“I’ve tried every diet and nothing worked.”

It is likely that many of us have heard someone say that…or even said it ourselves.  The New Year is upon us and there are many who will be trying some version of a “diet” in an attempt to make progress towards their New Year’s resolutions.  (In November, I wrote about “The Best Diet” and in December, I provided a guide to help you establish those New Year’s resolutions and you can now read those articles in the Blog portion of my website!).  

Unfortunately, some won’t make an attempt to change their health for the better, referencing their failed attempts in the past.  I am here to tell you that the only true failure is giving up altogether.

I have seen it pointed out that FAIL can also stand for “First Attempt in Learning.”  Social media often paints the picture that everything goes perfect the first time.  With any significant change, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  In my personal journey, I have lost as much as 60 pounds and have kept it off for years.  All too frequently it pops up in my “Facebook memories” how I posted about “rededicating myself for the 1387th time” because I had made an attempt to address my health/fitness/nutrition and it didn’t work out.

In a book that I have written that will come out in the New Year about failure, I wrote “failure doesn’t have to be final…even the best fail…it’s what you do in response to that failure that matters.”  One of the most important actions we can take when something doesn’t work out as we had planned is to reflect on what happened.  Questions to consider:  what went well?  What didn’t go well?  What could I have done differently?  What would I keep the same?

social media can lead to quick frustrations and poor health if we aren't mindful, especially when it comes to dieting efforts.
In the era of social media, it can be easy to forget not everything goes perfectly on the first try.

Even now, I still have periods where old habits resurface and I may fluctuate up in weight a bit.  When I go through those periods, I then reflect on what I could do or could have done differently.  I will help you out with this…you will not reach a point where you have learned it all…it is a continuous learning process.

Some common reasons people experience failure in their attempts to improve their nutrition is that they choose an approach that is too restrictive (reference my “Best Diet” article).  Last time, the “diet that didn’t work”, did it eliminate all of the things that you love/enjoy?  If so, how about this time, you choose an approach that still enables you to enjoy your favorite things, but in moderation?

Last time, the “diet that didn’t work”, did you really give it enough time?  In a time where people expect “6 Week Abs”, many expect their bodies/health to improve in that same time frame.  Tough love here…you didn’t gain the weight in 6 weeks and it is going to take you longer than 6 weeks to lose it.  I often go back to the question, “would you rather lose 10 pounds in 6 weeks or lose 10 pounds that you keep off forever?”  Building the habits that will help you keep the 10 pounds off forever will be far more beneficial than the actions you take to lose 10 pounds in 6 weeks.  I encourage you to be patient with the process because just when we think nothing is happening, we could be just on the other side of a major breakthrough.

With the “diet that didn’t work” the last time, how consistent were you?  Did you have a great breakfast and a decent lunch, and then “blow” it in the evening?  Or, were you good all week just to have a landslide on the weekend?  These can be signs that:   too restrictive of an approach has been taken during the week, meals weren’t balanced well enough, or that you are not eating enough (yes, even when people are trying to lose weight, it is possible for them to not eat enough).  This is why I preach sustainability and choosing an approach that works best for YOU…not what worked for a friend of yours, someone at work, or some celebrity.

What did your overall lifestyle look like with the “diet that didn’t work” the last time?  Were you trying to feel your best, but only sleeping 4-6 hours a day?  What did your stress management look like?  Were you drinking 4 cups of coffee a day and only 2 cups of water?  What did your fruit & vegetable consumption look like?  Were you exercising to burn as many calories as possible?  NO nutritional approach is going to overcome or balance out an unhealthy lifestyle.

Lastly, did you try to do it alone the last time the “diet didn’t work.”  I coach others and even I have a Coach to help me navigate the trouble areas.  Apps are a wonderful tool.  I use MyFitnessPal often.  However, they do not replace human connection and having someone to reach out to when you are facing a challenge.

