Staying on a diet

zen habits : breathe

By Leo Babauta

I’m not a big fan of “dieting” — a word that conjures up images of hunger and chewing on celery or doing some kind of fad diet — but I do believe in trying to eat a healthier diet.

Don’t diet, but do stick to a healthy diet, in other words.

But that’s easier said than done, as we all know. The healthy diet goes out the window around the holidays, for example, or when there’s a family party or a function at work full of unhealthy food, or when we go out to eat with friends, or when we go to a ballgame or amusement park or the beach, or when … well, you get the idea. There are lots of ways to get off a diet.

And there are just as many ways to stick to your healthy diet.

I’m not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, and I often will give in to temptations. But I’ve gotten better over time, partially because practice makes perfect and partly because I’ve learned a lot of great tips, from my fellow bloggers and from you, my favorite readers in the world.

So today we’re going to look at a few of the tips and tricks that I’ve found useful in sticking with a healthy diet.

1. Know your motivation. I have a friend, Jerry, who is getting healthy so that he’ll be alive and well to see his 3-year-old son grow up. When he gets tempted by evil junk food, he asks himself whether he’d rather eat the sweets or see his son grow up. When you have a powerful motivation like this, and remember what choice you’re making whenever you face temptation, it’s easier to be strong when you’d otherwise cave in.
2. Take it in gradual steps. You don’t have to overhaul your diet overnight. I highly recommend changing your diet in small steps — just drink water instead of soda, for example, or eat fruit instead of candy or chips. Once you adjust to this small change, make another a week or two later, and so on until you’re eating much healthier a few months later. This small and gradual process makes it much easier to stick with a healthy diet.

3. Don’t be drastic. I’ve seen fad diets like the Cookie Diet, Atkins, the Banana Diet, and different cleansing fasts — and I don’t recommend a single one of them. They’re drastic, and very few people can last with them for a long time. And the fact is, while you might lose a lot of weight with a drastic diet in a short amount of time, as soon as you get off the diet and go back to eating unhealthily, you’ll gain the wait back. Don’t do anything drastic — make long-lasting changes.

4. Choose foods you love. This is incredibly important. If you hate eating salads, don’t make salads a key to your new diet. I happen to love salads, but everyone has different tastes. Don’t eat foods just because they’re good for you — eat them because they’re healthy AND you love them. For me, that means berries and almonds and oatmeal and salads and yogurt and cottage cheese and tofu, but for others it might be salmon and lean grass-fed beef and asparagus and walnuts. Find the foods you love that are healthy, and you’ll stick with the diet much longer.

5. Pack food. Always bring healthy food with you, wherever you go. Sometimes this just means packing snacks if you’re going on a few errands (I like almonds and fruit), other times you might want to pack more substantial meals and pack them with ice to keep them fresh. Packing your lunch to work is a great idea, along with a bunch of snacks to keep you satisfied all day without eating the donuts someone brought in.

6. Eat before you go. If you’re going out to a restaurant or party, eat a small healthy meal first. That way you won’t be starving and won’t need to eat a huge amount of unhealthy food. You can get by on a salad or some fish and steamed veggies or an appetizer or something like that, and still enjoy the company of your friends and loved ones.

7. Don’t get hungry. When you allow yourself to starve, you will often binge, because your blood-sugar levels are so low that you crave instant sugar (or refined flour). When you’re starving, you are more likely to indulge in donuts or cake. So eat snacks throughout the day, or small meals, so that you never get super hungry.

8. Choose healthy when you eat out. If you go to a restaurant or party, look for the healthy choices. I love a good salad bar, but you could also choose a lean cut of meat, grilled not fried, with steamed veggies, or some black bean or lentil soup, or something like that.

9. Indulge in little bits. I don’t believe in going extreme and not allowing myself to eat treats such as … mmm, chocolate cake. But the key is to eat healthy most of the time, and when you do indulge in a treat, do it in small amounts. Two or three bites of cake or ice cream, for example, won’t kill your diet but will satisfy your sweet craving. Eating a whole tub of ice cream? Not recommended.

10. Eat small portions when you go out. If you go to a party with lots of food, try for small portions. Just eat until you’re slightly full, then have some water and talk with people without eating for awhile, then when you get hungry have another small portion, and so on. Try for the amount of food that will fit in your hand. If you space out several small portions over the course of a couple hours, you’ll feel satisfied but never take in too much.

