The problem with going on a diet is that someday you’ll go off it and return to the eating habits that caused your weight gain. At that point, you’ll go on another diet and the cycle will begin again.
If you’re hoping there’s a better way, there is.
“The logical and long-lasting solution is to change the way you eat—gradually and permanently—until you’re eating in a way that helps you achieve a healthy weight,” says Keri M. Gans, M.S., a registered dietitian in private practice in New York City and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. “Often healthy eating requires a life change, but in time your new way of eating won’t feel so new—it will be a new normal.”
Change for good
Think of your new way of eating in positive instead of negative terms by concentrating on what you can eat, not on what you shouldn’t.
“In fact, nothing needs to be off-limits—you can even feel OK about having dessert if you have a reasonable portion,” says Gans.
Here are some additional strategies:
Watch your portions
Even nutritious foods can cause weight gain if you overdo it on the portions.
“It’s fair to say most Americans are portion-challenged,” says Gans. “Many of us have lost the ability to recognize what a healthy portion of spaghetti or breakfast cereal looks like.”
To realign portion sizes, read food labels and measure portions onto your plate for a week or so until you can eyeball what a half-cup of mashed potatoes or 3 ounces of chicken looks like.
Eating too much protein or starchy foods such as pasta and bread can lead to weight gain.
To better balance your plate, consider that one-quarter should be a lean protein such as chicken or fish, one-quarter a healthy starch such as brown rice or whole-wheat pasta, and the remaining half a healthy vegetable or salad.
Keep a food journal
Chances are, you think you’re eating a healthy diet when you’re not. That’s because it’s easy to forget about those two sodas you have between meals that add 310 calories, or the nightly 400-calorie bowl of ice cream.
“Most of us are not as self-aware as we think we are,” Gans says. “That’s why it’s a great reality check to keep a food journal in which you write what, when, and how much you eat.”
Leave some behind
Don’t finish everything on your plate—especially when eating out.
“Many of our eating habits come from our upbringing. For example, the way our parents prepared foods, how much we were served, or if we were encouraged to be members of the ‘clean-plate club’ even if we were full,” Gans says. “Looking at the habits you inherited and seeing if they’re helping or hindering your weight can help you adopt healthier behaviors.”
It took years for you to get to the weight you are now. It’s going to take some time for the weight to come off. Plus, an overnight diet overhaul can set you up for failure and make it easy to become discouraged.
“To successfully lose weight, you have to look at how you eat now, analyze it, and make necessary, gradual changes that reduce your calorie intake,” Gans says. “To keep pounds off permanently, you must incorporate these new, healthy behaviors into your daily routine so they become a natural part of your life.”