Things were going great — you were losing a pound a week. Then, suddenly, the number on your scale wouldn’t budge … and started creeping upward.
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If this scenario sounds familiar, our dietitians recommend three strategies for getting back on track:
- Start tracking what you eat
Keeping a food log can keep you accountable and help you achieve long-term weight-loss goals. “It can also help you uncover ‘bad’ eating trends like that afternoon latte, pastry or vending machine snack,” says Julia Zumpano, RD, LD. Adds Anna Taylor, MS, RD, LD, CDE, “Tracking what you eat can get a bit tedious, but research shows that it works. Start by committing to at least two weeks of daily food logging.” Try old-school pen and paper to jot down everything you eat in a notebook. Or go digital with free smartphone apps like MyFitnessPal® or LoseIt®, a spreadsheet on your laptop, or a free online calorie counter like SparkPeople.com. Online apps do more than track calories, notes Zumpano. “They can also get you closer to meeting health goals, like lowering your cholesterol or blood pressure, or meeting your protein needs.”
- Plan your menu for the week
Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, recommends planning a week’s worth of meals in advance. “The more prepared you are, the better your eating habits will be,” she says. Adds Taylor, “The worst time to expect yourself to make a healthy choice is when you’re tired and hungry after a long day. Without planning, you become a victim of circumstance.” Scan your fridge, freezer and pantry to see what you’ll need to buy. Then go shopping. “Advance meal prep also helps,” advises Patton. Will some recipes require chopped veggies? Prep and store them, so they’re waiting in the fridge. Planning ahead makes it much easier to make healthy choices.
- Consider time-restricted eating
Are you wondering, “What the heck is time-restricted eating?” We can explain. “In time-restricted eating, you narrow the window of time in which you eat throughout the day,” says Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD. For example, you might eat breakfast later than usual and dinner earlier than usual, then stop eating after 6 p.m. Early studies suggest that squeezing all your meals into the most active part of your day can help you lose body fat without changing your diet. “If your dietary slip-ups are frequent, you may be struggling with calorie-counting,” notes Kirkpatrick. “It can set up unrealistic expectations and is hard to sustain.”
Now that you have three weight loss strategies to choose from, our dietitians want to point out three pitfalls to avoid:
- Don’t limit yourself too much
“The worst thing you can do when you want to start losing weight again is to eat nothing the next day,” says Kirkpatrick. Similarly, banning all carbs or eliminating food groups will cause your weight to boomerang. “You’ll likely end up craving the food you’re denying yourself,” explains Patton. “Or you’ll feel too restricted, then overindulge in a weak moment.” This short-term thinking sets you up for failure in the long term.
- Reward yourself (but not with food)
Ever treated yourself to something decadent after a week of dieting? It’s a common trap. “You think, ‘I’ve been good all week. I’ll just treat myself to this ice cream sundae,’” says Julia Zumpano. But this fosters an unhealthy relationship with food and hampers your progress toward weight-loss and health goals. Rewarding yourself is OK, says Zumpano — just don’t do it with food. Treat yourself to a massage. Or to new clothes. Or to some shiny new electronics. “Or take a day off work to focus on yourself,” she says. And don’t worry, the occasional ice cream sundae is OK. “Remember to share it, or order a kid’s size — and savor every bite,” she says.
- Know that you’ll be less than perfect
As you get back into the swing of things, don’t obsess about “eating right.” “Holding yourself to a perfect standard isn’t realistic for any aspect of your life,” stresses Taylor. “You don’t want to feel like you’ve ‘failed’ if you choose to have a few potato chips or a piece of candy. That’s not particularly motivating!” (In fact, expecting 100% of the food going into your body to be healthy in every way may signal an eating disorder called orthorexia.) You’ll find more success by eating a balanced diet that allows for a few fun foods in small portions. Healthy eating is a skill you build over time. “It takes lots of practice,” says Taylor.