11. Have tasty substitutes for your weaknesses. When I feel like eating something sweet, I’ll often have berries or fruit. My sister Kat likes to mix berries with almond butter, chocolate protein powder, and water — a weird but satisfying treat. Whatever your weaknesses, find a substitute that will satisfy your cravings when they inevitably come up.

12. Clear your home of unhealthy snacks and foods. If you have junk food in your home, you’re more likely to give in at some point and eat it. But if you clear your home of these foods, you won’t have that temptation. Clear your fridge and cabinets of candy, baked sweets, fried foods, foods made with refined flour, fatty and greasy things like chips and fries, and so on.

13. Bring your own healthy food to a party. If it’s allowed, bring a dish to a party you’re planning on attending, and make it a healthy one. I like to bring a couple of my favorites: Leo’s chili, and my Best Soup Ever.
14. Fill yourself up with water, fruits, veggies, and lean protein at a party. Lots of parties will have at least a couple of healthy options — some fruits or veggies, maybe some lean protein that’s not fried. I will fill myself up on these, even if they’re not entirely a meal, and then eat a healthy meal later.

15. Don’t stuff yourself. Make this your ultimate rule. Even if you break down and get fatty, fried food at a restaurant or party, just don’t eat until you’re stuffed. Try the Okinawan rule of eating until you’re 80% full. This way you can eat the unhealthy stuff and still limit the damage.

16. Don’t starve yourself. This might sound like the “don’t get hungry” tip above, but it’s bigger than that — don’t eat so little that you’re starving. For most women, that means don’t go below 1,200 calories a day — for men, it’s 1,500. But even those are too low for many of us. You only want to cut a moderate amount of calories from your diet — if you starve yourself, you’ll lose muscle, you’ll get unhealthy and you’ll end up falling off the diet eventually.

17. If you indulge, burn it off. Sometimes all of the strategies above will fail. That’s OK. Don’t beat yourself up about it — just get back on the wagon, back on track. Look at it as a small bump in the road. And better yet, get outside and burn off the calories by running, walking briskly, playing sports, whatever it takes. Then start eating healthy again.

10 Ways to Keep Your Diet on Track

What dieter hasn’t wanted to bail on her weight-loss plan at some point? Even if you’re seeing signs of success with your diet, sometimes it just seems like so much work. If you’ve reached that moment, here are strategies to stay motivated and on track.

Weight-Loss Motivation: Keep a Food Journal

Writing down what you eat in detail within 15 minutes of your meal increases your ability to stick with your daily food and calorie goals. Keep a mini pad with you so you won’t have any excuses after you eat.

Get tips for starting a food journal.

“I have found that food journals are absolutely the best way of staying on track,” says Liz Weinandy, RD, MPH, a dietitian in the non-surgical weight loss program at Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus.

Weight-Loss Motivation: Track Your Successes

Weigh yourself consistently and keep track of your results in your food journal or on a graph where you can see your progress. Most people do well with weekly weigh-ins, but data suggest that weighing yourself more frequently is effective if you find that the results are motivating.

Weight-Loss Motivation: Set Small and Large Goals

While your long-term goal may be to lose 10, 25, 50, or more pounds, you need small goals to keep your motivation up. Pick weekly goals, such as losing 1 percent of your body weight, eating more veggies, or getting more exercise, and then pat yourself on the back as you achieve them.

You should also take time to notice the other improvements a healthy diet and exercise plan can bring to your life, such as:

  • Clothes that fit better
  • Sleep that’s more sound
  • Energy levels that are higher

Weight-Loss Motivation: Skip the Take-Out

You probably know you should cook at home for the best weight-loss results, so consider this news a friendly reminder of why: In a study of more than 2,000 adults, eating fast food or take-out food more than twice a week resulted in a 31 percent greater likelihood of abdominal obesity in men and a 25 percent higher risk in women.

Are you a fan of Chinese take-out? Try this healthy recipe for Edamame Lo Mein.

