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We do it every year. We promise that we'll eat healthier, lose those extra pounds, exercise more often. And every year we break our January resolutions.
But this year is different! This year we have dedicated ourselves to helping you stick to your diet resolution. Why? Because being overweight is bad for your long-term health, not to mention your self-esteem and the life of your couch springs. Plus, developing healthy eating habits will help your mind as much as your body -- good nutrition, together with physical activity, is one of the best ways to combat stress, depression, anxiety, and the all-around winter blues.
So without further ado, we present to you 10 things you can do to make sure this year's diet plan works for you.
1. Make your doctor your diet partner. Your doctor knows your health risk factors and nutritional needs, so he can help you determine how much weight loss is healthy for you and what kind of diet is right for you. For example, if you have high cholesterol, your doctor may advise against something like the Atkins Diet and instead recommend a low-calorie, low-fat diet combined with exercise. He may even offer routine weigh-ins with the practice's nurse. Plus, telling your doctor you're trying to lose weight is like making a promise to your health boss, and he doesn't like to be disappointed.
2. Start a food diary. List everything you eat each day, along with the number of calories and fat grams each food item contains. Remember to record snacks and drinks -- everything from your morning cup of coffee to your evening glass of wine counts toward your daily caloric intake. (A glass of red wine has about 95 calories and white wine has even more.) This is a great way for you to see what you're eating each day, and consider how you might change your habits. The average daily caloric intake for people who are not dieting should be about 2,000 calories, so to lose weight you'll need to eat less than that -- 1,750 for men and 1,500 for women. Try a calorie-tracking site or app like LoseIt, MyPlate or Sparkpeople to get a handle on how much you're really eating.
3. Create an eating plan or choose a diet that fits your lifestyle and food tastes. Even though you're dieting, you can and you should still eat three delicious meals each day, along with a snack or two. It's all about what and how much you eat. Start your day with a protein-packed breakfast. Breakfast jump starts your metabolism so you burn calories faster throughout the day, and the protein will give you staying power and keep you feeling full through the morning. Next, find some healthy snacks and foods that you enjoy eating, and stock up! For example, yogurt has a lot of nutritional value and it's a filling snack that can get you through that tough afternoon period just before dinner. Apples, bananas, celery, carrots, peaches, and other fruit are all great supplements to a light breakfast, or replacements for dessert. Find a low-fat or healthy eating cookbook with recipes that you'll enjoy making and eating. And check out our Lunch Makeovers for some lighter variations on some of your favorite midday treats.
4. Stop buying and cooking junk food and other unnecessary foods. You know what we're talking about. This means no cookies, cakes, doughnuts, soda, chips, crackers, ice cream, frozen yogurt, high-fat frozen dinners, juices with less than 80 percent natural juices, fast food of any type, candy bars, high-fat granola bars, and other foods that are high in fat, high in calories, and simply have no nutritional value. You can't eat it if you don't have it. And your kids and spouse don't need it either. So just say no.
5. Successful dieting is all about PORTION CONTROL. One reason diet experts tell us not to eat in front of the TV is because it's too easy to ignore how much we're eating when we're distracted by channel surfing. So now that you're tracking your caloric intake, make sure you're matching that up with your portion-sizes too. If you must eat in front of the TV, parse out a small portion for yourself in the kitchen. It might be helpful for you to use a smaller plate. This way you're forcing yourself to take a smaller amount. And finally, do not go back for seconds.
6. Keep some nutritional and low-calorie snacks on hand at work or in your car to stave off junk food cravings. Microwave popcorn is wonderful at work and it stores well. Just make sure to buy a low-calorie kind, like Healthy Choice. You might also consider cereal or health bars like Kashi, Slim-Fast, Cliff Bars or Gogurts. Again, make sure the caloric and nutritional information fits into your diet or eating plan, and plan your portions accordingly.
7. Take up walking. Start taking evening walks with your spouse, children, or a neighborhood friend. Begin with a 15-minute walk, and then gradually increase how far and even how fast you walk. Not only is this good exercise, but it's a great way to spend quality time with someone you care about and recoup from your day. Some people enjoy walking at lunch with a coworker, which is an excellent strategy for clearing your head and getting your blood flowing in the afternoon. If it's been a while since you've exercised, check in with your doctor before you get started.
8. Celebrate the little victories. This is especially important at the beginning of your diet because you'll need lots of encouragement as you make a drastic change in your eating and exercise habits. Start by noting each day that you go without your daily candy bar or junk food fix. Then take note each time you eat a small or light dinner instead of the heartier meal you might have preferred. Call a friend, get an extra hug from your spouse, whoop and holler with the kids, or take a leisurely bubble bath as your reward for good behavior. You did it! And it's the little victories that add up to diet success in the long run.
9. Know that losing weight is a long-term goal, and a lifestyle change that will be hard, but well worth it. You will be constantly vigilant about what you eat and how much exercise you get. You will deny yourself foods that you enjoy. You'll work out until you sweat profusely. There will be days when the scale doesn't move at all, and even days when it goes the wrong way. But stick to it. You can do this. Because a healthy weight means a healthier you. Better eating habits and physical activity will help you live longer. Plus, eventually you'll be able to fit into those jeans you love. You'll enjoy going clothes shopping. You'll smile at yourself when you look in the mirror.
10. Choose your vice. Okay, you've worked hard to create a diet and exercise plan that fits your lifestyle. You've stopped buying junk food. You've committed to an exercise plan. Now, give yourself one small vice that you will continue to eat or drink throughout your diet. Perhaps it's that evening glass of wine. Or a weekly ice cream cone, size small. Or a daily square of chocolate. This vice might even become part of your daily or weekly victory celebration. But the bottom line here is that you don't need to completely deprive yourself of everything you love in order to lose weight. Dieting is about moderation, not deprivation. So find one thing that will be your daily or weekly indulgence, and enjoy it!
We know you can do it!
Reviewed by Jane Forrester, M.D.