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3 Secrets of A Successful Diet

If you're determined to lose 5 pounds, 10 pounds, or more, we know how to make it happen without much effort. We're not going to weigh you down with lowfat, low-carb, and--let's be honest--low-taste diets. Instead, we're offering some slim-down strategies you can easily fit into your life. Altering your eating habits permanently requires three things: emotional commitment, healthy foods you enjoy, and a conducive home and work environment, says James Hill, Ph.D., co-director of the National Weight Control Registry, a group of 6,000 dieters who have maintained at least a 30-pound loss for a year or more. We asked an expert in each of these three areas for their tips (the kind their clients pay big money for). Basing their findings on years of experience, they identified the most effective steps you can take to drop pounds--no calorie counting required. Follow their advice and you'll be a slimmer, more confident you in no time.



Step 1

Get Your Head In The Game

Our expert: Weight-loss consultant and health psychologist Stephen Gullo, Ph.D., author of The Thin Commandments Diet



On January 1, millions of women will resolve to lose weight and change their eating habits. One study from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania showed that a quarter of them will go back to their old ways within a week. Why? Simply put, it was the wrong time to make such a drastic commitment--they weren't ready, says Gullo. Leftovers from holiday gatherings and food gifts are still in the kitchen. Plus, with all the shopping, wrapping, decorating, and party going in the last few weeks, they haven't had time to think through exactly how they'll put their desire into action. "On New Year's Day your brain is still in holiday mode. Unless you have time to plan for the behavioral changes you need to make, every single pound will be a struggle to lose," he says. Here's his put-your-mind-where-your-mouth-is plan.



Ask why you want to lose weight. Being honest about your reasons helps you get (and stay) motivated. "More people come to me looking to save their wardrobe rather than their life," says Gullo. So, if fitting into a smaller size or keeping the clothes you have from getting too snug is your goal, embrace it. Hang a favorite outfit (like that bikini you hope to fit into) or a picture of what you want to wear somewhere you'll see every day. If your diet was prompted by a health concern, post pictures of family and friends on the fridge. These examples will remind you why you're dieting; otherwise, as time goes on, your dedication could fade.


Take the mood out of your meals. You'll never be able to stick to an eating plan if you reach into the cookie jar every time your mother-in-law calls or you spend a Saturday night alone--or even when you want to celebrate the end of a big project at work. If you're prone to emotional eating--negative or positive--write down a list of potential distractions from food: calling friends, knitting, immersing yourself in the latest page-turner, or polishing your nails. When you're tempted to open the fridge, you can immediately turn to another outlet, says Gullo. You can also set up a reward system that doesn't involve food. Celebrate accomplishments with a facial, a new pair of shoes, or a warm bubble bath. "When something terrific happens and you want to celebrate, your first thought won't be 'Brownies!'" he says.



Prepare for plateaus. At some point in your diet, your scale may stop budging--or even go a pound or two in the wrong direction. If you have a contingency plan, you won't panic. "In business all kinds of what-if scenarios are outlined from the outset," Gullo says. "Do the same with your plan to lose weight." What might your back-up be? A detailed food diary. Sure you've heard that before--you may have even tried it, but it's likely you included only what and how much you ate. This time note how hungry you were before eating, how satisfied you felt afterward, and what you were feeling at the time (stressed or joyful). After a couple entries you should be able to spot whether you're eating too many of the wrong foods, not enough of the good foods, and when emotional factors are influencing your appetite.



Practice eating slowly. It's a good way to become more aware of the taste and texture of your food, and it gives your brain time to register that you're full. Don't rush your meals or detract from them by eating while watching TV, reading a magazine (even this one!), or talking on the phone. You want to focus on your food. Take small bites (put your fork down in between), and savor the experience.



Select your start date. Now that you've carefully considered your weight-loss issues, choose a typical day to initiate your plan. Make sure you have enough time to buy the groceries you'll need and make the other changes outlined in the following pages. What's realistic? If you resolve to lose weight on January 1, kick off your diet on the 15th. You need time to get everything in place, but you don't want to wait too long or your motivation may wane.


Step 2

Shop Like A Food Lover; Don't Gain A Pound

Our expert: Connie Guttersen, Ph.D., R.D., author of the best-selling Sonoma Diet and Sonoma Diet Cookbook and a consultant to the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Napa, California



Every time you've tried to lose weight, you've probably cleared your kitchen of junk food and then hit the supermarket to buy "diet" food (reduced-carb bread, fat-free salad dressing, light ice cream). Bad idea, says Guttersen. A handful of foods you consider as junk--dark chocolate, nuts, or even pizza and chips--could be healthy indulgences when eaten in moderation. Worse, filling your cart with fare marketed to dieters can make you feel resentful, she says. "Chances are you won't like how the food tastes. And if you're not satisfied with your meals, you'll crave a slice of chocolate cake afterward or dig into a bag of chips an hour later." In fact, preliminary research from Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab found that women who rated their lunch highly enjoyable said they plan to eat less the rest of the day than did those who weren't as satisfied.



Follow Guttersen's guide to grocery shopping here and you'll think like a weight-loss expert but eat like a foodie.



Match your cart to your diet. Guttersen's rule of thumb for maximum taste and weight loss? Half your cart should be filled with produce and whole grains (with a 50-50 split between the two); the other half should be equally divided among lean protein (like chicken and fish), healthy fats (olive oil and nuts), and dairy (lowfat or nonfat milk, yogurt, and cheese). What are the good snack options? Popcorn (pre-popped or microwave trans-fat-free varieties count as a whole grain), sweet potato or other veggie chips (you can consider them a produce and healthy-fat combo), and even dark chocolate.