Weight-Loss Motivation: More Tips

Try following one of these tips to renew your motivation:

  • Turn off the TV. Watching TV, especially if you snack, is linked with being overweight. A study of 1,555 adult women showed that watching more than two hours of TV a day and snacking while you do it doubles your risk of obesity.
  • Accept your cravings. “If you deny your cravings, you are probably going to end up binging later,” says Weinandy. Plan a calorie-controlled portion of your favorites instead.
  • Get enough sleep. “Sleep deprivation is the biggest enemy of weight loss,” says Sherry Pagoto, PhD, assistant professor in the division of preventive and behavioral medicine at the University of Massachusetts in North Worcester. Lost sleep increases hunger and decreases motivation.
  • Join a group or get a diet buddy. Join a weight-loss class or neighborhood walking club, or get a diet buddy. “It’s not only emotional support — you can bounce ideas off each other,” says Weinandy.
  • Get moving. Being physically active boosts your mood, giving you the motivation to keep on track with all obligations, including your diet. For a pick-me-up, go for fun activities, such as dancing or playing sports.
  • Reward yourself. It’s okay to use a reward to motivate yourself for weight loss, as long as it’s not a food-based reward. “A pedicure or a massage is a great idea, but a bowl of ice cream defeats the purpose,” says Weinandy.

What motivates you to stay on a diet is personal. Whether it’s the promise of a pedicure, an evening of salsa dancing, or seeing the numbers go in the right direction in your food journal, you should experiment with these ideas to find the ones that work best for you.

Weight loss is tricky business. Obviously what you eat has a huge impact on your health and body weight. But anyone who has ever tried to modify their diet for the sake of losing weight knows it isn’t so simple.

Most of us understand intuitively that broccoli is healthier than cookies. We can talk about sugar, fat, gluten, and antioxidants all day, but that doesn’t change the fact that cookies taste good and you still want to eat them. Any weight loss plan that simply tells you what to eat and neglects why you make the choices you make is unlikely to help you in the long run.

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Nutrition knowledge is important, but it is only one piece of the puzzle. The real secret is understanding your behaviors and motivations at their roots, and using this information to have a meaningful impact on your health. In this sense, good health starts in your brain, not on your plate.

Willpower is a Limited Resource

The first thing you need to understand is that we don’t have as much control over our food decisions as most of us assume. We tend to believe that we can call on willpower anytime we wish and use it to order a salad instead of a burger, and if we fail to do so it is our own fault. However, self-control is not something we can simply turn on or off, and as a result the process of decision making––particularly when it comes to food––is much more complex.

Approximately 20 percent of the calories we expend daily are used by our brains. Because brain activity is so costly, things like self-control and decision making cannot be relied on indefinitely. As a result, willpower is a limited resource. Like a muscle, willpower becomes fatigued when exercised too frequently. All the decisions you make throughout the day deplete your willpower, and when you start running out of steam your ability to choose healthy food over more convenient food rapidly diminishes. Ironically, increasing your blood sugar can help restore willpower to some extent. But finding a healthy way to raise blood sugar in a state of depleted willpower can pose quite the dilemma. Tired brains find it much easier to just grab a cookie.

The way our brains cope with the willpower conundrum is to automate as much of our decision making as possible. It does this by creating habits. Habits are specific behaviors that occur in response to a trigger or cue. They are also always associated with some kind of reward, which in turn reinforces and strengthens the trigger. For example, a buzz in your pocket is a cue to reach down, grab your phone, pull it out, and glance at the screen. The information you see causes a bit of dopamine to be released in the reward center of your brain. We humans love novelty, which is why most of us have a reflexive response to checking our mobile devices when we receive a notification. This is how habits are born.

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Once established, habits occur automatically without expending any willpower or mental effort. Scientists have estimated that up to 90 percent of our daily food decisions occur as a result of habits. This saves our brain energy for more difficult decisions where habits cannot be used.

How Can this Knowledge Help Us Lose Weight?

For one thing, it shows that willpower is not particularly reliable as a means to achieve lasting weight loss, and we’re better off spending our efforts creating healthy habits.

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It also teaches us that any habit we wish to develop needs to impart a meaningful reward in order for it to stick. You can probably guess that some vague promise of future thinness is not sufficient––the reward for any habit needs to be immediate and tangible. This means that in order to achieve long-term weight control you need to find healthy foods you actually enjoy eating, physical activities you like doing, and spend your time making these as convenient and accessible as possible.

