking the rules set in, and you tell yourself, “I might as well give up, I can’t lose weight and keep it off.”

2) Food rules create food phobias. I have had countless clients tell me they are afraid to eat grapes because they have been told on other diets that they were off-limits.

Are you starting to see how food rules don’t work?

If I still have your attention at this point, you are probably asking yourself, “If food rules don’t work for sustainable weight loss, what does?”

The key to sustainable weight loss is two-fold:

1) Put yourself in a sustainable caloric restriction to bring about weight loss. Following a low-calorie diet (~1,200 calories) is not sustainable for most people. But if you choose a more realistic caloric restriction, you can lose weight in a way where you won’t throw in the towel. While your weight loss might not be rapid, it will reflect a true weight loss and not just losing water, sodium and muscle—which typically happens when you go on unsustainable fad diets.

For most people, this slower rate of weight loss can be extremely frustrating because they are putting the work in, but only seeing a weight loss of ½ to one pound per week. And some weeks demonstrate no weight loss at all. However, when you are following a more realistic caloric restriction, you are able to eat all foods, and learn how to eat them without going into “all-or-nothing” mode.

A good place to start: reducing any extra “licks,” “bites” or “snacks” you have when you’re not hungry. For example, if you find yourself eating off of your kid’s plate mindlessly or eating while cooking—these little “extras” add up.

2) Work with a dietitian who can provide you a customized meal plan that puts you in a realistic caloric restriction. Don’t waste time and money on a cookie-cutter plan that is not tailored to your calorie needs or food preferences. Also, don’t sign up for a plan that requires you to spend hours prepping meals and spend unnecessary money on specific products. Along with the meal plan, regular 1:1 or group meetings with your dietitian will allow you to build accountability and confidence with your eating.

In my practice, I implement these strategies with my clients. Each client receives a customized plan that involves as much or as little cooking as they are willing and able. They learn that they can trust themselves around food without feeling “out of control.” They also learn how to be mindful with their food choices, learning to pay attention to both hunger and fullness cues. I help them remove the stress and preoccupation around food and gain confidence to be able to eat mindfully whether they are eating alone, at the Shabbat table or at a simcha. And I am able to successfully do this without implementing any food rules.

Next Steps:

If you are interested in learning more about my custom support, please visit my website to book your free jump-start weight loss call: https://alysonsmallnutrition.com.


Alyson Small is a registered dietitian who helps women achieve a sustainable weight loss of 10 pounds or more without food rules or an all-or-nothing mindset. Once an avid follower of food rules, she realized that eating more balanced and mindfully was the key to a healthy diet and food freedom. You can follow her on instagram @alysonsmallnutrition for more nutrition tips, recipes and freebies.

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