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 nine 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 try to diet alone are most likely to fall off the wagon. That's why some 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."
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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. Some research suggests that dieters who keep food diaries for five months lose 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. And don't forget to tell yourself how great you're doing every day.
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4. Avoid temptation. Your pantry shelves are lined with box after box of cookies and chips and those unhealthy snacks of the past? Chuck them. Your refrigerator is oozing with high-calorie juices you've realized aren't the best idea? Get 'em out of there! If you'd rather not throw your former mainstays away, take them into the office and distribute to your co-workers. Speaking of the office – stuff your desk with healthy snacks, and pack your own well-balanced lunch each day. That'll help you resist vending machine runs – or grabbing a few slices of leftover pizza in the breakroom.
5. ... but 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," Jackson Blatner says. "Think of it as progress, not perfection."
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6. Learn the difference between hunger and boredom. Sometimes eating is an attempt to satisfy your mind – not your stomach. Registered dietitian Bonnie-Taub Dix, who writes for U.S. News' Eat + Run blog, suggests having a conversation with yourself: "When was the last time I ate? Am I really hungry?" If you're craving a certain snack, wait 20 minutes to see if the urge passes. A distraction can go a long way toward staving off unnecessary splurging, Taub-Dix says.