Congratulations! Embarking on a plan to lose weight is an excellent way to improve your health. While rewarding, the path can be fraught with challenges -- from missteps, restaurant meals, even from well-meaning friends. During your journey, try some of these tips for greater dieting success.
1. Determine a realistic goal weight. If you work with a weight-loss center, their counselors will recommend a goal. If you prefer to go solo, ask your doctor what your ideal weight is. To stay healthy and give yourself the greatest chance of long-term success, shoot for a weight range that you will be able to maintain.
2. Keep a food journal. Write down everything you put into your mouth. This will help you track portion sizes and keep you "honest" about what you actually eat. Plus, if you had a bad week, you can look back in your journal to a more successful week, and see what you did differently.
3. Shop with your eating plan in mind. The healthiest foods "live" around the supermarket's perimeters -- the produce section, meat and fish counter, and dairy department. Take brief forays into the center for staples like canned beans, healthy cereals or whole grain crackers, but for the most part, the outside is where you're most likely to find the good stuff.
4. If you're out and about, bring healthy snacks. Away from home, you could be tempted by unhealthy treats from convenience stores and vending machines. Try stashing bags of nuts, dried fruit or whole-grain cereal in your desk drawer or glove compartment, and yogurt, fresh fruit and hard-boiled eggs in your office refrigerator or lunch cooler.
5. Keep diet-friendly foods front and center. When you're hungry, you're more likely to eat the first thing you see, like the cookies on the counter instead of the veggies in the fridge. If you live with people who must have their sweet or salty treats, stash their goodies out of sight.
6. Get support. While many people have had great success on their own, others need a little help. You don't necessarily have to join a weight-loss organization. Maybe a friend or family member wants to buddy up so you can slim down together. Or join a Web site like sparkpeople.com for free online support.
7. Chart your success. Charting your success along the way keeps you more interested in the process and more motivated. Do this in your food journal. Take stock at the end of each week. Note your weight, how you're feeling, and anything you would like to focus on (like getting more fiber into your meals.)
8. Slim down your cooking. Do your favorite recipes need a diet? Try substituting lean ground turkey for ground beef, and using low-fat cheeses. Also, add body to soups, stews and casseroles with pureed vegetables, like cauliflower or zucchini.
9. Aim for small goals. If you have a lot to lose, it could be intimidating to focus only on that number. Shoot for the first five pounds. Then, the next five. And so on. Taking baby steps will make your journey easier.
10. Work more activity into your day. Yes you exercise, but being more active throughout the day will burn more calories and help keep you from eating out of boredom. Instead of automatically reaching for a bag of chips, empty the dishwasher. Or, during a commercial break, get up and stretch, or take a few laps around the couch.
11. Know your portion sizes. Eyeball portion sizes using these rules of thumb: A serving of fruit is about the size of a tennis ball. A half-cup of vegetables, cooked rice or pasta could fit in the bulb of an incandescent light bulb. Three ounces of meat is equivalent to a deck of cards or a checkbook. And a serving of cheese is about the size of two 9-volt batteries.
12. Drink lots of water. This will help you feel fuller. Aim for 64 ounces daily, more in hot weather or if you've been exercising, and help your body rid itself of toxins.
13. Order restaurant meals with confidence. Most restaurant portions are easily double what the average person should eat at one meal. Split a dish with a companion or ask your server for a container as soon as your dish arrives so you can put half away immediately.
14. Sidestep saboteurs -- politely. Your nice colleague brings you a plate of her mouthwatering homemade pralines, knowing that you love them. Thank her for thinking about you. If you absolutely must have one, save it for your coffee break as a special treat. And when your nice colleague isn't looking, slide the rest of them into the trash.
15. Know when to say when. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that it's had enough. Eat slowly, put your fork down between bites, and learn what feeling full feels like.
16. A binge does NOT mean you're a failure. We're only human, and all of us have horrible days when we try to comfort ourselves with food. But downing that entire container of Chunky Monkey doesn't mean you'll never be able to lose weight. Just take a deep breath, make your next meal healthy and balanced, and continue on. Try to look at the binge as a learning experience. Picking yourself up after a fall shows that you can overcome adversity - and you can feel proud of that.
17. Get rid of your "fat" clothes. Once you've lost the weight, get rid of your old wardrobe. Keeping these clothes gives you subconscious permission to gain the weight back. Bemoaning the loss of expensive items? Give them to a consignment store or a charitable organization and take the tax deduction.
18. Have a mini makeover. If you've hit a milestone, a small makeover, like a new hairstyle or a new article of clothing in your smaller size, can be more than just a reward. It can help you start visualizing the "new you" in the mirror, and keep you motivated.
19. Once you've lost the weight, the work isn't over. Your next challenge is to keep it off, and that can be even harder. Weigh yourself every week, and if the number on the scale is going up, turn to your old friend, the food journal, and start tracking. This will bring your awareness back to what you're eating and help keep a two-pound gain from becoming five.
20. Bring your own appetizers to casual parties. Don't rely on the host, or the other guests, to supply diet-friendly munchies. If you bring dishes like low-fat chips and salsa, or homemade hummus and raw vegetables, at least you'll have something healthy to munch on. And maybe, other people will join you.
Finally, learn to accept your compliments gracefully. If someone says, "Wow, you look amazing," don't denigrate yourself by responding with, "Well, yeah, but I still have 20 pounds left..." Just smile and say, "Thank you!" You've earned it. And these tips for dieting success helped you get there.