Here are six special strategies that will help your diet get off to a fortified start.
1. Timing is everything in starting a diet
The first thing to keep in mind that in the middle of a crisis is not the best time to start a diet: If you are a nervous non-eater, you won’t need a diet. If you eat for comfort, your diet is doomed from the get-go. Better to wait a little before starting out.
If you are in an OK place and are ready to start, be reasonable. You can expect to lose about 1-2 pounds a week (with some time off for good behavior) so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to start two weeks before your class reunion.
As a positive aside, though, a good targeted exercise program can help you tighten and trim in a very quick period of time—consider it as a stop-gap alternative.
2. The psychological reasons for keeping a food diary
Most diet books recommend that you keep a food diary for two weeks before you start a diet. There are several good reasons for doing this.
Keeping a journal helps you watch yourself. Not to change your eating habits, but just to see what you do. It is a record of not only what you eat, but when you eat and how you feel, just before eating and about an hour or so later.
- The when part helps you decide whether you are a grazer (6 meals a day) or a traditional three meals-a-day person. It can also help you discover whether you eat breakfast (a good idea) and if you are a late night snacker in front of the TV (not so good an idea).
- The how part helps you discover if you regularly practice ‘linked’ behavior. For example, when the late night news comes on, do you automatically head to the kitchen to visit the penguins in the frig. Or do you associate a coffee break with whatever is in the lunchroom? (I’ve eaten some pretty disgusting days-old pastry whose only claim to fame was that they were there.)
- The how can also pinpoint possibly food allergies that cause cravings in themselves. If you are feeling bloated, or gas-y, or have swelling about the cheeks after eating certain foods, you may be exhibiting a food intolerance to common allergens such as dairy or wheat. If you have suspicions, check with your doctor!
- Does stress or emotional discomfort trigger a craving for sweets? The food journal can help pinpoint where your danger points may lie.
3. Minimize the mine fields of cookies, candy, and really good tasting cereal
It takes 21 days to break a habit, and you don’t want all those temptations around while you are learning good behaviors. Try these tricks to even the playing field:
- Pick a weekend morning when you are in a strong frame of mind and go to it with a big garbage bag to clean out the temptations. Move fast and it won’t be so painful. Pick an opaque garbage bag for the same reason.
- Label everything with post-its or masking tape. In big letters write what is the ‘normal portion size’ for how many calories. Or apportion snacks into baggies. For example, did you know that 17 baked potato chips are a normal serving?
- Get opaque containers for the frig. Label them the same as usual, so the rest of the crew can find all the leftovers, but you won’t be taxed with the visual image every time you open the door.
- Use an old supermarket tactic, and place dangerous food items out of your own eye view.
4. Motivators will help pull the sled when the lead dog gets tired
Internal motivation can keep you going when your resistance is low. Try this strategy to help keep your resolve.
- Sit down and figure out 5 important reasons why you really do want to lose weight. Try to be as specific as possible. For example, ‘I want to wear that red pair of slacks in the corner of my closet.’ And choose the reasons that are important to you. ‘I want to lose weight for Johnny’ would not count, but ‘I want to lose weight to breathe better’ does.
- Write or type the 5 on several index cards. Or copy them on colored paper and have them laminated at the nearest office center.
- Put one under your favorite refrigerator magnet. Put another on the visor of your car. A third can be stuck in your wallet. Another in a drawer you always open at work.
- Be crafty. As the eye will get used to seeing them there, every so often pick another spot and move the card there where you will notice it.
5. Plan your menus at least 24 hours in advance to stave off panic attacks
I love the sample menus in all of the diet books on my shelves. They give me a guideline and so long as I have those ingredients on hand, I can always wing it. But do yourself a favor and keep it simple.
- Breakfast. Compile a list of at least 6 simple and quick breakfasts that you can eat on the run. Minimize the carbs and emphasize the protein: eggs, cheese, cottage cheese. Watch the sugar bowl, and choose whole fruit over juice when you can. But keep it simple.
- Lunch can be salad with protein in the summer: Tuna, boiled egg, or microwaved chicken breast or deli chicken are quick and filling. Add premixed greens: I like romaine for crunch, spinach for texture, and spring greens for color. Add some grape tomatoes. Premixed carrot slices or shreds. Toss in some nuts or a few pieces of dried fruit or berries in season for color.
- In cooler times, consider having a repertoire of homemade soups for lunch, using many of these same ingredients. You can fix a big pot on the weekend and nosh all during the week.
- Dinner can be traditional: meat & veggies, or try vegetarian. Keep the low-cal TV entres on hand for those nights when you have great intentions but just can’t bear to cook. Order the pizza or take out for the other family members and pop a frozen dinner into the microwave for you.
- If you are an evening snacker, compile a list of 100 calorie snacks—a (small) handful of nuts and a piece of fruit, celery filled with low-cal cream cheese (Laughing Cow makes a great one), low-calorie microwave popcorn.
- If you keep it simple and learn to work within your own habit patterns, you won’t be fighting yourself during the process of dieting.
- Water is a good thing. You’ll get some with your food, and some when eating a meal, but try to work in a few extra glasses during the day. Your body will thank you.
- Vitamins: If your diet is colorful (lots of reds, greens, blues, and yellows) you probably will be fine. To be on the safe side you might consider a one-a-day vitamin as well.
6. If you don’t know where you’ve been, you don’t know where you are going
Finally, you need to figure out a way to measure progress. A home scale is a good thing. If you are like me, it is hard to resist stepping on every day. But I only record the weight on Monday mornings. That keeps me honest over the weekend. And then I chart it. I want to see how I am doing…or not.
Likewise, taking basic measurements on a monthly basis is a good idea: bust, abdomen, waist, hips, thigh, upper arm. You may think you are not making progress at all, but the combined inches may surprise you!
In the long run, planning helps make the new routine and more efficient. This helps break old habits and form new ones.
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