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.

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