Our relationship with food is undoubtedly a complicated one - crash dieting (and quickly regaining weight) is something many of us do at some point in our lives. Here we will give you the keys to a comfortable, healthy diet that doesn't feel restricting. Lose weight and finally keep it off for good!
Why can't I stick to a diet?
If you've ever attempted to follow a diet and felt like a total failure when it didn't stick, you're not alone. There is no question that diet is an important way to lose weight - the general rule of thumb is that 75% of weight loss comes from our diet habits, while 25% comes from exercise.
We commiserate with friends and family, share dieting tips, and search for the latest and greatest diet inspiration to try to stay motivated.
45 million Americans go on diets each year, yet two-thirds of us are medically classified as overweight or obese. Experts tell us that weight loss is a simple math equation of calories in vs. calories out, but the math just doesn't add up.
Sticking to a diet plan is easier than it seems with the right tools and preparation so you can build the willpower to lose weight and make permanent, healthy lifestyle changes.
Why is dieting so hard?
Many of us already know how to eat healthily - eat fruits, vegetables, and whole, unprocessed foods often. But knowing what to do and finding the motivation to stick to a diet are two very different issues.
Staying on highly restrictive diet plans, often cutting out entire food groups, is a recipe for disaster.
Our relationship with food goes far beyond just simple sustenance. We eat food for energy, enjoyment, socializing, and emotional reasons. Many times, the diets we design for ourselves won't fulfill these needs. Then, we inevitably break our self-imposed rules, and in the case of an all-or-nothing diet mentality, throw in the towel and feel like a complete failure.
Maintaining a healthy diet in the long-term means throwing out a lot of what traditional diet culture tells us is "bad."
Focus instead on building small, healthy habits over time and vital emotional outlets that motivate you to eat a more nutritious diet for the rest of your life.
We all probably feel like we have a pretty good idea of what we eat in a day. The truth is, a lot of the small bites we take here and there don't register in our minds, mostly if we eat while we're distracted.
Start recording everything you eat for a few days before you even begin to change your eating habits. It may be a rather eye-opening experience, but try not to beat yourself up if you don't like what you see - you're here and doing the most challenging part; committing to start dieting.
Developing an accurate baseline for your dietary intake will help you reduce it slowly and keep a close watch while adjusting to some new healthy eating habits.
You'll be able to quickly pinpoint the times of the day that give you the most trouble sticking to diet plans. If you reach for sugary snacks mid-afternoon or mindlessly eat in the late evening, you can observe, build healthier routines, and keep healthy snacks on hand at those most challenging times.
It can feel a little daunting to write down everything you eat, but food logging is something that you won't need to continue forever. Log your meals when you first start your diet journey, and until you feel you've got a great handle on your habits, then stop. You can pick it back up and log foods as needed to maintain your habits.
Create a foolproof plan
One of the best ways to stick to a diet is to make a substantial meal plan. For people who lead extra-busy lifestyles, aka most of us, building a weekly meal plan will save you time and cut out the guesswork to help you maintain a successful diet.
Pick a day of the week in which you have a bit of spare time to build a plan. Research some healthy recipes, make a list, and head to the grocery store to grab everything you'll need for the week.
If you have spare time, I highly suggest prepping any snacks, lunches, and dinners ahead of time and pre-portioning them into containers for easy access.
The best way to make a plan that isn't too overwhelming is to pick a few meals you like and don't be afraid to recycle them often to keep this the easiest diet to follow. Keep the rotation big enough to avoid food fatigue and switch out any recipes you're sick of eating.
Many of us do the opposite of eating mindfully! We shovel food into our mouths while we work, scroll through our phones, watch TV, or one of the millions of other things drawing our attention each day.
Mindful eating involves sitting down with whatever food you're eating and taking the time to connect to the experience altogether. As you take each bite, pay close attention to the texture and taste of your meal.
You'll likely feel like you need less food to satisfy your hunger when you're enjoying the entire experience. The most exciting foods to eat this way are often natural and whole, like apples, which coincide with foods to eat while on a diet.
Studies show that mindfully eating can help you lose weight and have a better relationship with dieting, which will make you healthier and happier on the inside and out.
Don't skip meals
Skipping a meal or two entirely may seem like an easy way to cut significant calories, but you're mostly just setting yourself up for failure when you can't stick to diet decisions.
The best way to stick to a diet is by eating all of your meals every day to keep full and make better choices. Think quality over quantity when choosing foods. If you're eating three healthy meals and allow yourself unlimited fruit and veggie snacks, you will be satiated throughout your days.
