It’s that time of year again! Now, whether you are trying to lose some weight, cut out certain unhealthy eating habits, or start working on your beach body early, there’s never a better time to try out a new diet than right this second. But let’s face it: starting a new diet is a whole lot easier than maintaining one for the weeks it requires to see real change.
That’s why we’ve polled some health and lifestyle experts for common pitfalls in dieting—and compiled all of the steps you can take to ensure you keep all of your weight-loss goals on track. So read on, and good luck! And for more healthy eating tips, check out our guide to the 40 Weight Loss “Secrets” That Don’t Work.
Manage your expectations from the get-go
Before you even begin on a diet of any kind, you should ask yourself, “Is this something I could stick with for weeks, months, or years?” Many diets make ridiculous demands on that no one could stick with for more than a couple days, if that.
“How you lose weight is important. Pick a plan that is reasonable and stick with it,” says David Ezell, CEO of Darien Wellness, a counseling and wellness group in Darien, Connecticut and a fitness and diet coach at DavidEzell.com. “I’m sure you could cut a lot of weight eating grapefruit and drinking cold coffee but could you do that for life?” And for more great help in reaching your goals, know the Single Biggest Weight-Loss Hack You Can Do.
Move Around More.
Any effective diet plan should also include at least a moderate amount of exercise—or at the very least, getting out of the house and avoiding long periods of sedentary behavior (especially in proximity to the kitchen). “Get off your butt and move,” says Ezell. “We are built to move. It will make your life better, lower your stress, and help you reach your weight-loss goal faster.” How? Well, moving around is The Single Best Way to Boost Your Metabolism Every Day.
Track Your Diet’s Sustainability
“If you’re miserable right from the get go, you can expect some challenges throughout the entire process,” says Esther Avant, certified nutrition coach and personal trainer at Esther Avant Wellness Coaching. “A more moderate diet may yield slightly slower results but the trade-off will be more than worth it if you’re actually able to follow through.”
Don’t Call it a Diet
“Quit calling it a ‘diet,'” says Ezell. “Diets are short-term. Use an ‘eating plan’ for life and pick one that works for you.” And for more great tips, check out these 20 Celeb Tricks for Always Looking Amazing in Photos.
Prep Your Meals in Advance
One of the most common ways to get tripped up in a diet is to be in a situation where you don’t have the right food at the right time. “The best way to stick to a diet is to plan ahead for the week so that you will not get to the point where you have limited options,” says Laura Calleia, a resident nutritionist at MuscleSound, a Denver-based technology company. “That’s first and foremost.”
Know what you’re going to want to eat ahead of time, and be sure you aren’t stuck with only diet-breaking options.
Set a Deadline
“Give a deadline or a set amount of time with a defined goal,” says Calleia. “For example. I want to lose five pounds in two months. So it’s a 60-day diet plan.”
If you just promise to change your habits for the indefinite future, it’s much harder to push through a difficult stretch, and much easier to slip up. And if your goal is to have a Dry January, here are 7 Genius Tricks for Successfully Navigating Your Booze-Free Month.
Give Yourself a Cheat Meal
But as important as it is to define your goal and stick with it, Calleia warns that you should also give yourself permission to break the diet here and there—as long as you decide ahead of time when that will be. “Give yourself a cheat meal once in a while,” she says. “That could be desert one time in a couple weeks or pizza here or there on a weekend night.” And if you’re still feeling the effects of December, don’t miss the 10 Best Science-Backed Hangover Cures.
Set Up Your Own Reward System
Another way to think about the “cheat” is to treat it as a reward for being diligent about your dieting efforts. Tell yourself from the start that if you avoid pizza (if that’s your vice) for two weeks, then you can have a slice. When you enjoy it, it won’t be the result of an impulsive hunger, but a long-planned reward for good behavior. After all, rewarding yourself is one of the 40 Best Ways to Keep New Habits.
Get a Health Coach
Just as you’re more likely to get to the gym when you know your personal trainer is there waiting for you, getting the assistance of a health coach will make you more likely to stick to your diet. “Working with a health coach…will help you have more fun in the painful process of change and collaborate on ideas to overcome obstacles,” says Samantha Salmon, integrative nutrition health coach and ambassador to the Institute of Integrative Nutrition, who also writes at RawFoodMealPlanner.com.
