Ask Stew — Why a Lifestyle Change Works Better Than Dieting

A dietician confers with a master sergeant about weight loss.
Dietician Jennifer Eiland discusses possible dietary changes with Master Sgt. Anthony Jones to help him improve his fitness. (G.A. Volb/NCO Leadership Center of Excellence)

No one wants to be a yo-yo, especially when you're trying to lose weight.

Dieting and a long-term lifestyle change are two different things when it comes to weight loss. Most diets will start off on a plan that forces the elimination of certain types of foods, over-restricts calorie intake and includes other unsustainable temporary habits to see success quickly.  However, if you are seeking a more permanent solution and tired of the yo-yo dieting like this retired master chief, consider seeing a diet professional and do the two-habit challenge: one habit you have to start and one habit you have to quit.

Here is a question from the retired Navy veteran seeking some advice on the topic:

Stew, I have done about 5-6 diets in my life to lose some weight in the short term, but eventually fail and wind up falling back to my starting weight or worse (Atkins, grapefruit, intermittent fasting, liver detox and various other cleanses). What do you recommend to get off this yo-yo dieting method that has plagued my goals over the last 10-15 years? Retired Navy Master Chief Jack M.

Master chief, this is probably the most common issue people have with starting a diet that is not a true lifestyle change and meant as a long-term fix. These diets are obviously quick-fix methods to drop weight quickly if you have it to lose (not that healthy, however).

If your diet starts to eliminate macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat, protein), it is not a long-term solution. However, if you are seeking to eliminate something, try sugar, but the best option is to speak with a registered dietician or certified nutritionist and get on a program that is a sustainable lifestyle change.

I am not a dietician or nutritionist, so my advice comes from personal experience and research on the topic, both personally and professionally. Here is a recent article I wrote documenting some options out there that started off reducing carbohydrates significantly (not completely), but evolved into eliminating sugar altogether and getting a daily allotment of carbs from fruits and vegetables.  

This common denominator with successful dieting/food planning is doing something that becomes a new way of eating for you that is healthy and sustainable. In the end, it comes down to discipline.

I bring discipline up as a topic for readers, because most of us can relate to building discipline. As a retired veteran, it might be refreshing to start being more disciplined again, as it, too, is a habit.

Plain and simple, you have to be more disciplined when it comes to old habits and temptations that cause you to increase your caloric intake. Fighting off the old habits will be one of the harder challenges of a new food plan. Second, the discipline to stick to the new program is challenging at first, but the new method will start to become a habit in 3-4 weeks of persistence and patience.

Then there is caloric expenditure. How are you getting your exercise? If you can burn 500 calories a day in the gym and eat 500 calories less by consuming smaller portions, you can be on your way to a lifestyle change of basically burning/consuming a thousand calories a day on the side of weight loss.

In fact, read ideas about the 1,000 Calories a Day Goals. Your success will come from eating healthful food and moving more, but the discipline involved with portion control (even of good foods) still is required for long-term goal achievement.   

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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