How To Lose Weight Without Following Diet Rules

Trying to lose weight can feel pretty miserable, between the restriction, thinking about food all the time and feeling like you can’t fully enjoy life. You might be able to stick with it long enough to lose weight but likely struggle to maintain it.

What fuels much of this unpleasant cycle are diet rules. We pick up these diet rules anywhere, from various diets, magazines, weight loss advice and by what’s worked for friends.  

You might have an idea of the kinds of rules I’m talking about, like: don’t eat after 6pm, never skip breakfast, restrict carbs, don’t eat gluten, count your calories, do a specific workout that’s best for fast weight loss...

These are easy to internalize and accept as fact, like you have to or should do these things in order to eat healthy and lose weight. If you abandon or go against them, you might feel like you’re doing something wrong. It makes food seem scarce, which drives the urge to eat and indulge even more.

It’s a limiting cycle and is the opposite of having a healthy relationship with food. At first, when you’re motivated, it’s easier to stay on track and see results. But once that new excitement wears off, it can be a challenge to maintain it everyday life.

The reason these kinds of rules don’t really work long term is because it’s not what your body needs or they don’t fit into your lifestyle. Some rules do work, but we don’t live in a world that supports them. In early human times, food was scarce, so it was easy to ban certain food groups (like eating a strict paleo diet) and limit calories, because that’s what they had to do. If you love to eat, and food is everywhere, anytime you want it, it’s hard to gain control even if you have the perfect advice.

Instead of following diet rules, you can set personal boundaries. They're a great (and necessary) tool and work better when you develop them yourself.

Following diet rules that someone else made up without ever meeting you is like trying to put a puzzle together with a couple pieces from another puzzle. Those pieces just don’t fit. Instead of forcing them, stick with what fits into your own puzzle.

There are some principles, rather than rules, to follow in order to lose weight and eat healthy. To lose weight you need a calorie deficit (but it doesn’t have to be dramatic); small changes from your normal can help you achieve that. A healthy diet means eating a lot of vegetables and choosing more real, whole, unprocessed foods; and limiting foods made with white or enriched flour and sugar, added oils and fried foods; this includes food that might seem healthy like certain cereals, granola, protein bars or sweetened, flavored yogurt.

That means that carbs, fats, gluten, dairy, legumes and animal products can all fit in a healthy and weight loss diet (assuming you’re not sensitive to them).

Beyond the principles of a healthy and weight loss diet, having your own boundaries is really important. The first step is to identify what diet rules you might be holding onto, and think you have to do to lose weight or eat healthy. Once you identify them, you can ditch those that aren’t serving you.

For example, you might think you can’t eat after 6pm. Except, you eat an early, often lighter dinner, and get hungry at night. This rule obviously isn’t serving you, so instead of fighting your hunger and feeling miserable, find solutions that work for you (that make you feel good but also help you achieve your goals). You might need a heartier, more balanced dinner or a snack with lean protein and/or a little fat in it before bed.

Setting boundaries for yourself has a lot to do with intuitive eating and listening to what your body truly needs and wants.

The boundaries you set for yourself are easier to follow because they’re specific to your goals, schedule, preferences and life. You likely know what you’ll be able to stick to as well as the pace you’ll need to stay motivated (making changes slowly is more sustainable). Remember, speed isn’t the goal, simply doing things each day to help you get there is (so, it doesn’t have to be 100% intensity all the time, especially at first).

I’ll share some of the boundaries I’ve set for myself to give you some ideas. I still allow indulgences, I just make sure I’m more selective and make them count; setting clear boundaries helps me do that. We made these boundaries over time, after seeing what was working and not working, in terms of enjoying food/life while also achieving our health goals. 

  • Chips 2-3 times a month (of all types potato, corn..)

    • I set this boundary when I realized we were eating chips multiple times a week without thinking about it

    • We usually choose weekends to indulge

  • 2-3 servings of sweet treats per week (aside from super dark chocolate which I often keep on hand)

    • Sweet treats are anything from ice cream or cookies to a sweeter breakfast like pancakes with syrup or a danish

    • Usually save them for weekends

  • Bread must be whole grain/wheat (with minimal ingredients) and limited to once a day (if that)

  • Alcohol 2 days a week maximum, usually on weekends (This is more my husband’s boundary since I don’t drink that much!)

  • 1-2 lower carb/calorie dinners per week (salads, soups)

  • Snack at night only if really needed

    • We eat dinner later so it's not often needed

    • We'll choose lean protein like cottage cheese and a little honey or a small spoonful of peanut butter


I'd love to add to my list and learn some boundaries you can set for yourself to help you still enjoy food while reaching your goals! Please share below in the comments.

Kate Martino