Fabulous news, right? Using willpower for restrictive dieting is difficult and incredibly unpleasant. We can all let out a collective sigh of relief that it doesn’t actually work. To achieve true success in health and weight loss, we’re better off quitting diets altogether and focusing on building healthy habits we enjoy. Try starting with something as simple as breakfast. Warm muesli with a splash of almond milk and cinnamon only takes two minutes to prepare and is absolutely delicious. Invest in a pedometer and challenge yourself to reach 10,000 steps a day. Setting and achieving an attainable goal is a very powerful reward, and is one of the reasons so many people love videogames.

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Since our brains are easily overwhelmed, don’t try to develop too many habits at once. Work on just two or three habits at a time, and build from there. Habits take anywhere from two weeks to six months to take root, but on average about two months. Start with the easiest ones and work your way up. Once you’ve built enough good habits, your health will take care of itself.

Focus More on Your Brain and Less on Your Diet if You’re Serious About Losing Weight | Summer Tomato

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Darya Rose is a neuroscientist and the creator of the popular blog Summer Tomato, which provides the ultimate guide to hacking our brains to achieve real and lasting weight loss. Her new book FOODIST: Using Real Food and Real Science to Lose Weight Without Dieting, teaches you how to stop dieting, build healthy habits, and make life awesome.

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Nutrition: Keeping a Food Diary

A food diary is a log of what you consume each day. It can help you make changes to your diet and lose weight. You can use it to improve your health by tracking what you eat and drink. The diary helps you and your doctor understand your eating habits. Follow the instructions below to get the most out of your food diary.

Path to improved health

You should include several pieces of information in your daily food diary. These are:

  • How much: List the amount of the food/drink item. This might be measured in volume (1/2 cup), weight (2 ounces), or the number of items (12 chips).
  • What kind: Write down the type of food/drink. Be as specific as you can. Don’t forget to write down extras, such as toppings, sauces, or condiments. For example, butter, ketchup, or sugar.
  • When: Keep track of the time of day you eat.
  • Where: Make note of where you eat. If you are at home, write down the room. For instance, at the dining room table, in the kitchen, or on the sofa. If you are out, write down the name of the restaurant or if you are in the car.
  • Who with: If you eat by yourself, write “alone.” If you are with friends or family members, list them.
  • Activity: In this column, list any activities you do while you eat. You could be working, watching TV, or playing a game.
  • Mood: You also should include how you feel when you eat. Are you happy, sad, or bored? Your mood can relate to your eating habits and help you change them.
How much What kind When Where Who with Activity Mood
3 mini chocolate chip cookies 3:25 p.m. office alone working on report bored
1 8 oz. cheeseburger 6:15 p.m. Burger King Claire, Jackie talking happy
1 medium french fries
1 medium vanilla shake
1 cup Haagen Dazs strawberry ice cream 10 p.m. kitchen alone watching TV tired

When keeping a food diary, some basic rules to remember are:

  • Write everything down. Keep your diary with you all day. Write down everything you eat and drink, no matter how small it seems. Whether it’s a piece of candy, a small soda, or a big meal, the calories add up.
  • Do it now. Don’t rely on your memory at the end of the day. Record your eating details as you go.
  • Be specific. Record your food exactly how you eat it. If you have fried chicken strips, don’t just say chicken. Make sure you also include the extras. This could be gravy on your meat or dressing on your salad.
  • Estimate amounts. If you have a piece of cake, estimate the size (2″ x 1″ x 2″). If you have vegetables, record how much you eat (1/4 cup). When you eat meat, a 3-ounce cooked portion is about the size of a deck of cards.

Things to consider

In order to succeed, your diary needs to tell the truth. You don’t gain anything by cheating to look good. If you have questions, talk to your doctor or a dietician. Share your food diary with them to plan changes to your eating habits.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • How often or long should I keep a food diary?
  • What should my food diary tell me?
  • Should I list vitamins, supplements, or other medicines?

Resources

Food and Activity Journal

Losing weight is only half the battle — for many people, the bigger challenge is keeping the weight off over the long term. But is there a secret formula for success? To find out, Live Science interviewed experts and conducted a weekslong search for the best studies on the topic of keeping weight off. We combed through the evidence, and boiled it down to provide simple, science-based tips for how to maintain a slimmer, healthier self.

