There is a LOT of fluff out there about weight loss and diets, so we’ll address the elephant in the room right away: dieting is not easy, and traditional fad diets are not a long term solution for weight loss. But there are systems of eating designed to help you lose weight for good. All you have to do is figure out which might be right for you.
But first: You need to determine your Why.
Predieting: What’s Your Motivation?
For many people hopping on the diet train, the goal is weight loss. But unless you want to be in the majority group of dieters who gain back almost all of the weight that they lost after following a diet, you’re going to have to look deeper. That might require actually writing your thoughts and goals down. It can be as simple as one sentence:
- I want to go on (insert diet) because I want to lose weight. I want to lose weight because (insert reason).
Why do you want to lose weight? Is it to look better? To feel better? To lead a healthier lifestyle? To keep up with your kids? This kind of introspection can get emotional — and it should be. Your weight loss journey is personal to you, and you may struggle with emotions that tell you you should give up, or that it’s not worth the work. Without really looking inward, it will be easy to fall back into patterns of emotional eating, stress eating, or just doing what’s easiest. That’s why sitting down before you start your diet is important: it can help you identify why you need to jump in and how that will shape your long term health goals.
Once you’ve got your goals nailed down, it’s time to develop an action plan.
Diet Planning 101
So, you’ve resolved that you’re headed for a diet. Time to take a hard look at your lifestyle, schedule, and wallet to see what you can accommodate. Here are some tips to figure it out:
Make Your Goal Visible
Write down the short term and long term goals you developed in the predieting stage and put them somewhere you’ll see each day (your mirror, your dashboard, as a daily reminder in your phone). On the hard days, having a reminder of The Why might be enough to help keep you on track.
Pick Apart Your Schedule
This is key. If you have long commutes that include a Dunkin’s run each morning because you hate getting up early to make breakfast, resolve to prepare breakfast the night before. If you have kids and have to bring them to and from after-school activities that might limit dinner-making time, resolve to get in the habit of Sunday meal prep. If work is right next to an amazing pizza place, resist the temptation to run over to it on your lunch break and break out the lunch box you prepared instead. Dieting, more than anything, takes time — to prepare meals, to buy right, to eat early instead of getting out of bed late — so make time.
Talk to Your Support System
Tell your friends/family/partner what you’re planning to do and why. And then enlist them for help. Would they be willing to keep junk food out of the house? Can they — gently — help hold you accountable? Could they help identify recipes that are healthy and work for the kids, too? Would they want to eat healthy alongside you? Having the help is important — they’ll keep you on track when all you want to do is break out a pint of ice cream or a beer.
Find Out What Makes Sense Financially
Some diets nowadays are subscription- or membership-based, meaning they send the food to you. That can get expensive. Other diets are simple: eat veggies and meat and nothing else. That can be more affordable. There are upsides to both: subscription-based plans can send you food so all you have to do is cook and eat it, while other plans require you to do a bit more work. Let your wallet decide for you.
Consider Joining a Gym
The old adage that “Weight loss is 80 percent diet and 20 percent exercise” is true. To shed one pound in a week, you need a 3,500 calorie deficit. That’s a lot of working out if you’re not changing the way you’re eating. Even still, working out is 20 percent of the pie — so consider developing a workout routine once you start to get the hang of your new eating patterns.
Finding the Right Diet for Your Goals
Here’s a guide to a handful of diets that might be right for you.
Goal: Short-Term Weight Loss (1-3 Months)
We don’t recommend practicing short-term weight loss diets. Those would be the type that say they’ll help you “LOSE WEIGHT FASTER!” Almost all the research out there suggests that restrictive eating is bad overall. Still, if you are desperate to lose a few pounds for that wedding/high school reunion/beach vacation coming up, remember this one cardinal rule: no fad diets. Instead of a short-term weight loss diet, consider these smaller, healthier changes:
- Cut Out Alcohol
- Time to skip out on drinking. Depending on how much and how consistently you drink, alcohol will make you gain weight.
- Pack in More Veggies
- Vegetables are packed with fiber, which makes you feel fuller for longer. Fiber is also an awesome detox tool for keeping everything inside your body running smoothly. Instead of your usual helping, make your veggies take up half your plate.
- Drink Water Before Meals
- Most of us aren’t getting enough water, so drinking water before meals will help you twofold: keeping your hydration in check and stopping you from overeating, as having water in your stomach will help you feel fuller faster.
- Use Smaller Plates
- It’s likely you’re eating more than you actually need. Smaller plates are proven to reduce food intake and waste — a double whammy! This technique works gets a little suspect if your overweight, so if you’re BMI is high and you’re looking to shed pounds, try practicing one of the approaches below.
Goal: Long Term Weight Loss & a Healthier Lifestyle
What you should be aiming for is a long term plan to a healthier lifestyle. Long term lifestyle changes and weight loss techniques are also more fun than short term ones, because of what makes them sustainable: less restriction and the occasional guilt-free cheat meal.
Here are a few “diets” (read: lifestyle adjustments) that work best overall:
The Mediterranean Diet
Best for: Long Term Health
Consider this in the “healthier lifestyle” section. The Mediterranean diet has had its praises sung over and over, but it doesn’t significantly limit your fat intake, as it includes olive oil, nuts, avocados and more. But it’s low in red meat, sugar, and saturated fats, and emphasizes lots of plant- and sea-based foods like fruits and veggies, nuts, legumes, fish, and healthy oils. Plus, despite the fats, studies have shown that a low-carb Mediterranean diet will help you lose weight. Because it’s not restrictive, it allows for less margin for error…and you can drink a glass of red wine here and there with no guilt.
Bonus: Looking to lower your cholesterol? The Mediterranean diet can help with that. Looking to boost heart health? It can help with that, too.
Best for: Weight Loss
Over the years, Weight Watchers has been dialing in healthy eating techniques. It gamifies dieting and challenges participants to stick to a daily recommended points amount. But the most important part is that the program is designed to point you to a long term healthy relationship with food, with educational resources to point you in the right direction (i.e., less sugars, more protein, etc.). If you are overweight and worried about your health and want a solution that will help you see results quickly, consider Weight Watchers.
Bonus: You can eat whatever you want, to a point. Weight Watchers will give you a prescribed daily point limit, and assign foods with points. Items like legumes, skinless chicken, seafood, and veggies all have zero points, for example (which means you can eat until you’re full!).
Best for: Heart & Overall Health
The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet was originally developed for people with high blood pressure, but because it operates on the same healthy eating principles we’ve always been told to follow — namely, eat fruits and veggies, avoid bad fats, eat whole grain and focus on lean protein — it’s good for everyone. You’ll be capping your sodium at 2,300 milligrams a day (and reducing it along the way) and encourages walking after you eat!
Bonus: It’s obvious, but with the DASH diet, your heart will thank you.
Quick Hit Bonus Tips:
- No fasting. There aren’t enough studies to show that intermittent fasting is healthy in the long term, no matter what the Internet says.
- Eat breakfast. It kickstarts your metabolism and helps you keep weight off.
- Practice stress-reduction. Stress increases the amount of cortisol your body produces, which means it makes it hard for you to keep off weight. Conveniently, lots of the food in the Mediterranean diet can fight off cortisol production.
- Be kind to yourself. In the event that you cheat on your diet when you’re not supposed to, don’t think you need to reset and don’t beat yourself up. Simply start over with the next meal.
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