Keep your shopping list general. "Most diets advise you to make a specific list and stick to it," says Guttersen. "That can make you feel boxed in and unsatisfied. After a while, when you can't stand eating the same foods over and over again, you polish off a pint of ice cream or half a pizza." Guttersen suggests jotting down the categories of foods you need--like whole grains or produce--then seeing what the store offers. If oranges, bananas, and apples are on your shopping list, that's what you'll buy. But if you just write "fruit," you'll get what catches your eye--perhaps pomegranates or tangerines. (See Eat Your Way Out of a Rut, above, for more ideas.)



Stay away from variety packs. Having an assortment of food within a single package encourages you to eat more, even if the only difference is the color. In a study by Cornell University researchers, women ate 43 more M&M's when they got them in 10 colors versus seven colors. You can use this to your advantage, too--for instance, opt for a package of green, red, and purple grapes over one color.



Know when to splurge. Since you're not buying as many processed foods, you'll have more money to spend on high-quality ingredients that make your meals taste terrific. Items worth the extra dough include: extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and cheese (imported versions tend to be more flavorful), fresh herbs, roasted nuts, and refrigerated salad dressings.



Get with the plan. Still concerned about choosing the right foods and sticking to a calorie count that will help you lose weight? Go to shape.com/healthydiet to find a complete seven-day plan created by Guttersen. Each day gives you 1,500 to 1,700 calories of satisfying food, so you'll drop about a pound a week depending on how much you're eating now. (Follow an exercise plan, like our "Yes, You Can Fit Into the Sexiest Bikini Ever by May 1" workout, and you'll see results even faster.) You don't have to count calories; we've done all the work for you. You'll find specific serving sizes and several recipes for great-tasting dishes like grilled beef with chimichurri sauce.


Step 3

Make Your Home And Work Environments Weight-Loss-Friendly

Our expert: Andrew B. Geier, environmental psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who studies how surroundings influence what and how much you eat



Even with the healthiest foods, overeating won't move the scale--except perhaps up. "Many of my clients shop at health-food stores, yet they're still overweight," says Geier. "A skewed perception of portions is the enemy." Part of why we overeat is due to our environment. Everything from the diameter of your dinner plate to the size of an ice-cream carton plays a role in the amount you consume each day. Making a few changes will help.



Ban big spoons. In a recent study Geier put a large bowl of M&M's in the lobby of a building with a sign: "Eat Your Fill. Please use the spoon to serve yourself." The candy was put out each day for 10 days, sometimes with a spoon that held cup, other times with a tablespoon. Sure enough, people consistently took more M&M's on the days the bigger scoop was provided. "The size of the serving utensil determines the portion size we eat," he says. Once the food is on your plate, you're likely to eat most, if not all, of it. If you use small serving utensils, your portions will be more reasonable, and you'll eat less.



Be Wary Of Very Small Servings. Mini chocolates or tiny glasses of soda may seem like a good option for dieters, but Geier has found that if the portion size is too small, people eat several of the minis and end up with more than a regular-size equivalent. He calls it unit bias. In one study, participants picked up two 10-ounce glasses of soda in a cafeteria line. "We basically consume what we think is the right serving size," says Geier. "In this case the participants thought the small sodas looked like half a serving, so they took two."


Don't "supersize" your portions. Continually eating big servings of food also distorts your idea of what a normal serving size should be. In a recent study researchers asked fast-food customers to estimate the calories in what they'd just eaten; people who ate large meals underestimated by nearly half, while those who consumed smaller meals were off by only about 20 percent. How do you get back to reality? Eat at home where you have more control. Serve all meals in a 2-cup bowl or 9-inch plate (the size of a typical salad plate). Measure or weigh quantities you're not sure about. When you're dining out, order half portions, have an appetizer in lieu of a main course, or go to restaurants that don't overload you with food. Ditch mega-size drink bottles, even if you fill them only with water. Says Geier: "They'll affect your perception of how much you should be drinking when the beverage isn't calorie-free."



Avoid falling into the snack-and-remote trap. In another experiment Geier and researchers from Cornell's Food and Brand Lab divided women into three groups and gave each group a canister of chips to eat while watching television. For two of the groups, every seventh or 13th chip was dyed red. The group with no red chips ate 23 on average, while those whose seventh chip was dyed red consumed 10. "When participants got to the red chip, it made them think about what they were eating," says Geier. So don't eat from the bag--especially when watching TV or reading a book--because the only built-in stopping point is the bottom. Instead, pre-portion your food on a plate and put the bag away.



Keep the table and counter clear. If you leave a bag of chips front and center on your kitchen counter, for instance, you'll be more likely to reach for them than you would be if you had to open a cupboard to find them. Instead, measure out a portion then put the bag away so you aren't prompted to reach for more. Ditto for dinner. If you bring all your serving bowls, bread, and beverages to the table, you'll be more tempted to have seconds (and thirds) than if you have to get up to get them. (You might, however, want to bring bowls of vegetables and salad to the table; that way you'll reach for the filling, low-calorie foods first if you're still hungry and get more nutrients in the process.) Immediately put away leftovers after you've dished out your portion. As Geier says, What's out of sight is out of mind.