There’s no question that trying to stick to a diet takes work.

Once you’ve made the decision to take charge of your weight, you’ve got to break away from your usual routine. Instead of days of mindless eating and nights spent loafing on the couch, now you’ve got to think about planning and cooking your meals, counting your calories, and carving out time for exercise. That’s a lot to tackle – and helps explain why so many people have such a hard time sticking to a diet.

How long does the average diet last?
It’s generally recognized that people diet frequently (and that they often give up), but the average length of time that people actually stay on a plan is a bit hard to pin down.

Whatever the time frame – whether it’s five minutes or five weeks – the point is this: many people have a hard time sticking to their diet plans. Why is sticking with a diet so hard? And – more importantly – what can you do about it?

Diet failure reason #1: It doesn’t fit your lifestyle.
I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating: when you say you’re going “on a diet” it implies that, at some point, you’ll be going “off your diet”. This often happens when people try to adopt a diet plan that just doesn’t fit with their lifestyle.

Maybe it calls for a lot of food preparation and you just don’t like to cook, or don’t have time. Maybe there are too many restrictions – so you quickly get bored, or you can’t find anything you can eat when you go out with friends or family.

Easy diet fix: Rather than trying the latest “diet”, focus on making lifestyle changes for the long term. If you don’t have time to cook or don’t enjoy it, seek out recipes that are quick and easy, and learn your way around a restaurant menu so that you can always find something that works for you.

Diet failure reason #2: Your expectations aren’t realistic.
Once you’ve made the decision to “go on a diet”, you may have high expectations for your weight loss – especially if you find yourself making a lot of sacrifices. But if you expect to lose more than you can safely achieve over a period of time, you’re just setting yourself up for failure. And if you expect that you’re going to follow your new diet to the letter, you’ll probably abandon the whole thing as soon as you make a slip and ‘cheat’.

Easy diet fix: First, recognize that a safe and reasonable rate of weight loss is about a kilogram per week. And recognize, too, that when you’re working to establishing healthy new habits, it’s natural to slip once in a while. Rather than letting that diet slip turn into a diet fail – and giving up altogether – try to learn from your mistakes and allow some time for the new habits to get established.

Diet failure reason #3: You don’t change your environment.
Your environment has a big effect on your eating. Think about what you keep in your refrigerator, freezer and cupboards at home, the snacks you have stashed in your desk, the burger places you pass on your commute every day. There are temptations all around you, and if you don’t take charge of your environment, it’s just too easy to give in.

Easy diet fix: Clear tempting, high-calorie foods out of your house and replace them with healthier items. Rather than a jar of candy on your desk or a bag of cookies on your kitchen counter, put out some fresh fruit or protein snack bars. Cut up some fresh veggies and put them in a highly visible spot in your refrigerator where they’ll be the first things you see.

Stock your freezer and pantry with healthy staples so that you always have what you need to put together a healthy meal. And if you can’t drive past your favourite fast food restaurant without taking a detour into the drive-through, find another route.

Diet failure reason #4: You don’t eat regular meals and snacks.
Too often, people think the quickest way to weight loss is to just eat as little as possible. So, they skip meals and snacks – which leaves them hungry, tired and cranky and craving sugar and caffeine to get them through the day. Skipping meals and snacks usually doesn’t help you lose weight, because you’re likely to just eat more at your next meal.

Easy diet fix: Work on establishing a regular eating pattern that will keep you from getting overly hungry. In general, people feel the need to eat about every 3-4 hours during the day, which means that most people need – at a minimum – three meals and a snack in the afternoon.

When you know you’re going to eat every few hours, it makes it easier to control your portions at each meal and snack, too. You can teach yourself to eat just enough to hold you until the next time you plan to eat. And make sure that each meal and snack provides some low-fat protein to help keep your hunger under control.

Diet failure reason #5: You eat for reasons other than hunger.
Emotional eaters turn to food when they’re feeling depressed, angry or stressed. If they start on a diet and deprive themselves of the emotional comfort of food, you can imagine what happens - they just get more depressed, angry and stressed.

If you find yourself eating when you’re not really physically hungry, you’ll want to work on finding other ways to make yourself feel better.

Easy diet fix: When you get ‘emotional’ and feel the need to eat, take a moment to stop and simply acknowledge what it is that you’re feeling. Rather than ‘stuffing down’ the negative feeling with food, just let it be. It might help to write down how you’re feeling, or to call a friend and talk it out.

You can also tell yourself that you’ll wait 5 or 10 minutes before giving in – chances are you’ll get busy doing something else and forget about eating altogether. And exercise is one of the best mood-lifters around. Instead of drowning your sorrows with sweets, put on your shoes and go take a walk, or get down on the floor and stretch instead.