Confession: I am a Serial Dieter and this is a list of the 12 diets I’ve tried and failed at over my lifetime.
Nutrition is an overall health-related topic that needs to be included in this blog but as a serial diet failure, I was delaying as long as possible.
How could I write about something that is a glaringly current personal struggle for me? Who is going to listen to my “sage” advise on nutrition when I am obviously not following it myself.
The initial intention was to wait until I had a better handle on my eating habits and had lost a significant amount of weight, but today I realized that this is a journey meant to be humbly shared. You need to know what I’ve tried, what I’ve failed at and what I’m going to try next going forward.
I’ve been hiding.
I tell myself that I don’t really mind the extra weight I’m carrying now but I do. It’s all fine until someone gets the camera out…or most lately…issued a challenge to make a public video for my blog and the thought of doing so literally terrifies me.
I mind when my clothes don’t fit or when I’m struggling to breathe when I do up my shoes.
I mind a lot.
Like many women, I have tried many approaches to eating and failed. It’s a dog-to-squirrel reaction every. single. time. Yet as many diets as I have tried and even succeeded on, I inevitably stray away for one reason or another.
It is as though I dress myself in the clothes of new diet rules only to find that some part of the garment doesn’t fit.
Every eating plan pushes a person to eat certain foods to the exclusion of others and typically some element of that doesn’t resonate well with me.
The following is a list of 12 diets I have tried, how I strayed and what my positive takeaway was for each one.
Do you see your personal diet history here?
12 Diets I Tried And Failed At
1. Cabbage Soup Diet
Vegetable soup is fine. it’s healthy and can be very tasty depending on which version you soup up. It’s the complimentary foods schedule that has me wondering…who thought this up? A day of unlimited bananas for potassium? All fruits, all veggies…then a mixture of both? No matter how much you enjoy that veggie soup, by the end of 7 days you are happy if you NEVER have a bowl of cabbage soup again in your lifetime.
It’s essentially a whole food diet filled with lots of fruits and vegetables. I don’t see anything dangerous about following it for a week but you would want to transition to a more reasonable eating plan immediately after completing it to avoid rebound binging.
2. Shake Diets
Any shake diet that blithely suggests that I have a shake for breakfast and lunch while only eating a sensible dinner and snack triggers instant recall panic.
Let’s call it shake diet PTSD.
It sounds so logical, so easy. Slimfast and Isogenix are my personal experience. The shakes tasted awesome! I just couldn’t stand them repetitively in place of other food options and eventually rebelled.
That’s not even addressing the cost of the shakes. Ouch.
It’s no wonder that I developed an immunity to shake-based programs and refused to even try Beachbody’s Shakeology and ViSalus Shakes.
Sorry, shakers. Not knocking your product. I just can’t commit to those programs.
Shakes can be a fun, refreshing and satisfying way to enjoy some variety in your diet but only on a more relaxed, flexible schedule.
Nowadays I avoid processed shake powders and dairy in favour of homemade concoctions using frozen fruit, nuts, seeds, greens, dates and water.
3. Weigh-Down Workshop
This was a church-hosted diet that encouraged participants to eat only when their stomach growled and to eat according to food cravings. Eat slow, savour and put down the fork at the slightest hint of satisfaction.
It incorporated weekly meetings and daily bible study.
It was my first exposure to a mindful way of eating and I thrived on it for a time, even leading the group.
I think the only reason it didn’t continue was after so many sessions, I got busy with other life issues (a home biz startup and a disability diagnosis for my son) and couldn’t continue leading.
Also the content of the class got stagnant since it was repeated every session and participation dwindled.
The principle of eating according to our body signals, eating slowly and stopping when satisfied are critical skills. Anytime I have focused on them, I do better.
4. Low Carb Diets (Atkins, Protein Power, Southbeach)
My main experience was with the Atkin’s diet. This was the most effective and dangerous diet that I’ve ever followed.
Combined with hours of daily exercise, I got into the BEST shape of my life with this approach.
I had the bony collarbones, sculpted muscles and low body weight. I felt like I was on top of the world for a couple years but I came tumbling off that pedestal.
I started getting spontaneous nosebleeds, losing circulation in my hands at the slightest cold (Renaud’s disease) and almost passing out after fitness classes.
While a properly administered low-carb diet may be okay, I never mastered that balance. Here are some reasons I believe my low-carb diet failed:
- I avoided fruit almost entirely for a couple years. Remember when people were dying of scurvy after long voyages to America due to limited diets on route? I was getting plenty of veggies thank goodness but I lost out on the nutrition fruit has to offer. Even though berries are allowed…I never ate them because I was reserving those carbs for treats.
- I consumed too many sugar alcohols. Recollecting now, it might as well have been called “The Laxative Diet”. I love chocolate, cookies and other treats and I found “sugar-free” or “no sugar added” replacements that were both costly and laxative-like in their effect. Oh the memories of those days. Sugar alcohols do not agree with my system and to this day, I cannot have them without extreme consequences.