After a diet, it’s common for people to regain some or all of the weight they lost — sometimes this is called “yo-yo dieting.” A 1999 study estimated that just 20 percent of overweight or obese Americans are successful at losing at least 10 percent of their body weight, and keeping this weight off for at least a year. In fact, even people who are eventually successful at maintaining weight loss often go through several failed attempts first, other research shows. Researchers who followed more than 700 people who successfully lost at least 30 lbs. (13.6 kg) and kept it off for a year or more found that 91 percent reported they had previously made unsuccessful weight-loss attempts before they were finally able to keep the weight off.

“The challenge is that your body is very able to adapt to change,” said Dr. Bruce Lee, director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. “If you have been at a certain weight for a while, then the body tends to try to maintain that weight,” Lee told Live Science.

But there is good news: Studies have revealed that people who are successful in keeping weight off share common habits. Although people tend to lose weight in lots of different ways, “what they’re doing to maintain weight loss is a little more consistent,” said J. Graham Thomas, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior at the Weight Control & Diabetes Research Center of The Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island.

We describe in detail below the exercise and dietary habits most commonly seen in people who successfully keep weight off, and the science behind them.

Successful strategies for keeping weight off, and some pitfalls to look out for. (Image credit: by Karl Tate, Infographics artist)

Why is it so hard to keep weight off?

(Image credit: Sebastian Kaulitzki/.com)

The truth is that, if you want to keep weight off, the cards are stacked against you: Your brain and your body are hard-wired to regain lost weight. This, combined with the abundance of high-calorie foods available today, makes it all too easy to put the pounds back on, experts told Live Science. After you’ve lost weight, your metabolism slows down, so you burn fewer calories than would be expected, even when you’re at rest. “Your body goes from being like a truck, burning a lot of fuel, to being more like a Prius, burning less gas to go the same distance, when you’ve lost weight,” Thomas said. This happens because your brain senses your fat stores are low, and sends signals to the muscles to become more efficient.

In fact, people who lose 10 percent of their body weight actually need to eat 20 percent fewer calories once they reach their new weight, compared with other people with the same weight, to maintain their weight loss, said Dr. Michael Rosenbaum, a professor of pediatrics and medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, who has studied weight-loss maintenance. For example, a person who weighed 200 lbs (90.7 kg), and then lost 20 lbs (9 kg), so that his or her weight was now 180 lbs (81.6 kg), would require about 300 to 400 fewer calories per day than a person who naturally weighed 180 lbs. “It’s a disproportionately lower number of calories to stay right where you are,” he said.

On top of this metabolic slowdown, multiple systems in the body undergo changes that affect our desire to eat. For example, after weight loss, your appetite increases, you have to eat more to feel satiated and you may increase your preference for higher calorie foods, according to a 2015 review paper from a government-backed panel of weight-loss experts. Areas of the brain involved in the ability to resist eating are also less active, Rosenbaum said.

“You’ve created the best possible scenario to regain the weight you’ve lost,” Rosenbaum said.

Things that you want to be aware of as you lose the weight. (Image credit: by Karl Tate, Infographics artist)

Physiological factors that keep weight on and drive a person to overconsume high-calorie foods would have been useful back when humans were hunter-gathers, and had to cope with periods of famine. But these adaptations are problematic today in developed countries, where high-calorie foods are so readily available. “Our brains and our bodies and our genetics are not well suited to our current environment,” Thomas said.

Not getting enough sleep may also interfere with maintaining weight loss. A 2012 study found that sleep-deprived people show more activity in the brain’s reward center when looking at pictures of unhealthy foods, and are more interested in these foods, than people who are well rested. And a study published in 2013 found that people who spent five nights in a sleep lab, sleeping just five hours a night, gained nearly 2 lbs (0.9 kg) over a two-week period, because they were overeating.

Finally, although many people can resist high-calorie foods for a limited period, it’s often hard to keep this up over the long term, Thomas said. This may be because, when a person is losing weight, they experience the reward of seeing the pounds drop off, but when they’re simply maintaining weight, this reward goes away, according to the 2015 review paper.

Beating the odds

(Image credit: Dreamstime.)

But despite these obstacles, there are some people who’ve managed to beat the odds, and keep weight off for years. To better understand how these dieters kept their weight off, in 1994 researchers at Brown Medical School and the University of Colorado launched the National Weight Control Registry, which tracks the habits of individuals with successful weight-loss maintenance. It’s now the largest study of its kind, with more than 10,000 people. Because of the large size and long duration of the study, much of what we know about successful weight loss comes from this registry.

