Another year, another resolution. The goal may be the same, but the outcome doesn't have to be. You can succeed in 2012. No more falling off the weight-loss wagon a couple of months in, or sheepishly returning the skinny jeans you bought with such hope. These 7 easy and unconventional tricks can help you stay on track this time around:
Picture yourself. Find a photo of yourself you either love or hate, whichever hits you harder. Carry it around—and whip it out and stare at it whenever temptation strikes. Seeing yourself at your thinnest or heftiest—maybe even snapshots of both—might stiffen your resolve when you pass Dunkin' Donuts or watch The Office with potato-chip-addicts, says registered dietitian Keri Gans, author of The Small Change Diet. Need a stronger reminder? Magnet the visuals to your refrigerator, too, she says.
Bet on it. "Diet betting" is catching on among friends, relatives, and coworkers. The idea is to place real bets on who can lose the most weight over a specified period, tracked by weekly weigh-ins. A study published in 2008 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people given financial incentives—for this study it was a chance to earn about $200—were more successful at weight loss than those without money on the line. Can't find willing competition? Sites like stickK.com require dieters to hand over their credit card information and sign contracts pledging to meet certain goals. If they fall short, say by failing to lose the weight they vowed to, it'll cost them—their credit card will be charged anything from a couple of dollars to $200 per week, depending on the terms they agreed to, with the money donated to a designated person or charity.
[See the Best Diets for Healthy Eating.]
Color your way thin. Crave a cookie after a bad day? Reach for crayons and a coloring book instead, says registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of The Flexitarian Diet. "Color therapy" as she calls it, is a relaxing and meditative activity that keeps your hands busy doing something productive, rather than opening a box and shoveling cookies into your mouth. Positive distractions are often a solution to emotional eating and mindless snacking.
[Take a look at the Best Diets Overall.]
Brush your teeth. A fresh, minty mouth can help quash pre- and post-meal nibbling, says Jackson Blatner. Brushing your teeth before you begin cooking will deter you from taking bites throughout the process—potentially cutting hundreds of mindless calories. Re-brush immediately after finishing a meal; once the minty flavor fades, you'll know if you're really hungry enough for seconds or if your body just hadn't had time to process the meal yet.
Shoot your dinner. No, not go hunting. Research suggests that dieters who keep a photographic record of everything they eat lose more weight and are likelier to stick to their diet than those who don't. An online photo food diary holds you accountable: You have to look at every bite you consume, which discourages overeating and mindless munching. Launch your own weight-loss blog, or post the photos to your social media profiles. Cell phone cameras make instantly uploading photos a cinch. If you'd like more anonymity, and don't want your food photos to be linked to your Facebook or Twitter accounts, check out Foodspotting, Chowhound, and FoodCandy. You can create a profile that's not immediately shared with everyone in your online social circle.
Spice things up. Mustard powder, mustard seeds, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper are packed with flavor. Weave these and other spices into meals—they'll stimulate your taste buds, making food more satisfying, so you won't eat as much. A trick with similar roots: When you need to nibble on something, try an Atomic FireBall. The low-cal candy is sweet but spicy, and will similarly help calm your appetite.
Role-play. Heading to an event where you'll be tempted with hors d'oeuvres that ooze calories, an extensive dessert spread, and high-calorie alcoholic beverages? Plan how you'll politely but firmly turn down food, and practice ahead of time with a friend, colleague, or yourself in front of the mirror. And consider inviting a healthy-eating date who will keep you on track, not wax rhapsodic about the cheesecake.