Dieting rarely works. In fact, chronic dieting can lead to bigger weight gain. Here’s how to alter your lifestyle to be healthier and happier.

So, you went on another diet. And that diet failed you.

Dieting is no fun and it gets less fun the older we get. The older we get, the smarter we need to be about dieting.

When I was in high school, I didn’t have to diet. When I was in college, eliminating cheese from my diet for a week got me back into shape. Today, that’s not nearly enough.

It’s even worse when you diet and gained weight anyway. How does that happen?

Cursed cortisol.

If you’re on a diet, you’re likely on a cardio routine. That means long bike rides, long walks, long runs, long times in a humid, body-sweat-infused exercise room with dozens of your weight loss peers.

This routine may have worked when we were kids, but during our adulting years, these same exercises increase our stress levels more than they used to do. Stress produces increased levels of cortisol in our bodies, which converts blood sugar into fat.

Ugh! Doesn’t cortisol know fat is the enemy of diets?

This is a bitch for us, but it helped our cavemen ancestors. Our cave brothers and sisters had to run long stretches because something was chasing them.

Today’s solution is to do aerobic exercise in moderation, preferably at lower heart-rate levels incorporated with anaerobic exercise.

If you diet and gained weight, it’s time to re-think your routine.

Stressful stress.

This same hypocritical hormone, cortisol, hypo-produces and goes into hypo-overdrive when we’re stressed about any and everything. Whether it’s work-stress, family-stress, relationship-stress, emotional stress, or stress-stress, we incur the same wrath from cortisol as when we run 10 miles to Ben & Jerry’s.

Anything that you do to reduce your stress levels will reduce the hypo-production of cortisol. Leave bad situations. Meditate. Adopt healthy exercises to relieve stress. Get yourself in nature.

A great way to knock all these out at once is to go for a hike in the woods, by the ocean, or in a park. Being in nature has been shown to reduce stress levels and acts as an active meditation.

Suspect sleep.

On the flip-side, lack of sleep produces extra serotonin. When we’re stressed or tired for any reason, we usually want to feel comfortable.

What’s the easiest and most satisfying way to feel comfortable? Eating comfort food!

The reason you want that breakfast donut, a plate of spaghetti, and dessert cake is because high-fat and high-carb food produce serotonin that makes us tired.

This should cause us to sleep more, except that white, processed sugars make it hard to fall asleep and lose pounds.

If you diet and gained weight anyway, take a look at your sleep schedule.

Processed poisons.

Natural sugars in whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, include vitamins, minerals, protein, phytochemicals, and fiber, which are all good for you.

Processed sugars don’t have those benefits and provide no value other than gaining weight and keeping us awake.

The same goes for processed flour and, therefore, we should do our best to avoid both. 

The things we eat matter more than we think. Reduce the processed foods you eat, and turn more toward produce and whole grains. You’ll see better results, even without all the calorie counting.

Low-down, low-fat.

For most dieters, avoiding fat is as important as avoiding carbs. The problem is that fats, proteins, and high-fiber carbohydrates produce satiety hormones, such as corticotrophin and cholecystokinin, which make us feel full.

We eat more than we need to when we don’t feel full when we should. Therefore, include some fats in your diet. Healthy fats include nuts, olive oil, avocados, fatty fish and, yes, even dark chocolate – in moderation.

Pay attention to what kinds of things you’re eating. Not all calories are created equal. Just cutting calories might not be enough, especially if you diet and gained weight in the end.

Horrible hunger.

Likewise, when we feel too hungry too often, our bodies go into protection mode and store what food we do eat as fat. This helped our caveman brothers and sisters when food was scarce during the long, cold winter. Most of us today don’t suffer from a scarcity of food.

Our bodies love it if we eat six smaller meals a day rather than three meals a day. It’s especially important to eat breakfast, rather than starving all day and binge eating at night.

Binge weight watching.

Fits and starts of eating also cause us to binge eat. Because our brains think we’re starving, we’ll dive right into the first bowl or bag of food we see only to eat more than we should. It takes about 20 minutes for those satiety hormones mentioned above to reach our brains and tell us to slow you down or stop eating. Unfortunately for many, this is too little too late.

Again, eat six smaller meals throughout the day and you’ll be golden.

Feeling hungry doesn’t help anyone. If you diet and gained weight, even though you’re hungry all the time, your problem might be the hunger.