If you've overindulged, don't try to "make up" for it by skipping meals. Just let it go, dust yourself off, and move on with your eating as planned.
Many of us try to take our diets from 0 to 100 right from the beginning. While healthy motivation is extra strong, the best way to diet is with slow and steady change when first going on a diet.
Black and white thinking when trying to eat healthy doesn't do you any favors. Making hard and fast "rules" for eating is very restrictive and will lead to burnout and rebellion.
The human mind is complicated - the minute you tell yourself you can't have a cookie, you won't be able to stop thinking about cookies, dreaming about cookies, wishing you had a cookie or ten…
Instead, practice moderation and make the diet one you can stick to long-term. If you love eating cookies, have the cookie, and don't feel guilty. Staying on diet track will become increasingly hard if you’re constantly feeling guilty about your decisions.
Don't count your calories
Counting calories is a common practice among dieters. While counting calories can be useful, it's restrictive and can lead to disordered thinking around food. Counting calories focuses on energy, not nutrition.
Studies show that focusing on the quality of food you're consuming over religiously tracking, and counting calories is a more successful weight loss method.
Instead of calorie counting, get a good idea of proper portion sizes, and choose whole and natural foods.
Prep healthy snacks
Keep your fridge stuffed full of fresh fruits and veggies each week, especially as you adjust to dietary changes.
Wash, chop, and place them in containers ready to grab whenever hunger strikes outside of mealtime. Add a little hummus or peanut butter for extra fiber, fat, and protein. Make your healthy snacks readily available and easy to grab!
A healthy diet will get you 75% of the way there - but why stop at that? 25% of weight loss comes from exercising to burn calories and build healthy muscle that permanently boosts your metabolism so that you can eat more food daily without gaining weight.
Try HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, to push yourself harder in less time than steady-state cardio and build up the afterburn.
Heavyweight training and bodyweight training are useful for building muscle mass and increasing metabolism, so try to incorporate both into your weekly routine.
Use whichever method of training you enjoy the most to stay motivated - what matters most is to keep moving for at least 30 minutes, 4-5 times a week.
Eat fewer animal products
If you love meat and dairy, don't worry - we're not suggesting you need to cut them entirely out. Simply put, vegetarian and vegan proteins tend to be lighter, keep you full, and contain less saturated fats.
Swap out the meat for tofu or other bean-based dishes full of fibrous veggies, fresh herbs, and a ton of flavor. Vegan meals are nutrient-dense, so they'll satisfy while helping you to lose weight.
Many delicious Asian classics have versions without animal products, like this vegan buddha bowl, Korean tofu bibimbap, or vegan pad thai.
Start the day off right
The best way to set your diet up for success all day long is to make your first meal a big one. Eating a big breakfast will satisfy you early on in the day, to make healthier decisions easier later on.
Follow a big breakfast with a medium-sized lunch and a small dinner. If you find yourself getting peckish after dinner, grab some veggies or fruit to finish out the night.
Not only will a big breakfast keep you feeling fuller throughout the day, but it also burns more calories - studies show that big breakfast, small dinner diets can help to burn more than twice the calories of small breakfast, big dinner diets.
Work through emotional eating patterns
Many of us gain weight because we're eating to destress and manage our emotions. Stress eating can provide a temporary fix, but it's a band-aid fix that doesn't help solve the problem. It just delays and potentially worsens the situation.
Find other healthy emotional outlets like yoga, meditation, talking to a friend, reading, or journaling to work through your feelings without reaching for food.
I’d highly recommend heading to a therapist or trained professional who can provide emotional support and helpful insights so that you can change emotional eating patterns.
Final notes: Lifestyle changes over fad diets
These tips have all been trending the focus toward one crucial distinction that can make the difference between success and failure with an easy healthy diet.
The best way to find the permanent diet motivation to eat healthier is to change your perspective and throw away the fad diet principles that don't work - this is a lifestyle change that needs to work for you.
To make healthy lifestyle changes that will permanently stick, use as many of these tips as you can:
- Record your food to get an accurate picture of your diet habits
- Plan your meals and prepare food in your off-time to foolproof your week
- Eat mindfully and focus on tasting each bite thoroughly
- Never skip a meal to make up for overeating
- Have as many treats as you need to keep on track
- Focus on food quality over calorie counting
- Keep healthy snacks prepared in the fridge for easy access
- Exercise and build muscle to boost your metabolism
- Eat less meat and more vegan proteins
- Eat a big breakfast, medium lunch, and small dinner to burn more calories
- And work through emotional eating patterns for a healthier relationship with your diet
We wish you the best of luck on your journey of self-discovery and dietary changes!