9 Signs Your Diet Isn't Working For You
Finding a diet that’s right for you takes some trial and error and a lot of listening to your body.
Fortunately, there are plenty of signs our bodies can give us when we’re not providing it with the right kind of nutrition.
Below are nine issues that can arise when you’re eating a diet that isn’t ideal for you. It’s important to pay attention to these signs and adjust accordingly.
You’re hungry often or have intense cravings, especially at night.
A little bit of hunger is normal and healthy, but feeling hungry frequently during the day — especially just after meals — is not. Cravings are also something to be aware of, especially if they’re intense and specific. These can both be signs that you’re not eating enough, particularly if you feel ravenous at the end of the day.
If, for example, you find yourself craving chocolate every day, that might mean that you’re missing specific nutrients. Many people look at cravings as something to suppress or ignore, but these are important communications from your body. Ignoring them and depriving yourself often leads to depleted willpower and subsequent binges as a way to try to satisfy yourself.
You can’t stop thinking about food.
If you spend the day constantly thinking about your next meal, or if you find yourself dreaming about certain foods, that can mean there’s a larger issue at play. Perhaps you’re feeling overly restricted and are therefore always worrying about what you can eat that will fit within your diet. Or maybe you’re not eating enough, which is causing you to anticipate your next meal.
Food is delicious and should be enjoyed — but you shouldn’t obsess over it. Your diet should allow you to eat, feel satiated, and remain energized until your next meal.
Your energy is low, and you crash in the afternoon.
Needing coffee to get going in the morning (or to stay awake at work) has become so common that it seems normal. But it isn’t! If you’re eating the right type, amount, and balance of food at the right times for your body, you should have sustained energy throughout the day and not need stimulants like coffee or even sugar or carbs to perk you up.
Low energy, especially crashes around 2-3pm, can be a sign of imbalanced blood sugar. The cause of this can be under-eating, not eating enough fat and/or protein, skipping meals, and even stressing over food.
Keep in mind that cutting foods out of your diet can also cause a deficiency in important vitamins and minerals. This can contribute to low energy throughout the day as well.
You’re bloated, constipated, or struggle with other digestive issues.
Certain foods are more likely to negatively impact your digestive system than others. It depends on the individual, but often, these foods include gluten, grains, dairy, and/or soy. Processed foods (like refined grains, processed and artificial sugars, vegetable/seed oils, and packaged foods with food dyes and preservatives) are problematic, too. These are inflammatory and can stress the digestive system.
Any food that disrupts healthy digestion is not only going to lead to symptoms like bloating, constipation, reflux, and diarrhea, but can also make you feel tired, achy, and even lead to other symptoms like acne. Digestive stress can also inhibit nutrient absorption, immune health, and detoxification. If you constantly struggle with digestive issues, the first place to look is your diet.
You aren’t sleeping well.
One of the most common causes of interrupted sleep is blood sugar imbalance. When you have spikes and crashes in blood sugar throughout the day, you set yourself up for a big crash in the middle of the night (when your body already goes seven plus hours without food).
And if you struggle to fall asleep, your diet may also have something to do with that. This can take on many forms. You may be consuming foods or beverages that overstimulate your body — such as coffee or chocolate — too late in the day. Or, digestive issues like the ones mentioned above might be keeping you up at night. Lastly, eating too close to bedtime can also interrupt sleep. You should be giving your body enough time to digest before calling it a night.
Your strength, endurance, or motivation in the gym has decreased.
Food is fuel for your body, and if you exercise, it’s even more crucial to provide your body with the energy it needs to complete and recover from workouts.
If you’re not progressing in the gym — especially if you feel like your strength, endurance, or even motivation has decreased — it can be a sign your diet needs some TLC. Skipping meals or not consuming the right type of food can negatively impact your training and even lead to issues like more frequent injuries.
You’re moving further away from your goals.
Working towards a goal doesn’t mean you’re going to be making progress all the time. Hitting plateaus happens. However, if you find you’re moving in the opposite direction, it might be time to reevaluate.
For example, if you’re trying to lose weight, but you find yourself gaining weight. Or if you’re trying to build muscle but instead are losing weight. These goals, and plenty of others, are all very closely impacted by what you eat (including not just the types of foods in your diet but also how much and how often you’re eating them).
You don’t enjoy what you eat.
It’s perfectly normal to go through periods where you’re a little less motivated or excited by your diet, but generally, it should be short lived. If you feel bored with what you’re eating, are always complaining about your diet, or constantly feel tempted by foods you’re not “allowed” to eat, your diet definitely needs a change.
There’s a common misconception that eating healthfully means eating bland, boring, flavorless food, but this is absolutely not the case. It is possible to find a diet that not only works for your body, but is also something that you like. Plus, these diets are the most sustainable in the long term.
You avoid social situations because of your diet.
Sacrificing your social life should never be the result of adopting a new diet. You may have to make some small sacrifices when trying to reach goals, but this shouldn’t impact your normal routine all that much, and those sacrifices should be completely your decision.
For example, skipping out on a family barbecue is different than bringing a healthy dish with you. Ceasing to attend weekly happy hour meet-ups with friends is very different than suggesting a different location or ordering a mocktail or sipping on water.
Food is often tied with celebration and socialization, but no matter what, you should never feel that your diet is limiting your social life or taking away your freedom of choice. In fact, there are plenty of small things you can do when eating out that will help keep you on track towards reaching your goals.
So what do you do if your diet isn’t working for you?
It may take some time to figure out that your diet isn’t working, and then to figure out why it isn’t working, but once you’ve established this, you can take steps to change it:
Start by being more mindful of your diet: Consider tracking your intake in a journal or app in order to get a bird’s eye view of things. Then start to explore what isn’t working and why.
Change things up: If you’re eating too much or too little, make the adjustment. If you’re cutting out foods you don’t need, bring them back in. If you suspect a food intolerance, try an elimination diet or program like Whole30 to figure it out.
Work with a nutrition professional to find what WILL work for you: Sometimes, it takes an outsider to look at your diet with a completely objective view. A nutrition professional is trained to evaluate what you’re eating and knows what makes up a successful, healthy, supportive diet.