While there is no one "best" way to lose weight, there is one thing you should absolutely do before starting a weight-loss plan to help you reach your goals: Go deep into your thoughts and shift the mental image you have of yourself.

The idea may sound a little out-there, but it's backed up by science: If you start to see yourself as a success from the get-go-replacing thoughts of a "heavy" you making poor choices with a fitter, healthier, and happier version of yourself-you'll be more likely to stick with your plan. [Tweet this tip!] This mental trick will help you imagine how good it'll feel when you reach your goals, making any hard work along the way seem worth it.

Since the mind doesn't know the difference between what is real and what's imagined, when you visualize something your subconscious encodes a new picture as if it actually happened. Sports psychologists and peak performers from golfers to gymnasts have all used the power of visualization to build confidence and increase success, picturing the perfect putt or a wobble-free landing, then actually doing it.

Evidence suggests this technique also works for health habits. In a small McGill University study, subjects were asked to eat more fruit for a week, with half of them being told visualize buying fruit and eating it at particular times as well as to write down their plan for reaching their goal. While everyone ate more fruit, those that used visualization ate twice as much.

The power of visualization is an under-used free tool for weight-loss success. As you lie in bed in the morning or before falling asleep at night, calm your mind, relax your body, and picture yourself at your goal weight. See yourself making choices as the new healthy you. Imagine yourself calmly eating delicious healthy food and watch as your body moves with ease. Notice the feelings and sensations associated with the images because connecting with your feelings as your visualize strengthens the effects. Deep relaxation internalizes the new images. In only three to five minutes a day, you can see your way to weight-loss success.

By Mary Hartley, R.D., for