Losing weight can be an exercise in trial and error: Try a diet, and see if it works. And as any weight-loss warrior can attest, a lot of the time, it doesn’t.
Though it's a tedious process, the mistakes can teach you a lot about what a sustainable diet and exercise routine should look and feel like—and what you should stay far, far away from (we're looking at you garcinia cambogia).
To help you steer clear of weight-loss fails before they happen, we spoke with seven women who've been there, done that, and found what works. Check out what they discovered about losing weight the hard way (so you don't have to).
1. Cleanses Don't Make You Healthier
“My experience on the Master Cleanse was nothing short of terrifying. I thought, ‘The longer I do this, the better the results will be,’ and stuck to the diet for a full 40 days. I lost some weight at first, but around day 20, I totally plateaued and didn’t lose anymore. While living on water, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, and maple syrup, I started to feel low on energy, dehydrated, and depressed. Then, I started hallucinating. I started seeing these dark shadowy figures. It was really scary. On top of that, I started to forget everything; my brain just didn’t work.
"Afterward, I realized that the physical, emotional, and mental torture of doing a cleanse is not worth the water weight and muscle I lost—and I might actually end up gaining the weight back in the long-term. Working out, eating a wholesome, nutrient-rich diet, and even giving myself some wiggle room for treats are the best things I did for my body. The pounds just fall off, no deprivation required!” —Antonia Donato, 27
2. Not All Carbs Are The Enemy
“When I was trying to lose weight before a wedding, I decided I needed to cut out carbs to reach my goal. I still ate plenty of fruits and veggies, but I cut out starchy vegetables like potatoes and, of course, bread, pasta, and crackers. Within a couple of days, I was seriously dragging a**. I couldn’t complete my usual workouts, and some days, I couldn’t even get to the gym. I probably was burning fewer calories than I was before.
"Though I managed to lose a couple of pounds, it was all water weight. As soon as I ‘caved’ and ate a piece of bread, I gained it all back. After all of that, I decided that I could benefit by minimizing how many refined carbs I eat, switched to whole-grain bread and pasta, and stayed away from processed cookies and crackers as much as possible—within reason. Now, I actually have the energy to complete my workouts, and I don't have the post-carb comas I used to get all the time. I’m losing real weight. It’s slow, but it’s steady.” —Sheila Ray, 23
3. Juices Aren't A Great Meal Replacement
“I tried the juicing fad after the documentary Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead reeled me in. After watching it, I ordered a pretty legit juicer and bought nearly $200 worth of veggies and fruits. I decided I would give up caffeine and food all in the same day because it seemed like the way to set myself up for a big win. The morning juice was delicious, and I felt like I was crossing the starting line to a better me. By noon, I had to introduce kale, which I hate. I did manage to make my way through it, but it wasn’t fun. I was hungry and suffering from withdrawal from sugar, food, caffeine, fun. Drinking liquid kale wasn't so great, either.
"Around dinnertime, I was like, ‘f*ck this.’ I called up one of my friends, and we went out for Mexican food and margaritas. Lessons learned: Juice is not a meal, and no matter how many people tell you to eat kale, you don't have to!” —Carrie Dowling, 30
4. Cutting Gluten Isn't For Everyone
“A couple of my friends who have Celiac disease sang the praises of a gluten-free diet. By cutting gluten, they felt better, had more energy, and lost a pretty good chunk of weight. I thought it could work for me, too, so I gave it shot. Following the diet was the biggest pain ever. I spent so much money on gluten-free pasta and bread. And I spent even more time trying to avoid gluten in the things I had in my fridge. Did you know it’s in a lot of medications and soy sauce? Seriously, it’s everywhere.
"Not only did I not lose weight—I actually managed to gain a few pounds during my gluten-free months. Plus, I was so low on energy that I went to my doctor to find out why. Some tests revealed that I was anemic—extremely low in both iron and B vitamins. I didn’t realize that a lot of gluten-containing foods are actually pretty good sources of those nutrients. My bad. Well, after talking to my doctor about why I was on the diet to begin with, we had a heart-to-heart and she convinced me to leave the gluten-free diets to those with true intolerances.” —Georgia Smith, 34
5. Bingeing Happens When Your Diet Sucks
“I've tried several quick-fix diets to lose weight, like the one where you eat soup for three days or only eat tuna. They always left me feeling unsatisfied. By restricting myself to only certain foods or drinks for a number of days, I was constantly hungry—so sooner or later, I ate everything in sight. I never felt like I was becoming healthier or losing weight. After a few failed diets, I learned that trying to starve myself just doesn’t work." —Natasha Suttle, 29
6. The Hard Part Comes After You Lose The Weight
“I've gained and lost probably 500 pounds in my lifetime. I’ve had success with programs like Weight Watchers and counting calories like it’s my job, but I’ve never kept it off. For me, maintenance is the hard part. Once I lose the weight, I always think, ‘Yes! Now I’m done and can do what I want.’ But that just isn’t true. The really hard work comes after you reach your goal." —Jesse McPhail Ramsay, 40
7. You Don't Need Crazy Tools To Reach Your Goals
“I tried a diet plan that revolves around eating all of your food out of portion-controlled containers that come in different sizes and colours to represent different food groups—like protein, fruit, and veggies. The idea is that if each of your meals fit into the array of containers, you’re set. Your meals are both portion-controlled and balanced. But I had so much trouble figuring out how to use them and cooking every meal from scratch that I basically gave up. While those damn containers were a struggle, they did teach me the importance of portion controlling your meals and making your food ahead of time—but I don't need colour-coded food storage to do it." —Blake Stuffel, 29