In closing, I encourage you to do some deep reflection regarding the ways you feel an attempt to improve your health/fitness/nutrition didn’t work out in the past.  I can pose questions to you to initiate that reflection, but it is up to you to answer them honestly to yourself.  One of my mantras is “let it be possible.”  The moment we say “I’ve tried every diet and nothing worked,” we are closing ourselves off to the opportunity of ever being successful.  This time, you are attempting with experience in knowing what may not have worked the last time and can perhaps be just a bit more successful this time.  You are worth every attempt to improve your health and live this life to its fullest because we only get this one life to live…so why not get the most out of it?  You can do it.  I believe in you!

Author: Dr. Candice Dutko

This article was featured by Panorama in their January issue.

Creating those New Year’s Resolutions

2023 is almost upon us which means many people will be creating some New Year’s Resolutions.  There are some who don’t quite “believe” in setting some resolutions for themselves.  I don’t blame them.  Estimates vary, with some statistics reporting that about only 75-80% of those who create resolutions for themselves are still committed to them two weeks into the New Year.  As the year goes by, the rate continues to decrease with approximately less than half still striving for them six months later.  

On the other hand, I am personally in favor of New Year’s Resolutions as I am a product of them myself.  In 2016, I committed to myself and identified three New Year’s Resolutions:  lose 25 pounds, complete the Spartan Beast (an obstacle course race) in Killington, Vermont, and get my first strict pull-up.  It took me till July of that year to lose my 25th pound, I completed my race in August that year, and it took till the week between Christmas and New Year’s of 2017 to get that first strict pull-up.  I also view 2016 as the year where my life/health made its biggest turnaround and therefore, I encourage others to establish goals for themselves too.  However, HOW we set those goals is just as important WHAT goals we set.

Setting your new years resolution health, wellness, and fitness goals

A great framework to use is that of the SMART Goal.  A SMART goal is one that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based.  Let’s go through each step!

Specific.  Be specific about your goal.  For example, “I will be healthier in 2023.”  Being “healthier” can really mean a lot of different things.  Instead, consider, “I will lose on average 1-2 pounds per month” or, “I will start walking 10,000 steps per day”, or “I will eat a fruit or a vegetable each day.”

Measurable.  Using the initial example of wanting to be healthier, it helps if there is some way to measure whether we have achieved our goal or not.  You can measure that through weight loss, if that is your goal.  You can measure that with accomplishing a step-count goal.  You can also measure that by checking off “yes” each day when you confirm that you have eaten a fruit or a vegetable.  

Attainable.  In setting a goal, you want to create one that is attainable, yet still does require some additional effort on your part to achieve.  However, not one soooo big that the chances are greater that you won’t.  Depending where you are on your weight loss journey, losing 1-2 pounds per month is an attainable goal.  Saying you will lose 10 pounds in the month of January, while perhaps attainable for some, likely involves a great deal of restriction and is probably not sustainable, meaning those 10 pounds will likely come back. 

Relevant.  Make sure the goal is relevant to you and what is important to YOU, not important to your family or someone else.  

Time-based.  Having a date in mind gives you something to focus on.  Maybe you are striving to achieve a certain weight by a special event.  Maybe you have a goal of increasing your number of steps each day till you are achieving your goal on the regular by July.  Maybe you eat a fruit or vegetable 3 days/week in January, and increase it by one day each week until you accomplish your goal, let’s say 80-90% of the time in June.  

Regardless of what goal you set for yourself, I also want you to keep some things in mind.  The first is, you will not always see signs of progress and that doesn’t mean that you aren’t making any.  With my weight loss goal, there was at least one month in there (and at that time I usually weighed about once a month), where the number on the scale didn’t move.  If you experience the same with your goal, be patient and continue to put in the work and trust the process.  Sometimes our breakthrough is just on the other side of such “plateaus”.  Unfortunately, too many people give up or throw in the towel here…don’t be one of those people.  

Next, you won’t always feel motivated to work towards your goal.  Even I, one who enjoys exercising, do not ALWAYS feel like exercising.  However, I have those goals off in the distance to help provide some motivation.  For example when I had the goal of that obstacle course race, it motivated me to make sure I got to the gym to work on my fitness so I could have a successful race.  