- I consumed too much coffee, diet soda and even started moving towards low-carb alcohols. Water? I only drank it during workouts. The rest of the time I was looking for other stimulating beverages that were full of caffeine, artificial sweeteners, and in the end stages…alcohols. I never got into excessive alcohol use but it could’ve gone that way if it wasn’t for some timely intervention.
- I consumed way too much salt. I ate a lot of salted nuts, salted meats, cheese and daily diet soft drinks.
Fortunately I participated in a WCF Encounter Weekend that resulted in me coming to the realization that my nutritional choices were a danger and I needed to prioritize my health.
Unfortunately, as I attempted to adjust my poor food choices, I really struggled with eating low-carb in a healthful way and began to gain weight again but the nose bleeds and Renaud’s disease went away.
So much of my world at that time revolved around my extreme fitness and I never found a way to regain my edge. I couldn’t continue harming myself with poor food choices but I couldn’t maintain my extreme fitness level without them.
My days in full-time fitness industry were numbered after that.
I really learned and experienced the effect that sugar and carbs have on appetite and the body. I definitely do better when I limit those foods.
5. First Place
Our church ran another program called First Place that combined bible study with a food exchange-like program. I ended up leading the class but had to give it up when I left the fitness industry and took on a full time administrator position.
The food exchange concept reminded me of my early Weight Watcher years but it was challenging to follow.
A new nutritionist took over and redesigned the First Place program and I had difficulty connecting with her concepts.
The class was taken over by someone else and eventually closed down.
I still have a few of the bible study books. They were excellently written and published. It was a great church program for bible-focused weight loss.
6. Herbal Magic
Early in my marriage I dropped in to one of those weight loss centres (can’t remember the name and they’re not around anymore) and let them convince me to buy an expensive weight loss package. Shawn, my husband, was less than pleased with my purchase and drove it right back for a refund.(Thanks hun)
Years later and looking for support, I took advantage of an Herbal Magic promo. It wasn’t so much their program or their supplements as I thought the multiple weigh-in checks throughout the week would motivate me to stay on track.
It was good for the promo month and then it was just too expensive. I’ve never been a great pill taker to start with and their supplement regimen was intense.
That was over in less than 6 weeks. I can’t even remember the food program.
I wasn’t with the program long enough to experience any significant results but I did lose a bit of weight and the accountability of frequent weigh-ins was very motivating.
I had witnessed a few women successfully utilizing programs like Jenny Craig when I was a teen so when I saw a NutriSystem kit at Wal-mart one day, I was curious.
Right away I knew I couldn’t eat such low quality, high sodium meals for any significant length of time. I was kind of grossed out by the room-temp shelf entrees. I think Shawn finished out the remainder of the meals in the kit in his work lunches. Eww. Poor man.
I’m sorry. The idea was good but the food was not. I’ve never tried a fresh food plan because of pricing and my budget but I bet that would be so much better.
8. Precision Nutrition (Lean Eating)
This program was one of the healthiest and most successful programs I’ve completed since my early WW days.
I loved the whole year of on-line nutrition and exercise coaching and thrived in the group support my team offered. I learned so many great habits and principles that I still embrace ideologically today.
Unfortunately, when the year was done and my ability to stay involved was limited by the cost, the support fell away and so did my resolve.
Precision Nutrition isn’t a diet but rather a program that teaches you to experiment with different eating approaches paired with their healthy habits.
In my journey I had actually delved a little too far into veganism (my choice, not PN’s) and my iron and Vitamin B dropped to dangerously low levels. My hair started falling out and everything spiralled after that.
I think I lost my faith in nutrition for a time.
I had literally eaten the most healthy diet of my entire life and had a health crisis. I tried to simply add some protein to my healthy regimen but my hormones had already spun out of control taking my appetite to new levels.
My PN workouts fell by the wayside.
I struggled but it took 2 years for the PN results to disappear. I even tried rejoining the program but quit after a few months. I just couldn’t get back in the game.
Even though I haven’t been following it, Precision Nutrition is still the best nutrition coaching program I’ve ever done. I’m working my way back to living their habits and doing the workouts they gave me. I highly recommend it.
I’ll be honest. I barely gave Keto a fair try.
After years of distance from my low-carb days, I thought I’d give Keto a whirl but I couldn’t stick to it.
I love meat, fat, cheese and green veggies but I also love watermelon, bananas, beans and potatoes.
Plus, the old habits of low-carb dieting started popping up too and I just knew I didn’t want to go there again.
Keto didn’t give me any results either. Probably because with low-carb diets, any “cheating” really messes up the chemistry that delivers results and I wasn’t exercising either.
Same as low-carb. The reality that sugar and carbohydrates really do impact our appetite and our bodies. Limiting them is wise.
10. Weight Watcher’s
I had great success with the exchange program that Weight Watcher’s offered in my teens and early 20’s. I started at the “obese” weight of 118lbs (my doctor’s words) and accomplished lifetime status at 93lbs.