Magnificent muscle.

It’s possible that because you’re dieting and doing moderate levels of aerobic exercises that you’re also doing appropriate amounts of anaerobic exercises, like lifting weights, yoga, and pilates.

Muscle weighs more than fat, and bodies that weigh the same look better when their weight is more muscle than fat. So, gain more muscle and don’t worry about having too much. For most of us, that would be hard to do.

Try focusing on inches, rather than weight. If you are losing inches, but still gain weight, it might be muscle.

These are eight reasons WTF you may be gaining weight when you’re dieting. Some are good and some are bad. Now that you know what to look out for, manage your diet and exercise to never be sad.

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Seeing your ripped bod fade before your eyes? There’s no excuse for that! Start getting healthy again.

Please note, this is a tongue and cheek confessional about my laziness and apathy. Like my pursuit of a singing career, this confessional may or may not be based on delusion.

Much has been said about the differences between straight fat and gay fat. We gay men can be a superficial gaggle of judgment. This is why many of us come equipped with our very own fruit fly. Put another way, this is why many straight women have a personalized GBF (gay best friend).

You see, many XXs have learned that asking their straight XYs for opinions on a hairstyle, a dress or an expensive pair of shoes (a.k.a. an investment) is an exercise in futility. Their straight partner simply wants to keep the peace. Their gay partner, on the other hand, wants them to look fabulous at any costs.

It’s from this vantage point that I confess that I cringe when I see the naked effigy of myself in the mirror. Who is he? From whence did he come?

The downfall of my hot bod.

It wasn’t long ago in the club-thumping 2000s when I could join my people in a shirtless display of diva-house music abandon. It was less long ago that I became too old for this to be my main form of merrymaking. Work and life happened. Working out six days a week turned into working out six days a year.

I just turned 43 and Linda Evans* has been telling me since I hit puberty that “40 isn’t fatal.” My career, my relationship, and my life are all great. There’s no reason why this 40-something qualifies for Celebrity Fit Club.

When I read Why 40 Is the New Age of Fitness, I was assured that my masterpiece of a dad-bod is my choice and not my burden. I’ve adopted a lazy, sedentary lifestyle nourished by processed flour and sugar. I never ride a bike without a helmet only because I never ride a bike. I only buy organic, fair trade, and gluten-free food that never gets within a 10-mile radius of a peanut, but this clearly isn’t serving my waistline.

I argue that most of us Gen Xers (yes, Millennials and Boomers, we exist too) have chosen our physical states. With advancements in technology and medicine and our greater understanding of human physiology, all of the sexy excuses we manufacture don’t negate the fact that many of us have no valid reason for letting ourselves go.

I’m not clinging to my 20s like an aging pop star. I just want to be in the top 20% of my cohort.

I lied in the first paragraph. This is both a confessional and an accountability statement. I can do better and, I argue, so can you. Save for a valid medical condition, and only you can know that, you can get better with me.

Here’s what I’m doing to get healthy and back in shape:

Eat healthy.

I avoided the word “diet” because a diet is temporary and a lifestyle is forever.

With all my weight fluctuations and my exercise physiology degree, I know that a well-balanced, vegetable-based diet that avoids processed foods and includes more fish and poultry and less red meat is the best diet.

I’m seeking clean foods, like something a sun-kissed Greek server would serve me on holiday in Mykonos.

Be active.

It turns out that couch-surfing does not burn calories. In fact, with couch-surfing related activities, couch-surfing increases one’s caloric intake. For most of us, it’s about calories in versus calories out. Let’s get off the couch!

I’m doing high-impact weight training for one hour a day five days a week. This is helping me gain muscle and strength. I started with low weights and am gradually increasing them.

High-impact weight training reduces the risk of injury, both exercise-induced and otherwise. It should also boost my metabolism. This means I’ll increase my caloric burn even when resting. These reasons are why weight training is important for women, too.

I’m running three to five miles a week because I enjoy it. As we age, however, our bodies produce more cortisol with longer aerobic activities. This is why many part-time running hobbyists struggle with weight loss. Adopt whatever aerobic activities you enjoy, even if it’s walking. Just move and be careful to not O.D. on cortisol.

I’ve started yoga, again, too. Yoga and I love each other “like a love song.” Yoga (and I) loves you, too. As we age, our muscles shrink and we lose balance. Losing balance, whether walking, standing or being active can cause injury. Our goal isn’t to go from the couch to the doctor’s table. Though, I guess that depends on the doctor.

