Here it goes...
The first step to maintaining your mojo should take place before you cut a single calorie. In fact, one of the strongest predictors of long-term diet success lies in setting the right goal at the start. "If you set unattainable goals, such as losing 30 pounds in just a few months, you're setting yourself up to fail," says Ann Kulze, MD, author of Dr. Ann's 10-Step Diet: A Simple Plan for Permanent Weight Loss and Lifelong Vitality. Instead, you'll be more likely to stick with a diet if you "focus on your health and create sensible eating strategies," says Kulze. Setting smaller, attainable benchmarks, like losing 5 pounds or a single dress size, will give you the confidence to continue.
Diet success entails making real lifestyle changes, and that doesn't happen overnight. "You have a better chance at keeping the weight off if you lose it slowly. People who are starving get irritable and have a higher failure rate," Kulze tells WebMD. "If you cut back 200 calories a day, you won't even realize it and the weight will come off and stay off." If you keep in mind that optimal weight loss is 1 to 2 pounds a week, you'll be less frustrated
Everyone is bound to give in to temptation (hello, hot fudge sundae) from time to time. The danger isn't a single splurge but letting it become an excuse for an all-out binge. Call it the "I've already blown it so I might as well eat the entire bag of Oreos" syndrome.
So what do you do if you've scarfed down a pint of ice cream before noon? "Perfectionist thinking gets in the way of success more than anything I know," according to Vicki Saunders, RD, who oversees the inpatient and lifestyle program called Transformations at St. Helena Hospital in Napa, Calif. "A 100-calorie indulgence is just that. But if it's perceived as a failure and a reason to give up, it can turn into a thousand-calorie indulgence." Bottom line when you slip up: Forget about it. Tomorrow is a new (healthier) day.
"It's hard to make major lifestyle changes when you're swimming upstream by yourself," says Saunders. Finding other people with similar goals can greatly improve yours odds of diet success. When your spirit - or willpower - flags, having people to call on can provide the support you need to continue. Saunders recommends looking for people at your local gym or Y, Overeaters Anonymous, or an online support group. "Having a support group to turn to, whether it's your family or people in a weight-loss chat room, can make all the difference" for diet success.
One of the biggest diet motivation-busters is the dreaded weight loss plateau. You've been doing everything right, exercising and eating well, and the numbers on the scale have been steadily dropping. Then suddenly: nada. The scale stays stuck for several days in a row. According to Ann Kulze, this is perfectly normal. "Turn it around and congratulate yourself on the diet success you've had so far," she urges. "This is a natural part of the weight loss process." When you hit the plateau, you may want to try something slightly different to jump-start your diet. "Commit yourself to expending an extra 100 calories a day with walking, for instance," Kulze advises. "And look honestly to see if you're backsliding in little ways with your eating." A few minor adjustments and you'll soon be back on course.
Dieting is hard work -- and it's not always a whole lot of fun. Small rewards can provide an incentive to keep going. But make sure your rewards are not food-related. (Translation: Rewarding yourself for losing 5 pounds with a box of chocolates is not what we're talking about.) Set mini-goals along the way and reward yourself when you reach them. Your reward could be a massage, a round of golf, a new pair of jeans, or a hot bubble bath. "Celebrating your diet success will fortify your resolve to continue," says Kulze.
For many people, losing weight is far easier than keeping it off. It's important to remember that healthy eating is a lifelong goal, not a one-time project. If this has been a problem for you in the past, devise a maintenance strategy ahead of time. Vicki Saunders says you may want to consult an expert to help create a diet or exercise plan that works for you. "Plan an appointment with a professional, whether it's a nutritionist, a counselor, or a trainer, for an added boost," she says. An expert can help you get off on the right foot -- and maintain your healthy habits even after you've reached your ideal weight.