You read that right. I was under a 100lbs.
This dramatic weight loss was partly because I was following the diet religiously AND riding my bicycle to school and work every day. As soon as my parents helped me get a car and I took a job in a cafeteria kitchen, my weight shot up to 108lbs in time for my wedding.
Fortunately I was well within my healthy range and still qualified for lifetime membership.
I loved WW so much that I became a receptionist for them.
Eventually I had to get a more stable, better paying job and then they switched their program and the magic was over. I started to gain weight again.
I never had traction on any of the Weight Watcher’s programs since the exchange program.
Lately though, I have given Weight Watcher’s another try with their new Flex Plan.
It hasn’t resulted in any weight loss (common complaint) and the plan has some flaws for people who grapple with food issues.
Despite this, I recognize that WW’s plan is the best accommodating to my desired way of eating so I’m planting my flag somewhere close to the WW vicinity for now.
I’ll explain more at the conclusion of this article.
Always based on the latest science in nutrition and weight-loss.
Their flex program food points are calculated based on protein, fat and sugar content which nudges people towards healthier foods for the most part.
It’s a popular, mainstream plan so it’s easy to find resources and support and there are no food exclusions which make it ideal for all people.
I have practiced occasional fasting since my teens but increasingly so over the past decade. I typically fast for spiritual reasons but also for answers to my lifetime struggle with food.
In the past few years my desire to fast was fueled by the emergence of Intermittent Fasting and a deep desire to press deeper into my faith.
There are many spiritual and health benefits to fasting and to restricting eating to fasting “windows” so on one hand I was doing something good.
Unfortunately, I experienced a difficult life season and began fasting as a response to grief and then rebounded with undisciplined eating in my non-fasting time.
The practice became detrimental to my health and well-being.
I had to abstain from fasting for a time because it was becoming akin to an eating disorder and that wasn’t serving any good purpose.
Fasting is challenging but done correctly and for the right reasons is a powerful spiritual and physical exercise with many benefits.
12. Snake Diet
This is a bizarre diet founded by a Canadian from Alberta that involves extended fasting while drinking a homemade electrolyte drink called “Snake Juice”.
Maintenance is eating one meal a day (OMAD).
First I should mention that I don’t recommend the Snake diet at all.
Cole Robinson, it’s founder, has some shocking approaches in his videos including excessive profanity, fat shaming and obnoxious publicity stunts.
I joined his Facebook group and asked a few questions that went unanswered…probably because I refused to follow the group protocol to post an almost naked before/progress photos along with everyone else.
To be fair, I didn’t follow this correctly.
It was the holidays so I used a combination of fasting and OMAD to regulate the holiday feasting. It worked very well for keeping my weight from climbing and allowing me to enjoy one festive, social meal a day.
Unfortunately, that one social meal was usually very heavy and the combination of fasting and overeating propelled me into my first serious acid reflux attack.
I dropped the extremes of fasting and overeating and the acid reflux cleared up immediately. My bad.
The homemade electrolyte drink recipe contains no sugar, calories or chemicals and is excellent for fasting or any time you need a boost in body salt.
I won’t fast without using this electrolyte drink from now on.
There are probably some less significant fling diets that I’m not recalling at the moment but you get the idea.
I also need to say that this was not a clean, linear diet progression. Often there was flip flopping between numerous approaches at any one time. Sometimes weekly. Sometimes I just gave up and ate anything and everything I wanted.
The more successful of these diets allowed me more stability for longer periods of time and that was probably the biggest benefit of them. It was a relief, even if it was short-term.
There’s a part of me that rebels against the need for excessive food regulating and desires freedom and another part of me that desperately needs it. This is a very complicated issue.
I wish I could say I have it all figured out but I don’t. I’m still broken. Maybe I always will be. This is a weakness that keeps driving me to my faith and bringing me face to face with my own limitations to fix myself.
So what am I going to try next?
Edit January 2021 (There used to be an invitation to an exclusive nutrition journal here but I’ve since decided that it wasn’t feasible to maintain and users found it difficult to access so I removed it permanently. I also tried a new version of Weight Watchers and another round of Keto because someone convinced me that I had done it wrong the first time. Same result with both attempts. Then I gave up and went rogue for a year. To see how I pulled myself out of a weight gain spiral, read New Year Goals: Daring to Dream Again in 2021)
What I will say to the readers who have patiently followed this article to the end is that the problem resides not in the 12 diets I tried and failed at but rather with myself and my disordered relationship with food. Four of the food plans I tried were viable ways to eat as a lifestyle but something inside me refused to cooperate.
I can’t quit. I can’t give up. The consequences of ignoring this issue are too serious.
If this is a lifetime struggle for you and you share a diet history like mine, be encouraged. It’s not over until it’s over. There is a way and we can find freedom together.
One day I will not be a serial dieter and neither will you.
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