Lastly, be OK with it taking longer than you think.  Too many times today people are expecting things to happen so fast and in many cases, that is unrealistic.  For example, with my goal of a pull-up…for many, especially women, they can take a while to be able to develop the ability to do.  To expect that I would accomplish that in 8 weeks or less would likely be very unrealistic.  We don’t always have control over when the results will come, but we have control over the process that helps you achieve those results.    

If you are feeling stuck on what would be an appropriate goal for yourself, or maybe you have a goal and don’t quite know how to break it down into small steps, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me!  I am happy to help and provide some guidance.  

Author: Dr. Candice Dutko

This article was featured by Panorama in their November issue.

The Best Diet for You!

We all want the best for ourselves, right?!  We take the time to research the best car or the best school to send our kids to.  We look at reviews on websites before committing to purchasing a particular product.  Similarly, there is no shortage of information suggesting “the best diet” for people.  Oftentimes, this is followed by the tag line “lose 10 pounds in 10 days.” 

Perhaps you saw the headline for this article and thought I would be writing to encourage you to do Keto, or to go plant-based, or to consider the cabbage soup diet (yes…that’s a thing).  I am here to tell you that the answer is none of those things necessarily.  My answer for what is the best diet:  the one that is most sustainable for you.  Unfortunately, that won’t make the front cover of a magazine…because it isn’t attached to a product that someone can make money off of…and it doesn’t have fancy rules and/or restrictions.

Personally, I am not even a fan of the word “diet”, as it has come to have a somewhat negative connotation.  For example, when you Google “diet defined”, the second part of the definition reads:  “a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.”  On the other hand, the first part of the definition reads, “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats” which is generally what I am referring to when I use the word “diet”.  However, since people often hear “diet” and think of the definition which suggests restriction, I instead prefer to use the term/phrase “nutritional approach”.  In this article, I will discuss some key principles you should have in mind when choosing a nutritional approach for yourself.  

Which is the best diet for your health food image.
What is the best diet for you? The answer might not be what you expect.

One of the first key elements when choosing a nutritional approach is to consider sustainability.  Is this a way of eating that you can do for a lifetime?  If you are a carb lover, don’t choose an eating pattern that is more Ketogenic.  If you love a good steak, don’t choose something that is primarily plant based.  By all means, if you love cabbage soup…have some…just don’t make that the only thing you eat all week.  If you can’t picture yourself eating that way forever, then don’t choose that nutritional approach.  You will likely find yourself to be more miserable.  

Another key principle to have in mind is don’t jump into something that requires you to change everything all at once.  This will likely lower your likelihood of success and possibly increase your chances of giving up.  On the other hand, embrace a more gradual approach where you can build on some early successes.  For some guidance, check out the Infographic I referred to in recent weeks in my articles on protein, carbohydrates, and fats (all now located in the blog section of my website).  Ideally, you would be selecting most of your foods from the “eat more” column, with less of what you eat coming from the “eat some”, and only on occasion eating the “eat less” foods.  Again, this is not something you even need to jump into full force with right away.  Start with even just three of your breakfasts during the week containing foods predominantly from the “eat more” column.  Maybe you even start with just trading out your usual carbohydrate at supper with one from the “eat more” column.  Don’t underestimate the value of making even small changes and the positive impact they can have on your overall health.  

Something that should cause you to question the healthiness of a particular nutritional approach is if it is overly restrictive, or cuts out food groups entirely.  For example, the Keto diet is commonly associated with cutting out carbs, including fruit and certain vegetables.  In doing so, you are also cutting out valuable sources of vitamins and minerals that are important to our body functioning at its best.  A challenge commonly associated with those who choose a more plant-based approach is ensuring enough protein variety is consumed so as not to miss out on important amino acids.  I understand people may take this approach for reasons that are very personal to them and I am OK with that.  It is just important that if one is going to choose this nutritional approach for their life that they do the appropriate research to make sure they are consuming enough of what their body needs, namely protein.  Lastly, the cabbage diet…yes, cabbage and other fermented foods are good for our health, especially our gut health, however in large quantities, they can make you quite uncomfortable.  In addition, when you focus on consuming strictly one food, you are missing out on nutrients that are available in other foods.  

