What is the difference between a diet and a lifestyle change?

woman laughing and holding a sprinkled doughnut

If you’re reading or talking about weight loss, chances are that you’ve noticed experts commenting that it’s better to make a lifestyle change than go on a diet. But what is the difference between a diet and a lifestyle change?

  • A diet is an eating plan that you adopt for a short period of time (typically a few weeks or months)
  • A lifestyle change is a plan that you intend to follow long-term.

Diets may help you lose weight quickly, but lifestyle changes help you lose the weight and keep it off in a healthy, productive way.

pink smoothie in glass on table

Fad Diets for Fast Weight Loss

Americans spent nearly $72 billion on weight loss in 2018 [1]. Profit-driven companies, brands and individuals all want to get a piece of that lucrative pie, so they feed consumers’ demand with a constant stream of new books, movies and products that claim to help desperate dieters reach their goals faster.

Unfortunately, many of these popular diets and products do not often offer sustainable, healthy solutions.

In practice, “eat a balanced diet” does not sell nearly as well as “lose 20 pounds in 2 months” so dozens of dramatic, nutritionally-questionable diets go viral each year. These fad diets promise quick results and usually involve the dramatic reduction of one or more food groups. Recent fad diets include the Military Diet, Paleo and Slim Fast.

Characteristics of Fad Diets

If you’re researching weight loss plans, watch out for these red flags that indicate it may be a “too good to be true” fad diet [2]:

⏰ Promises fast results
🥯 Involves eliminating 1 or more food groups
💊 Requires the purchase of a shake/supplement/bar
👯‍♀️ Impacts your social or emotional well-being
🥦 Promotes behaviors that are not sustainable long-term

Temporary diets are bad for overall health because they do not promote long-term health.

Many weight loss hopefuls think that if they follow a dramatic diet to lose the weight they will be able to keep if off on their own. Unfortunately, even though these plans do often help people slim down, UCLA research shows that the majority dieters eventually regain the lost weight… and then some [3].

For this reason, doctors, dietitians and other health experts recommend lifestyle changes instead of diets for weight loss.

woman in orange leggings and white tank top doing abdominal exercises

Making It a Lifestyle

Lifestyle changes are the key to long-term weight loss.

Instead of adopting a temporary diet that leaves you miserable and your weight yo-yoing, gradually incorporate healthy changes that you can maintain long-term. These adjustments could include: eating breakfast more often, swapping-out white bread for wheat bread, choosing more fruits & veggies, or limiting alcohol and soda to special occasions

Little by little, small changes add up to produce major weight loss results.

Healthy Lifestyle Changes for Weight Loss

In fact, authors of a 2005 article in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at over 4000 adults who had lost 30 pounds or more and kept it off for at least a year. The researchers wanted to find out what these weight loss victors did differently than the other 80% of people who re-gained their lost weight [4].

Here are six key behaviors they associated with successful weight loss and maintenance:

1. Eat Breakfast
Make time for a healthy breakfast no matter how hectic your morning routine.

2. Plan Meals & Snacks
Keep an eye on total daily calories, fat and sugar – even after you’ve achieved your goal weight.

3. Cook at Home
Home-cooked food is usually lower in calories, sodium and sugar. Eat out only for special occasions.

4. Stay Committed
Maintain a “just lost weight” mindset to help stay on-track with your new, healthier habits.

5. Exercise Regularly
Aim for 30-60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.

6. Weigh Yourself
Step on a scale at least once a week so you notice weight trends early and can adjust behavior if needed.

When you embark on a weight loss journey, adopt habits like these to slim down slowly and steadily. They will help you lose more weight and achieve greater success long-term than fad diets, which produce quick results but rarely provide long-term triumph.

 

Have you lost weight, or are you trying to lose weight? Are you following a diet or making lifestyle changes? Let us know in the comments section below!

 

References

1. LaRosa, J. (2019, March 6). Top 9 Things to Know About the Weight Loss Industry.
2. Department of Health & Human Services. (2011, August 31). Weight loss and fad diets.
3. Wolpert, S. (2019, May 10). Dieting does not work, UCLA researchers report.
4. Wing, R. R., & Phelan, S. (2005). Long-term weight loss maintenance. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 82(1), 222S-225S.

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