To be included in the study, adults need to have lost at least 30 lbs (13.6 kg), and kept it off for at least a year. But the average person in the study has lost 66 pounds (30 kg), and kept it off for 5.5 years. Participants must also provide verification of their weight loss, such as medical records. Every year, participants answer questions about their weight, diet and physical activity, as well as their strategies for maintaining weight loss. More than two dozen scientific papers have been published from the registry. Some of the most important findings from the registry are highlighted below.

Common traits of those successfully losing the weight. (Image credit: by Karl Tate, Infographics artist)

How much exercise do you need?

When you’re trying to lose weight, your diet is the most important factor, but when you’re trying to maintain weight loss, exercise becomes the most important factor, said Dr. Jacinda Nicklas, a physician and weight-loss researcher at the University of Colorado Denver’s School of Medicine.

(Image credit: beeboys/.com)

Studies involving data from the National Weight Control Registry have shown that people who successfully keep weight off exercise more than the average person; for example, they walk for 60 to 75 minutes per day. In line with these findings, Nicklas recommends 60 to 70 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (like walking) per day, six days a week. If you do more vigorous activity, such as running, then your exercise routine doesn’t need to be quite as long: about 35 to 45 minutes a day is enough, she said.

Because this amount of activity can seem daunting, Nicklas recommends that people start increasing their physical activity levels during the weight-loss phase, so that by the time they get to the maintenance phase, they are ready for the high levels of activity needed to maintain weight loss The researchers at the National Weight Control Registry note that, although 60 minutes per day is the average amount of exercise for the registry participants, some people engage in less activity and still keep their weight off. But Thomas recommends at least 200 minutes a week (or about 40 minutes a day, five days a week) to maintain weight loss.

One reason exercise is important for keeping weight off is that studies suggest it can prevent the metabolic slowdown that happens with weight loss, so the body burns more calories even in a resting state than it would if the person wasn’t exercising regularly, Thomas said. Higher amounts of physical activity also mean you don’t have to be as strict about your diet as you were when trying to shed pounds. “In order to counterbalance being more free with your diet, you have to have the exercise to have a buffer to prevent weight gain,” Nicklas said. But this doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want — you still have to be careful with your diet so that you don’t consume more calories than you burn.

Are certain foods better for keeping weight off?

There’s no “magic” diet for maintaining weight loss, Nicklas said, but studies of the National Weight Control Registry do find some consistent eating habits that may be helpful. Overall, people in the registry tend to consume low-calorie, low-fat foods. On average, they eat about 1,380 calories per day, with 29 percent of their calories coming from fat. (Men in the registry eat about 420 calories more per day than women, on average.)

Registry participants are more likely to say they eat “modified foods” that contain less fat and sugar, compared with people who’ve always been a healthy weight.

For example:

  • About 60 percent eat low-fat dairy, compared with 49 percent of people who have always been a normal weight.
  • Registry participants consume three times more servings of artificially sweetened soft drinks, like diet soda, compared with people who have always been a normal weight.
  • About 55 percent said they ate low-calorie dressings and sauces, compared with 44 percent of people who have always been a normal weight.

Eating these “modified foods” may help people consume a satisfying volume of food without eating excessive calories and fat, the researchers said. What’s more, participants in the National Weight Control Registry have less variety in their diet — they come up with a healthy diet that works for them, and don’t stray from it much. “These folks are selecting a more limited diet of ‘safe foods’ that they eat over and over again,” Thomas said.

This “boring” type of eating may work to help sustain weight loss because it creates an environment that’s essentially the opposite of one that promotes weight gain — where there are a variety of tasty, high-calorie foods. “Just by limiting the variety of foods that we allow ourselves to consume, we reduce the likelihood of unintentionally overeating foods with an unknown number of calories, fat grams, etc.,” Thomas said. In addition, when people eat the same foods over and over, they become less excited by the foods, and so eat less of them, he said.