“One of the first key elements when choosing a nutritional approach is to consider sustainability.  Is this a way of eating that you can do for a lifetime?”

A key component to choosing the best nutritional approach for you is not necessarily looking at what you need to take out, but perhaps what you can add in.  Maybe you don’t make any modifications to what you are eating just yet, and instead you add in some activity such as walking.  Maybe you don’t swap out your fried chicken for supper, but you add in a serving of veggies or two.  Maybe you aren’t ready to modify your activity level or your nutrition, but strive to improve your hydration and drink more water.  Or, maybe you focus on going from 5-6 hours of sleep per night to getting 7-9 hours.  

One last suggestion I will make is to focus on the long game.  Stop looking for the next “4 week” or “8 week” fix.  Generally speaking, the faster you lose the weight, the more likely it is to come back.  On the other hand, those that play the long game, often experience long-term, lasting results.  Put simply…would you rather lose 10 pounds quickly?  Or, would you rather lose 10 pounds that stays off forever?  Case in point…look at those on the Biggest Loser who were placed on restrictive, aggressive plans and yes, they lost a tremendous amount of weight in a very short time.  However, only very few were able to keep it off and many rebounded and gained some (if not all) of the weight back.  

In closing, there is no one best nutritional approach out there except the one that works for you.  One key element it does require is the willingness to change.  If you want something different for yourself, you have to do something different.  Notice I didn’t say “completely alter who you are.”  I love pizza…it’s one of my favorite food groups.  I still enjoy it pretty much weekly, just in a smaller portion.  I also love ice cream…another one of my favorite food groups!  I still enjoy it often but in smaller portions.  However, because I want my body and mind to function at its best, I have added in more nutrient dense foods that support those goals.  Eating well a great majority of the time means that the small portions of pizza and/or ice cream that I eat during the week don’t take away from me accomplishing my goals and actually help me get closer to them because I never feel like I am missing out.  

If you would like some personalized guidance or direction, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Author: Dr. Candice Dutko

This article was featured by Panorama in their November issue.

I Focused on the Scale and Here is What Happened

Written by Dr. Candice Dutko

It has been a little while since I have focused on the scale.  At different parts of my weight loss journey, I prioritized the scale differently.  I had moments where I allowed it to influence how I felt about myself.  Over time, I have moved further away from that and have placed the priority on how I feel in my day-to-day and how my training is going.  For example, how have my workouts been feeling?  Am I earning some PRs (personal records) in the gym?  I have devoted greater priority to those metrics versus the number on the scale.  As a result of focusing on fueling my performance, a difference in the scale has become a side effect of my efforts.  

During the month of June, I had to focus a bit more on the number on the scale because I had to be under a certain weight for when I was due to compete at United States Strongman Nationals at the end of the month.  Weigh-in day was Friday, June 24th, and competition day was Saturday, June 25th.  I had known since late Summer 2021 that I had qualified for competition in June 2022.  I had used the approximately 9 months prior to gradually start working on my weight and was more diligent about my nutrition.  

Candice Dutko at the strongman competition.

From January 2022 to the end of May 2022, I had trickled down in weight from about 175 pounds to 165 pounds.  The goal for competition day was to be 165 or under.  My focus in June was to inch my way down another 2-3 pounds or so to give myself a buffer for weigh-in day.  As a woman, I have to consider the challenge of my monthly cycle impacting my weight and low-and-behold…my next cycle was going to fall in-and-around that time.  Therefore, I wanted to have a little wiggle room.  

Throughout the months of January through May, I weighed myself periodically.  Sometimes Tuesday and Friday, and as the months got closer, usually Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  I did this to keep tabs on where my weight was so that I could allow myself enough time to make an adjustment if need be.  I didn’t want to find myself in a situation like if I were to wait until say May or early June to check-in on that and have to severely “diet down” to achieve my goal.  Although I was weighing myself and collecting that data, I still ultimately prioritized my performance in the gym.  In the past few months, I have had a good string of PRs…some things I haven’t PR’d in a long time.  My workouts were feeling better and better.  