Get a Diet Buddy
“It’s much easier to stick to a diet when you can get your spouse, roommate or a friend on board,” suggests Krysten Dornik, a food blogger who writes about allergy-friendly recipes at KrystensKitchen.com. “You will be less likely to give in when the person you spend the most time with is in the same boat.” And for some great inspiration for you and your partner, Steal A-Rod and J-Lo’s Killer Couples Workout.
Get an Accountability Partner
Even if you can’t get a buddy to join you in going on the diet, just having someone to whom you are accountable and checking in with your progress, who is likely to hold you to your goals, is going to increase your likelihood of success.
“Accountability is among the top factors that can make—or break—your diet success,” says Avant. “Enlist the help of a friend, family member, or weight loss group and tell those people exactly how they can help keep you on track. Knowing that someone is looking out for you and will remind you what you’re working toward is invaluable.”
Keep it Interesting
“The best way to stick to a diet is to not get bored,” says Dornik. “You must get creative in the kitchen and try new things. It will keep things fun and lighthearted. If you eat the same thing every single day, you will get bored with your food and your taste buds will not be happy which will make it harder for you to stay on track.”
That means finding a diet that you will actually enjoy eating day after day and that has room for variety and mixing things up. And for more great ways to up your stick-to-it-ness, check out the 20 Science-Backed Ways to Motivate Yourself to Lose Weight.
Stock Up on Recipes
One good way to avoid getting bored is to be sure you have a stockpile of meal options from which to select. You should have no shortage of ideas when it comes to throwing together a lunch or dinner. “Have a variety to choose from so you never feel like you are lacking with variety and fun,” says Salmon. And be sure to shop for the 25 Superfoods That Prevent Winter Weight Gain.
Focus What You’re Eating, Not What You’re Not Eating
Many diets emphasize what you are moving off your plate: sugars, carbs, Quarter Pounders, you name it. But just as trying not think about a pink elephant tends to do just the opposite, focusing your diet on what you aren’t eating is a recipe for failure. “Focus on the foods you can eat instead of the foods you are committing not to eat,” says Salmon. “Doing that you will feel abundance instead of lack, which will help you stay motivated.” And for more on healthy eating, don’t miss the 50 Best Foods for Your Brain.
Know Your Motivation
Never lose sight of the bigger picture. “Post your ‘why’ or your motivation for making this change on your walls everywhere you will look, so you’re constantly reminded of the importance of following through on the changes until they become a habit, which will take at least three months of consistent action,” explains Salmon.
Whether you’re dieting for health, aesthetic, relationship, or other reasons, do what you need to do to keep these reasons top of mind—it will provide that boost of inspiration when you start feeling your commitment flag.
“It may sound simple but this important task is often overlooked,” says fitness professional, registered dietitian, and studio owner Jim White. “Maintaining adequate water intake can leave you feeling more energized and likely to stick to your goals.”
He suggests aiming for at least eight cups of water a day (or more, depending on activity level). Get a classy-looking water bottle or new Brita filter—whatever it takes to get you sipping and refilling.
It sounds crazy, I realize, but you should never really diet on a diet. Eat better foods, not less. “It is important to eat quality, nutrient-rich foods throughout the day to ensure your body gets the energy it needs,” says White. “To prevent hunger and overindulging at meal times, spread your food intake over several smaller meals.”
One good way to do this, according to White: keep healthy snacks, such as almonds, on hand. It curbs hunger and keeps you fuller, longer.
Don’t Let Travel Derail You
Even those with well-established healthy eating habits can slip up when out of their usual routine. If you’ve got a vacation, business trip, or some other kind of travel ahead of you, put in extra time to plan how you are going to stick to your diet.
Pack healthy snacks to tide you over on long flights so you don’t have to eat the unhealthy (and limited) airport food options. Scope out the food options at the hotel where you are staying. If there aren’t any good options, consider picking up some healthy food at the grocery store in your destination or find a healthier restaurant you can eat while there. And it may help to know The One Workout That Nullifies Business Dinners.
Keep it Gradual
Rome wasn’t built in a day and completely transforming your eating and lifestyle is similarly a tough change to make, and one that is probably only going to be done through steady, piecemeal steps. “Gradual, small changes as opposed to large, drastic measures: Changing everything at once can be stressful and lead to disaster,” says Becky Kerkenbush, a registered dietitian at Watertown Regional Medical Center in Watertown, Wisconsin. “Make small, changes over time to create new, healthy habits that you can maintain.”