Be zen.

We Gen Xers are entering or are in our peak earning years, have teenagers and college students, and have more exes than an NFL chalkboard. All are stressful.

I’m meditating. Oprah’s meditating. Somewhere in the great beyond Steve Jobs is meditating. Why? Because it’s good for us. Meditating reduces stress and taps into our feelings, those gut feelings that help us make better life decisions. Meditation can be a good part of a healthy lifestyle.

In fact, my husband and I follow Hal Elrod’s The Miracle Morning formula. This practice incorporates all the new-agey stuff many of the world’s most successful people do. Hal’s belief (and I agree) is that if the six practices outlined in his book are the most common practices of the world’s most successful people, surely one must work for us.

Choose happiness.

Being happy, like being healthy, is a choice that makes us healthier. I won’t get angry if I don’t get back into shape as rapidly as I did in my 20s. I won’t go off the rails if I see another wrinkle.

Victor Frankl said that between a stimulus and a response there’s a space, and in that space, we make a choice. If a concentration camp survivor chose to not let his circumstances destroy his happiness, I can do similar. This applies to every stimulus I receive and every response I choose.

This is how I’m proving Linda Evans right. Please support Linda Evans.

* Linda Evans in no way sponsored, endorsed, or even knows about me or this article.

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Don’t let your hatred of exercise get in the way of your health.

I hate exercise for the sake of exercise.

However, I know physical activity is an essential part of healthy living. So I suck it up and exercise anyway. But that doesn’t mean I always follow a prescribed method of exercise that involves going to the gym or moving to a workout video.

Do something fun.

The fact that I don’t like exercise doesn’t mean that I refuse physical activity. Quite the opposite. I love being active. I enjoy riding my bike and hiking. I prefer walking to driving. I love swimming and playing tennis. I recently started fencing with my son and learning how to use a punching bag.

Your exercise time doesn’t have to include a boring routine that you hate. It doesn’t feel like exercise when I’m in the pool or sparring with my son. It’s exhilarating and enjoyable. I get a workout, and it doesn’t feel like a chore.

Find something active that you enjoy and use that as your primary method of exercise. It’s easier to stay motivated when it’s something you like, and you’re more likely to stick with it.

Break it up.

Sometimes you need to work on different aspects of your physical fitness. Most of my preferred activities involve cardio, and not much in the way of strength training. This means I need to devote some of my exercise time to strength training, even though it’s not my favorite.

I find yoga soothing, so I usually start with that. Many of the poses promote strength training using your body weight. If I start the day with five to 10 minutes of yoga, I feel good mentally and it is good for my body.

Throughout the day, though, I look for other ways to boost my strength training. Maybe it’s a few reps with the hand weights or a set of squats. Because I belong to a gym for the pool access, there are days I just suck it up and work out with the weight machines for strength training. But I do it in broken up doses so I don’t end up stuck doing something I hate for what feels like FOREVER.

You can do the same. Break your exercise into 10-minute chunks. Even if you are doing something you hate, you are more likely to stick with a regimen if you don’t have to block it all out and devote a whole half hour at a time to it.

Do something else at the same time.

Distract your mind by engaging in another activity at the same time you exercise. After I broke my wrist, I couldn’t engage in many of my preferred activities. Instead, I had to walk on the treadmill for most of my cardio. I hate that.

To take my mind off that fact, I listened to podcasts or brought my Kindle so I could read. Having my mind engaged allowed me to exercise without really registering how much I hated it. Some days I even answered email while on the treadmill.

I have friends who use a stationary bike while watching TV. They are distracted by the TV, but still get the exercise in. Use this technique to trick yourself into moving forward with exercise — even if you don’t normally like exercise.

Find a buddy.

Working out with a friend can feel like fun, instead of a chore. I don’t usually workout with someone, but there was a time when I had a walking buddy. He and I had similar fitness goals and we met twice a week to walk the track at the university.

Your workout buddy can also help you turn exercise into a game. Look for ways to reward yourselves for improved performance. You can even compete with each other, as long as you keep it friendly.

Don’t let your hatred of exercise keep you from developing a healthy habit. Trick yourself into exercise and you might be surprised at how much you can accomplish — and how much better you feel.

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