If you've vowed to lose weight this year, chances are you're off to a good start with two weeks of healthy eating and exercising under your belt, so to speak. And there's no reason to think you won't sail smoothly through the rest of the month.
After all, you're highly motivated and have started off strong with sensible goals and a realistic eating plan you can see yourself following long term.
Eventually, though, the stick-with-it part can become a struggle. As enthusiasm wanes and temptations pile up, it's easy to stray from your diet and, in due course, end up back at square one.
But this is the year, right? The year you're determined to make your weight goal a reality. And you can. The following strategies will help you stick to your eating plan and shed those unwanted pounds for good.
Not being organized is a sure-fire way to sabotage your diet. If you come home from work, tired and hungry, to an empty fridge, chances are you'll order in, or graze your way through the evening.
To stay on track during a busy week, plan your meals and snacks in advance. Batch cook on the weekend for easy lunches and dinners.
To eat sensibly at restaurants, scan the menu in advance to determine what you'll order. Most restaurants post their menus online.
Letting yourself get overly hungry makes it all too easy to grab whatever food is nearby – and typically that's not an apple or carrot sticks.
Eat three well-balanced meals each day, starting with breakfast. Skipping breakfast or lunch – or eating too little early in the day – can trigger hunger and cravings later on.
Include between meal snacks to manage hunger and prevent binging. Choose 150 to 200 calorie snacks that provide protein and carbohydrate for longer lasting energy. If your stomach is growling and your next meal is only an hour away, stick to 100 calories.
Snack options include ¾ cup low-fat Greek yogurt, a medium-sized soy or nonfat latte, baby carrots plus ¼ cup hummus, an apple plus one ounce part-skim cheese, four dried apricots plus 10 to 15 cashews or almonds, or a whole food energy bar such as LaraBar, Kind Bar, Simply Bar, Elevate Me! Bar or Vega Vibrancy Bar.
To help you stay focused, especially when progress is difficult, having accountability systems in place will help you move forward instead of giving up.
Keep a food diary and list everything you eat and drink each day. Doing so will keep you committed and prevent mindless nibbling. If you prefer, use an app to keep your diet on track such as Calorie Counter, MyFitnessPal, Sparkpeople, Lose It! and MyNetDiary.
Some people find it useful to report to a buddy on a similar mission – through e-mail, texting or by phone.
Weigh in weekly, or as often as it feels right for you. Seeing progress on the scale motivates you to keep on going. Conversely, seeing an upward blip the morning after a larger than normal dinner will force you to follow your plan more closely. Take your measurements (waist, hips, chest) once a month.
Learn hungry vs. satisfied
I've heard it from countless clients after they finish their meal, "but I'm still hungry."
The truth is, feeling satisfied after eating (e.g. you're no longer hungry, but you don't feel full) is foreign to many people. Too often, the signal we've had enough to eat is feeling full – and sometimes stuffed.
The next time you think you're hungry, ask yourself if your stomach feels empty or you simply don't feel full. Assess how you feel before you eat, halfway through your meal and after you finish eating. Stop eating when you feel satisfied.
Take it day by day
To keep your head in the game, think one meal and one day at a time. Ask yourself, "What can I do today to eat healthfully to help reach my goal?" Focus on the journey, not the destination.
Reassess portion sizes
Cutting portions is key to weight loss. And surprisingly, your appetite adjusts to smaller amounts of food.
Since portion sizes can easily creep up over time, refresh your memory every so often by measuring your foods.
Choose one vice
Include one small treat to enjoy as you lose weight, be it a weekly dessert, a daily square of dark chocolate or French fries on Saturday. You don't need to deprive yourself in order to lose weight.
Motivate yourself daily
To keep your eye on the prize, make a list of all the reasons why you want to lose weight and how you'll feel once you get there. Read this list every morning.
Pat yourself on the back
Rewarding yourself as you meet mini goals is a way of reminding yourself you can do it. Determine which achievements you will reward, then plan what your incentives will be.
It's not possible to be perfect, so don't expect it. If you fall off plan – and you will, you're human – don't think it's a major setback. It's not. If you tell yourself it's okay to have slipped a little, you'll be amazed how easy it is to get back on track.
Leslie Beck, a registered dietitian, is the national director of nutrition at BodyScience Medical. She can be seen Thursdays at noon on CTV News Channel's Direct. www.lesliebeck.com
Have a question about eating well in 2013? Leslie Beck will be doing a live video chat on The Globe's website this Friday, Jan. 18, from 10 to 11 a.m. Submit your questions in advance: tgam.ca/weightlossQA