Fad Diets Don't Work -- Here's What Does
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Fad Diets Don't Work -- Here's What Does

Do you lose a few pounds by starving yourself, then gain it back the instant you eat like a normal person? Stop the madness!

Diets always seem to work like magic -- as long as you're a celebrity. Too much baby weight? It'll slide right off with protein shakes. Need to slim down for a royal wedding? Try the high-protein Dukan plan. Need to get into a skintight costume for a film? Time for a juice cleanse! (Oh, and don't forget the daily visits from a high-priced personal trainer.) But guess what? Most weight-loss diets only work for a while, because they're too restrictive and mess up your metabolism. If you want to keep weight off, experts say, you've got to incorporate healthy changes into your life that you can stick with for the long haul. We asked 20 reader "losers" how they motivated themselves and changed their eating habits for good. What worked for them can inspire you, too.

"Banish the 'D' Word"

To most people, a diet means something temporary -- and awful. A lifestyle is about developing an eating and exercise routine that fits into your schedule and keeps you near your desired weight. It's making the right choices in a reasonable, realistic, and consistent way. That's what worked for me!
- Mary Gregersen, Seattle

"Find Your Healthy Balance"

I would always hear women say how impossible it is to take off weight in their 50s, but I wanted to prove them wrong. Just eating healthy is a huge part of it, but if I fall off the wagon, I don't beat myself up. I just get right back on. It's all about balance.
- Terri Gerrard, Loveland, Colorado

"Save Cash and Calories"

I don't spend extra money on a weight-loss plan or special food because we're on a tight family budget. So I've lost 23 pounds in the past year by weighing and measuring my food and focusing on portion size. I lose, on average, just half a pound a week, but I've gone down two sizes.
- Stacey DeFelice, Oakdale, New York

"Put Yourself First"

I realized I had been taking care of everyone in my life except me. I saw that if I took better care of myself by really listening to what my body needs, such as rest and exercise, we'd all benefit.
- Cecily Whiteside, Grand Junction, Colorado

"Get in the Game"

My eureka moment was when my 3-year-old asked to sign up for a soccer team. I realized that I wanted to be out there coaching instead of just watching, so I had to make some changes to be a great role model for him and his baby sister. I started juicing fruit and veggies for myself, made more dinners at home, and cut out a few lattes each week. Now I'm a coach and I only bring healthy snacks!
- Jackie Damico, Decatur, Georgia

"Start a Diary"

I keep a food journal and it's amazing to see how much you really eat when you have to write it down!
- Donna Woodson, Northglenn, Colorado

"Change Your Habits for the Long Term"

I've tried various diets but they always stopped working after a while. Finally, though, I found a way of eating -- more protein and fewer starchy carbs like white flour pasta and white rice -- that I could fit into my lifestyle for good.
- Catherine Donahue, Palm Springs, California

"Use a Smaller Plate"

The dinner plate is a thing of the past for me. I automatically reach for the dessert plate for meals. I don't feel like I'm denying myself anything by eating half the amount I used to. Eating it slowly gives my brain a chance to register that I'm full.
- Kathy Bonebreak, Granada Hills, California

"Don't Go It Alone"

My knees were hurting, my clothes were too tight, and I just didn't feel healthy. I couldn't lose weight on my own, but I knew friends who'd had success with Weight Watchers, so I signed up. I feel like it teaches you how to live in the real world. I've lost close to 30 pounds in the past year and I have no more knee or back pain.
- Harriet Shafran, Scotch Plains, New Jersey

"Let a Bad Photo Motivate You"

On vacation I wanted to go for a ride in a dune buggy, but it was hard for me to get in. Later I saw a photo of me trying to squeeze into it -- I couldn't believe I had let myself go like that. After almost four months, I've lost 35 pounds and plan to lose more. I'm determined to be healthier!
- Kim Knapp, Birch Run, Michigan

"Eat Less but Enjoy It More"

My mother had gastric surgery and it motivated me to start eating the same amount for dinner that she did -- about a third of a chicken breast, a few bites of veggies, and a spoonful of dessert. I had read that the first four bites we eat taste the best to us, but we just keep eating in hopes of recapturing that initial pleasure. Now I'm all about fewer bites but more enjoyment.
- L. J. Nielsen, Sacramento, California

"Get Rid of Your Fat Clothes"

When I first started losing weight I loved cleaning out my closet because I was able to get rid of tons of clothes that were too big. While I couldn't afford to replace all of them at once, it has been nice to gradually buy new things in smaller sizes.
- Sarah Smith, Murfreesboro, Tennessee

"Cook at Home"

My husband and I prepare dishes with fresh herbs and homemade sauces that use healthy ingredients like lemon juice, olive oil, red-wine vinegar, and Dijon mustard. Who needs to dine out?
- Colleen Millett, Spring Hill, Florida

"Fight Depression"

I was depressed for years and ballooned up to 200 pounds (I'm only 5-foot-3). One morning I got fed up and just put my mind and soul into getting better. I threw out all the junk food and stocked up on healthy options. I used to yo-yo, but in the past two years I've dropped 83 pounds and kept it off.
- Mary Arterton, Bridgton, Maine

"Drop Liquid Calories"

First I stopped drinking soda. After a few days of cravings I had more energy. Then I became more mindful of portion sizes and stopped snacking with the kids. I don't want them to see me on some crazy diet. I want them to know what healthy eating really looks like.
- Angie McCormick, Bradshaw, Nebraska

"Plan Meals Ahead"

I make and bag healthy, portion-controlled meals and snacks on the weekend so I can grab-and-go during the week and not be tempted to eat junk.
- Molly Ritterbeck, Anchorage, Alaska

"Eat Whole Foods"

The bad economy and being a single mom of three keep me from eating at restaurants very often, and I've started reading labels to make sure I'm not buying junk at the grocery store. The healthier food options are cheaper in the long run anyway. We are also starting to grow some of our own food in the garden.
- Kimberly King, Memphis, Tennessee

"Have Lean Protein for Breakfast"

I changed my ideas about what makes a good breakfast. I stopped eating cereal and started eating more lean protein, like eggs or Canadian bacon. It keeps me fuller longer so I don't get the midmorning munchies, and it's helped me steadily drop pounds.
- Karen Nicholson-Shields, Kansas City, Missouri

"Avoid Office Fat Traps"

At work I try to steer clear of food pushers, those people who bring doughnuts on Fridays, cakes on birthdays, and who always want to go have a stress-busting lunch. I bring my lunch when I can so I know it's healthy, and I minimize the number of happy hours I go to. Chips and Margaritas every week were making me gain weight.
- Cat Herzon, Los Angeles

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, August 2012.