To actually stick to your diet, you need to think about your why. Why do you want to do it? What’s in it for you? And how committed are you to adopting this new approach? Having this information top of mind—or even on a Post-It note—can rekindle your motivation when it wanes.
“A lot of people think of diets as temporary things, but if they go back to what they were doing before, it’s not going to be of long-term benefit,” says Catherine Christie, Ph.D., a registered dietitian, professor of nutrition and dietetics and associate dean of the Brooks College of Health at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, Florida. “Which diet is going to work for you depends on which [one] you can follow and stick with.”
Other strategies to help you go the distance include:
- Tracking your progress. “The more self-monitoring you do, the better,” says Dr. Cheskin. If you know what you’re eating each day because you’re keeping a food diary, how much you’re moving because you’re tracking your steps and how much you weigh because you’re tracking it daily or weekly, you’ll be able to see correlations between what you’re doing and how you’re losing weight.
In fact, weighing in at least three times a week, logging food intake at least three times a week and having at least 60 minutes of physical activity a week were among the factors that distinguished participants who lost at least 5% of their baseline weight in a commercial weight loss program from their less successful peers in a 2017 study in the Journal of Medical Internet ResearchPainter SL, Ahmed R, Hill JO, et al. What Matters in Weight Loss? An In-Depth Analysis of Self-Monitoring. J Med Internet Res. 2017;19(5):e160. .
- Creating mini goals. If you’ve set your sights on an ultimate goal, such as losing 10 pounds, create action-oriented stepping stones to help you get there. “Some people do well with an extreme change like following a vegan diet, but most people do better if they can make gradual changes and build on them,” says Dr. Christie.
Such steps might include consuming five fruits and vegetables per day, reducing your meat intake, switching from white bread to whole wheat bread or walking briskly at least four times a week. If you map out specific changes you’re going to make on your way to your goal—and you check those boxes by doing them—you build in opportunities for success along the way.
- Sidestepping diet fatigue. As the novelty of the plan wears off, you can keep yourself motivated to carry on. How? By thinking about your potential stumbling blocks (like your sweet tooth) and coming up with satisfying ways to deal with them (such as having roasted fruit or a small scoop of sorbet for dessert instead of a calorie bomb of cake). You can also tune into improvements in how you feel (that you have more energy, for example) or how your health has improved (based on your latest cholesterol and blood sugar levels). “It helps to have some kind of marker—such as blood pressure, blood sugar or cholesterol numbers—to see how it’s working,” says Dr. Christie.
- Spicing things up. To keep your meals lively and appealing, change the way you prepare foods. Consider roasting instead of steaming vegetables, grilling fruit instead of eating it raw or using different spices or flavored vinegars to alter the flavors of familiar foods. In fact, Dr. Jampolis notes that some spices like cayenne, cumin and ginger may even help with weight loss.
- “Treating” yourself. It helps to reward yourself in healthy ways—perhaps by buying yourself a new blender or pair of exercise shoes—when you achieve certain milestones, such as losing your first 5 pounds or being able to jog a mile without stopping.