We all start our diets with high hopes and cheery enthusiasm. But after a while, the calorie counting gets to us. Our weight loss may have started to plateau (a normal, but nevertheless discouraging, occurrence) and the novelty of whole wheat bread and tomato sandwiches has long worn off.
But don’t give up (or soothe your disappointment in the comforting arms of a thick slice of blueberry cheesecake). Instead, try these tips on how to keep your diet fun, and your enthusiasm going—even on your dreariest of diet days.
1. Keep an eye on the bigger (or thinner) picture.
Go through a magazine to find a dress or bathing suit you really love. Then, find your best photo of yourself, cut out your face, and stick it on the model’s face. Tape that on your refrigerator. Next time you feel like binging, take a long and hard look at your symbol of the new and fabulous-looking you. Is that ice cream really worth throwing that dream away? Probably not.
2. Get a diet buddy.
If there’s anything the show ‘The Biggest Loser’ teaches us, it’s the power of a support group. They couldn’t quit—not with teammates who cheered them on, or if necessary, pressured them into sticking to the program. Not with television cameras broadcasting their progress, and a global audience that looked to them for inspiration. Now, go find yourself a friend who can do that for you, or join a support group on the Internet. If that doesn’t work, at least get someone who you can be ‘accountable’ to like a trainer or a life coach.
3. Start a hobby.
One of the biggest reasons that diets fail is that people get obsessed with them— counting every calorie, and every pound lost, and then spending the rest of the day thinking about what they can and can’t eat. It’s emotionally exhausting and as productive as standing on a weighing scale the whole day.
Once you’ve got a diet and exercise regimen, you can really just go on autopilot, then find another outlet for your obsession. Is there any hobby that you always wanted to take up? Or a topic or interest that you always enjoyed? Pour your energies there. Not only will this help distract you, it’ll lower two common triggers for binge eating: stress and boredom. You may also discover a new talent or skill, and feel good about learning something new. That’ll boost your self-confidence, and give you a glow that you can’t get from just exercise.
4. Do a calorie exchange.
How much did you used to spend on grande frappuccinos, pizza delivery, or other totally unhealthy stress-related food binges? Make a rough monthly estimate, divide that by 30, and slip that amount into a piggy bank every day. You’d be surprised at how much you save just by eating healthy—and how all that money is now yours to spend on something else! Every month you successfully stay on your diet, empty your piggy bank and splurge. Buy new shoes, or celebrate the five pounds you lost by getting a pretty dress. You deserve it!
5. Treat yourself to little pleasures
Many people associate food with reward. We celebrate good news by eating out; we soothe our emotions with comfort food. When we diet we subconsciously feel deprived and even punished, so that even if we know that we’re doing the right thing, we hate every healthy minute of it.
The key, then, is to replace food with other rewards. Right now, write down about 20 enjoyable treats. Manicures or pedicures. A long bubble bath. A new CD. Movie date with your best friend. An hour browsing in a second-hand bookstore. Silk pillowcases. Go ahead, list them all down. Then go ahead and indulge when you’re feeling down. Many of those things are very affordable; if not, you know what to buy from the money in your ‘piggy bank’ (tip # four).
6. Keep a diet scrapbook.
Many diet experts recommend keeping track of one’s daily food intake to find binge patterns (when are you most likely to overeat?) or even track calories. Take it a step further. Write down how you feel that day, record even small achievements or vent about the day’s disappointment. Also include inspiring quotes, low-fat recipes you may have found on the Internet, or magazine clippings of dresses that you want to buy one day. The scrapbook becomes a safe place to express your feelings and a source of inspiration and encouragement. Break it open whenever you feel bummed out.
7. Don’t deprive yourself completely.
Eating healthy doesn’t mean you can never have chocolate ever again. Allow yourself a little bit. You’re less likely to quit your diet if you know you can still enjoy your favorite treats, albeit in smaller amounts. To make up for it, go for quality not quantity. Instead of finishing off three bars of chocolate, get a few pieces of the highest quality chocolate you can afford. Instead of snacking on Twinkies, find out which restaurant serves the best cake in town and treat yourself to a slice. In other words, choose succulent, perfectly-cooked food that’s worth every calorie.