Regardless of the specific diet (be it Mediterranean, low fat, low carb etc.) there are in fact a few habits that people who successfully achieve or maintain their ideal weight have in common. These five secrets to success may change your attitude towards dieting which is a key component of making lifestyle changes.
1. They Count Calories
The quality of your overall intake matters significantly. Successful, healthy diets across the board recommend eliminating refined sugars and trans fats, whilst increasing fruits and vegetables; and most also recommend limiting your calorie intake if weight loss is desired. A diet rich in healthy fats, fruits and vegetables and lean protein (e.g. fish and chicken) is associated with improved overall health and decreased risk for disease; however there is such a thing as “too much of a good thing”. Should your overall calorie intake exceed recommendations for your weight and activity level, you may struggle to lose weight.
[Calories count, so you should too!]
A dietician will be able to exactly calculate what your exact dietary intake requirements are, but there are also many apps that can do a basic version of this for you e.g. MyFitnessPal. If you find yourself frustrated by your inability to lose weight despite following healthy eating guidelines, calculate what your average total energy intake is daily using one of these apps (or through consultation with a dietician). Your overall intake may be exceeding the recommended amount, and calorie-deficits are necessary for weight loss. Make sure you know your numbers.
2. They Meal Plan.
We all have busy schedules nowadays, leaving us with seemingly little time to plan what we are going to eat before we eat it. This can lead to mindless consumption (a surefire way to gaining weight) and it is more likely that the foods we choose will be unhealthy! Some people function better using set meal plans (as can be provided via a Dietician) whilst others need a less stringent routine. Find out what works for you and make sure thought goes into what foods you include and why you include them. Often the “why” is what’s most important because our goal is overall health is it not? Check that the foods you include will only help you on your journey towards your healthiest state.
[Don’t give up what you want most, for what you want now!]
If you find you can function using a more relaxed approach to meal planning, just take five minutes after your last meal of the day to write down what you would like to eat tomorrow. Make some allowance for eating out if you expect to do so, but still write down what healthy options you could choose when you get to the restaurant. This takes away the stress of weighing up what you think you would like to eat (generally the less-healthy option) versus what you think you should eat. If it’s already decided, you will more readily choose the healthier option.
Quick tip: just like you should never shop on an empty stomach, never plan your meals on an empty stomach (your mind’s “eyes” will be bigger than your stomach).
If you need a more stringent meal plan that specifies recommended meals from sunrise to sunset each day, consult with a dietician.
3. They Keep a Food and Exercise diary.
This is a wonderful habit that I recommend above all of the others! Keep a small notebook or diary, and document everything that you eat and drink for a couple days (or every day) and it will definitely change the way you see your own diet! Apps can help with this too, but I find that it is sometimes difficult to record the exact amount or type of food that you ate on these. Once you have finished your recording for the day, take a look at each and every item on that list. Even if you didn’t record amounts or cooking method, you will be able to ascertain whether there are any problems. Each and every bit of exercise that you do can also be recorded here, so that you can be proud of yourself and provide a measure of accountability to your commitments such as “exercising at least 5 days a week”.
[Choose to eat well and exercise because you LOVE your body]
This is not to be used as a means of testing yourself or for punishing or chastising yourself. If you mess up on one meal, commit yourself to immediately striving for better choices at the next meal. Never not focus on the negatives, build yourself up at all times!
Once you are a pro at recording each and every food and drink item that passes your lips (chewing gum counts), it may also help to start recording how you felt after eating each meal. Did that meal make you feel well, or did it make you feel guilty or unwell at all? Remember which foods made you feel anything other than great, and remind yourself of these feelings when you are confronted with these foods again. This should deter you from choosing them.
4. They Have a “Cheat Meal”
Absolutely no one on this earth is perfect. We all slip up. If you are denying yourself day in and day out of the things you would really like to eat (like chocolate), eventually you will crack and probably binge. It is okay to eat a foods that you really enjoy, just be mindful about it. Limit yourself to only eating a small amount of that chocolate (try make the healthy chocolate choice – aim for darker kinds), and not each and every day. Try limit your cheat meals to once a week. If you know yourself to the extent that if you taste the chocolate you will subsequently eat the whole thing, invite a friend or partner to share with you so that the maximum you can eat is halved.
[Accountability works wonders when it comes to self-control!]
Never chastise yourself after eating a food you know is not going to help you achieve your health goal. Rather realize what’s happened but re-focus your mind on making better choices at the next meal. Positivity needs to abound. If you allow guilt to take over, you will possibly decide that the day’s diet is already ruined and go on a day-long binge! We want to avoid this at all costs.
5. They Get Educated.
Education is empowering. Make a conscious effort not to just blindly follow advice but rather to understand the reasons behind nutrition-related advice. Our bodies are wonderful things and they interact with foods in very interesting ways. We need so many components in our diets – all the vitamins and minerals, proteins, dietary fibre and essential fats. Try to understand what it means to be eating a “balanced diet” that contains all of these. Seek help from a registered dietician or nutritionist for all your food-related queries.