More than three-quarters of registry participants also say they eat breakfast every day. This fits with studies showing that people who skip breakfast tend to weigh more than people who eat a healthy morning meal, according to the National Institutes of Health. It may be that people who skip meals end up feeling hungrier later in the day, and this causes them to overeat. “One theory is that eating breakfast in the morning helps reduce the likelihood that hunger becomes overwhelming and uncontrollable over the course of the day,” Thomas said. In addition to breakfast, registry participants eat other regular meals — on average, participants eat about five times a day.

In addition, they go out to eat less frequently than the typical American. On average, registry participants eat less than one fast-food meal per week, on average, compared with two to three fast-food meals per week for the typical American, studies have found.

The Mediterranean diet includes fruits, vegetables, grains, fish, eggs and milk (in moderation) and olive oil. (Image credit: Gts )

Many experts emphasize that a successful diet is one that can be maintained long term. This means you should not completely deprive yourself of your favorite foods, or starve yourself all day. You can eat foods you like in moderation, but this should be balanced with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, leaner meats, low-fat dairy products and water. “This balance can aid fullness reduce cravings … while keeping caloric intake lower,” said Mary Ellen DiPaola, a registered dietitian at the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center.

Michaela Kiernan, a senior research scientist at Stanford University School of Medicine, recommends trying to find some healthful, low-calorie foods that you think taste as good as the high-calorie foods you used to eat. This will probably mean that you’ll need to try lots of new foods in order to find wholesome “replacements” that work for you, Kiernan said. And when you do indulge in your favorite, high-calorie foods, you should eat them mindfully — savor and relish them, Kiernan said. Mindful eating may help you feel satisfied without consuming too much.

DiPaola also suggests planning meals to avoid overeating, including what it is you wish to eat, when and where you will buy the food, how it will be prepared, how much you will eat and when it will be eaten.

What other habits are important?

Another important habit for maintaining weight loss is self-monitoring, which means keeping close tabs on your weight and eating habits. Studies have found that people in the National Weight Control Registry weigh themselves at least once a week, and over half of them track their daily food intake. Monitoring weight is important so that people know right away when the pounds are starting to creep back. “It’s easier to catch and reverse a weight gain of a few pounds than it is to catch and reverse a weight gain of 10 to 15 lbs (4.5 to 6.8 kg),” Thomas said.

Some early studies suggest that technologies, like smartphone apps, can help with self-monitoring, or may even improve self-monitoring over traditional paper diaries. For example, a small 2014 study found that people tracked their diet more consistently with an app than with pen and paper. This may be because apps make tracking easier, and can be more engaging, Thomas said.

The number you see when you step on the scale doesn’t tell the whole story about how healthy (or unhealthy) you may be. (Image credit: /Photo Africa)

Kiernan said that people can start some of the habits that will help them maintain their weight loss even before they actually lose weight. For example, sherecommends that you weigh yourself daily to see how your body weight fluctuates even when you aren’t on a diet. You can then come up with a 5-pound range for the upper and lower limits to your current weight. When your weight gets close to the upper limit of your range, you can make small changes to keep yourself at your current weight, like eating 20 percent less at meals for a few days, or taking an extra walk, Kiernan said. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with these strategies, you can use them to help maintain weight after weight loss.

In a 2012 study, Kiernan found that women who mastered these weight-maintenance strategies before they embarked on a weight-loss program were better able to keep the pounds off later. A year after the weight-loss program ended, women who learned the maintenance skills first regained only 3 lbs (1.3 kg), while women who lost weight first regained 7 lbs (3.2 kg). Kiernan also recommends anticipating life disruptions — like vacations — and making small tweaks in advance. For example, you can work to get to the bottom of your weight range before going on vacation.

Reducing “screen time” may also help with weight-loss maintenance. A 2006 study of 1,400 members of the National Weight Control Registry found that 62 percent said they watched 10 or fewer hours of TV per week. At the time the study was conducted, the typical American spent, on average, 28 hours per week watching TV.

And support from family or friends may also help people stay on the right track to maintain their weight. A 1999 study of 166 people who had participated in a weight-loss program found that 66 percent of people who brought friends with them to the program sessions maintained their full weight loss six months after the program ended, compared with 24 percent of those who attended the sessions alone.

