A diet is only as good as your ability to stick to it. Research has found that most plans will help you lose weight, regardless of type—low-fat or low-carb, for example. What counts is whether you can stay on it long-term. And with restaurant meals, dinners with friends, and hot fudge sundaes to tempt you, adherence is an understandable challenge. Here are five tricks for making your diet stick:
1. Gather the troops. You need support, be it from a friend, a group like Overeaters Anonymous, or even an online community. Research suggests those who go it alone are most likely to fall off the wagon. That's why some diet plans have a formal support component—Weight Watchers connects dieters via weekly meetings, while Jenny Craig members are assigned counselors for advice and encouragement. If you're not comfortable talking about your weight face-to-face, log online. By signing up for the free program PeerTrainer, for example, dieters can interact and track each others' weight-loss progress, pose questions, and swap diet and exercise tips. "It's important to have people who will pick you up when times are tough and cheer you on when you have successes," says registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of The Flexitarian Diet. Plus, she adds: "Healthy habits are contagious."
2. Hold yourself accountable. A couple chips here and a few cookie-nibbles there may seem harmless, but mindless munching adds up. Record everything you eat and drink in a food diary. Most of us don't realize exactly how much we consume, so making conscious notes will put each meal, snack, or splurge into perspective. In a 2008 American Journal of Preventative Medicine study, dieters who kept food diaries for five months lost nearly twice as much weight as their non-journaling peers. Journaling can reveal the problematic cues, triggers, and habits that could be sabotaging your weight-loss efforts. You might notice tendencies to overeat on deadline-heavy days, for example, or discover that your morning frozen coffee packs an extra 400 calories a day.
3. Keep motivation high. Give yourself ample cause to stay the course. Post encouraging notes on your mirror, keep listing why the diet is worth it, or buy a new pair of jeans in the size you're determined to reach.
4. Don't deprive yourself. Diets that eliminate entire food groups or forbid the occasional splurge are likely to fail, research suggests. If you don't indulge every once in a while, you're more likely to give in to cravings and binge. Remember: Moderation is key. It's OK to have a slice of birthday cake; compensate with extra time on the treadmill or by getting back on track the next day. One slipup doesn't mean your diet is doomed. "Don't throw in the towel if things don't go as planned," says Jackson Blatner, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. "Think of it as progress, not perfection."
5. Have many measures of success. "Don't just judge a diet by the pounds on the scale," says Jackson Blatner. "Monitor energy, sleep quality, mood, clothing, and self-esteem. On weeks when the scale doesn't tell you what you want, you can focus on other motivating results to keep you going."