A recent British survey found that women abandon their lofty diet goals after only five weeks, two days, and 43 minutes. The reason we can’t stick to healthy eating? Almost 60 percent of women said food cravings made diets difficult, while “simply loving food” was an obstacle for 42 percent.
One of the biggest dieting mistakes I see is people labeling their favorite foods as off limits. Like a young women sticking with a bad boyfriend or a toddler grappling at mom’s fragile designer sunglasses, as humans we tend to seek out the forbidden fruit. That’s why I encourage clients to work with their cravings, not against them.
I’ve found that there are three camps when it comes to dieters: handlers, beaters, and bingers. Imagine that you’re at a party and spot a plate of freshly baked, chocolate chip cookies. How would you deal with it?
Handlers: One cookie brings you joy and satisfies your sweet tooth. You walk away from the plate of cookies and life goes on. If you fall into this group, you’re likely to be at a happy place with your weight and have a good relationship with food. You exercise regularly and know that it will all balance itself out.
Beaters: You see cookies, obsess about if you should have one, eat two, and beat yourself up about it for the rest of the day. You realize you can’t handle your cravings and eventually end your diet.
Bingers: You devour three cookies and decide that the day is shot, so you don’t care about what you eat the rest of the day—healthy or not. The downward spiral begins, and next thing you know you’re off of your diet for good.
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I’ve fallen into each of these groups at one point or another. Fortunately in my late 20s I discovered mindfulness and eating just until comfortably full—no matter the menu. If you’re not a handler, here are a few ways to join the club.
1. Decide which of your favorite foods you don’t want to part with. If you adore dark chocolate like I do, why would you want to end that happiness? Get a good bar and break off a square when you want a piece. Then put it away from sight until the next day or week. On the other hand, if you realize that you’ve simply become accustomed to keeping potato chips on hand as a snack when in actuality you’d be just as satisfied with hummus and rye crackers, rewrite your shopping list.
2. Set some guidelines. Cheese is a nutrient-rich food, but it’s not all created equal. If it’s your favorite food, keeping triple-cream Brie in the house is probably not a good idea, but keeping a package of portion-controlled reduced-fat cheese snacks on hand is smart for a protein and calcium-rich snack.
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3. Make it count. When you dive into the restaurant breadbasket, stop after the first bite: Is it stellar bread? There’s nothing wrong with enjoying just one piece of the good stuff—maybe two if it’s divine and portioned small. But make sure it’s really good and send the basket away after your one roll.
4. Never attempt to eat around your cravings. If you crave a cookie and 15 minutes later still want it, it’s better to have a cookie than have fat-free ice cream first and later give into the cookie.
5. Imbibe intelligently. I love a good glass of wine almost nightly—5 ounces or less. Once that glass is gone or it’s your night off from drinking wine, I recommend flavored sparkling water. Its fizz and flavor makes it more special than water, yet it’s still zero calories.
6. Start anew. No matter how badly you derailed from your goals, the meal is your next opportunity to start fresh.
Michelle Dudash is a registered dietitian, Cordon Bleu-certified chef, and author of the cookbook Clean Eating for Busy Families. As a food writer, healthy recipe developer, television personality, and eating coach, she has spread her message to millions of people. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook, and read her blog for clean eating recipes and tips.