Why those New Year’s diet resolutions are wavering right about now

New year's resolutions

Stop focusing on the scale and start focusing on how you feel.

I’m a positive person and I’m a big believer that once you set your mind to something, you can succeed…in most cases, so-called “dieting” is not one of them. There’s a reason the diet industry is huge—and people gain back most of the weight they lost during a so-called “diet”. Let me explain…

Like many women, I’ve been on many diets in my lifetime—you name it, I’ve tried it. The low-carb diet, the low-fat diet, the low-cal diet, the low-food diet…the list goes on. And not ONE of them has worked long term. The reason: you set yourself up to not be able to have something (um…like the food you want or that your body is craving)—and the mind rebels and sets you up for a binge. “If you’re not going to feed me, I’m going to make you unable to resist that plate of cookies, loaf of fresh bread, chocolate cake, bag of chips, pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream…” Plenty of research proves that theory. But not being on a formal diet is what has helped me drop 4 dress sizes (I used to be a size 14—and now am a 6—after my toddler daughter was born) and get down to my lowest weight in years.

So it’s now mid January, right about that time when the most stringent diets followed resolutely since New Year’s Day are wavering. Deprivation has set in (no sweets, no to that snack you’re desperately wanting, no to that second helping of pasta your body is calling out for…) and you’re about ready for a binge—and the downfall of your best weight-loss intentions. I’ve been there—many times. And the keys to losing weight long term are simple. Here’s what has worked for me—put these into practice, whether you’re looking to lose weight or not—and you’ll be guaranteed long-term success (meaning that fabulous pair of pants you love WILL fit you from year to year…a great thing!):

1.) Don’t set a deadline for yourself. I used to mark 2 pounds every week on my calendar with an end “dream” weight day marked with a big star. If you do that—or have set up an ultimate deadline to drop the weight (your wedding, that high-school reunion, etc)—change that immediately. You set yourself up for panic and stress if your body doesn’t drop the amount of weight you think you SHOULD be losing—and this panic and stress can lead to feelings of failure and the “Oh, well, I’ll never get there…so I might as well have that piece of chocolate cake” attitude. Post event, you are also more likely to go back to your old ways of eating—and with that, your old weight.

2) Stop thinking about food every single second of every single day. I can remember logging everything into my food journal (sip of tea with milk and sugar, check; half a cup of milk, check; three carrot sticks, check; half turkey sandwich with one piece of lettuce and one slice (or darn, was it two??) of tomato…and the list goes on). All I thought about was food! “How many calories does this have?” “What time is it” “Is it time to eat that sandwich I packed for lunch?” “What am I going to have for dinner?” I think about all the energy I wasted thinking about what I was going to put in my mouth—and no wonder I found dieting draining. While all the experts say that keeping a food journal is the key to long-term weight-loss success—and it can be, in the short term, for those who need to just understand how much they’re putting in their mouths—I personally have found it to be a waste of time, energy and focus!

3) Eat what you want; just eat it in moderation. Craving a bagel for breakfast, have half, and move on. Want a burger for lunch; have it without a bun and a side salad. Want that plate of pasta for dinner, go ahead and eat it instead of ordering the tasteless and totally unappetizing salad with the dressing on the side. Craving a cupcake, go ahead and have it! And please who invented “skim” or “fat-free” milk??? That is the most godawful tasting drink on the planet. I remember drinking it for years because it was lower in calories and fat—and I hated it. But never again. When I’m drinking milk, it’s 2% or bust for me.

4) Eat lots of fruits and veggies. Learn to love them—and experiment with different kinds. You need to cover at least half your plate at lunch and dinner with veggies (no, you don’t need to measure them out!); just make sure they’re not drenched in butter or heavy sauce! Have fruit or veggies for snacks (with a protein like peanut butter or hummus).

5) Drink plenty of water. Just keep a water bottle with you at all times and do not drink soda. That cuts out a tremendous amount of calories and sugar right there. Once in awhile, I’ll have a ginger ale; I treat it like a treat, rather than a daily necessity. And I drink the full-sugar kind…so it really feels like an indulgence.

6) Eat a good breakfast. I read somewhere to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen, and dinner like a pauper. Well, I’m not an advocate of eating any meal like a pauper exactly…but the idea is that breakfast should be your heartiest and healthiest meal of the day. It fills you up, keeps you full until lunchtime, and sets you up on the right path the rest of the day. (I LOVE steel-cut oats with almonds, dried cranberries, a tiny bit of coconut, cinnamon, and agave nectar in the morning: how many calories does it have? I have no idea and truly don’t care in my non-dieter’s mindset.)

7) Get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. I found that I really dropped weight when I started going to bed early (I’m in bed by 10 at the latest). The later you stay up, the more tired you feel the next day and the more likely you are to reach for empty calories to give you instant energy. (You’re also less likely to wander over to the kitchen after hours for a snack.)

8) Exercise at least 3-4 times a week, no excuses. This is last, but definitely not least. Get moving and you’ll find—as I have—that your appetite is naturally controlled, your motivation is up, and you want to eat healthier. I’ve found that exercising first thing in the morning, before breakfast and before the to-do list starts piling up, is the best way to start you off on the right foot.

The bottom line is listen to your body: if it’s hungry, have something to eat; if you’re tired, go to sleep; and get moving. By listening to your body, you’ll become more in tune with it—and the result will be a body you can feel truly proud of. And by not obsessing, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the weight comes off, and more importantly, stays off.

Valerie LatonaAbout Valerie Latona
As the former editor in chief of Shape (the active lifestyle magazine) for 5 years, I personally spoke with a lot of women (thousands over the years, from around the nation) and what I found is this: it's not easy to stay healthy, to get (and stay) fit, and to stem the weight gain tide (and even the tide of disease) that inevitably happens to us as we get older.