But certain kinds of support may be better than others. Researchers in Greece looked at differences in support between 289 people who were able to maintain their weight loss for over a year, and 122 people who regained their weight. The study, detailed online Jan. 22, 2016, in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, found that people who regained weight actually received more support overall from their social network, but it was often in the form of reminders of what they should and shouldn’t do. In contrast, people who maintained their weight received more compliments about their weight, and their friends were more likely to actively help them with their maintenance goal, for example, byeating healthful foods with them.

So although the challenge of keeping weight off can sometimes seem impossible, there are a number of habits that seem to boost a person’s chances of success. A healthful and consistent diet, lots of exercise and keen attention to your current weight and eating habits may help you win the struggle to keep weight off for good.

Follow Rachael Rettner @RachaelRettner. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

How To Keep To A Diet: 4 Ways To Make Healthy Eating A Daily Habit

Have you set yourself a Law of Attraction goal that revolves around better eating, increased fitness or weight loss? If the answer is “yes” then it’s well worth thinking more about how you can create, and stick to, a healthy eating plan.

Meanwhile, even if you’ve set your sights on a different aim like abundance or romance, healthier eating can benefit all areas of your life. It boosts body confidence, may increase energy levels and could reduce your risk of developing certain major illnesses.

Here are four in-depth tips to help you out.

1. Know That Willpower Is A Finite Resource

Yes, willpower can help you choose a snack of fresh fruit over a candy bar. But, if you mainly rely on willpower in order to make healthy eating a daily habit then you’re likely to end up disappointed with the results. This is because experts on psychology and diet warn that willpower is a finite resource, so its ability to shape your eating habits will vary depending on the day.

For example, if you have to dig deep into your reserves of willpower in order to get up the courage to ask someone on a date, it’s not so easy to resist that big bag of potato chips when you go to the store after work.

The lesson here is not only that you don’t want to base your entire endeavor on willpower, but also that deprivation is unrealistic and unhelpful.

Instead of cutting out all your favorite sweet and fatty treats, do some math to help yourself work out how much of these things you can reasonably eat in a week while still losing weight or promoting better heart health.

2. Take Ownership Of Your Choices

In general, Law of Attraction work goes far better when people work to get to know themselves better throughout the manifestation process. You want to be really tuning into your own fears and assumptions so that you can genuinely replace negative thoughts with more productive, positive ones.

One way to make these sorts of leaps in self-knowledge when trying to make healthy eating a daily habit is to be entirely honest with yourself about the choices you’re making. So, face up to the nutritional content of what you’re eating. Plus, what that means for your body, and why you’re eating the things you are.

There are two elements of this ownership approach that promote better long-term habits.

Firstly, you’re less likely to trick yourself into thoughts like “This is organic, so it can’t possibly make me gain weight” or “Oh well, I’ve already eaten a pizza today so I might as well call the whole day a failure and eat a tub of ice cream as well”.

Secondly, you can engage in productive negotiations with yourself. For example, if you want to have some of that ice cream, you can talk yourself through questions like “Could I have a small portion and still enjoy it?” and “What could I adjust about the rest of the day’s food intake to allow for this?”.

3. Prepare For Difficult Events

Regardless of why you’re trying to eat more healthily, you will encounter various roadblocks that make this more difficult in everyday life. You stand the best chance of sticking to your new daily habit if you actively identify and prepare for these types of challenges. Some of the most common examples include parties, family dinners, nights out with work colleagues.

So, what can you do? If it’s possible to check out menus in advance and find out what might work for you, this is a smart way of reducing stress and increasing self-control once you’re actually out. However, if that’s not possible, just take a deep breath and work your way through the choices in the restaurant.

If you’re with good friends, they’ll understand and support what you’re trying to do, even it slows them down just a little!

4. Know And Monitor Your Habit-Breaking Triggers

Finally, it’s important to not only think about external things that might make you less likely to stick to your habits but also to consider the internal roadblocks to success. Write these triggers down! Give serious thought to what you can do to mitigate them when they arise.

For many people, the major thing that sparks a break from a healthy eating plan is emotional distress. This is often called “comfort eating”. Similar responses can be seen to stress.

So, what could you do to handle stress in a better way? Different things work for different people. Some things you could do to combat the urge to over-eat include:

  • Doing something with your hands (e.g. knitting, using a fidget spinner).
  • Immersing yourself in fiction (whether film, TV or a novel).
  • Going for a walk or pouring your feelings into a journal.
  • Read more stress eliminating ideas and tricks here.

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