1. Define Your Motivation
Weight loss is a three-part process: Exercising and cutting calories are vital, but your mental outlook can mean the difference between success and failure.
"Self-defeating thoughts are often the most overlooked factors when a dieter gets off track," says Jeffrey Wilbert, PhD, author of Fattitudes: Beat Self-Defeat and Win Your War with Weight (St. Martin's Press, 2000). "You feel disappointed when a quick fix turns out to be anything but, or weak if you succumb to an intense craving for ice cream." Without the resolve to overcome such thoughts, sticking with any major lifestyle change can be difficult, if not impossible.
The key is to adopt the right attitude before you start your plan. "If you're really serious about slimming down, you need to think long-term. That's why it helps to ready yourself emotionally to take on the challenge," says Daniel C. Stettner, PhD, a behavioural-medicine specialist at Northpointe Health Centre in Berkley, Michigan.
2. Choose an Attainable Goal
"Studies show that most dieters expect to lose as much as four times what they really can in a six-month period," says Stettner.
Think smaller: Count on losing just 10 percent of your weight within six months, and focus on keeping it off for more than a year. But be careful about relying solely on figures. "A number on the scale isn't a goal; it's a measurement of success," says Bonnie Goodman, a psychotherapist based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who specializes in behavioral therapy. Instead, focus on behaviors you wish to change: to reduce your daily fat intake to below 35 percent, or to cut out your afternoon soda or vending-machine snack. Also, consider setting non-weight-related goals, such as entering a 5K race. The pounds you'll automatically lose in the process will seem like a bonus.
3. Design Your Own Plan
Rather than trying every new diet fad, create your own plan that will fit your lifestyle. You need to cut out only 150 calories a day to lose 15 pounds in a year, so start small.
"Little changes to your current eating style, like downsizing portions or preparing foods differently, can add up to big results," says Stettner.
Think about the foods you can — and can't — live without, then try to work your diet around them. Have a small piece every day. If you're a born snacker, divide your daily calories into six or seven mini meals so you always feel like you're having a nibble
"If you make an unhealthy diet choice, admit that you're fallible, but don't drown in a sea of judgmental thoughts," says Wilbert.
Berating yourself won't foster the courage you need to dust off those cookie crumbs and move on. A momentary slip won't register on the scale. An egregious misstep, like a no-holds-barred vacation binge, may delay your weight loss slightly, but it isn't likely to undo every bit of progress you've made. Think about what else you did on vacation, then focus on the positive. For instance, lounging by the pool relieved stress, while sampling the buffets exposed you to new flavours you can incorporate into your own low-cal cooking. Turning negative thoughts into encouraging ones will propel you to keep at it until you finally reach your goal weight.