One woman shares her diet tips for stopping sugar cravings, heathy eating, and keeping off the pounds after weight loss

By Sarah E. Richards
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At 31, when I imagined how I would feel after losing 50 pounds, I thought I'd be more carefree and confident. Instead, I was constantly tortured by low-level anxiety. I had to learn how to live in the world as a "former fat girl" by trying out new clothing styles, interacting with people who started treating me differently, and discovering new coping skills that didn't involve fried seafood platters delivered at 10 p.m.

Several years later, I haven't quite given up that identity. I'm still surprised when I fit into a size 6 dress. And when I look into the mirror at the fit women next to me practicing tree pose during yoga class, I'm still shocked that we're all about the same size. But I also wrestle with the fear that the "former" could easily be deleted from my self-description. It doesn't help reading about all those studies concluding that most dieters will eventually regain their weight. (If you're struggling with maintaining your weight loss, read these tips in 4 Ways to Keep Off the Pounds for Good.)

Yes, I've gone up and down a few pounds, but I've generally kept it off. Here are the guidelines that have helped me:

Trust your loser ways

If you've lost any amount of weight, you probably know what works for you to maximize your success: Plan your meals. Make sure there's healthy food in the house. Carry around snacks. Eat breakfast. Eat salads. Exercise.

The good news is that by repeating a healthy behavior, we eventually change our subconscious minds and develop a habit, insists David Zulberg, MD, author of The 5 Skinny Habits: How Ancient Wisdom Can Help You Lose Weight and Change Your Life Forever. "You've changed your mindset, even if you're not aware of it," he says. "You've trained yourself over time to make better choices." The take-away: Give yourself credit for everything you do right. And have confidence you'll keep it up.

Control the damage

I don't smoke. I don't inject heroin. I don't wake up in strangers' homes after blacking out from vodka. Food is my thing. It's what I go to when I feel stressed or upset. And no matter how many times I wish I were addicted to Pilates, food is always going to be what soothes me. This knowledge has helped me manage how much of it I consume during life's ups and downs. If I feel like something greasy after a stressful day, I make a serving of bacon and eggs. If I want to drown my sorrows in enchiladas, I ask myself if I could try being satisfied with a veggie taco with guacamole. Most of the time, these little bargains work. By acknowledging the power of food, I'm able to control its impact in my life.

Know your triggers

Sugar is the enemy. A growing body of research claims it's more addictive than cocaine and stimulates the brain's same reward centers. When I eat a lot of it, I want more of it. And it takes a day or two before the cravings disappear. So I don't eat it. (Learn how to manage your sweet tooth in how to Fight Food Cravings Without Going Crazy.)

Create a new normal

Weight is always going to fluctuate, but I've found it helps to establish a range of how far I'll go. When I was heavier, I was in denial about how much weight I'd gained. Wearing yoga pants don't help, either. So if holiday snacking put you at your upper limit, don't go buy new clothes. Get back into your range by creating an eating plan that you know works.

Accept that you may never lose those five pounds

This is a hard one, since I have a particular red linen summer dress that I know would look really good on me if I could only lose five more pounds. I also know that I could reach this ultimate goal weight with weeks of dieting discipline. So what gives? I can easily maintain my current weight by eating reasonably well and exercising most days. I call it my "happy weight." It's sustainable, and it works for this former fat girl.

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