As of about June 2nd, I started weighing myself every morning.  I viewed the process as time limited as I only need to be this extremely focused for about three (3) weeks.  Initially, I stuck to my current macro goals.  If I didn’t see the number on the scale go down over the course of the next 2-3 days, I adjusted my macros slightly.  

Fortunately, for the most part, I wasn’t really hungry.  In the morning, I would carefully plan out my day to ensure my workout was still supported, but not leave me so short the rest of the day that would lead to me potentially wanting to snack.  For the most part, I did well with that.  However, I found myself thinking about food way more often than I usually would.  During months where the scale was not my main focus, if I thought about food, it was about new recipes or meals I wanted to try.  It is usually a positive experience where I feel like I was enjoying the opportunity to be creative and try new things.  During this time however, I felt like I was always just thinking about food, period.  I might not have been hungry for it, but I was thinking about it.   

Typically, I enjoy the flexibility of my nutritional approach and I ensure that I make sure to enjoy some things I don’t always have the opportunity to eat.  For example, at my daughter’s softball games, I enjoy some nachos with cheese.  Or, at another field we play at, I enjoy their funnel cake sticks.  With a stronger focus on the scale, I found myself not taking the time to enjoy some special treats…even if they were something I would really only have once a week.  During the month of June, I said “no” to those things and reminded myself of my goal.  

Speaking of treats, I had a big internal debate on whether to forgo my weekly Friday pizza or not.  I questioned whether I should give up something I enjoy in pursuit of my goal.  I ended up developing a strategy to still incorporate it into my nutrition…but, there was a part of me that wondered whether my failure to make this sacrifice would compromise me achieving my goal for weigh-in day.  

I found myself more aware of the calendar than usual…I was counting down the days.  Whenever I found myself struggling, I just reminded myself of how many more days I had to go.  

Especially in the last week or so prior to weigh-in day, I found my sleep becoming more and more disturbed.  More often than not, I get anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep a night, usually uninterrupted.  During that last week or so, sleeping through the night became a rarity and I started waking up in the middle of the night more frequently.  I would notice my thoughts drifting to wondering what the scale would say in the morning.  

In trying to search for the positives for this experience with focusing on the scale, I found maybe two.  One was I am proud of myself for being able to dial things in more tightly in order to achieve a goal.  Back in 2019 when I competed at the same competition, I struggled to dial in my nutrition and I did not meet my weigh-in goal and had to compete in a higher weight class.  Although I kept trying to “re-dedicate” myself over and over leading up to that competition, I couldn’t manage to stay focused.  As I pursue other meaningful performance goals for myself, I have this experience to fall back on, that when it truly mattered, I was able to focus and make some compromises to achieve that goal. 

The second possible benefit was that I learned a bit about my body’s response to food and other activities that will help me coach others through the process.  For me, the negatives of dwelling on the number on the scale outweigh (no pun intended!) the positives.   

I am proud of myself for accomplishing my weigh-in goal; however, I have no desire to weigh myself for at least a month.  I feel like I need time away.  I am fortunate that I don’t have any upcoming competitions where that will be a factor and I can return to letting my training performance be the main indicator of progress and utilizing my fueling to support improvements in that area.  I live for the moments in the gym where I do something I never thought possible and/or I grow stronger in a particular lift or movement.  Those are way more meaningful to me than a number on the scale.  When I focus on those things, I have greater enjoyment in eating to fuel my body and I am happier in my day-to-day.  

Candice Dutko lifting at the strongman competition.

My advice to my clients, as well as anyone who is on a weight loss (or gain!) journey, is DON’T dwell on the scale.  Find those other “metrics” in your daily life that you can observe improvement in.  For example, how is your energy day-to-day?  Are you growing stronger in the gym?  How do your workouts feel?  Have you been able to learn more skills?  Has your sleep improved?  How does your body feel each and every day?  Are you starting to achieve a more-defined body composition?  These are just some examples and you are really only limited by your imagination and your priorities.  Focus on the process supporting these goals…such as through proper fueling, rest, and recovery…and you will likely see progress with the scale.  There are very few instances where you benefit from solely focusing on the scale…so carefully consider whether that should be one of your goals anyways.