Recent studies have focused on the motivation to eat rather than what we eat. A good eating experience is one that connects us to the internal signals so that we know when we are hungry and when we had had enough. Here are five reasons your diet may not be working right.

1. Not focusing on eating itself

How often do you pay attention to what goes into your mouth?

A 2013 Kent State University study showed that mindful eating tactics —like paying attention to the taste and smell of your food and monitoring your hunger and fullness—made people feel more satisfied after a meal. In a separate study, researchers discovered that dieters who kept to mindfulness techniques after completing a weight-loss programme continued to lose kilos.

Instead of keeping track on the numbers on your calorie chart, you should be more aware of your calories; that is, keeping everything in balance and freeing yourself to eat small bites of almost any food, without guilt. It is essentially tuning in to your food’s nutritional value and listening to your body’s inner signals.

“Instead of eating food directly from a bag or container, place it onto a plate out in the open,” said Dr Lesley Lutes, associate professor of psychology at East Carolina University.

Rather than eating how much we think we should, our portions should be reflected in the size of the plate. Research from Cornell suggests that serving food on bigger plates has a direct effect on how much is consumed. Buffet meals, food advertisements and eating directly from the bag could trigger overeating.

The idea is to savour each bite as Dr Katie Rickel, a clinical psychologist in North Carolina said, "When you bite into a grape, all of these juices come out—and there are sensations you'd totally miss if you just stuffed a handful of grapes into your mouth.”

2. Following a fad diet

Fad diets over-promise and offer short-term changes, and some can increase health risks. It can be ironical because people diet to look good and avoid weight-related diseases.

Even if you did lose some weight, it could be that much of it is from water and lean muscle, and not your body fat. Besides, most people are not likely to persevere through a harsh diet that keeps them on the same routine every day.

Moreover, as Moore said, "Atkins, alkaline, blood type, Ornish-style, Weight Watchers, Paleo, Zone—all of these diets either restrict calories or specific macronutrient composition and for the most part lead to a temporary weight loss but are not sustainable for the long-term."

3. Not planning meals ahead of time

To make your diet work, try making your meals for the week over the weekend, and pack them for each day. With no planning, you are likely to eat as planning is a reminder of your goals and the eating habits that follow. We often act on impulse when we are hungry, and we may end up consuming unhealthy food as opposed to if we had a plan to stick to.

"Families have busy schedules and it may be easier to pick up fast food or snack on the run, but these habits add excess calories due to the portion size that may lead to weight gain," said Moore.

One way to plan is to cook large quantities and freeze them for later use. Fruits and vegetables can be frozen and will make ready snacks as and when you need a bite.

4. Not shopping smart

Your choices will most probably determine your weight so shop wisely and mindfully. Make a list of the foods you plan to buy so that you will not end up putting “danger” foods in your cart. Try to avoid those rows that will tempt you, that is, processed and canned foods, sodas, candy and snacks. Read the labels and opt for healthier choices by limiting foods with high amounts of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sugar and sodium.

One advice about grocery shopping is to go after you had your meal. A study from Cornell University found that people tended to buy more food, and specifically more unhealthy food, when they were hungry.

5. Relying too much on the scale

The weighing scale can trigger the extremes of emotion – satisfaction and frustration. When it tips to the heavier side, people start to feel anger, self-doubt or disappointment, which can cause them to give up completely on their weight loss goals. This often results in emotional eating, and that is when the bulge wins the battle.

“If you lose a pound of fat and gain a pound of muscle, your weight will stay the same on the scale, yet you will have lost inches,” Moore advised. “So judge yourself by the way you look and feel—and how your clothes fit—rather than by a number.” MIMS

Read more:
8 tips to incorporate more greens into meals
More healthcare professionals now value the role of food as medicine
5 more common food myths busted