Maybe it’s not the kind of thing you typically share with the world, but I am just going to come right out and say it.
I’m on a diet.
I know, it might be a little odd to come out and fess up to that in public, but let’s face it, almost all of us need to take off a few pounds now and then. And while yes, there are many people who like to go the nutritionist route or sign up for pre-cooked meals, that’s just not me.
Ironically, I was raised by a man who for decades weighed exactly the same as he did when he got married. On that rare occasion that he actually gained a pound or two, my father would watch what he ate for two days and – poof! – he was back to his wedding weight again. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t lucky enough to inherit his lightning fast metabolism, which means going about things the old fashioned way: eating less and exercising more.
As anyone who has ever tried dieting knows, there are days when things go smoothly and other times when you find yourself ready to gnaw on the edge of your desk because you just need to snack on something. It’s important to remember that getting your head in the game is a key component to taking off those pounds. So while you are busy nibbling on baby carrots and hitting the treadmill or your favorite walking trail, get your brain in gear as well so that you up your chances for success and being able to fit into that favorite outfit again.
Set Goals: While it is important to have a target weight in mind, divvying things up and setting short-term goals can make the process a whole lot easier. Let’s say you want to lose 25 pounds – aim for five pounds at a time, rewarding yourself with a non-food item that makes you smile as you hit each mini-milestone. Maybe I am crazy, but it just seems to me that losing five pounds five times is a lot less daunting than trying to lose 25 pounds.
Don’t be a Solo Dieter: Letting people know that you are dieting can be a powerful incentive to stick to the plan, hence the opening sentences of this column. Sticking to a diet can be tough and if no one knows about it but you, one day when you hear a batch of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies calling your name, you might just decide to give up. But when other people know that you are in weight-loss mode, not only will you feel compelled to stay on that diet because it is far too embarrassing to throw in the towel, you might just luck out and have your friends and family cheering you on, giving you the motivation you need to make it all the way to your goal.
Keep a Food Journal: Grab a pen and a notebook or pull out your smartphone and keep a digital log, making note of every morsel that enters your mouth every single day. You would be surprised to realize that that bar of chocolate is far less tempting if you are actually going to have to record in your journal. Want to raise the stakes even higher? Arrange to have a friend, family member or diet buddy read your journal every night – realizing that someone else will know that you cheated on a plateful of spicy fries will most likely stop you from eating them in the first place.
Be Prepared for the Munchies: There will always be those moments when hunger pangs strike and you need to have viable choices on hand to satisfy them. While it obviously makes sense to have cut up fruits and vegetables waiting in the fridge, there are times when you crave something a little different. Googling “100 calories snacks” yields plenty of ideas including three cups of air popped popcorn, one string cheese or 20 pistachios, just to name a few. Although I don’t care for the taste of foods made with fake sweeteners, there are plenty of sugar-free ices, ice cream bars and Jello products that are extremely low in calories that can also hit the spot when you get the urge for a decadent treat. Make a list of diet-friendly snacks that appeal to you and hang it where you can see it at a glance so that you are prepared to deal with the munchies when they strike.
H2Oh!: Drink, drink and then drink some more. There is nothing better than plain old water, not only for staying hydrated, especially important in the summer months, but also to keep you feeling full. Get in the habit of making hydration part of your day, be it with a frosty glass of ice water, a disposable water bottle or an insulated bottle that will keep your H2O perfectly chilled for hours on end.
Strategic Shopping: Don’t even think about hitting the supermarket without a proper shopping list – and make sure you stick to it. It is far too easy to toss treats into your cart as you walk up and down the aisles and once in your fridge or pantry those items are even harder to resist. Instead, plan your meals and snacks for the week before leaving home and don’t buy anything that isn’t on your list. No matter how tempting that pint of rocky road ice cream looks, just step away from the freezer case and keep on walking. Even if it is on sale.
Buddy System: Remember the buddy system when you went swimming in camp, when randomly through the activity they blew a whistle and you had to pair up with your buddy and shout out your number? There probably is no need for those numbers now, but like so many other things in life, dieting goes a lot better when you do it with a friend. In addition to keeping you inspired to stick to your goal, it always helps to have someone to cheer you on.
Kitchen Control: You know those houses where you walk into the kitchen and there is a full cookie jar displayed on the counter? Having those items sitting out in full view certainly lends an inviting air when guests come to visit, but they are death to your diet, their little cookie voices calling out “Eat Me! Eat Me!” Keep food out of sight between meals and if you feel the need to have edibles sitting out go with fresh fruit or veggies.
Late Night Snacking: To use the old analogy, your body is like a car and food is the gas that fuels your internal engine. The food you eat for breakfast gives you the energy to get through the morning and the same goes for lunch and supper, but most people aren’t burning off those nighttime calories so avoid snacking after 7 or 8 PM whenever possible.
Be a Procrastinator: I am a big believer in doing things immediately but when I get into my dieting groove and find myself longing for something that I shouldn’t be eating, procrastination actually works pretty well for me. Instead of saying no to a craving, I promise myself that if I still want that treat in half an hour, I can go ahead and indulge. At least nine times out of ten, by the time that 30 minutes has passed, the temptation has, thankfully, vanished.
Last but not least, do whatever you can to keep things fun so that you don’t feel deprived. Buy workout clothing that makes you smile. Put together a playlist of your upbeat songs or hit the library for a good book or two. And as you reach for your kitchen scale, measuring cups and sneakers, pull out your mental toolbox as well and remember that even if Mr. Scale barely budges, your heart and your entire body will thank you for eating right and exercising, both of which have lifelong benefits.