- Skipping treats is one of the top reasons diets fail, according to a top nutritionist.
- Avoid the cycle of limitation and guilt by making room to eat things you actually enjoy.
- Consistency, rather than perfection, is the best way to get results with diet and exercise, he said.
If you want to lose weight and get healthier, you should relax your diet rules, according to a nutrition writer who has worked with stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger and LeBron James.
Adam Bornstein is a former fitness editor at Men’s Health, bestselling author on nutrition and health, and editor-in-chief of Schwarzenegger’s email newsletter. He says overly strict measures to lose weight or get healthier can backfire, leading to frustration and guilt rather than results.
In his new book, You Can’t Screw This Up, he writes offers tips on finding a diet and exercise plan you can stick to—for life. Many diet plans fail because they make people make extreme lifestyle changes and then feel guilty when they inevitably fail to meet unrealistic expectations, Bornstein said.
“You wouldn’t throw anyone in at the deep end until they learned how to tread water. We give people complex, difficult tasks and act surprised when they drown,” he told Insider.
The advice in his latest book is the result of more than nine years of research, including interviews with behavior change experts, as well as his personal experiences trying to find a balance in a sea of health misinformation, he said in an interview.
“Start with what makes you happy and then add the other healthy behaviors,” Bornstein said. “That’s the cheat code in life.”
Your diet should include foods you love, especially treats
According to Bornstein, one of the biggest mistakes in nutrition is the assumption that all delicious foods should be taboo.
Whether it’s cutting out carbs, cutting out sugar in your diet, or cutting out takeout foods like pizza and burgers, too often people assume that they need to follow a strict diet in order to become healthier or To lose weight.
In fact, constraint can lead to failure, Bornstein said.
He likens a diet to pulling out a slingshot—each rule or forbidden food during a diet creates more and more tension until something has to give way. This slingshot effect can lead to yo-yo dieting, bouts of restriction followed by binge eating, and then more restriction to compensate
To break the cycle, he says Stop depriving yourself and instead make room in your diet for foods you actually enjoy, regardless of whether they’re labeled “unhealthy” by wellness gurus.
For Bornstein, that means treating himself to a bowl of Frosted Flakes several times a week. Although sugary grains aren’t particularly nutritious, he said consuming them has no negative effects on his health and benefits his diet because it makes it easier for him to pursue other goals.
As a bonus, you might find that once you stop considering certain foods as forbidden, it’s easier to enjoy them in moderation, he said.
“When you get out of this cycle of thinking that you have to live within limitations, you find that you don’t crave many things that you used to long for,” Bornstein said.
Don’t panic if you miss a workout or overeat for a day
Too often people try to be “perfect” with their eating or exercise routine — and respond to setbacks by sticking to incredibly strict rules or giving up altogether, Bornstein said.
For example, someone trying to diet might end up starving the next day after what they call a “cheat meal,” or decide to go full-on with junk food.
Instead, according to Bornstein, the solution is to stop letting one small mistake ruin your entire plan and instead go straight back to routine without trying to compensate.
“The mistake is not the problem. Bodies can tolerate imperfections, what we don’t tolerate are the extremes,” he said.
Strive for consistency rather than perfection. In order for a healthy routine to produce lasting results, it has to be something you can imagine doing and enjoying for years to come.
“Health should not be a prison that prevents you from living,” said Bornstein.