Stay Away from the Kitchen
Research has found that those who work within eyeshot of the kitchen are more likely to interrupt their work for a snack break and have more trouble keeping their weight down. It makes sense: If you don’t want to be tempted by the food in your house or workplace, makes sure you can’t see it. That may mean working in a different part of the house or, in the case of the office, moving your workstation to be sure you aren’t able to see all the food you could be eating.
Clear Out Your Cabinets
Inevitably, you’re going to have a moment of weakness and try to eat whatever you can get your hands on from your kitchen cabinets or fridge. So prepare for this slip up by removing any junk food temptations from your home altogether. “Clear your home of unhealthy temptations: If you know that you cannot stop at two potato chips, avoid tempting yourself by not having them in the home,” says Kerkenbush.
Use the Hunger Scale
“Measure your hunger on a scale from zero to 10, zero being starving and 10 being stuffed,” says Kerkenbush. “You want to avoid getting to either extreme, which can then lead to a cycle of overeating.”
Starving yourself can often be as dangerous to your ability to stick with your diet goals as stuffing yourself—as in so many other areas, moderation is often the best policy.
Make it Personal
“There’s a deeper rooted reason that you want to improve your health,” says Avant. “Maybe you want to be able to run around with your young kids or grandkids. You want to be able to keep up with the younger employees at company golf outings. Get off medication or be able to do a hike without it taking all day.”
She urges anyone on a diet to ask themselves, “why is this important to me?” until they understand what’s really driving them to make this change, on a personal level.
“Then write this down and put it somewhere you’ll see every single day.”
See it As a Marathon
“Real and sustainable weight loss isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon and it starts with making lifestyle changes,” says Janan Bejaige, a fitness educator and owner of Rebel Health NW in Portland, Oregon. Plan your diet as a long-term proposition, thinking in terms of years rather than days.
Have Your Own B.S. Test
In selecting a diet, you should be sure it passes the B.S. test—is this something that feels right to you and your needs? Does it sound like it’s too good to be true? “You have to give up the quick fixes and gimmicks,” says Bejaige. “You also have to start trusting your innate intelligence. The part of you that knows what is right for your body and health.”
One of the easiest ways to sabotage your efforts at changing your eating habits is to embark on a diet that feels like a chore. You should be excited to start your diet.
“There are so many diets out there, and being notorious for not lasting long, it makes sense to pick a fun one,” says Nick Burritt, founder and head writer at fitness equipment e-commerce store WOD Fever. “There are low carb diets, no grain diets, eight-hour timed diets, and so many more. With a little research, and compelling evidence, you can find what works for you, your schedule, and your desires.”
Treat it Like an Adventure
Along the same lines, Burritt suggests thinking of your diet as an adventure on which you are embarking. It’s a personal challenge, but also an opportunity to try new recipes, flavors, and eating habits. Have fun with it. “In starting a new diet, you are probably going to be eating foods you don’t normally eat. Dieting is a great time to try new things,” he says. “There are so many great resources for healthy recipes and diet-specific recipes like Pinterest and eatthis.com.”
Sometimes a diet just isn’t working. It may have worked well for a few weeks, but has proven almost impossible to stick with for the longer term. If that’s the case, it doesn’t mean you have to throw out the whole plan and try a new one. It may be necessary to just tweak the plan you’re using.
“If you find that your diet is tough to stick with and you’re not doing it because a doctor ordered it, consider some tweaks to make it easier,” says Terra Wellington, a lifestyle personality and author. “By adding some flexibility, you can still keep your intention but be less hard on yourself.”
Schedule a Performance Review
In the daily effort of keeping a diet, you can feel many ups and downs. Instead of letting your momentary emotions guide your decisions about the diet’s efficacy, schedule a time to review how the diet is going and whether it needs to be adjusted.
Ideally, this should be at a time when you’ve had a few weeks to gauge its effectiveness and your own ability to stick with it—at a time when you are at your most clear-headed.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up About Slipping
Give yourself permission to slip up. “If you fall off for a day, that does not mean you are doomed to be overweight,” says Ezell. “The next morning, start again—it’s a new day.” And learn more about the ins-and-outs of dieting by reading the 20 Science-Backed Ways to Motivate Yourself to Lose Weight.
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